My wife, Gena, and I have been married 48 years. We live in Texas and have three sons and five grandchildren. Our youngest son, Josh, is gay.
When Josh was 14, he told the youth minister at our church that he thought he was gay. The youth minister called Gena in and said that he did not think Josh was gay but simply going through a phase. They basically shut down any effort by Josh to come out; Gena didn't even tell me about the conversation, and simply ignored it. She told me later that it was incomprehensible to her; she thought it couldn't be true.
For a few years after that, Josh tried to be straight. He dated girls and tried his best to be someone he wasn't. Then at the age of 19, he came out to Gena and me.
I was devastated. I was a fourth-generation Southern Baptist and a fourth-generation Texan. Everything I had known, everything I had been taught, was that homosexuality was a sin and could not be accepted. This was something that had been ingrained in me, and something I had never questioned. So Josh's declaration that he was gay shook the very foundation of my beliefs. It took a long time for us to assimilate what had happened, and each of us dealt with it in our own way.
My way was to turn to research and books. I was a schoolteacher, having taught for 34 years. So I began reading everything I could, starting with the history of Christianity and homosexuality in the church. I researched online, and I read books from both perspectives. Ultimately, I realized that I could reconcile my son and my faith. I came to see that Josh was born this way, and he cannot change who he is. Understanding this changed me completely, and it changed the way I look at other people.
It probably took longer for Gena to accept that Josh was gay. She grieved hard. She never said "Leave" or "I do not love you," but it was incredibly difficult for her. She prayed for a miracle -- for God to change Josh so he would not think he was gay anymore.
But then she realized her grieving was about her. It was about her grief that Josh would not bring home a daughter-in-law or give her grandchildren. She prayed a lot, and she started to see that God couldn't change Josh, but he could change her heart. She could love Josh for who he is and not for whom she wanted him to be.
Looking back, I am stunned by Josh's courage. He had a difficult time growing up because kids bullied him. I suppose we should have known that Josh was gay, but for Gena and me, that was not something we even considered. We were confirmed Southern Baptists, I served as a deacon in a very large church, and Josh himself was raised in that church. But Josh had the courage to be honest with himself about who he is.
For the past 10 years, Josh has been in a committed relationship with David. When we were first introduced to David, Gena was still struggling and grieving to accept that her son was gay. She still worries that she was standoffish to David for about a year, maybe more. But now, 10 years later, we both love David and consider him every bit as part of our family. We are so proud of the two of them, both as individuals and as a couple.
In July of last year, Josh and David were married. They first had a ceremony in Fort Worth on a Saturday night, celebrating with their families and friends. It was an absolutely beautiful ceremony and reception -- we never felt more love than we did that night. Josh surprised David by singing "When You Say You Love Me." There was not a dry eye in the place.
After the ceremony, Josh and David flew to New York to make their marriage legal the following Monday. It is painful to us that Josh and David were not able to lawfully marry in their home state where they were both born and raised.
While Josh and David don't have children now, they want to have children someday. But they can't adopt a child together under our state's laws. And hospitals do not give same-sex couples the same visitation rights or the same right to make treatment decisions as opposite-sex couples.
The unfairness of our state's refusal to recognize same-sex couples was crystallized for Josh and David when one of their friends died. The young man's parents refused to recognize his same-sex partner; the partner was kicked out of his home and received nothing. Josh said to us, "Please do not ever do that to David." Of course not -- we couldn't and wouldn't do that. Josh and David are a couple, and their commitment deserves as much respect as Gena's and mine.
There is no reason for our state's refusal to recognize Josh and David's marriage or the marriage of any other same-sex couple. These laws demean gay men and lesbians, and falsely tell our youth, many of whom are struggling with their sexual identity, that they are not capable of forming lifelong, committed relationships deserving of societal respect. Recognizing Josh and David's marriage will do no harm to anyone else. On the other hand, laws that refuse to recognize Josh and David's marriage harm those young men and women who are struggling with their self-identity, by telling them that they deserve less simply because of how they were born.
I long for the day when same-sex couples can hold hands without being stared at, a day when they will be allowed to get married and adopt children together. Because on that day, I believe there will be fewer young men and women who feel afraid, rejected or lonely. And our society will be that much better for it.
DON and GENA ROGERS joined in PFLAG's amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in the marriage equality case that the justices will hear April 28. Their story is adapted from the brief.