By: Gary S. Cox
If there is a “silver lining” to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which many would take offense to this assertion, the onslaught of AIDS in America forced family discussions on sexuality and sexual orientation at the American dinner table in the 1980’s as it did in my own family. Families not only learned their sons were dying of an incurable disease, they were faced with the double-whammy that their child was also homosexual, queer or gay –whatever the first derogatory term for being gay came to mind at the time. Yes, the conversation of being gay, having a gay son or daughter started taking place one family at a time – and continues to this day.
Now, some thirty years later, the debate continues and has in some cases evolved into dialogue on the right to marry, the status of committed relationships for LBGT citizens, and the right to work without fear of being fired for one’s sexual orientation. Therefore, it is no surprise that the very public split in the Cheney family over the right of LBGT persons to marry garners national attention. The status of the Cheney family in right wing American political circles and daughter Liz Cheney’s Senate bid made the Cheney family differences politically relevant. The family differences only reflect similar differences and conversations taking place at dinner tables as we all sit down with our families during the holidays. Some American families, especially in the American South, are as deeply divided over LBGT civil rights issues as are the former Vice President’s family. According to the Pew Research Center, the southern United States still remains the bastion of opposition to same-sex marriage. This is unlikely to change it the immediate future without court challenges or legislative changes to force the issue.
Chief Justice Warren Roberts noted during oral arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act that public debate is the bedrock of any democracy. However, what is often overlooked in the “metamorphosis” of public opinion on the right of LBGT citizens to marry is this change came about as our families had similar dinner table discussions as have the Cheney family. As opinions changed, what families “valued” as a social unit, changed as well. According the latest ABC-Washington Post poll, 58% of Americans believe that LBGT couples should be allowed to marry. This shift in family values is due to the debate all of us are having within our friends and families. Even though the former Vice President went “public” on his personal opinion about the right to marry to shore up his daughter’s Senatorial bid, his family’s open debate forces our society to discuss this basic human right. Chief Justice Roberts is correct, public discourse is the mechanism for change in American society. Debate leads to discussions, discussions lead to understanding and understanding leads to change.