When I think back to what I was taught in Sunday morning gatherings, in 12 years of Catholic school, in all the children’s books I read growing up, that is the message I remember most clearly from my education.
Love thy neighbor. Do no harm. Treat others as you wish to be treated.
That’s why I head to my neighborhood polling station with a heavy heart and a deep feeling of frustration. Today, my neighbors and I will vote on a constitutional amendment that defines marriage between one man and one woman as the only domestic legal union that is valid or recognized in this state.
This action would amend my state’s constitution — no small feat — to actually take rights away from some of its citizens. This amendment is written so broadly that it could take away domestic violence protection for all unmarried women, remove children from their parents and interfere with unmarried couples wishing to visit each other in the hospital.
That isn’t my definition of love, and it isn’t how I want to be treated.
I’ve seen what can happen when the rights of same-sex couples are ignored. Someone I care about deeply was thrown out of his home and stripped of his belongings after the tragic death of his partner. His partner’s family only recognized him as the roommate, with no claim to the life he shared with his partner for many years.
The sad thing is that my state already bans same-sex marriage. So far, this amendment’s main accomplishment has been to divide us from one other and encourage people from all walks of life to insist they know what is God’s will.
So, according to God’s will, which of my neighbors should I love? My neighbors who live two houses down, who proudly display a sign in support of this amendment? Or, my neighbors two houses up, who have lived peacefully and with dignity in a same-sex partnership for more than 12 years?
Here is what I know: I will teach my son to treat all people with respect and acceptance. I will encourage him to remember that he doesn’t know what it’s like to be someone else; to feel what his neighbor feels, to walk in his neighbor’s shoes. I will set an example of humility and open-mindedness when it comes to God’s will.
Moments ago, when I laid my son down for his morning nap, I kissed him first on one cheek, and then the other. I looked into his deep blue eyes and told him that he can love whomever he chooses, and be whatever he wants. I whispered to him that he is a gift from God, and that he can never disappoint me. My eyes welled with tears as I assured him that I will always love him, no matter what.
He is my neighbor, after all.
Today, when I make my choice in the voting booth, I will choose to love all my neighbors. I will not pass judgment on my neighbors who support this stringent, restrictive amendment.
Likewise, I will not purport to know what’s best for my neighbors who have loved and supported one another for many years, and just endured together the protracted, year-long decline and eventual death of the one man’s father.
I watched as these kind men moved the ailing father into the home they share, and tackled together the emotional, financial and physical burdens of caring for a sick parent.
I will not pretend they are merely roommates. I will not remove their rights. I will not presume to know what is God’s will.
I hope my fellow North Carolinians — my fellow neighbors — do the same.