Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Personal and Public Opinion: Outed by the Controversy - by Melanie Carbine

Prior to the November 2008 elections, I ended up in the middle of two very different but related arguments. I was running a new word by a recently (but selectively) out mission friend: “heteronormative.” I wanted to find the most appropriate adjective for my sexuality, without any comment on my friend's own homosexual relationship (which I supported from the beginning). However, I didn’t mean to imply that homosexuality was abnormal. On the other hand, another mission friend (one with whom I had an on-again-off-again relationship) was threatening to unfriend me on Facebook if I continued to comment on (or rather question) his notes supporting the Yes on 8 campaign in California.

Either way, I was being silenced and I was once again in the margins of both arguments. What hurt the most was that this person, whom I loved, was comparing me to Lot's wife. He said that if I had lived in Sodom and Gomorrah I would have been a pillar of salt - to which of course, I asked if that made him Lot. I demanded to know why it was okay for him and not me to sleep with girls. He told me I was against the Church and that I should think about that the next time I had a temple recommend interview. Not only did I have one, but I was a temple worker. Where was his recommend?

It wasn't a pretty fight, and I was really hurt that he was unwilling to understand or recognize either my personal choices, sacrifice, or position. I would have been marrying my (liberal) non-LDS boyfriend that month if we hadn't broken it off during my mission. The pressure from my family and friends had been too much, and I had started to really want a temple marriage. Either way, it had been hard to walk away from that and not look back.

Besides that, I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan (the San Francisco of the mid-west, if you will). I had opportunities to date amazing women; attraction is attraction. Yet, I decided that since I have a choice (unlike many others) I would only date men. I really believe that I am doing the best I can to live God's commandments as he has revealed them. I do not think that voting for gay rights legislation puts me on the outs with God. I trust that He knows the love in my heart for Him and His children. I think my actions, on both counts, reflect that.

Almost a year later, D.C. - following the trend of five other states (obviously not California) – recognized same-sex marriages. At this time, I was visiting a woman named Nell in D.C. whom I had taught on my mission in the Marshall Islands. I had made a point to follow the white handbook as best I could, even after the mission. So long as I taught someone as a missionary, I refrained from talking about politics. (Besides, so far, every "liberal Mormon" I have met has almost always actually been a moderate.)

Nell married a wonderful man who happens to be a "liberal liberal” as she put it. She commented on the "liberal backlash" or attitude towards any non-liberal viewpoint, by whatever degree. She cited Carrie Prejean as an example. She insisted that it was Ms Prejean's "personal opinion" on same sex marriage and therefore unfairly received a liberal uproar (Prejean had modeled lingerie a few years previously).

Ms Prejean said that she felt God was testing her and that she felt she had to stand true to what she believed. Whatever Ms Prejean's motivation during or after the Miss U.S.A. contest in April 2009, she became the face of a conservative agenda when she was featured in an ad against gay marriage (NY Times- April 30 2009-Ad Against Gay Marriage Features Miss California). And, it has happened before. Miss America runner-up Anita Bryant and her pretty face got a Human Rights Ordinance repealed in California in 1977. The fact was so notable that the American Association for Retired Persons included it in an online Gay History Timeline (1958-2009) posted to honor the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

What could I say to Nell? Specifically, what would I say in response to the question of why Ms Prejean got such a hard time for her personal opinion? Even though she wasn't particularly well spoken, she's pretty and people paid attention to her. Besides, lots of people get a hard time for their personal opinions, myself included. When my personal opinion becomes my public and political opinion (even if just a vote), other people are affected and I must consider that first. Maybe I'm a bad ally because I date heteronormatively (my personal choice), and maybe I'm a bad Mormon because I questioned my friends' support of Prop 8 (my public vote).

Ideally, I'd support state civil unions of any two people and optional marriage by religious and secular organizations of any two people as defined by those organizations. We already have our own "marriage" separate from the state institution with different requirements: temple sealings. I decided that's what I wanted even if it seems finding a Mormon man willing to convert to the left is about as unlikely as finding a liberal willing to convert to Mormonism. I'm still going to support other kinds of families (and marriages), and I definitely support access to health care, green cards and adoption rights. Close friends on both sides of the issue tell me it's not enough. Would I be a pillar of salt if I had lived in Sodom and Gomorrah?

I think God knows the content of my heart better than that.

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