Wednesday, December 03, 2008

An Open Letter to the President Elect


Sir, with all due respect, I’m angry,

Oh, and really hurt.

Let me start by saying that I am not very wealthy, and yet I sent a lot of money to your campaign. I didn’t actually keep track, but it was several hundred dollars if not over a thousand. I wept on Tuesday evening, crying tears of joy, tears of relief, tears of hope and expectation.

I bought your book, The Audacity of Hope, and I read it. It was inspirational, with prose that was obviously intelligent and thoughtful yet accessible. I believed what I was reading and dreamed of a new America, with someone as our leader who has ascended the mountain of power yet will continue to carry the perspective gained by living at the bottom, down in the trenches where the rest of us hang out.

And let me also state that I understand the need for political expediency. In your book you outlined articulately the need for a pragmatic approach to solving our nation’s problems, and even highlighted that such an approach often opens our minds to the positive and beneficial aspects of our opponent’s point-of-view. Hopefully, this will help as our country attempts to come together after so many years of division.

So, I understand this whole civil unions vs. gay marriage argument that you and many of the powers-that-be in the political world espouse. I also understand the argument that “states should decide” because this allows politicians to be both for and against something at the same time. I call this the homosexual policy dance. And it is true that politically, the country does not appear to be ready to accept full equality for gay families. If a politician were to come out in favor of gay marriage it could be political suicide.

But, not doing so is dangerous. And it is hurtful. And the thing is, after reading your book, seeing you on TV, and listening to your speeches, I know that you know it. So I am wondering if you are going to do something about it.

I want to share a story. I was absolutely offended to listen to my voice messages the day after the voting (I hadn’t been able to peel myself away from the internet for several days, trying to read all the up-to-date, 24-hour news and so had missed several phone calls). One of the messages was a robo-call from a “descendent of Martin Luther King, Jr.”, pleading with me to vote in favor of Proposition 8, the infamous California ballot initiative which revises the California Constitution to strip me of a right to which the Supreme Court had earlier found I am entitled. She wanted me to vote to preserve the “tradition of marriage”. In my anger, I wondered to which “tradition” she was referring; the one in the Bible that says that polygamy is acceptable? or was she talking about the one in US civil law from 50 years ago that said that she wasn’t worthwhile enough to marry someone with white skin color?, or was she trying to highlight social differences from around the world by bringing attention to the myriad cultures who arrange marriage without any input from the bride and groom? I say she wasn’t referring to any of these. I say that she was using euphemistic terminology to justify her bigotry toward gays. How could a “descendent of MLK, Jr.” be advocating for such a hateful ideology?

To me, traditional marriage is really about the family. Civil laws regarding marriage help secure a familial unit, by establishing laws of inheritance, by limiting restrictions on transfer of benefits among family members, by giving tax breaks to those of us raising children, in order to promote a stable future society. I was reminded of that on election night, when I saw your beautiful family join you on the stage. What was so striking was how much love seemed to be present among you four, and I thought to myself, “no matter what happens in the future, they each know that they have something safe in this world and three other people on whom they can rely for the rest of their lives.” That is what a marriage is all about.

Proposition 8 takes away my family’s rights to have this same security. My sons are NOT guaranteed the same freedoms from inheritance limits with a civil union. My husband is NOT entitled to my social security benefits without the safety of federal civil marriage laws, if, God forbid, something were to happen to me. With civil unions, my husband and I DO have to pay taxes on our employee-based health care benefits; taxes that married heterosexual couples do not have to pay. They can therefore invest that money in their children’s future and we cannot. Proposition 8 was not about marriage equality—it was about family equality. And my family deserves equality as much as your beautiful family does.

That’s why I am angry. And why I am hurt. How could millions of Americans vote to say to my family that we are not worthwhile enough to enjoy the same benefits? Why would they want to take away security from my sons, who have had so many hardships already in their brief little lives?

How can YOU, Mr. Obama, justify this homosexual policy dance when so much is at stake? You are eloquent and brilliant, so maybe you can come to my house and have a sit down with my boys to explain to them exactly how this works. They are worthwhile but don’t deserve protection under the law? There will need to be some very detailed nuance brought forth for them to understand that one, yet it is what you sell to the American people. I would be interested to hear you try.

As a family, who happens to have parents who are gay, we deserve equal protection under the law. We need a FEDERAL law that will guarantee that our family is as secure in its future as yours is. That will guarantee that my husband will be able to collect my social security should I die prematurely. That will guarantee that my children can inherit without undue burden. That will guarantee that we no longer have to pay taxes on health benefits that my heterosexual counterparts do not have to pay. That will guarantee that if my family happens to be driving through Oklahoma and someone gets sick, both my husband and I are treated as full and equal parents—because we are.

I want to share another story. I recently had the privilege of attending a talk on my campus by Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard. During the often gut-wrenching presentation, she eloquently spoke of her difficulty understanding the hate that led people to beat her son unconscious and leave him tied to a fence in a field for 16 hours, simply because he was gay. She was able to articulately outline the complex connections among subtle discrimination and social messages of “difference” and the feelings of hatred that are learned from them. I don’t want to speak for her, but to me, it seemed to be her conclusion that such learned messages were underlying the actions of those who murdered her son. She came out very strongly against Proposition 8, saying that to her, such a ballot measure was not only unequal and unjust, but also lethal.

By not taking the political risk to stand up for something that is right, you contribute to the message that gays are “different” and there are people the world over who then solidify their fears and kindle their hatred. How many more Matthew Shepards do there need to be before we stand up as a nation and say that it has to stop? How many more years does my family have to listen to the message that we aren’t as deserving of tax breaks and federal recognition simply because there are religious bigots who feel we are “immoral?” Need I remind you that the same arguments were made against interracial marriage a generation ago? Need I remind you that progress was made in the civil rights movement because the courts stepped in and demanded equality, and then courageous politicians stepped in and demanded that the laws be enforced? Lyndon Johnson sacrificed the south politically for an entire generation because he knew that signing the Civil Rights Act was the right thing to do. Who in our generation is going to have the same political courage? Will that be you, Mr. Obama, or are my hopes misguided? Can I expect a new, changed America? Or is that for everyone but me and my family and the millions who are like me?


Karl Jeffries, MD

Resident Physician

Berkeley, California

1 comment:

Ringbearer said...

Beautiful letter Dr. Jeffries. We at believe that you voice the sentiments of many LGBT and Straight families.
It also appears that the President-Elect has some progressive help for we LGBT's. Let us share in the audacity of hope for a better future family-wise.