My Visit to my State Representative’s OfficeMarch 1, 2008
Sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are about to become protected by law in the state of Pennsylvania. HB1400 is a bill intended to amend our current Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) to prohibit discrimination of these minorities, in addition to race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, handicap or disability, education and the use of a guide dog. I fall into one of those minorities since I am a gay man, but I suppose I could claim another group that has been the target of discrimination. I do have Irish ancestry, after all.
So I got my Irish up, (oops, is that perpetuating the stereotype of the Irish being quick to anger?) and made an appointment to visit my State Representative, Deberah Kula, to ask her to support this amendment to the existing PHRA. I was prepared. I had my talking points printed up. I did more research on those points that were provided to me by Equality Advocates PA. I walked into her office with my head held high, ready to engage in some lively conversation.
I barely got through the greetings and small talk, when I realized this was not going to be a problem. When I mentioned the particular bill and its purpose, she replied with “not a problem.” She indicated to me that everyone should have access to housing and employment. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to demonstrate my knowledge of the statistics, but I was happy to have a common entry point for the conversation that followed.
I brought up the bill that has been introduced into our state senate, that would amend our state constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman. It was at this point that the conversation became more intense. Rep. Kula explained to me that she just could not see this amendment passing. It is difficult to amend the state constitution, and this just did not seem like a bill that could pass, in her opinion. A quick search for a copy of the state constitution, followed by a swift perusal of same, leads me to believe that the last amendment to this document was in 1978. It is encouraging that Pennsylvania has not seen fit to alter this constitution in the past 30 years. I would also add here how much I appreciate her willingness to discuss this “Marriage Protection Amendment” when, as a representative, this bill has not been introduced in the House.
Our conversation continued, and Rep. Kula stated that she would be honest with me, that her personal convictions did not allow her to support same-sex marriages. I smiled and thanked her for being upfront with me, and decided to dive in and explore those convictions. She told me that her religious beliefs just did not permit her to support us in acquiring the right to marry. I countered with my own, rather strong religious beliefs. I explained how I struggled to reconcile my faith with my orientation, as I was coming out. Then I engaged her in a discussion of how a person comes to be gay or lesbian. We talked about genetics, environment, and the complex interaction of both that medical science and psychological research believes to be responsible for sexual orientation. I talked about choice, and how, knowing that discrimination and violence is a real possibility for gays and lesbians, no one would willingly choose to be homosexual. Then I asked the question, somewhat rhetorically, “knowing that this isn’t a choice, what is the appropriate behavior for committed, loving, same-sex couples?” Of course, I went on to answer my own question by stating that it is in the best interest of society that individuals pair up to care for each other so as not to be a burden on extended family or the government. I spoke of health care, inheritance benefits, as well as hospital visitation, all of which are granted to straight couples within a few minutes at the local courthouse, yet denied to gay and lesbian couples. My desire to care for my partner, and his wishes to care for me, as any married couple would and should, was also mentioned.
At one point, she tried to explain her position, and found herself in a spot where she did not want to be. Rep. Kula started to speak of natural inclinations, like mass murder. She caught herself, and said, “and I don’t mean to compare you to mass murderers, perhaps I could have found a better comparison.” To which I replied with a laugh “good, I was going to have to go after you on that one.”
One final, somewhat melancholy exchange came when Rep. Kula told me that she didn’t know how she would vote for such an amendment if she were forced to do so tomorrow. She said that she would have a difficult time deciding, but most likely would vote against same-sex marriage. She apologized to me, saying that she knew it was not what I wanted to hear. I was gracious, replied politely, and again thanked her for her honesty. I genuinely valued her candor, as I felt no malicious intent from her. I believe she holds her convictions because of misinformation, a lack of understanding about what it means to be gay or lesbian in our society.
As I got up to leave, we shook hands and looked intently at each other. It was at that point she said “beautiful blue eyes.” Perhaps I made the connection that I was attempting. Something that I said at some point in that half hour may have stayed with her, and caused her to think. I was pleased that I was able to leave her without experiencing “violence of the fist, the tongue, or the heart” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught.