A Conversation With My Grandfather, Part 2

My grandpa was born in Kaukauna in 1927 and grew up in Appleton and Menasha. He now lives in Neenah with my grandma. Yesterday I wrote about my relationship with him and how difficult it has been to show him how the ban would hurt me and thousands of people around the state. Like I said yesterday, my grandpa is struggling with his position on the ban.

When I spoke with him earlier this week, he told me he would be voting yes. Here is our discussion:

When was the first time you recall realizing someone you knew was gay?
I was in the service, about 18 years old, riding in a cab to the train station in Chicago. One of the other men in the cab was talking to his friend about his “man on the side” that he hoped his wife wouldn’t find out about. I remember being absolutely shocked.

How did you feel when you learned that I'm gay? Was it difficult for you?
I wasn’t surprised to learn that you were gay. I had suspected it. Mostly I wondered how you would cope with being gay. It was not difficult for me to accept. You were still Justin. You were the best friend I ever had.

I know you’ve been wrestling with your position on the civil unions and marriage ban. How would you vote if the vote were today?
I would vote yes to ban same-sex marriage. I am concerned about what same-sex marriage would do to the institution of marriage. Would it water it down or have a deleterious effect? I just don’t know.

Have you talked about this issue with you friends in the Fox Valley?
No, I have not talked about it with any of my friends. It’s not a topic of conversation in my social circles.

What are people saying about it? Do you think most people even know it will be on the ballot?
I’m not sure if people know that it will be on the ballot.

How have you voted in the last few presidential elections?
I voted Republican in the last few presidential elections; I felt I had no other choice. I’m not happy with the Republican party. I was for the war in Iraq, but knowing what I know now I would have been opposed to it.

Do you consider yourself a Democrat? Republican? Conservative?
I consider myself an independent conservative. I have no trust in either party to guide the country on the principles upon which it was founded.

I remember you spoke about this several times with your Senator Mike Ellis. What did you talk about? How did you try to convince him to oppose the ban?
I think that Ellis would have gone for civil unions before this amendment came up. But now that this all-or-nothing amendment is upon us, Mike Ellis told me that he was opposed to gay marriage. So am I. I did send an email to Mike saying that I was disappointed that the amendment was all or nothing and I urged him to vote against it. I was told that Senator Ellis had already made up his mind about how he planned to vote.

What do you think are some effective ways to make the case against the ban?
Before I had the experience of knowing a family member who was gay, the ban would have made sense to me. I would not have thought about how it would affect gay and lesbian people because there would not have been anyone to sit down and talk to me about it. I think to make the case against the ban need to have a very eloquent speaker talk to people. You would have to win their hearts and minds. You would have to make the issue important to them. You would have to get them to question, “Am I doing the right thing?” You would have to raise a moral question in each person’s mind about whether he or she has the right to deny someone these rights.

Why did you decide to marry Grandma? How has marriage been good for you and our family?
I fell in love with your grandmother. We’ve had a good life together. Grandma and I have had our problems and our disagreements. When you marry someone you have to accept the person as they are—faults and all. Otherwise you try to change someone and that’s not good for a marriage. Marriage is a gamble because once the fireworks are over, you really don’t know that person until you get there.

Do you think some day gay people will have the ability to marry?
Undoubtedly. Today anything happens. I don’t know when, but I don’t think it’s too far in the future.


At 6:04 AM, Anonymous Keith said...

Justin, I am happy to have you as our grassroots guy. This conversation tells a lot, and is in harmony with the conversations I have had with my own parents. (Perhaps it's the water in Kaukauna, as that's my hometown, too!)

My folks, like our grandfather, are very comfortable with us as gay people. And they want what's best for us, including stable lasting relationships. But they are very VERY uncomfortable with the idea of us having HUSBANDS.

You are right that there is some cognitive dissonance about that. NO to banning stable lasting relationships. But YES to banning marriage.

I have not asked my parents how they will vote, but the cognitive dissonance will reign! I suspect that my father will say he will vote YES, but go into the booth and actually vote NO. I suspect that my mother will say she will vote NO but go into the booth and vote YES.

My father's dissonance? In speech, he will always toe the Republican line. But I know his heart, and I know the frustration he feels at tax time, and freedom and the tax burden are two reasons to break with the Party and vote NO.

My mother's dissonance? Roman Catholicism. (Welcome to Northeast Wisconsin folks. Never ever ever underestimate the power that Church people have up there.) She is taught by our Church that compassion is primary. She has a solemn duty to help the less fortunate, and so she will publicly talk NO on anything that would hurt people. But yet, she also has a deep deep reverence for the Sacraments of the Church, which she has instilled in her gay son. She will go to the poll and vote YES, because she is vexed with the thought of me and a husband exchanging rings in a church, in front of God and everyone.

These are the profound human foibles with which your team is dealing, Justin. I am moved by your grandfather's story, and I pray that our victory in November is based on this conversation multiplied by thousands!

At 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keith and Justin, I can empathize with your stories, especially the Roman Catholicism since my parents are as well, but we can dispel some of Keith's mom's dissonance.

Remind her that even if same-sex marriage were legal, no church would be required to recognize or perform same-sex marriages.

As with divorce, the government could recognize same-sex marriage without the Catholic church doing the same.

At 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing this personal conversation, Justin. I haven't broached the topic with my grandmother (she doesn't live in Wisconsin) and have only recently made her aware of my partner of 14 years. (I'm still not sure who or what she thinks he is.) So I'm proud of people who can have these conversations. (I have them, too, but with strangers on their front stoops or at the farmer's market.)

At 6:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your grandfather makes a comment that so many people opposed to gay marriage make: that it will or may somehow have a negative impact on the "institution" of marriage. I have yet to hear anyone give a solid reason for exactly how that happens. Maybe grandpa needs to figure this out. If he can't articulate what negative impact gay marriage might have on his own marriage or on other heterosexual marriages, perhaps he might come to see that it is because there is none. By the way. I am not gay but am the parent of a gay man and I support gay marriage.


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