I am so very proud to call Lesley Miller my real-life friend. But even if I weren’t her friend and Redbud retreat roommate, I would be dancing on the ceiling with excitement to introduce her. And when you read this, you’ll understand why…
Would you call me your friend if you knew how I felt about gay marriage?
I never set out to make gay friends, just like I didn’t set out to not have gay friends, but growing up in a conservative area of California and then going to school at a conservative Christian college meant that in my worldview, gay people only existed on Hollywood TV shows and in places like San Francisco. All of that changed when my husband and I moved to Sacramento in 2006.
I figured my boss was gay the moment I met him. I also knew I liked him the moment I met him, which is why I signed a contract for a position at his company with no reservations. He was sharp, friendly, and believed I could do anything.
After a few weeks in my new position, it became obvious that my boss wasn’t my only gay co-worker. A few other women in the office were lesbians, and quite a few of our clients. I went from not knowing any gay or lesbian people to being surrounded by them. And it was fine. Better than fine. My co-workers were some of the nicest people I’d ever worked with. We went out to lunch together and grabbed occasional happy hour cocktails. One woman opened her home each December for a holiday party and another gave us a few pieces of free furniture when she moved homes. Together we created award-winning campaigns for our clients, and rode the waves of the economic recession.
But, there was one thing about my co-workers that terrified me. They knew I was a Christian, just like I knew they were gay, but none of them realized how I felt about same-sex relationships. They never asked, and I never brought it up, and it was better this way. Less complicated.
But then Proposition 8 (a statewide proposition to eliminate the rights of same-sex couples to marry) came up on the 2008 ballot. Around my passionately liberal office, people were plastering NO signs on their cubicle walls, attending evening marches at the Capitol, and discussing the latest polling numbers while microwaving their Lean Cuisine lunches. Gulp.
I worried that if they knew my biblical convictions about homosexuality they would question our friendship or feel unloved. I worried people in the community would call me a bigot. I wondered if I was a bigot. I fretted. I analyzed. I prayed. And I dreaded that stupid 2008 election day with all soul.
They saw me as a friend, but would they still do so if they knew my biblical convictions about homosexuality?
A few years later, my husband and I moved into our first home. It was a tiny 1948 bungalow in a charming neighborhood not far from downtown. Soon after we moved in many of our neighbors dropped by to welcome us. Imagine our surprise when we realized that the four homes closest to ours were all gay or lesbian couples.
Karen and Nancy, our direct next-door neighbors, were the kind everyone wants to have. We got to know them over Saturdays exchanging gardening tips—they were always quick to lend us their tools—and we occasionally passed platters of barbecued food over the fence for each other to try. When my husband was sick they fretted over the best dish to bring us, finally landing on a spicy chili that we devoured. Occasionally they brought by little gifts for our daughter, things found around the house or given to them by one of their students.
One winter we didn’t see much of Karen and Nancy. Karen was taking an additional teaching course and Nancy was dealing with some health issues, plus the cold weather kept us all inside so there were few opportunities to talk. They left their house in the early dark hours and weeks passed with occasional, short greetings. When the first spring weekend arrived, Karen emerged from their house with shocking news. After 11 years together they’d split up. Nancy was seeing someone else and Karen would move out within a few weeks. “I didn’t see this coming,” Karen said in tears.
Something I didn’t see coming was my own response. Me, the girl who didn’t believe in same-sex relationships, was angry and sad about their break-up.
I was sad for Karen in the same way I was sad for my friend’s parents when they divorced after 22 years of marriage. Never mind the specifics about length of time. Never mind the specifics about homosexuality. Human heartache is human heartache.
After that day, I struggled with what my emotions meant. I think a lot of people might argue my sadness was proof that my biblical convictions are wrong. I believe that my emotions are confirmation that you really can love a person even if you don’t agree with their choices.
I’ve tried to write this essay for years, but I’ve worried about what people will think or say. My former co-workers still don’t know my feelings about same-sex marriage, and neither do my neighbors. I’ve never told them my story but I’m forever grateful they told me theirs. Not only has their friendship changed my life, their bravery in sharing their convictions is giving me a similar, growing strength to tell my own. Not because I want to shove my beliefs down people’s throats, but because it’s only in telling our stories that we can love each other better.
In a nation that is growing more accepting of same-sex marriage, and less accepting of colleges, churches and non-profits who don’t believe in same-sex marriage, I wonder if we’ll ever find a middle ground. Is it even possible? I think it is. It starts at the water cooler at work and the swings on our front porches. It starts with holding our tongue sometimes and opening our ears instead. It starts with food shared across a fence and it starts with remembering that friends don’t always have to agree.