Mary Altaffer, Associated Press
For 30 years I have written about a wide variety of topics here, but never this one:
It’s a toxic subject — radioactive, as one writer put it — especially if you are on what is perceived these days as the “wrong” side of the argument.
Who wants to invite that hysteria into their lives?
It’s the great debate of our era — the acceptance or rejection of gay marriage — but debate has mostly been crushed.
The sides are clear:
On one hand, you have a group of people who have been marginalized and bullied throughout history and desperately want to be recognized.
On the other hand, you have a group of people who hold sacred an institution that is thousands of years old, and just like that they are being told to get over it and move on — that it is something else entirely. It’s as if they have been told the earth is flat, not round, and they better believe it or else.
I have had some interactions with gays in the community during my writing career and it gave me a sense of the loneliness and isolation they feel. I wrote a column about a sad, conflicted young gay man who had resigned himself to living alone, with a dog as his only companion.
A few years ago I wrote “Driven,” a book about Larry H. Miller, the great entrepreneur and philanthropist. One of the chapters dealt entirely with his rejection of the “Brokeback Mountain” movie from his theaters and the hysteria that followed — calls from gay and lesbian groups to boycott his businesses, emotional talk-show fodder, newspaper stories, cracks by national talk show hosts.
As it happened, Miller had been asked to give a speech at the University of Utah and now there were demands that the invitation be withdrawn. Instead of hiding or equivocating or defending himself, Miller asked to meet with the gay and lesbian community.
“I want to hear what you’re feeling,” he began. “What have I done to hurt you?” And then he simply listened and learned. What he learned is that while taking a stand for what he believed in, he had unwittingly hurt many people and regretted it. He learned about the ridicule and prejudice they endure. He heard stories of people throwing popcorn at them in theaters and snickering behind their backs and worse. They told him that by rejecting the movie, he seemed to be engaging in the same behavior.
“I had no idea you were being persecuted and I had no intention to endorse bad behavior,” said Miller, who was moved to tears. “I’m sorry that happened to you. I do have my beliefs and they’re pretty well founded in marriage between a man and a woman. I disagree with your lifestyle, but I don’t tell you that you can’t live it.”
By the time the extraordinary two-hour meeting was finished, there was new respect on both sides. The gays and lesbians had vowed to wear cowboy hats to his speech in protest, but only a few brought their hats and those who did held them in their hands as a token of respect.
Jim Wall, who had invited Miller to speak in behalf of the university, recalled the meeting in the book this way: “A lot of bad feelings melted away. (Miller) never compromised his values, but he was empathetic and listened. It was one of the perfect examples of diverse, opposite points of view coming together in a dialogue in which both sides were hurt and neither side moved, but both sides understood each other better and really could have differences of opinion without being confrontational.”
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