Gay marriage vote: What will future generations say?

When I was in high school in the late 1960s, I hung out with a pack of friends that changed up depending on the day's agenda. There might be a dozen of us at the mall or the movies, or three of us pulling an all-nighter on a physics paper.

We were always picking each other up in cars and going someplace else. Though there were hints of romance now and again, none of us had officially paired off as a couple.

My suburban high school had only a handful of African-American students in my graduating class of 600, but one of them, Walter, was a member of our pack.

I remember the day my parents forbade me to be seen in public with my friends if Walter was among them. Despite the fact that we were just a mixed bag of kids, someone might conclude, they said, that Walter and I were dating.

Stunned, I found my voice, shouted at my parents and stormed out of the house. My rebellion was naïve and uninformed. Walter was a friend, not a cause. And I didn't know that the U.S. Supreme Court had only just struck down laws that made interracial marriage a crime, but that was the context in which my parents were parenting.

All these years later, I am ashamed of their bigotry.

I am embarrassed, in a casual way, by memories of my mother's too-red lipstick and my father's pastel golf shorts. But when I recall their bigotry, I am ashamed.

In the years since I was that high school kid, so many Walters and so many Susans have dated and married that a generation of children doesn't know what box to check on an application: Caucasian or African-American.

And that is what I thought about as the Maryland Senate debated and then voted to legalize same-sex marriages last week, and grant them all the rights and privileges of traditional marriages.

Now the matter goes before the House of Delegates, and while the debate in the Senate was civil and dignified, some fear it will be less so in the House. Del. Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. of Baltimore, a Democrat, expressed concern about the "tone" of the upcoming House debate, and Del. Don Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel County Republican, has promised to "take the gloves off" during discussion — an ominous if ambiguous threat.

And as I listened to the debate from the Senate gallery, I thought about how inexorably time wears away prejudices and how nothing is certain except change. And the senators who spoke of their own conversion to favor the bill seemed to recognize this, too.

"Stronger than all armies," said Howard County Sen. Allan Kittleman, a Republican, "is an idea whose time has come."

Early in the session, Baltimore County Sen. Katherine Klausmeier said she recognized that this would be one of the most important bills she would ever vote on, but was undecided.

Raised Catholic and to believe that marriage is a sacred commitment between a man and a woman, she was among those who recognized the sea change that had moved Maryland forward from just providing fix-it legislation for gay and lesbian couples (such as allowing hospital visitation rights). When the votes were tallied Thursday night, she was among those in support.

When the House of Delegates takes up this matter, perhaps the members should consider not just the schoolchildren they fear might have a teacher with a "gay worldview," but about their own children and how their words and their vote will be viewed a generation from now.

Your children may someday be embarrassed by the width of your tie or the way you combed your hair. Don't give them reason to be ashamed of your bigotry.

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