A loving response to Deb Mell’s beautiful homage to her wife

UPDATE: Read additional thoughts on Illinois' approval of same-sex marriage in a later post.

Who could not be touched by Chicago Ald. Deb Mell’s moving essay ("Perspective: Make marriage equal," Chicago Tribune, Oct. 21, 2013) describing the love she has for her wife, Christin Baker?

In revealing the details of their life together, their marriage in Iowa and their strivings back in Chicago for the very things that we all hold dear, Deb appealed for passage of Senate Bill 10, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois.

She told of their vow to love and hold each other, "in sickness and in health,” of the couple’s struggle with Deb’s

Christin Baker, left, with Deb Mell in Iowa after their marriage in August 2011. That ceremony was followed by a ceremony in the couple's church in Chicago.(Deb Mell photo / October 18, 2013 as reproduced in the Tribune)

Christin Baker, left, with Deb Mell in Iowa after their marriage in August 2011. That ceremony was followed by a ceremony in the couple's church in Chicago.(Deb Mell photo / October 18, 2013 as reproduced in the Tribune)

breast cancer and double mastectomy, followed by reconstructive surgeries.

Among many things, she was by my side for three days in the hospital; she got up all hours of the night to take care of me. And every day for two weeks she emptied drainage tubes that came out of my body because I didn't want to look at them. Today I am still in pain and I get scared the cancer will return, and my wife holds my hands and tells me we will grow old together.

And there are the quite times: “On Sunday mornings you will find us at our church, All Saints' Episcopal, in Chicago; on Sunday nights you can find us on the couch watching "The Good Wife" and "Homeland."

Deb wrote, “I love my wife, and this is our marriage, and I hope by telling you these personal details it shows we are more alike than different."

I wish that those of us who support female/male marriage could write so gracefully of our own beliefs. Too often what we write comes through as nasty, or worse. Yes, homophobes are among us; but we don’t stand with them. They do our cause more harm than good.

I wish that we could better explain that what moves many of us arises not so much from religious belief or dogma but from a sincere conviction, based in reason. That there is a secular argument for retaining the definition of marriage as essentially between a man and a woman.

It’s not that we don’t believe that loving and productive relationships between men and men, women and women are impossible. We have never doubted that you are capable of love, or that we are more alike than different.

Truth is, we are at a distinct disadvantage in explaining what we believe. It is less tangible than the love that Deb so eloquently describes. Principles often are that way; they seem distant and amorphous. It is harder to be compassionate about something so nebulous as the defense of a historic institution. That a child’s best interests are to be raised by her natural father and her natural mother.

What makes this argument so difficult is a growing cultural imperative that few things differentiate men and women, that it should make no difference to a child who is there for her. As long as who is there is loving and capable.

But I would go so far as to say that a child has a right to both a mother and a father.

We will be shown the “evidence” of the research that demonstrates that children are no worse off when raised by same-sex couples. Even though there’s other research that challenges the premise. Suffice to say that for now, the social science evidence is not conclusive in either direction.

In any case and cognizant of the inherent deficiencies of social science research, I’m not so ready to ignore the evidence that is before our own eyes, that men and women are indeed different, that each brings contrasting qualities and behaviors to bear not just in child-rearing but in so many facets of life.

I suspect that Deb feels the same. When she calls Christin her “wife,” there is an acknowledgment of gender differences and roles. (I'm glad that Deb chooses to use that terminology. I’ve always felt that the popular use of “partner” was a bit sterile. Why not “lover?”)

I know this will not stop the seemingly inevitable march toward the legalization of same-sex marriage in Illinois and elsewhere. Proponents of same-sex marriage have the advantage of a more appealing rhetoric by calling upon “fairness,” “respect,” “due process under the law,” “compassion” and “tolerance.” It is a compelling argument that reaches deep into the American soul and it's deep-rooted sense of equality. It will do no good to challenge here the logical fallacy contained in the argument.

But as the gay community asks for respect, I do too. A recognition that not all us who oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage are motivated by hatred. And an understanding that we will continue our passionate opposition in the belief it is in the best interests of society in general and children in particular.

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America's worst war? You might be surprised. Read Madness: The War of 1812.

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