It is never too late to give up our prejudices. ~ Henry David Thoreau

I got some blowback last week for calling people who would deny gay couples the right to marry bigots.

I was called intolerant and bigoted for pointing out that if you believe it is OK to discriminate against a group of people then you are a bigot. Perhaps I should have added that it doesn’t mean that everything you do or say is bad or evil.

People – all people – are nuanced creatures that have the capacity for love, hate, and indifference. Just as you should not define a person based on their sexual preference, color or religion, you should also not define them by their prejudice. People also have the amazing ability to adapt and change. We should encourage that in every way possible, even if it means hurting some feelings.

In my experience the only way to change bigoted behavior is to challenge it as often as possible. It’s not easy and it’s not fast but it can be done. I know this because I lived through it. My father was a bigot; He was called Archie Bunker by his family and friends. If you weren’t white and Irish he really had no interest in you or what you had to say or what you had to offer.

Bigotry and hatred are learned behaviors and only exposure and experience can alter them. You can talk about equal rights and demand action now, both are right and proper, but you really cannot effect any change in a person’s ideas until and unless they see for themselves that “others” aren’t really all that “otherly”. When I went to school (in Boston during desegregation and forced busing) I was exposed to a diverse range of cultures and people. My classmates were Hispanic and African-American and plain old white kids just like me. In fact, they were all like me; the differences were only superficial.

It was a little confusing when I started to realize how my classmates were characterized in my home. What I was hearing and what I was experiencing were at odds. Somewhere around the sixth grade I realized that Dad was wrong. My sisters seemed to come to that same realization since we all had a diverse range of friends, including boyfriends.

A funny thing happened with Dad; he slowly started to change his perceptions. By the time he died he had almost come all the way around. Unfortunately for one sister, he died before he could come to terms with her relationship with her African-American boyfriend (now husband). I’d like to think he would. He came to not only accept, but also to genuinely like, his two non-white sons-in-law, one Chinese and the other Puerto Rican. 

I’m convinced, had we, his daughters, not challenged his bigotry, he would not have changed. Not even a tiny bit. Dad’s transformation is proof of why I believe it’s important that we keep calling out bigots and bigoted behavior whenever we see it. People can change. They just need to be given the opportunity and the time.

Maybe the lesson here is that the grown-ups need to confront it where we find it, all while raising the next generation to be more tolerant and open-minded. Perhaps, it really is up to the children and, with each successive generation, true equality will finally be achieved.

In the meantime, challenge some assumptions.

You may just help change a mind.

Barbara Mulvey-Welsh is a mother, writer and blogger raising kids and a husband in Plymouth. Check out her blog "Did I Say that Outloud" at barbaramulveywelsh.blogspot.com. Use caution when reading around the family, there is some strong language.

Michael R. Landers May 23, 2012 at 02:38 PM
I grew up in a home with an "Archie Bunker" sort of dad and most of what I did in the child-rearing years was cause for his wrath. I made it my mission in life to break the chain of hatred so that my children could see life as it truly is and not as angry individuals with flawed behavior see it. Sign on my door "Welcome. No Drama Spoken Here" There are a growing majority of Americans who believe that Gay Marriage Should be legal and some of us who have known that for a very long time. Removing the fear of difference, will open the floodgates of harmonic existence. I enjoy reading your perspectives, Barbara. Keep up the great work.
George May 23, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Comparing homosexuality and race is misguided and I'm sure there are plenty of people of color who will agree with that. Not much is really completely understood about gender identity and what causes humans to struggle with gender identity issues. What has been known for the entirety of human history is that Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. Certainly those who self identify as homosexual deserve protection of their civil rights and if laws have to be changed to grant equal rights to individual who elect to commit to a same gender relationship those changes should happen. But those relationships are not marriage as has be defined forever. It would be equivelent to changing the meaning of freedom or liberty. The meaning of the word gay has already been adopted to define homosexuals I guess because they did not like homosexual but that is not as significant as usurping the word marriage and changing the meaning of a previously defind relationship. Civil union seems a perfectly good definiton of the relationship between same gender individuals. If they are not willing to accept that or another word to define the relationship they will still be self identified as being in a "gay" marriage and therfore will be different whether they want it to be different or not.
Barbara Mulvey-Welsh May 23, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Thank you!
Barbara Mulvey-Welsh May 23, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Thank you! I love this "Removing the fear of difference, will open the floodgates of harmonic existence." Thanks for sharing it.
Barbara Mulvey-Welsh May 23, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I'd like to respond to your point regarding marriage as always staying the same. I disagree. Marriage has always been defined by the current culture and era. We no longer swap our daughters for property in a marriage; nor do we marry to create new countries (well, maybe some royals do this); we also no longer support the notion that the wife is the husbands property; and we no longer support polygamy. So the argument that marriage has stayed static is, in my opinion, not supported by history. There is also documentation that shows early examples of same-sex couples being joined in the early-Christian church. Saints Bacchus and Sergius are the most "high profile" example. I'll close by saying that marriage, as an institituion, does not just hold meaning for hetero-sexual couples and they should not be the only couples to define it. Setting up a separate but equal system under the heading of civil unions is, at its core, discriminatory. Thanks again!


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