Re: “Can’t Even Go to the Park”

Hi, Stacy. I heard about your encounters with gay couples in public places like parks and swimming pools, and I have to say, I find it hard to sympathize with almost any aspect of the life you’ve made for yourself.

Before I read your post, I thought that perhaps you had been witness to a public sex act or something similarly inappropriate. Instead, what you actually saw were two men rubbing elbows, and a lesbian couple taking their baby to the park. Apparently this was a good enough reason for you to stop taking your seven children outside, because they might see gay people and start asking questions. That was all it took for you to decide that you can hardly leave the house anymore for fear of people “imposing” their “immorality” on you.

You ask us, “is this freedom?” And I ask you: As opposed to what? Does your concept of freedom require that gay people must be excluded from all the places that you and your children might visit? Did you even consider for one moment what you are expecting of them? Just as you want to take your children to the park, so did that lesbian couple with their child. Yet you seem to think their family should be subject to the same exile that you’ve imposed upon your family. What is it that makes you special here? What gives you any greater claim to full participation in society than that family? Did it not occur to you that other people are just as fully human as you, and they want to be just as free to enjoy their lives? That is what freedom is, and that is what you do not understand.

Imagine individuals as a series of points spaced an equal distance from one another. Their freedoms are a circle of a certain radius that surrounds each of those points. Every circle is the same size. Now expand all of those circles simultaneously until their edges are touching, and no further. Those are the limits of our freedom, and yours. Nobody’s freedom is larger or smaller than anyone else’s. And nobody’s freedom can intrude upon the freedom of others. If it did, those circles would begin to overlap, and just as your freedom would encroach upon someone else’s, their freedom would intrude into yours as well. And if your supposed freedom extends so far as to banish people from the public sphere based only on your own personal morality, then everyone else is just as free to do that to you. You and your family would be equally subject to their whims, and that is not something you want. It is not something anyone should want.

Even you shy away from following your indignation all the way to its vile and unavoidable conclusion. But that is what you hint at when you say that you’re “supposed to be able to influence what goes on” in your community. There are many things that you can influence, but that is not among them. You live in a world where not everyone operates according to your interpretation of Catholic morality, and they are not required to. When you say that you’ve been forced to “tolerate immorality”, that is exactly right. It is a fact that you are always going to encounter people whose moral outlook does not align with yours. And just as you have the freedom to follow the dictates of your conscience, so do the rest of us. Nobody was rubbing elbows with you. Nobody is in a lesbian relationship with you. And you have every right to sit there at the park and meditate on how awful it is that gay people are allowed outside. But your expectation that they shouldn’t be there because of your religious views is no more valid than someone else’s expectation that you shouldn’t leave the house without a veil. That is not freedom.

You say that you’re not ready to answer any questions your children might have, and that they wouldn’t be able to understand how a child can have two mothers. But these are not the same thing. Your own discomfort with gay people is not yet shared by your children, and they are perfectly able to grasp this if you would just explain it to them. You assume that your children would be just as disturbed by gay people as you are. The difference is that you’ve already spent years immersing yourself in a faith that teaches you to see other people as sinful, sexually perverted and inherently disordered. But they have not yet suffocated their own sense of right and wrong and replaced it with a catechism. They don’t have any notion that these families are, as you put it, “living in sodomy”. And they do not see their children as having been merely “assembled”.

Your kids can and will understand that gay people exist. There is no way around that. But how they learn this is up to you. If you find yourself unprepared to tell your innocent children that these loving families should not exist and are headed for hell, good! Hold on to that bright sliver of humanity, and think about why this is such a difficult thing to tell a child who doesn’t yet know why they should see these families as any different from yours. They haven’t been taught to see sin and immorality at every turn. There is still hope for them, and you have a choice to make. You can raise them to respect other people as normal members of society, or you can teach them to be as frightened and hateful as you are.

And should you choose to smother your children in your own virulent ignorance, I sincerely hope that they will be repeatedly exposed to everyone and everything you despise, until they see the light where you could not.

I really don’t know what particular need this religion fulfills for you, whether it’s massive institutional approval and encouragement of your own prejudice, endless cliched narratives into which you can fit any conceivable life experience and act like you’re a martyr, an appealing moral simplicity that drains all the complexity of nuance out of your life, or just something to give structure and meaning to your existence because you couldn’t figure it out on your own. But understand this: We are not willing to pay the price for your own self-righteousness. If we’re making it uncomfortable for you to share your bias, I’m glad to hear it. If we’re making it harder for you to teach the next generation to hate us, we’re going to keep doing that. And we have no obligation to conceal ourselves just for the sake of accommodating your faith-based bigotry. We’re still going to be at the park. Will you?