It’s tough not being accepted by your parents for being gay. It’s even tougher when your father is a lawmaker and he’s voicing his anti-gay opinions in a public forum in support of a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. That’s what’s happening to 43-year-old Chris Smith, son of Indiana Representative Milo Smith. While he’s been out to his father for the last 23 years, his sexual orientation isn’t a major topic of conversation in the family, and clearly, his father’s conservatism on the subject runs deep: despite living with a gay loved one in the family, he played a critical role in a vote that would deny people like his son one route to build a family of their own.
The situation is in a strange way reminiscent of the Cheney family feud taken public last year, with lesbian Mary Cheney supporting marriage equality, while her sister Liz doesn’t; again, despite having a lesbian in the family. Their father, notably, isn’t a strong proponent of marriage equality either, and has sided with Liz in public statements. These kinds of family tensions don’t just make for awkward holidays: they also highlight troubling social and political divisions in the United States, for the same kinds of arguments are happening on a smaller scale in households all over the country.
In the case of the Smiths, Chris released a tempered and fairly neutral statement in response to his father’s vote, noting that he knows his father loves him, but also believes that his father’s views are unlikely to change after decades of knowing his son and having an opportunity to change his mind on the subject of gay civil rights. His statement, he says, was aimed at gay Indianans who might appreciate some solidarity in a troubling time — while the state already has a law on the books banning marriage equality, constitutional amendments are much more difficult to challenge legally, and thus can become calcified in place.
He lives in California, where he hasn’t chosen to marry his partner — but it’s clear he felt conflicted and unhappy to see his father voting to take that choice away from other LGBQT couples who might want to marry now or in the future. Chris also noted that his father’s religious views have become more extreme in recent years, reflecting a resurgence in the religious right; undoubtedly, his vote was influenced by his associations with conservative Christianity. The religious right has played a significant role in initiatives to limit marriage equality and other civil rights for the LGBQT community, and this isn’t the first family that has split along political and religious lines on this issue thanks to religious pressures.
Both Smiths insist they have a strong relationship and love each other deeply, but their accidental public feud speaks to a deeper problem. Across the country, parents and children (as well as siblings) are disagreeing on basic human rights and civil rights issues like these; a decade ago, these kinds of discussions were unthinkable, and now, the conversation is being forced — and some people aren’t ready to have it.
How do you respond when a family member says you are loved, but your relationship isn’t sacred or of equal value to other kinds of relationships? A growing number of Americans are asking themselves that question.
Photo credit: Kevin Dooley.