In an age of disembodied voices on the GPS I still like to unfold a map. In a way it’s our family’s legacy, going back to my grandparents, who opened a map, who packed up their few belongings, who bought steerage to travel from a flyblown town in Italy, make a way to a new world. They had the courage to travel alone and forge a new life.
In the movie Godfather II a young Vito Corleone takes this journey. In a heartbreaking scene, he is sequestered on Ellis Island. Alone in a tiny cell he sings to soothe himself, to quiet his nerves and give himself courage. That scene moves me, helps me to see my son traveling cross country by himself in a small blue car, camping out along the way singing to himself as he made his way to a new coast 3,000 miles from his Western New York home. Then making the even more frightening journey to accept himself and then to proudly proclaim that he is not to going to live the old route, the hidden route, that so many gay men and women had to take before. He began to make his own path.
Six months later he took the journey back to his east coast home, a journey he has taken hundreds of times since, but that time he made the decision to tell us, his parents. The fork in the road. For us as a family. On a cold March day our map was crumpled. A future we foresaw for him–for us–was unalterably changed. We have unfolded the map and with many stops and starts we have plotted a new route.
Multiply that experience by thousands of gay men and women. Thousands who said we refuse the margins of society. We refuse to live in the shadows. To live bifurcated lives of public and private but to claim our birthright bought by brave forbears who opened a map, who said that they see a different journey. Those thousands and millions began with the angry drag queens and street kids at Stonewall and began marching down these new paths through bedrooms, boardrooms, voting booths, family rooms and even small bungalows in the backwaters of Buffalo, New York to say a new route is opening.
So here we are in 2015. Our son legally married with a family. Our life different but connected to the past and looking to the future for our grandchildren. But as in any route there are roadblocks. Unanticipated construction. Traffic jams. And worst of all, backlash.
Never would I have thought that the religion of my youth, the religion that shaped our family, the religion that gave my grandparents comfort on that long journey from Italy would be used as the wedge to batter my son and so many gay people. Recently in Time magazine I saw a map outlining states with Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. It shocked me. So many states! Religion used in those states, as in Indiana, as a battering ram against hard won gay rights. It is used as an excuse to discriminate against gay people in a time when many states and many courts are affirming the basic human right of gay people to marry.
A map shows us that the route will have to be made over and over again. Just last week conservative Catholic Ireland affirmed the right of gay people to marry. They rejected the message of the Catholic Church to continue discrimination. I pray our Supreme Court makes that right universal here in the U.S. So that the map does not have to be a crazy quilt of affirming states and ones that encourage discrimination. So that the map can be laid out for all citizens to affirm their basic human right to love whom they choose.