There was a lot of debate in my AP U.S. Government and Politics class at Green Hope High School in Cary when Amendment One was passed back in 2012. At the time, I did not pay much attention to the details of the bill. I knew that I was uncomfortable with gay marriage given my Christian upbringing and conservative Chinese parents.
I went through the rest of high school without any real challenge to my thoughts of same-sex marriage. There were no reminders on campus: I knew no one who was openly gay, and no group openly fought for the cause – it was hidden behind closed curtains.
Having studied for a year now at Columbia University in New York City – where sexual expression is not only permitted but openly displayed – my perspective on gay marriage has radically changed. Some of the most intelligent and interesting people I have met this year are openly gay. Interacting with these new friends and realizing that they are just like me has made me disgusted by how my home state could restrict the civil liberties of these great people.
Recently, The New York Times published “Gay rights push shifts its focus South and West,” which discussed how LGBTQ rights groups plan to refocus their efforts on Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas and Texas. At first, I was puzzled by the unorthodox campaign strategy – why are they not focusing on North Carolina? We are still severely conservative on gay rights. There are no discrimination protection laws, adoption for gay couples is prohibited and restrictions are in place for same-sex unions. Jumping straight into the Deep South without winning over the border just seemed counterintuitive.
Stumped by the tactics of the movement, I tried to reason out why we North Carolinians are still so behind on same-sex rights. A decade ago, just one state, Massachusetts, allowed same-sex marriage. Today, it is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia. In 1996, a Gallup poll showed that only 27 percent believed same-sex marriage should be legally recognized. In 2011, for the first time in history, a majority, 52 percent, of Americans were in favor of legalizing of gay marriage. With this snowballing approval, it is only a matter of time until same-sex marriage is legal nationwide. For North Carolina, it has become a matter of how long we are willing to go down in history as a state that embarrassingly spent extra years denying civil liberties to human beings.
Many, like I did, have their ideas of gay marriage rooted in religion, and I understand that. However, we shouldn’t interpret religion so stringently and statically. Over centuries, clergy have continually adapted their interpretations of holy books to fit with the changing times. No longer do we condone the slavery and racism that were so encouraged in the Old Testament. This dynamic view of religion is seen in our very own city of Charlotte, where a coalition of clergy members filed a federal lawsuit “challenging North Carolina’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, saying it violated their religious freedom.” They claimed that they wished to perform same-sex marriages in their congregations but were prohibited from this religious expression by our state’s Amendment One.
Our religious leaders have begun to realize there are many members of their congregations who are both devout followers and gay. We too need to recognize that the person sitting next to us during service could be LGBTQ. Despite their intrinsic disposition, they are still practicing compassion and giving back to the community. They are still part of us. We should not let the sexual orientation of a person distort our perception of his achievements and integrity.
Even one of the oldest religious bodies has began to loosen. Last June, when asked about the accusations of homosexuality against his appointed delegate to reform the Vatican bank, Pope Francis answered in the now famous line, “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?”
Kevin Xiao is a rising sophomore at Columbia University and former valedictorian of Green Hope High School in Cary.