personal opinion by Anne Elizabeth Barschall
When Elin and I were going through this website at Poho last weekend, we couldn't find the essay or essays I had written on the old website. I decided to go search my files -- and sure enough at least one was still on my computer. I'm going to post ti verbatim below.
I'm not sure I would have written this the same way now. The point is somehow buried in the middle somewhere: and that had to do with the very clear message I got to support Marriage Equality (which was formerly referred to as same sex marriage).
I have been thinking of this essay recently, and looking for it, because of my ongoing FB debates with an Evangelical Christian Trump supporter, who has a horror of all things LGBTQ.
The following was the original article written July 21, 2008. Previously the article was private to SFM, but I think I'll make it public now.
In our last business meeting, we discussed marriage and divorce. Several friends shared from their life experience as to why they felt as they did about marriage and divorce. Since that time, I have thought some about how my life experiences have shaped my opinion.
I was a student at Columbia in the early 1980's and participating in Morningside Meeting. During that time I became close to 5 people in the Meeting who ultimately died of AIDS and are now buried in Brooklyn Friends Cemetery, also I knew at least 2 members of my law school class who died, plus I attended meetings of FLGC at FGC where it seemed like people were dropping like flies all through the '80's.
I first met Bill McCann when I was a second year law student and he was a freshman at Columbia college. We met at Norningside Meeting. We organized a student mid-week worship group together at Columbia. At first, I had a terrible crush on him, but then I figured out that he was gay. He was very handsome, charismatic, brilliant, and a leader amongst the gay students at Columbia.
At Morningside Meeting, Bill met John Bohne, an even more handsome student from Union Theological Seminary. Bill left his then partner for John. They were a striking couple, both with movie-star-like good looks, but they were also very inspiring, idealistic, and really dedicated to making the world a better place. They became the first same sex couple to be married under the care of Morningside Meeting.
When we talk about clearness in a marriage, I think there are two kinds of clearness. The first, and more common, type of clearness is where the committee finds that neither party is already married, both are old enough and intelligent enough to make this decision, and there does not seem to be any clear abuse or incompatibility involved. The second type of clearness is where Friends feel a leading that this relationship was ordained by God. It is my understanding that the very early Friends looked for that second type of clearness amongst couples and that as a result marriages were at first only very infrequently performed by Friends.
John and Bill's relationship was the only one I have experienced where I felt that second type of clearness about their marriage. Perhaps that is why Morningside was willing to marry them, one of the first Quaker same sex marriages that was performed anywhere. They were both already infected at the time of the marriage and there was a certain pall over what might have otherwise been a festive occasion as there were no effective treatments then.
I visited Bill in the hospital at least 3 times as he died, because I was still living in New York City at the time. The last time I came to see him, I brought him flowers. He ate them. Seared into my brain are images of this brilliant young man so sadly affected as his health declined.
Equally seared are the opening words that his dissertation advisor delivered at his memorial service. "This is a great loss. There are papers that will not be written because he will not be here to write them. There are those of us who will struggle for years in darkness because he will not be here to light the way ..." There was more. Bill was 23 when he died.
For me, when I get e-mails from various causes, the environment, the right to vote, about impeaching Bush, or whatever, I often think about how some of those e-mails would have been from Bill and John. They would have been leading some cause, certainly, and constantly informing me about how I should help out in advancing it. Perhaps Bill would have been in public office. He was that sort of person, with that sort of charisma.
I prayed a lot about this couple after they died. Why bring these beautiful, inspiring young people into the world and cut them off before they could fulfil their potential? Why have them change us by inspiring us to take a very early same sex marriage under our care and then take them away?
And then, too, I was still acquainted with Bill's first partner, who as far as I know never got infected. This young man was clearly less attractive than John, but he was still alive. As much as I liked John and Bill together, I also had to wish that Bill had never left the first fellow.
After a while, I got a very clear impression of a message back. The message was that I must carry forward their memory, that they had been brought into my life to show me that same sex marriage was now ok, no matter what historical beliefs might have been about same sex relationships, that same sex marriage was something that God was bringing us in order to save lives -- not so that people could live long happy lives together, or be emotionally fulfilled, but to save their lives and the lives of others -- and, moreover, from a Darwinian perspective, ultimately people who had more traditional Judeo-Christo-Islamic beliefs about fidelity were going to be the ones who survived, and others were going to die.
Moving here from New York City in 1986 I felt like a refugee. Suddenly I was in an environment where people weren't dropping dead around me at a young age. It took a long time before I began to feel like it was possible that things could be somewhat normal still. That one could have a job, have children, grow old.
I have started to have friends who are HIV+ again, though. The epidemic has not stopped. People in Westchester can usually afford the drugs that can now keep people alive for 20 years or more. This is not true in other parts of the world, of course -- and I wonder, with the economy the way it is, how long it will be true even here. The drugs are extraordinarily expensive.
A few years ago, TIME magazine ran a report of a study that was conducted in a high school. The study had students report who their sex partners were. Then, the researcher drew a graph showing connections between these partners. It turned out that as soon as one or the other partner in a couple had more than one partner, the couple almost inevitably was connected with a network of students that included hundreds of sexually active people. The graph was deceptively abstract, but it clearly showed that having even two partners would put a person at substantial risk of sexually transmitted disease.
So it was with my friend Bill, who left his first partner for at least one person who was more attractive and who would probably now be alive if he had not done so.
Bill died in 1985. I probably first met him in 1982 or so. I started thinking about him a lot about 25 years after I met him. It seemed to come to me subliminally.
I see that I wrote that I got this message to support marriage equality after he died. That's not the way I remember it now. I remember getting this message during their wedding ceremony, when we knew they were already dying.
Of course, now, in the USA, people with health insurance are not dying of AIDS the way people used to. They're living much longer. Still, I have a clear sense that this does not undermine the strong original message that I got to support same sex marriage.