Thirty years ago this past October I ventured over to San Francisco from my Jesuit community in West Oakland to pose as a liberal supporter of the beleaguered gay community as they were fighting the nefarious Proposition 6, which, if passed, would have required all gay persons be dismissed from their jobs teaching in California schools.  I went armored with my clerical shirt and Roman collar.  I did not want anyone to think I was one of them, just an enlightened friend.  I had recently turned 30.

Harvey Milk, subject of the eponymous new movie, was one of several speakers in what was billed as a religious witness against Prop 6.  He spoke along with various religious leaders, including the Episcopal Bishop, Kilmer Myers and the highest ranking Roman Catholic  who would participate, a woman! , my old friend Sr. Eileen de Long, a Good Shepherd.  Milk gave his standard but to me startling speech, sharing that “we aren’t here today for us, but we are here for the little boy in Bakersfield and the little girl in Fresno who live in fear that they are alone, all alone…”

Standing in front of me were two young men, one holding the other.  I had never witnessed this openness before.  As Milk spoke, I swelled with feelings of every kind: shame, hope, my own fear, desire, joy; and I wept.  I took the white plastic tab out of my Roman collar, hoping to somehow blend in, with them.  Afterwards, I took the subway home, put a piece of paper in my typewriter, and clunked out: I am a gay man.

That was thirty years ago.  I was one month sober, full of life and hope and wanting to know everything I could about what it might mean to be a human being.  And everything I could about the God who had, in divine wisdom, made me gay.

The voters rejected that proposition.  Several months later, on the cusp of ordination, I decided to leave the Jesuits, brothers for whom my gratitude and love remains unabated, to live my life with a certain openness that was required of me by the still small voice I have always struggled to hear.

This past September, I turned 60.

On the ballot in California this year was another proposition, this one numbered 8, which again would deny to gay persons rights, the final right if you will, the right to marry, that is, the right to have a couple’s primary, committed, chosen relationship treated under the law in all matters and in all manner fairly and equally.  A quite civil matter.

The California Supreme Court had recently adjudged, as they did in the 1950’s regarding then-banned inter-racial marriages, that all citizens had a right to equal treatment under the law regarding civil marriage.

My husband, Scott Hafner, and I had gotten married—legally—the first time in 2004, in San Francisco’s City Hall.  It was a brief and intimate civil ceremony, performed by a friend who was a City supervisor.  Some months later, along with several thousand other marriages, ours was annulled, so to speak, by the governor.

After the Supreme Court ruling this past May, as with many thousands of other California couples now newly enfranchised, Scott and I got married again, this time in our home, in a brief and intimate civil and sacred ceremony, performed by a friend who is an Episcopal priest.

Scott and I have had a twenty-seven year engagement.  Of course, we have not had an ideal relationship, though I would say he is an ideal spouse for me.  My mother, before she died, used to tout our marriage, her word, to my siblings as one she regarded as a pretty darn near perfect.  She lived 1800 miles away from us, however.  But we have had a graced and ever-deepening life together.  We were married along time ago, bereft of the sacrament, no small thing, without the document and the rights and benefits and the social standing that actually matters for all couples very much, but married nonetheless.

Our marriage commenced back in 1981 and to us quite evidently blessed by the One who brought us together, who has sustained us, and who continues to give us the luminous energy necessary for each of us to figure out how to love another human being for yet another day.  We will hopefully end our days together, one nursing the other, one burying the other, one remembering the other, you know, just like some married people do and have been doing for all time.  Many of them have been men with men, women with women, unbeknownst to or pretended otherwise by wagging tongues and righteous clerics and people who live with a far fear greater than we do.  Married nonetheless.

Our fellow citizens annulled our marriage last month.

We went to bed on Election Night with the ineffable joy that accompanied the election of Barack Obama, for whom we had worked so hard.  Proposition 8 was too close to call.  The next morning, our phone rang before dawn.  It was our next door neighbor Joan, a pixie in her late 70’s, married to her spouse Jerry, who simply said: “Bill, did I wake you? Well, I am calling because I do not want you and Scott to worry, for we will win this yet.”

We.  I loved that.  After we hung up, I again began to weep.

I have kept my own counsel since that day.  My ruminations and feelings have been held close, though ruminations and feelings I have had.

But today, in the New York Times, a full page ad appeared, signed by several religious leaders, such as they are.  They constituted a group self-styled as NoMobVeto.  Reading their text made me furious, and reading the text made me very sad.

In my work as a therapist, and as a friend, I have been present to the wounds of gay persons for the past thirty years, and have had the great grace to witness others as they work through the enormous shadow this culture casts onto us.  I have come to know intimately the effects of scapegoating on gay individuals, on gay relationships and on the gay community.  Just last week, Mike Huckabee, an ordained minister and fauxsy politician, said on The View that gay persons had not earned their civil rights because they had not had an adequate threshold of violence committed against them, a new and puzzling criterion for the Constitution to reckon with.

Surely we remember Harvey Milk, our revered and murdered leader, and Matthew Shepherd, he of the beaten-to-within-an-inch-of-his-life and left in cruciform to die in the harsh elements of high desert Wyoming.  Perhaps the memory of the unmitigated suffering AIDS wrought in the gay community has faded for Mr. Huckabee and his fundamentalist friends, but perhaps that memory never existed at all.

Such culturally shaped images, however, do not compare to the psychic damage these very religious leaders and their ilk in the institutions have perpetrated onto gay people actually since forever.  The scars are of a different form than those of the beloveds sicced with dogs in Selma, perhaps Mr. Huckabee’s referent.  For gay persons, the toxin is held silently within until its damage has completed its course.  Boys and girls grow up alien in their own families, hobbled with a belief that they are, in the words of another sanctifier, Anita Bryant, human garbage, or, sinful deviants or perverts or fags or dykes or disgusting or…who would want this sorry lot for their enemy, let alone their child, their sibling, their friend?

In the aforementioned ad, these leaders equate the outrage felt in the gay community at the loss of civil rights as merely anti-religious bigotry, and they state, and I quote: “beginning today, we commit ourselves to exposing and publicly shaming  [italics mine] anyone who resorts to the rhetoric of anti-religious bigotry…”  They are saying, in effect, If you oppose our political agenda, we will publicly shame you.

Isn’t this what these fearmongers disguised as men of God have always been doing, publicly shaming?  Have not gay people been their villains for years, for decades, for centuries?  Is not the word faggot from the French for kindling, the wood used to stoke the fires that consumed homosexuals at the stake?  Is that not a word used to terrorize schoolchildren yet today?  Is there a parent alive not aware of this?  Is there a parent alive who would wish this term to be used to batter their child?  Their little boy?  Little girl?  I suspect not.

Was not Prop 8 a publicly shaming apex?  Could one believe anything other than that gay people have been made sullied and dirtied and trivialized and discouraged and shamed?   Made to feel by the body politic unworthy and beyond the pale?   Brave fronts we may adopt, but the lacerations never quite cauterize and heal.

After the election I uncommonly felt unstable in public, unsure of myself, tenuous, even after thirty years.  With whom could I share my feelings?  Ancient fears and forebodings returned as if I was again a child.  I have been startled by this, and made sad, and, I find it hard to admit, bereft.  I return, reflexively, to my ancient question:  what is there about me that fills them with disgust? And why is it the religious ones are the most filled with vitriol?

I find myself wondering, is this what their WWJD bracelets commend them to?

I listened to a lovely man this past week.  I had not known him but he was in attendance at a meeting at which I spoke.  He came up afterward and asked if we could have a moment together.  I said, “Of course”.  He was perhaps 35, born Irish Catholic, now a denizen of San Francisco.  He shared with me his story of deep wounding, of having escaped the clutches of death, a death he had desired so as to relieve the untenable belief that he was in fact beyond the reach of God.

I have heard his story countless times.  He asked for no pity, no sympathy, just an ear.  Just a human encounter was what he wanted.  He had a benign presence, and I felt honored to spend those brief moments with him and to extend to him a brief blessing.  He departed, and, walking to the subway afterwards, I again started to cry.  Softly.  So no one would see.

I have been crying a lot of late.  Tears of joy.  Tears of sadness.  Tears of grief. Tears of knowing, terrible knowing.  I know at 60 that that arc is bending, yet ever so slowly.  I see, as perhaps in your work and lives you do, too, the wounds and stripes all around me, in the lives of humans so worthy and so evidently bearing the essence of the divine in their very selves.

The only Jesus I know was present in that young man.  I know, after 60 years, very little else.

I do not want to demonize my opponents, these men of a self- righteous faith.  I have been there.  I need to find a way to love these men, a way I don’t yet fully know, to somehow to see in them their own wounded boy that now strikes out to wound others.  This is hard work. I know, too, I will work to insure that they and their legions inflict no more harm on these gay beloveds who bear love for their chosen ones in the exact way the world so clearly needs.