We had a tragedy in my family this week. My cousin's son was killed in a motorcycle accident as he rode to school. He was a sophomore in college. Someone came out of a driveway as he passed and hit him. He never had a chance.
This young man and his brother had started out life in some of the worse circumstances imaginable. They were adopted from Brazil as abandoned babies. But their luck changed when my cousin and his partner adopted them.
These two babies went from the dimmest of futures to the brightest of futures. They were raised on a big piece of land that had once been a farm but now served as their personal playground. They attended the best of schools. They were loved and spoiled by their extended family, and they had one heck of an extended family. There were always cousins to play with and aunties and uncles who made their lives even richer.
Here's the thing. My cousin is gay. He and his partner have been together now for almost 40 years. During those years, they worked hard and contributed to their community. They paid their taxes and voted in elections. They raised their two sons to be good men with promising futures. And now they must suffer the unimaginable pain of burying one of their children.
There is a whole segment of our society that would deny to them the basic human right that the rest of us have - the right to express our love of our partner and family within a public and legal setting. But despite their forty years of being devoted to each other and their children, there are still people who call their love unnatural and claim it is abhorrent to their god.
Quite frankly, I don't care much for any god who would turn from this much love. But that's not the point. The point is that gay people are not asking for your god to love them or approve their way of life. The last time I looked, religious and civil societies were separate entities in America. In the religious one, you can believe whatever your sacred book or preachers tell you so long as those beliefs do not infringe on someone else's right to believe differently. That's the wonder and glory of our country.
In our civil society, however, the issue of what some specific religious text says about marriage or homosexuality should have absolutely no bearing on the rights of people to enjoy the benefits conferred on their friends and neighbors. If your Christian beliefs say that this is wrong, fine. Don't let them join your church or practice your faith. But if the only argument you can make for denying people their civil rights is that your religion tells you it's wrong, then you have no basis for denying them the right to a civil marriage.
It's not about religion. It's not about faith. It's about our government treating all people fairly and equally under the law. No study has ever shown that homosexuality has harmed America. Most gay couples would be hard to pick out of a crowd. They work, exercise, make supper for their kids, go to the movies and share holidays with their families. They could not be more like us because they are us.
The insanely named "Defense of Marriage Act" is no more a defense of marriage than the war in Iraq was actually about weapons of mass destruction. And please do not drag out that tired old canard that if gays can marry legally, it is but a slippery slope to marriage between a dog and his master. Marriage is the civil recognition of two consenting adults who pledge to spend their lifetime together as partners. Even though on a good day I feel my dogs make better partners than most of the people I've dated, I am well aware that they are not consenting adults.
As my cousin and his partner sit Shiva for their son, I wonder how anyone could doubt the love they share, the family they made, or their contributions to their community. Given some of the "families' I've worked with through the years in social services, I find it incomprehensible that anyone could deny them that honorific. They have more than earned it.
Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Web site, www.elisepatkotak.com.
By Elise Patkotak