SpongeBob scapegoat

Just days ago, if someone had asked me what Sponge Bob and gay marriage have in common, I would have burst out laughing. Today, though, I am not laughing. The SpongeBob controversy (read about it on the Focus on the Family Web site at www.family.org) is being used as a prelude to the upcoming amendment that would bar same-sex couples from marrying or being granted civil unions. I am writing this article to persuade you to vote against the amendment locally and nationally, if it is passed by the House and Senate.

I could show divorce statistics disputing the “sanctity of marriage.” I could quote the Bible’s verses preaching tolerance and respect, but I choose not to. I could talk about the Constitution as a document meant to expand peoples’ rights instead of limiting them. I could quote famous gay rights activists, but I won’t. Why? When I ask someone to support gay rights, I never use these reasons. These arguments mean little to me. What means most is telling my personal story.

It took me until my senior year of high school to be comfortable with my sexual orientation. In middle school, I dreaded going to my classes, especially gym because I was terrified of the locker room. I had lost most of my friends, and at my worst point, I was contemplating suicide because I felt so alone. I acted as if nothing was wrong; I had a steely resolve on the outside, but inside I was a scared young man.

My pain and fear lasted into high school, where I found comfort singing in choir and working furiously in the classroom. It took three years before I felt comfortable enough with myself to go to my school’s gay-straight alliance meetings. There, I found comfort with students and faculty who supported me. It was only then that I finally found value in my life. It took seventeen years for me to feel comfortable in my body.

Today, you will not find me crying myself to sleep at night. You will not see me eating and walking around alone. What you will see is a happy, well-rounded young man enjoying college life. I dream about what the future may hold for me: meeting the man of my dreams, marriage or a civil union, buying a cute little house or perhaps even adopting children some day.

The proposed amendment would not just stop me from marrying; it would squelch the rest of my dreams and quite possibly remove the meaning from my life. Passing the amendment in Wisconsin will do little; our state already defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. We, in Wisconsin, are being used to garner support for the passing of a national amendment. If gay and lesbian couples are further barred from legal recognition, we will start losing all of the rights we have struggled to gain in the last few decades.

Gay couples cannot marry now, and voting against this amendment will not grant them marriage rights. However, vote for the amendment and endless possibilities open up. What would stop lawmakers from making it legal to fire employees based on sexual orientation? What would happen to the laws that protect gays and lesbians from hate crimes? Forget about loving gay couples adopting children some day. What might happen to the gay-straight alliances that have helped people to find themselves in a society which bestows intolerance, cruelty and shame upon queer youth? Write discrimination into the constitution, and anyone in this country from any walk of life can consider his or her rights and privileges in jeopardy.

Dr. James C. Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, implies on his organization’s Web site that it is inherently dangerous for SpongeBob SquarePants to be used to teach values of tolerance to America’s youth. Referring to the teaching of concepts such as homophobia, heterosexism and gender in public schools, he asks readers “Is this the kind of nonsense you want taught to your kids, especially if the nation’s most popular cartoon characters are used to get across the concepts? I pray not!”

While I understand that few people truly agree with Dr. Dobson, voting to exclude anyone from basic rights and privileges only breeds the kind of negative sentiment that Dr. Dobson shares with those who visit the FOTF Web site. You can be against gay marriage and not vote for this amendment. For example, I disagree with abortion, but I defend a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body.

Gays and lesbians are everywhere in society. Whether you know it or not, they are working along side you. “The gays” are no different from anyone else. They teach kids in schools, they sell houses and they perform heart operations. If people would only look beyond the gay stereotypes presented in mass media, they would find out that a gay lifestyle is really not about hair, clothing and Gucci shoes, but about living a normal life. The only difference is that partner needs are satisfied by someone of the same gender.

I would like to ask you to do just one thing: as you finish reading this, refrain from immediately writing a letter to the editor criticizing me for this article. Instead, find a same-sex couple. Ask them how they would feel if one was in the hospital and the other was barred from visitation rights. Ask them what it feels like to be treated as a second-rate citizen.

Please do all you can to stop the proliferation of anti-gay sentiment in a country once respected for its overwhelming acceptance and embracing of all people.

Schneider is a sophomore music education major and a freelance columnist for The Spectator.