My Brother’s Keeper


(Jacob Greenwald)– My brother Sam is easily one of the most talented people I have ever met. He is intelligent (possibly even more intelligent than me), funny, socially well-adjusted, and one of my best friends. He is also gay. By the time this is up on the AC Voice website, Minnesota will be voting on whether or not to pass a “marriage amendment” limiting the definition of marriage in the state constitution as between one man and one woman. This doesn’t mean that if the issue doesn’t pass, gay marriage will be allowed within the state, as the passing of Defense of Marriage Act in 1997 already did that. This is just the cherry on top. Currently, polling shows that, due to by-laws within the state constitution, the amendment will probably not pass. But, if the amendment does pass, my state will join 30 others in passing similar legislation, not  recognizing same-sex unions, either across the board, or solely within the institution of marriage.This would further deny gay couples of the legal protections afforded by the institution of marriage, and on the whole would send a societal message condemning gay unions. To me personally, it will mean that my home state will see people like my younger brother, Sam, as something less both in the eyes of society, and within the protections of the law.

I can still vividly remember the day that my brother came out to me. It was the day after Christmas, and he and I were sitting on a couch in the basement, watching TV. When the program cut to commercial, he over at me.
“Jacob, there’s something I need to tell you…You know what, never mind…Okay, well now it’s awkward…Okay, Jacob I’m gay.” I stood up, gave him a hug, and I told him that I loved him, and that he was still my brother. Then we sat back down, and continued watching TV.

My parents were initially a bit freaked out when my brother told them the same thing a couple of months later, but I think most of this stemmed from them coming of age immediately after the Stonewall riots, and doing their medical training during the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic. The point is, they got over it. This was in no small part related to the tireless efforts of my brother and I to convince them that the world had changed in the past 40 years, and that, while many voting-age populations cared about this non-issue now, within a generation, things would change. Besides, we lived in Minnesota, a fairly liberal place, right?

Currently, I am realizing that the situation is a bit more complicated. The place where I live is still incredibly accepting. My brother is not stigmatized for being gay in any social activity that I have ever seen him in. My favorite example of this social acceptance is something that happened to him two summers ago at camp. After coming out to his cabin (where the response to the news was the same as mine), and finding a boyfriend, my brother was looking for places where he could hook up. So, one of his cabin-mates, a tall and burly baseball player, was kind enough to advise him on a couple of places away from prying eyes. My point is, if my brother is being made fun of, it’s probably because he deserves it, and not because of his sexual orientation.

At the same time, I live in a small part of a big state. I had forgotten that, in fact, the congressional district bordering mine is Michele Bachmann’s. There are a lot of people in my home state who are going to vote “yes” today, and, on reflection, I know quite a few. They are the kids that I went to highschool with, or my grandparent’s friends. They live down the street, and they go to places of worship in my area. And occasionally, when some of the veneer of passive-aggressive cheer is scraped off, I’ve heard people vehemently support the aims of this amendment. In particular, one comment that I once heard from my clarinet teacher has stuck in my mind.

One day, probably around the age of 14, I showed up early to my weekly clarinet lesson. While trying to kill time, I started talking to a parent who was waiting to pick their child up. When my teacher was done with the kid before me, she then decided to relax for a minute, and joined in the conversation. For reasons I still cannot understand, the topic of public morality came up. When asked what she thought, my teacher delivered a response that still amazes me for being so strident.
“Society is making…certain lifestyles far too permissive. We are teaching our children that it is okay, and that bothers me.” Since that moment, I have been mulling over my response, which, being 14, I unfortunately never delivered: What?

Even at such a young age, I was sort-of shocked that somebody would think along this line of logic. That this vague, hackneyed refrain, heard for decades, that the treatment of homosexuality as a valid method of living with societal degradation, and harm to our children. This is the block to my brother attaining all of his civil rights. A sizable portion (though, not a majority) of my state buys into this fear-mongering. It’s the same fear-mongering that has been heard during every major social shift in the history of this country, and every time has been proven false. A particularly prescient illustration of this phenomenon would be the push to end the bans on interracial marriage found in many state constitutions, which was completed in 1967. Previous attempts at ending these outdated and racist laws were met with howls of protest, alleging that allowing persons of different races to marry would break the established social order, with the next logical step being human-animal unions. I will allow you to form your own judgement, but I think that, 45 years on, people of different races are allowed to marry, everybody seems happy, and it’s still impossible to marry a monkey. The only fallout is for the children of those who supported these laws, as they now lie to their children about the opinions of Grandpa and Grandma.

So, I guess my point is simple. The world is always changing. To imagine that, by enacting new statutes, it is possible to forestall massive social changes has been proven to be ridiculous. And history has shown that the changes that we have worried the most about (like allowing people of different races to marry), have turned out  fine. Minnesotans are coming around to this way of thinking, as evidenced by recent polls showing that only 45% of those polled believe in amending the constitution with this new definition, which again gives me faith in the phrase “Minnesota Nice.” There may even be a time, soon, where people realize that allowing people of the same gender to be married will not fundamentally break or warp society, in my state, and in the nation. And when that time comes, another generation of adults will have the opportunity to lie about the opinions of their parents to their children.