When my son was a teenager, he stayed out one night about 3 hours past his curfew.  This was unusual, because even though he was pretty headstrong in most things, he was also dutiful and rarely violated his curfew.  For some intuitive reason, though, I did not worry about him that night.  But I did wait up, and when he came in, we talked.

“I’m sorry, Dad, but I just had to.  There’s a lot going on, and I was going to go crazy if I didn’t do something.”  He provided few details other than that he had been talking with friends, but the feelings he conveyed struck a deep chord of memory in me.  He had to violate the current norms in order to respond to a deeper sense of what he needed, and he was willing to risk my disapproval and possible punishment to do it.

There’s always a space between what we know deep inside and what we are able to articulate or put into practice.  Judgment always lags behind experience.  For example, in medical technology we know how to do a lot of things that we’re not sure should be done.  We’re always playing catch-up with what life presents us, and that lag time can be confusing and polarizing.

The lag time is because a new realization of what’s right and true usually violates some past definition of what was right and true at the time.

I think that is what is at work today following President Obama’s announcement that he personally supports same-sex marriage.  He reported a few years ago that his views on the matter were “evolving” and we’ve all had an uncomfortable lag time to talk, worry, lobby, debate, and even pass preemptive legislation.  This lag time will no doubt continue as we wait to see how this plays out.  In fact, his announcement will likely further polarize us.

But the arc of history has been moving in the direction of legalizing same-sex marriage, and our president has now made that direction public.

What he and many other advocates have recognized is that the issue of same-sex marriage is no longer an issue of morality but rather an issue of civil rights. For many it is still a moral issue, but that is precisely the shift.  For a slight majority of the population now, this is a matter of equal rights and a cessation of discrimination.

For generations this has been an uncontested moral issue.  Homosexuality was “in the closet” for good reasons.  We did not understand it.  We attached a lot of stigma to the few who chose to be open about their homosexuality.  Because it looked like a rare phenomenon, we were comfortable considering it an aberration.  The medical and mental health communities considered it a disorder.  But we know more now, medically, genetically, and behaviorally.  And as human beings, it seems that as our mind expands, so does our inclusion.

What we discover to be right and true at a deep personal level takes a while to become public, even longer to become social, and then a matter of policy.  But the direction seems set.  What is right at a deep level for our president and for a growing number of people in this country is to provide the same rights, responsibilities, and privileges to people who wish to marry someone of their same sex as we do to those who marry someone of the other sex.

Churches and denominations will weigh in on this, and should do so.  The voice of religion is crucial in any social issue.  But this has now become a matter of civil law and civil rights, not Biblical interpretation.

I suspect that one day, our children’s or grandchildren’s generation will say the same thing we now say about some of the social conflicts of past generations, “I can’t believe you used to fight about that.”

Printed in the Abilene Reporter News, Sunday, May 20, 2012