Change I can believe in

A few months after I graduated from college, I moved to Paducah, a small town in western Kentucky, to work for the local newspaper. I didn’t like my first apartment and after a year living there wanted something bigger. I decided to rent the top floor of a two-story house with one of my co-workers.

As I was filling out paperwork for the lease, I noticed the landlord looking at my roommate. He and I were both clean cut, slender and in our 20s. “Now, you’re not one of those fag couples, are you?” asked my landlord, who was probably in his 50s. “They’re practically taking over the neighborhood.”

Our home was in a neighborhood that had been designated as an arts district. Artists who bought property in the area were eligible for sizable grants to make improvements to their home. The project attracted artists from all over the country. And some of them were gay.

We weren’t, but I didn’t feel the need to tell my landlord. If I were gay, would that make me less capable of paying my rent on time? Less trustworthy?

That was 2002. While I get the sense that attitudes toward homosexuality have – to borrow a word from President Barack Obama – “evolved,” large numbers of Americans still support legislation that allow states to discriminate against gay couples. Earlier this month, North Carolina became the 30th state to approve a ban on gay marriage. That’s a shame, and the opposite of what we should be doing.

Look, we’re in a rut. Two wars over the last decade. A slumping economy. Towns gutted by manufacturing plants that have closed and moved overseas. Local governments forced to cut to the bone due to a shrinking tax base. To compete with emerging economies such as China and India, let’s promote one of the areas in which we still have the upper hand: tolerance.

Last month, Obama became the first sitting president to announce his support for gay marriage. “I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” he said in an interview with ABC News.

Obama said he believed some of the differences in opinion on gay marriage were generational, and that for his daughters – who have friends whose parents are gay – “it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently.”

By passing discriminatory laws, we’re sending the wrong message to the rest of the world at a time when we can least afford to. It’s critical that our universities and companies continue to attract and retain the best and brightest minds in the world, and that we treat them fairly regardless of who they love.

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