We lost a ground-breaking, iconic astronaut this week. Sally Ride passed away from pancreatic cancer, leaving behind an inspirational legacy to women everywhere, as well as a same-sex domestic partner of 27 years. The revelation that Ride was in a long-term lesbian relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy wasn't common knowledge, but in the wake of her death, it has become public fodder, for better or worse.
I don't want to write about whether or not I agree with Ride's decision to keep her private life private. It was not our decision to make, and we must respect that. Yes, it's nice when public figures come out, as it often shines a more positive light on gay & lesbian culture, but it's really no one's business, unless the people involved choose to make it so. Instead, I want to talk about the reaction to Ms. Ride's life after her death, from people specifically opposed to the life she led for (at least) 27 years.
Upon the news of Ride's passing, presidential candidate Mitt Romney tweeted the following:
Sally Ride ranks among the greatest of pioneers. I count myself among the millions of Americans she inspired with her travels to space.
Initially, my reaction to Mr. Romney's remarks was that of unabashed anger. How dare this man who would deny the dignity of marriage to folks like Ride and O'Shaughnessy come along after she's dead and speak of her so eloquently! It enraged me, to be honest. I felt like it was a hollow, meaningless attempt to score some sentimental political points. After a few hours, however, I began to try and think about the situation differently, because that is what I do: over-think things.
Romney had kept his remarks very specific. He did not gush about what a wonderful person Sally Ride was, more about her career as an astronaut. Does this, then, make it all right? Can we like certain aspects of person -- praise them, no less -- but not like other aspects about them? The answer to this is certainly "yes." We do it all the time. Even with those closest to us, there are surely things we like about them a little less than others? So, Mitt's in the clear, right?
Not so fast.
The problem one encounters when making sweeping statements against certain acts (such as same-sex marriage), is that -- intentionally or otherwise -- it is impossible not to be making a personal statement against the individuals involved. Whether it be Kirk Cameron stating that gay marriage would undermine civilization, or Lee Newcom from McLean County comparing Illinois legalizing gay marriage to a major, horrific traffic accident he'd witnessed, the implications are clear: gay people marrying one another is bad, even perhaps dangerous for society.
When such rherotic and, even more unfortunately, laws can be expounded and enacted upon without batting an eyelid, it is indeed difficult to separate the people from the act. It stands to reason that if the act of gay marriage is detrimental to society, then the reason for that must innately be within each and every gay person. There is no way to separate it. It is because of this that I do not care to hear Mitt Romney praise Sally Ride and also demonize gay marriage. If gay marriage is bad, then that means that Sally Ride was bad.
This is the inconvenient truth that we live with, that disparaging remarks are often more personal than we realize. On more than one occasion while debating a local uber-conservative about the merits/demerits of gay marriage, he would take a moment to explain to me that this was not personal. Except, of course, that it was. Every time a politician, or pundit, or your guy or gal on the street speaks against same-sex marriage, they are saying something personal against each and every gay and lesbian invididual.
So, you understand my reticence in embracing Mr. Romney's high praise of the late, great Sally Ride. If he truly believes that gay marriage is bad for society, then he has said something very fundamental against Ms. Ride and her partner. But at least she was a "pioneer," right? Nothing personal, though.