Acceptance and forgiveness can move us all forward

by Jeff Sykes

I was happy to see the joy of the world increased.

When you boil it down to its essence, that’s what happened this past week when the constitutionality of same-sex marriage was finally recognized. After the emotional roller coaster of the past week, and the constant refreshing of Twitter and Facebook feeds as we all waited on the decision that would certainly come down, it was thrilling to see so much love released into public view.

I had written this past week about the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear appeals from lower federal courts that had found bans on samesex marriages in five states out of bounds with the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. I had spent a good part of Thursday driving back and forth to the Guilford County Register of Deeds office downtown as the newshound in me knew that was the place I should be.

That’s where I ran into a bevy of local news folks covering the story. That’s where I met two representatives of Equality NC. That’s where I spoke to a couple waiting, at once exuding joy and pain as the moments passed and the tension bordered the absurd. Their love was plain. Their frustration at being denied equal rights and justice equally so.

Moments before, another couple, namely Phil Berger and Thom Tillis, had filed a motion to delay the last step needed for same-sex marriage to become legal in North Carolina. It was a futile gesture, as subsequent court rulings the next day would make clear. But at the time it just seemed spiteful.

I recalled a time when I faced a choice. I could either cling to the childish notions ingrained in me by the Baptist and Pentecostal churches I had been raised in, the words right there in black and white in Deuteronomy and First Corinthians, or I could let it go. I could accept the diversity of the human condition.

I could take pleasure in the achieved happiness of others.

And so I chose. Life’s about choices anyway, and so I made one. It wasn’t hard at all. Besides, who could possibly be against the increased love and happiness of other people?

Apparently Thom Tillis and Phil Berger, among others. If you want to know my opinion, I think they both relegated themselves to the ash heap of history with that desperate, spiteful political ploy.

I asked the couple sitting in the Register of Deeds office what they thought of the action Tillis and Berger took seeking to delay the inevitable.

“It’s hurtful,” one of them said. “It’s the adult version of ‘smear the queer,'” the other replied.

I couldn’t think of anything else relevant to ask, wishing only that they would achieve what had been for so long denied. I didn’t want to press things too far for fear of making a faux pas. I’d seen someone do that moments earlier when a man said “congratulations” to two female journalists sitting next to each other as we passed the time, waiting for a ruling from the federal courts.

There had once been a moment in time when I had made such a rush to judgment based on assumption and not knowing all the facts. As I prepared to leave because it was clear no ruling would come down on Thursday, I saw the person that I had once judged so wrongly.

I hesitated for a moment, but approached him in hopes that I would get a chance to apologize. It seemed a good day for atonement. I had known the man as a child growing up in one of those churches I mentioned. I had admired him for his talent “” for his sense of self-confidence. Two things I sorely lacked.

But I had wronged him many years later. We made small talk, briefly, standing there in the Register of Deeds office, until he got around to reminding me that I had once judged him harshly.

“I was wrong,” I said. “I really regret that time in my life.”

I asked him if I could apologize to him and I stuck out my hand, which he accepted.

“I’m sorry that I did that. I hope you will forgive me,” I said.

“I do,” he replied. !