I’ve always hated the taste of peanut butter. First as a child, later as a teenager, and now as a young adult, it’s just been one of those foods that I never liked. It didn’t matter if it was spread on toast with banana slices, or covered in nuts and drenched in chocolate, or blended ever so discreetly into a post-gym protein shake; it’s a taste I just never seemed to acquire. People told me that my taste buds would eventually change and that I shouldn’t lose hope on my peanut butter dilemma. Who knows, you might end up loving peanut butter one day. One day came and went, and 24 years later, I still have no desire to go anywhere near the damn jar. And whenever people find out my deep, dark, juicy secret, they look at me like I’m the female, 40-year-old virgin. What do you MEAN you don’t like PEANUT BUTTER?, or How could you NOT like peanut butter?, and What’s not to like? It genuinely makes me laugh; as if liking peanut butter automatically qualifies me as an individual that people wanted to befriend, and not liking it transforms me into this socially stunted, non-peanut-butter-loving weird girl in the corner.
Alas, I grew up and got over it, covering up the invisible scars and bruises of my shameful teenage years along the way. You’re probably aware by now that the idea of “peanut butter” stands for something much greater than a potential celery dipping option. I could go on; I could expand upon this exaggerated analogy until I’m blue in the face. I grew up knowing that I’d never like the taste of peanut butter, plain and simple. I had it easy; because while I was busy reasoning my trivial prohibition on peanut butter, there were people beside me, defending a basic freedom that most of us take for granted: their right to love. These are the people who are peer pressured into verbally arguing why they are gay. Every day, they must face someone who doesn’t understand their decision to be gay, refusing to believe that maybe it’s just how they were born. Imagine walking through life, never knowing when you’ll have to spring to your own defense, for behaving in a way that feels natural to you. Think about critics throwing daggers at your proverbial ‘peanut butter;’ think about critics aiming them at the person you love.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that you don’t necessarily have to walk in someone’s shoes in order to empathize with the journey they make in them. My friends come in all shapes and sizes; male and female, tall and short, black and white, bookworms and foodies. Perhaps I owe it to my humble upbringing, which exposed me to all walks of life, and taught me to accept a person based on their quality of character rather than the color of their skin or the size of their jeans. It’s not difficult; it’s humanity. So when same-sex marriage became a hot topic of debate across the country, a large part of me didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Gay and lesbian couples want to marry their respective partners? Fabulous. By no means did I feel the need to weigh in on the issue because, as a straight woman, it did not directly affect me. Turns out, the people who were least affected by this issue happened to be the very same people who had the most to say. The religious, suburban family who can’t understand why those people would choose to live their lives in such a way, the high school cliques that intimidate or haze the boys who bring other boys to the prom, the children who grow up in environments that denounce and discourage them from accepting any form of love but the right kind; far and wide, ignorant and informed, it seems like everyone, everywhere had something to say.
When the time came for same-sex marriage to be debated in the New York State Senate, Diane Savino was one of the first to support the bill. It wasn’t because she was a lesbian woman who wanted to join in a union with her long-time partner, it wasn’t because she had a son who is petrified by the idea of growing up in a society in which he will be discriminated against if he loves another man; it was because it was the right thing to do. [This is] not about politics, it’s not about Democrats or Republicans; this vote is about an issue of fairness and equality, not political. In a gripping speech given before the NY State Senate, Savino discusses her personal take on the idea of gay marriage and the effect it would have on American society if the bill were passed. Would the sanctity of marriage be compromised if gay and lesbian couples were given the right to enter into marriage? Would religious institutions be required to honor a gay or lesbian couple’s right to wed? Would the Earth stop turning if America acknowledged and supported gay and lesbian unions? To answer all of the above, no.
As Savino blatantly points out, the sanctity of marriage in America has long been tarnished thanks to reality television that glorifies the idea of bridezillas vying for a once-in-a-lifetime Vera Wang gown, or the drunken fools who stumble down the Las Vegas strip and march down the aisle donning dilated pupils and whiskey breath. According to these American standards of marriage, two strangers can meet for the first time, decide to get hitched, and obtain a marriage license virtually in an instant. These couples are not interrogated by the government as to whether or not they are in a committed, adult relationship. If it is a man and a woman mounting the steps to City Hall, no one in government bats an eye; not a soul. Why then, is it so pressing for gay and lesbian couples to endure the pressure and stress that the government imposes on them in order to fulfill a basic right that so many of us flush down the drain? From Savino’s mouth to the Senate’s ears, This is about the fairness of people who are of the right age, of sound mind, who choose to live together, share everything together, and want to be able to have the protection that government grants those us who have the privilege of marriage and treat it so cavalierly in our society.
And to the religious institutions who are fearful that the bill would impose on their devout beliefs, have they never heard of an idea called “separation of church and state?” Savino identifies herself as a Roman Catholic, and as such, recognizes the church’s right to deny people the sacrament of marriage if they determine that it is unfit or unfaithful. The government never has, and never will, require religious institutions to respect or reflect the views of laws that are passed in the United States. And of course, the Earth’s ability to spin is not at all affected by a bill on same-sex marriage (I just threw that one in for kicks).
Diane Savino is a remarkable example of what it means to empathize. She stood in front of the New York State Senate, not for money or power, but for the resounding belief that all Americans — gay or straight — should be treated with fairness and equality. As a straight woman, she has never experienced what gay and lesbian couples endure just for loving who they love, but that did not stop her for defending them. That is empathy. Going back to my original analogy, no one bullied me to tears because I didn’t eat peanut butter. I was never abandoned by family or friends because I didn’t like the taste. My entire identity did not rest on the fact that I never ate PB&J for lunch. It was one quality that people either agreed or disagreed with, nothing more. There were more indicative, more important factors about me that determined my character. So the next time you judge a woman for wanting to marry her partner of 10 years, or look the other way when you see two men holding hands in the subway, think about how you would feel if someone determined the quality of your character based on a single act.
At least that’s what I tell my friends whenever they mock my stance on peanut butter.