Hallelujah for President's stance on gay marriage

Jay Lassiter and his father, Bob. Jay Lassiter, a leader in the fight for gay marriage rights in New Jersey, has watched his fathers views evolve.
Jay Lassiter and his father, Bob. Jay Lassiter, a leader in the fight for gay marriage rights in New Jersey, has watched his fathers views evolve.
Posted: May 12, 2012

So, President Obama finally — how do I say — came out in support of same-sex marriage.

Hallejuah! Let the church say amen, including socially conservative black churches, which I predict won’t turn against the president because he supports what is fair and just.

In the president’s mind, civil rights grappled with discrimination — hidden under the guise of outdated religious rigamarole — and civil rights won out.

Doesn’t it always? History has proven that bigotry dies when people risk taking a stand as Obama did, potential election-year backlash be damned. Who knows? Maybe his historic affirmation will ward off more states from writing discriminatory amendments into law, as 38 already have.

Like the majority of Americans, the president explained how his views “evolved” over the years.

“As I talk to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are incredibly committed, in monogamous relationships … raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors — who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained … it is important for me to affirm that same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama told ABC News on Wednesday in an interview with Robin Roberts.

Well now. While the Republicans cry “Etch A Sketch moment,” usually associated with Mitt Romney, the president’s announcement is being lauded by voters who matter most on the issue — the ones born this way.

“This feels like a very personal hug,” said an emotional Jay Lassiter, a longtime gay-rights activist in New Jersey. “A black president affirming gay people’s rights to humanity — life ain’t so bad after all.”

Evolutionary process

Talk about evolution. Lassiter, a political consultant who sits on the board of Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, has watched the state’s view of gay rights evolve from its implementation of the Domestic Partnership Act in 2004 to passage of the Civil Union Act in ’06. Lassister and his partner of nine years, Greg Lehmkuhl, have a civil union, but if you think they enjoy the same rights as married couples, think again.

“The monogamous partner you’ve lived with for years is a legal stranger,” Lassister says, citing just one of many examples. “We don’t get the other’s Social Security if something happens to one of us.” And try doing taxes: “It was a nightmare.”

Personally, though, Lassister has derived joy from watching his own father, Bob — a gun-owning Republican and former Marine from North Carolina — evolve to not only accept his son’s homosexuality but also his relationship.

“It takes people closest to us to evolve before they get to the finish line,” he says. “If I can give my old man space to come around, certainly I can afford the president the same latitude.”

The 40-year-old progressive Democrat admits that the journey with his 62-year-old father has had its share of bumps. But it taught him that even loved ones are allowed to disagree with each other’s views.

“My dad didn’t always agree with me on the timetable I wanted him to be on,” the son says. “But his thought process is actually quite unique.”

Nobody’s business

I caught up with Bob Lassiter via cell just as he was pulling into his driveway. Widowed for two years, he lives in the mountains of Terra Alta, W.Va., away from, as he puts it, “the things that go on in the world.”

I asked him how he felt about Obama’s support of same-sex marriage.

“I’m very happy for Robbie,” he says, using his son’s family nickname. “He’s been in a relationship for a long time, and he’s worked hard for this.” Then, almost as an afterthought, he added: “I don’t know why it’s anybody’s business what goes on in the bedroom anyway.”

He’s right about that. As if two guys marrying will seismically disrupt the unshakable, rock-solid pure sanctity of perfect heterosexual unions.

Bob, a retired master sergeant who did an 18-month tour in Vietnam, says that politically, he’s more of an independent than anything else. Voted for John McCain over Obama in the last election because he assessed McCain as “a man of courage. I thought he had a lot of the same mettle that [Ronald] Reagan had.”

He hasn’t decided yet between the president and Romney, but he thanks Obama for having the courage to stand up for the rights of his son.

“You see gay people in other families and you say, ‘OK, OK, OK,’ but when it happens in your own family, you have to face it,” the father of two and grandfather of two says. “Life’s hard enough as it is. Anything that makes Robbie’s life better, I’m for.

“I want the best for my family. They’re my legacy.”

“My dad will be front and center at our wedding,” Jay Lassiter says lovingly, adding, “probably wearing his Marine blues.”

Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986, Ajohnhall@phillynews.com or on Twitter @Annettejh.

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