Note: Jenn Fitzpatrick is the little sister of AfterEllen senior editor Heather Hogan.
When Liz Cheney announced on Fox News in November that she supports the traditional definition of marriage (despite the fact that her sister Mary Cheney is very publicly gay and married), I don’t think any of us were surprised. After all, Liz is getting properly trounced in her Senate run by incumbent Mike Enzi in the conservative bastion of Wyoming, and we all know that when it comes to Republican primaries, the only direction to run is farther right. Ms. Cheney has been pressed on this issue before; after all, having a lesbian sister is something of a quandary if you want to be in office and also keep being a Republican. Also unsurprising is the fact that former vice-president Dick Cheney came out in support of his straight daughter’s position (against his gay daughter’s civil rights) yesterday afternoon.
I, too, am a straight, married woman with gay sister living in a hyper-conservative state. So Liz, forgive my familiarity, but I’d like to address you personally, since we do share some common ground.
You support traditional marriage. I wish I had any idea what that means. I wish that wasn’t a cheap answer, given by a cheap person to satisfy a lowest common denominator voter who is terrified that The Gays are coming to steal their children and possibly their spot at the PTA. I wish you’d acknowledge that traditional marriage—you know, the kind from the Bible—sometimes included one husband and one wife, and other times included one husband and multiple wives, and still other times included one husband and multiple wives and multiple concubines. Other traditional, Biblical marriages: A man, a woman, and her property! A man and his brother’s widow! A man and the woman he raped! A male solider and the woman he captured during a war!
This one-man/one-woman stuff is just the tip of the traditional marriage iceberg. But even if you had that part right (and you don’t), you’re still very, very wrong.
Listen up, straight women. If there was ever a time to tiptoe delicately around this subject, that time is long past. It’s no longer OK to support our sisters behind closed doors but keep our mouths shut and hum noncommittally when the subject comes up in polite conversation. We need to be giving more than lip service to the idea of our sisters’ happiness. We need to be giving our time and our effort and our vote to those who are working to improve the lives of those closest to us.
We all love our sisters, albeit in different ways and in different languages. Maybe it was a shock to you when your sister came out. Maybe you’ve struggled to understand it. Maybe it goes against the beliefs that were planted like little seeds in your brain when you were a child. Maybe you’re still trying to untangle the weeds that grew from them.
Or maybe you’re there at the Pride parades in your “straight but not narrow” shirts. Maybe the HRC sticker on your car is faded beyond recognition, and the PFLAG sticker has been replaced twice. Maybe you knew your sister was gay a decade before she did. When Heather Anne came out to me, I think I said “I know,” and “finally.” But most importantly? I said “I love you.” The rest is nonsense.
If you’re lucky enough to have a sister, you ought to know the drill by now. If you sister steals your Baby-Sitter’s Club books so you’ll come outside and build a fort with her, you kick her ass and then you go outside and you build a fort. If she pulls your high school boyfriend out of class so that she can give him hell, you tell your parents. (Who probably just gave her extra gas money that week because they hated that guy too.) But when your sister’s fundamental rights are shifting in the wind? When someone asks you point blank whether you support your sister’s right to love who she loves, and whether the expression of that love is equal to the love in your own heart? You stand up and you fight like hell, because no one—no one—has the right to come against your family. No one has the right to diminish or demean the love that our sisters have for their partners. No one has the right to tell them that they are less than, that they are second-class, that they are only worthy of, as the estimable Ruth Bader Ginsburg named it, “skim-milk marriage.”
When your sister is in love, I don’t care what a two thousand-year-old book says, or what your political aspirations are. When your sister is in love, you give her a hug, you buy her a beer, and you ask where to get your bridesmaid’s dress. And you threaten to kick her girlfriend’s butt, but you’d do that to whomever she brought home, mostly because no one is good enough for our sisters. We knew that before we ever built the fort.
Stand up, straight women. Stand beside your sisters, and when you need to, stand in front of them. But for God’s sake, never, ever be the one firing the gun.
You can follow Jenn Fitzpatrick on Twitter at @editorjenn.