I was born and mostly raised in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Aside from spending six months in Plano, Texas, and six months in Atlanta, Georgia, my family enjoyed all that southern California has to offer: great weather, good friends and neighbors, Little League baseball, abundant pizza and sushi restaurants, traffic, earthquakes, quality public education, Disneyland, Six Flags, Universal Studios theme park, Knott’s Berry Farm, plenty of places for a kid to ride his bike to 7-11 and play video games and collect comic books. In general, the area has a liberal attitude towards life. Although I haven’t lived there since 1994 I am glad I am from there.
Being told to go to bed at certain hours and do my homework compromised the rules I lived under—I’m sure there were more but I don’t recall what they would have been. In a city where stop signs can sometimes be seen as more of a suggestion than a hard and fast rule, I had a liberal childhood. My parents will tell you that this was because they felt they’d raised two good kids (I have an older brother) who didn’t need a lot of supervision. Because of this, I enjoyed a lot of freedom, and it didn’t occur to me most people didn’t do the same.
After all, I lived in the United States, land of the free, home of the brave, where any citizen (if he or she applied him or herself) could rise to the top.
As I matured and inherited the types of responsibilities that come with age in this country, I learned a new set of rules: respect the rules of the road and you can keep your driver’s license; drink responsibly and you won’t end up in jail (or harm anyone else while driving); work this many hours and do a good job, you get a pay check; take these classes, get good enough grades, earn a diploma, etc. Society has done reasonably well with these types of rules, in part because you can choose the degree to which they apply to you—for example, you don’t have to get a driver’s license if you don’t want or can’t afford to drive (or live in a city where public transportation is effective).
Other rules just make sense, and in general are ones to which we all agree—for example, most people think stealing and killing someone else are bad things.
As a law-abiding citizen, I never felt in danger of running afoul of the law. At times I almost wondered why anyone who was not a criminal would care.
Then, when I was 21, I came out. And when I did I encountered several laws that don’t affect people who are straight. I learned that in some states I could be fired for being gay. The military could deny me (which, to be honest, I was happy about). I could be denied adoption of a child. I was not allowed to marry another man. There are many more. Turns out most of these laws (maybe all?) are rationalized not just for religious reasons; no, more specifically, the reason given involves something that usually begins with “The Bible says…”
This is yet another reason why I am reading the Bible for the first time. I finally want to rely on my own read of the book, and not be consigned to taking someone’s word for it, be it a poster protesting a soldier’s funeral, a meme on Facebook, or some speech by some religious individual (almost always a man) denouncing this or that.