Confessions of an Optimist: Sometimes I Wonder

On March 27, 2015, at 6:00 AM, my plane touched down at Washington’s Dulles Airport.  The red-eye is never good for sleeping.  Groggy and exhausted, I summoned all the energy I could to face the busy day ahead.  For the first and probably only time in my life, I came to town in order to deliver, by hand, a friend-of-the-court brief for the Supreme Court of the United States.  I wondered where Sonia Sotomayor was as I sat in the passenger side of my friend’s car and watched the rainy landscape of Maryland.  It was still early.

Sotomayor was on my mind for a simple reason.  Of the nine justices of the Supreme Court, she had the most in common with me, aside from our diverging politics: a Puerto Rican whose career took her from the Bronx to the Ivy League.  I imagined that some days, she must have taken in a deep breath and wandered into the Supreme Court building with the same mix of awe and panic that I felt in august buildings full of tradition and prestige.

“What the heck am I doing here?  Who let me in?”

Back in 2009, when she was being considered for the Supreme Court, Sotomayor had taken a lot of flak for earlier statements that amounted to her saying that personal experience mattered.  A wise Latina, she had said, should not hold back from applying the wisdom of lived personal memory to legal questions.  When she was a young Puerto Rican girl, she saw and heard things that other people wouldn’t.  When I was a young Puerto Rican boy raised by a couple of lesbians, I saw and heard things other people haven’t.  I hoped beyond all hope that six years hadn’t changed her too much.  My brief mattered for the same reasons she cited as justification for her appointment to the bench.

But the Bronx is one thing, and Washington is another.  A New Yorker by birth and an LA boy now, I had few guiles to help me around the capital.  I was there because this Friday was the first day when it would be possible for friends of the court to deliver their briefs in the same-sex marriage cases.

Of course I read all the papers and could see which way the wind was blowing – chances were slim that my testimony as a lesbian’s son would make any difference.  Three years had gone by since I’d decided to break the silence and speak to the public as earnestly as authentically as I could, begging the world, “Please, stop this machine; kids feel deep pain when they are robbed of a mom or dad; I should know, I have lived this.”

It had come to this – this last stand for a cause that I knew all too well.  Whether it was hopeless or not, something forbade me from surrendering.  Change marriage this way, and you distort everything.  I’d written a whole book chronicling everything that went wrong in the “social disaster” of same-sex marriage.  For American Thinker readers I had laid out four tiers of political battle – the academy, the press, the two-party system, and the courts – and I’d signed off on editorials telling people to fight as smart and as hard as they could.  Other children of gay couples had found me as a result of articles like that and sought out my guidance, making me realize, “Oh my God, people read these things I write on the internet, and they think I actually know what I’m talking about.”  The awakening that hits many middle-aged men came late to me: somewhere along the way I’d grown up, become an expert on something, and risen up to a position where I may not feel like I know what I’m talking about, but heck, I know it much better than anyone else.  If I gave up, I’d be failing in my obligations to others.  I had to follow through.

So I’d scrambled to arrange a trip to D.C. for the six children of gays who had the most publications and experience in the public sphere.  I’d pulled every connection I could to lay out a day to hit all four levels.  I had arranged a group interview with a Washington paper, a few meetings with Capitol Hill connections, a roundtable at Catholic University, a television appearance, and then a panel in the evening.  Somewhere in all of that, we would journey to the Supreme Court and deliver our briefs, hoping that somehow our missives would not get lost in the piles of papers submitted from the big think-tanks who have been doing this for decades.  I’d been doing it for only three years.

We hit traffic at some point just before 7:00.  I opened my leather portfolio and went over my papers for the day: my talking points for the reporters, my non-profit’s mission statement for the staffers, my speech for Our Lady of Lourdes.  These felt like litmus tests.  The United States of America was founded by idealists who believed that a humble citizen, that archetype known today as “the little guy,” couldn’t be mistreated by tyrannical forces, as long as a society had checks and balances to prevent oppression, and as long as civic culture allowed humane values to flourish.  In freedom, they believed, the innate nature of man would lead citizens to wise choices in most cases; for the few moments when judgment fails the ordinary man, there were checks and balances.

I live in Los Angeles, where I teach early American literature and classics.  Given how much of my life I’ve spent passionately championing the American experiment, it is perhaps strange that I’ve rarely gone to Washington, D.C.  Here in this city crisscrossed by worm-like and traffic-clogged expressways lie the institutions that are supposed to embody the spirit of a self-governing republic.

All my papers were in order by the time we pulled up to the Westin Hotel, where I was scheduled to speak with a reporter shortly.  Everything looms so intimidatingly in D.C., even the hotels.  It was time for me to face my personal final exam in the lifelong course of republicanism.

Does America work?  Can a little guy – in this case, literally, the helpless and tiny child – be protected from the ambitions and tyrannies of people who see the rights of the vulnerable as annoying obstacles?  Oppression is a befuddling but consistent reality in the human experience.  More often than not, oppressors do not see themselves as mean-spirited or heartless; in fact, it is common that they think they are victims of some other oppression and never noticed when they started going too far.  Certainly the gay community fit the latter profile, and I had the scars to prove it.

Everything in my life had prepared me for this day and instilled in me a longing for it to end with one reassuring outcome: yes, America works.  The checks and balances hold oppressors back.  The little guy can sleep soundly, knowing he will wake up in a country full of fellow citizens vigilantly guarding their freedoms and upholding their dignities.  I want to believe, even now, that America works.  Maybe if we hone our arguments, be more strategic, have more meetings, devote ourselves a little more, reread Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, the oppression will lift, and Americans will not need to fear that their grand experiment could end in failure.

Optimism is hard to come by as I look back, now almost a month later, on what happened that day and since.  Many everyday people heard our message and thanked us profusely.  But the established authorities pick and choose whose message gets a decent shelf life.  One article came out about the toll of same-sex marriage on children, in a Washington newspaper, and it went mostly unnoticed.  Other opponents of same-sex marriage have devoted most of their coverage to famous Beltway advocates from well-established think-tanks.  The six testimonies that took us so much toil to write seem to have vanished into a historical black hole.

Sonia Sotomayor will probably never know I exist, and the chances of her reading my friend-of-the-court brief are virtually nil.  The Democrats are still gobbling up funds from the gay lobby while the Republicans are continuing their lemming-like race to mass surrender on the social issues.  The scholars and press still ignore the dissident COGs or dismiss us in crude terms.  In slow motion we see the march of tyranny, the transformation of children into fatherless and motherless objects traded by wealthy gay social climbers.  And I can’t do anything about it.

On April 16, 2015, I stood before a room of California college students, lecturing on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables, struggling to convince them that America matters, America works, and America can protect the little guy.  But I felt a queasy feeling in my stomach that maybe I, too, like the people who champion same-sex marriage, have become too comfortable selling a message that isn’t really true.  Maybe America doesn’t work.  Maybe America doesn’t matter.  The thought crosses my mind.

I just hope the thought doesn’t stay in my mind.

You can follow Robert Oscar Lopez’s work on English Manif.