Gay marriage creates new conflicts for neighbors

Posted: May 30, 2006 10:05 PM
The story circulating on the Internet was hard to believe at first: A North Truro, Mass., volunteer fireman lost his position because he signed a petition opposing gay marriage?

I was lucky enough to get Leo "Skip" Childs on the phone. Skip is the kind of guy who makes you ashamed of yourself, but very proud to be an American. He volunteers many hours in the tiny town of North Truro, repairing fire trucks, saving lives. "Last month I went on 22 rescue calls, plus 10 to 15 hours of administrative duties," he told me.

Why? "Because I think everyone that lives in a small community has got to pitch in," he says. "I'd love to go work on the finance committee, but I don't know much about that. I can help you when your fire truck is broken, and I can help you in the back of the ambulance. That's what I try to do."

His wife, Marjorie, also helps. "Her cooking is famous in three towns. A piece of cake and warm cup of coffee," he says proudly, "that's what my wife does to support the rescue squad."

After five years, Skip thought his reappointment to the Board of Fire Engineers would be routine. Then Selectman Paul Asher-Best spoke up: "Recent action you took, Mr. Childs, indicates to me that you think that gay people are less than fully human, and not entitled to all the civil rights that are afforded to them. The Supreme Judicial Court talks about marriage rights being a basic civil right. ... I need ... assurance from you that you would offer equal protection to everyone in Truro, including households headed by gay or lesbian people, because to me your action speaks otherwise."

Skip is scratching his head at this point. How could signing a marriage petition make you unfit to rescue people? He tried to be conciliatory: "I'm more concerned that a special interest group with a strong lobby would be able to influence a judge in our state. ... I wouldn't have a problem with it if it passed on the referendum."

But with that comment, Paul Asher-Best went ballistic. As Asher-Best later told me, "I consider myself one half of a loving couple who has been together 27 years. I don't consider myself a special interest.

"Mr. Childs' explanation, just like I said, amplifies his bias," he pronounced, "and I think for that reason I couldn't support him."

The town council voted for a new Board of Fire Engineers, minus Skip Childs. The Childses were humiliated. After nearly a decade of volunteering every spare hour to rescue your neighbors, this is your reward? Dressed down as a bigot in public for signing a marriage petition?

Paul Asher-Best is certainly not repentant. "To me, it reminds me of when back in the bad old days when a black man even looking a white man in the eye was an offense. I feel like this 'uppity f------' had the nerve to look a straight guy in the eye and ask him to explain himself. If the issue is interracial marriage, would questioning him on attitudes toward black people be so out of line?"

Paul Asher-Best is no villain. He's a good man with a bad idea: People who disagree with him on gay marriage demonstrate irrational hatred toward gay people. After all, that is what the Massachusetts high court actually ruled.

Skip is hopeful that when a new position opens up in June, he will be allowed again to serve. I hope so too.

But two ideas are clearly now on a collision course in America: 1) There's something special about unions of husbands and wives, and 2) there's no difference between same-sex and opposite-sex couples, and only hate-filled bigots think otherwise. In Massachusetts, the second idea is now the official view of the law.

Skip Childs is one of the first casualties of this new conflict. But as our senators debate a Marriage Protection Amendment June 5, they should be forewarned: If they leave marriage to the courts, he won't be the last.