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Gay rights activists need to show love and patience for foes

By LZ Granderson, Special to CNN
  • LZ Granderson says gays should show patience after same-sex law defeated in Maine
  • He says frustrated advocates must reject hate, focus on changing nation's heart.
  • As they face opponents, advocates should hate sin, love sinner, he says

Editor's note: LZ Granderson is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN The Magazine and He is the 2009 Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award winner for online journalism and the 2008 National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association winner for column writing. He was named one of the top 25 public speakers of 2009 by Campus Pride, a national nonprofit organization seeking a "safer college environment" for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- I'm a single father of a 12-year-old boy who every five minutes seem to switch personalities on me.

One moment he's a starving student athlete hungry enough to eat a cow, the next he's a picky vegan.

I'm told by people much smarter than me that this is normal for a child going through puberty. And so, while I am not an overly religious man, I have found myself meditating on I Corinthians 13:4 to help me get through. Love is patient, love is kind.

I believe there is something each of us can pull from that Bible verse. We may not agree on spirituality or the existence of God, but we can agree that love is one of the most beautiful and mysterious forces. When I'm frustrated with my son, or a friend or even myself, I try to think about the characteristics of love described in I Corinthians before reacting. Be patient. Be kind.

I felt the need to lean on that verse last week after yet another ballot defeat for marriage equality -- when voters in Maine repealed a state law allowing same-sex couples to marry.

A visceral wave of anger swept over me as once again I was reminded of my second-class citizenship. I wanted to smash something. I wanted to punch somebody out. I wanted revenge. The last thing on my mind was I Corinthians. But at the very core of the debate over marriage equality is that scripture's concept of love.

It's easy to love someone when there is no turmoil, no conflict. And it's no accident that "patient" is the first word Corinthians uses to describe love -- it's first because it is most important. No matter how strongly we may feel about each other, we will not always agree, and it is in those moments that we must tap into the mystery of love even more to find a way to first be patient, and then be kind.

That is true in marriage and in parenting. And it's true in this much-accepted notion that we should love our fellow man. I'm not suggesting the gay community should not be upset -- patient and kind does not mean complacent and apathetic.

We must continue pressuring politicians to end civil injustice, but we're not served if we allow hate and fear to dictate our words. We cannot begin to change the nation's mind if we cannot first speak to the nation's heart.

With the economy and the swine flu and the recent tragedy at Fort Hood, it seems that everywhere there is a reason to hate and to fear. But I agree with my buddy Dierks Bentley, who sings in his song "Beautiful World":

"There's tears and there's fears and there's losses and crosses to bear;

And sometimes the best we can do is just to whisper a prayer;

Then press on because;

There's so much to live for and so much to love."

That might seem Pollyanna-ish, but the truth is that even if President Obama signed a law today to make all forms of discrimination based upon sexual orientation illegal, it would hardly mark the end of the gay rights movement.

After all, true social change isn't revolutionary -- it's evolutionary. That means we will have to continue our forbearance with those who oppose us -- from the black pastor who preaches that gay people should not be allowed to marry, to the white, closeted politician so afraid of losing his position that he would vote to oppress his own community. Through all of that, we will still have to find a way to love.

Many gay rights activists like to draw parallels between the gay community's struggles and those of blacks during the civil rights movement. It's not uncommon to hear them echo the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

"I have a dream..."

But as the frustration of the gay community grows, it is important that we -- and our allies -- do not forget another of Dr. King's powerful quotes:

"Let no man pull you low enough to hate him."

In other words, hate the sin but love the sinner.

It may seem weird to think in those terms because many well-meaning Christians also like to use that last phrase to justify oppressing gay people at the polls. But here's what's curious: The quote is from Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu who said it in reference to his own people's oppressors, who happened to be Christians. This undoubtedly inspired another one of Gandhi's famous quotes: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians."

You don't have to like either in order to have love in your heart.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.