“Dad, I want to go into the Peace Corps.”
He was nervous to tell me this because he assumed I’d want him to join the military because of our family’s long history of service. I spent two years at the Naval Academy and served during the Vietnam Era as a member of the U.S. Navy JAG Corps. My father was in the Royal Navy during World War II and my uncle served in the British Merchant Marine. My brother is a retired Air Force Colonel and my nephew, who is on active duty in the Army, flies Apache helicopters.
I’ve always been proud of my son, and I told him that service — no matter the kind — is still service to be admired.
After returning from the Peace Corps, he said a similar thing, “Dad, I have something to tell you.”
Only this time, the next words I heard were, “I’m gay.”
My first exposure to dealing with anyone who was gay was while I was on active duty. From time to time in my role as a Navy lawyer in the 1970s, I was assigned to represent gay sailors who were being administratively processed out of the service simply because it was discovered that they were gay. I cannot honestly say that I was sympathetic to them at that time, but invariably their service records were spotless. And yet in all but one case, there was nothing I could do to save their careers.
At that point, though, I was acutely aware that it was an incredible waste for the Navy to be discharging really good sailors, and that just made no sense.
So, like most people, I have my own journey of coming to embrace and celebrate marriage equality. There was never an “Aha!” moment for me, but rather a gradual chance to get to know people and realize — through seeing their struggles and yearning to be embraced as full and equal citizens under the law — just how much marriage equality really matters to me.
That’s why, when Josh came out to me, I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t upset, or uncomfortable. I was, as I always have been, proud of my son — for being an honest young man and true to himself. He’s a family man who I know would love to be married and be a father someday.
Ultimately, what matters most is what kind of a soldier, sailor, Marine or airman — and what kind of a person — you are. Do right by each other, treat people as you want to be treated, and respect the differences and diversity that make our nation such a great place to live, work and raise a family.
But we can always be better, and we can take a big step in the right direction by extending the freedom to marry to same-sex couples in Georgia and across our country.
Marriage matters, and it’s important to all of us. I’ve learned that lesson through the years in my own marriage, and my son — and everyone, frankly — deserves the same opportunity.
My son is now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Georgia, where he just finished his dissertation proposal defense to excellent reviews. I’m not surprised, because he has always been a motivated, talented, creative thinker.
My daughter is married and expecting her first child this fall. I couldn’t be more thrilled for her. I must admit, though, that it’s hard to see my other child singled out and treated differently by the law and the state of Georgia just because of who he is. All I want for my son is that he has the same opportunity and chance to know the fulfillment and recognition of marriage like anyone else.
I have been married for more than 40 years, and like any father, I hope I’ve instilled good values in my children and shown them the importance of commitment and being there for one another through life’s ups and downs. Marriage isn’t always the easiest thing, but the most rewarding opportunities life gives us are rarely easy.
As a veteran, Memorial Day is always an important day for me to remember the brave men and women who’ve given the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation. I can’t help but wonder, though, how many of those soldiers gave their lives fighting for our freedoms, while simultaneously not having the basic freedom to marry the person they loved.
It’s time for the State of Georgia and Georgians to get on the right side of history.
Steve Dix of Cobb County served in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps from 1973 to 1982. Since his release from active duty in 1979, he has been actively engaged in the practice of law, and most recently served as the Senior Vice President and General Counsel of a company located in Alpharetta.