Archive for July, 2007

To Be Gay and In Love

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

What images coursed through your mind when you first heard the term “gay marriage”?

I have to confess it made me squeamish at first, and a bit puzzled. Over time and through the acquaintances of our daughters, I had come to terms with what it means to be gay; that some of us are attracted to the opposite sex and others to the same sex. To be gay is not to “choose” a way of life. We are born with our sexual inclinations, which come to the fore as we reach sexual maturity in our adolescent years.

And last night my appreciation for gay marriage moved forward light years, as I attended a wedding that bonded two wonderful young Arlington women, one of whom I have known through our daughters since childhood. The occasion was one of joy, celebration and verification of the love and commitment two young women hold for one another.

We prayed, we smiled, we danced and we toasted a relationship every bit as real and solemn as that which my wife and I initiated nearly 40 years ago. We joined men and women we’ve known for decades and some friends anew of all ages, colors and sexual orientations, to be testament to the marriage of these two young lovers.

Records of sexual differences extend back thousands of years. According to historical texts, “Homosexuality has been acknowledged in China since ancient times.”

In our part of the world, we know homosexuality existed “among many American Indian indigenous groups.” Again, according to online historical documents, a lesbian named We’wha “of the Native American Zuni tribe … made a trip to Washington in 1886, and later shook President Roosevelt’s Hand. … Revered by her tribe, We’wha’s life was originally documented by anthropologist Matilda Coxe Stevenson in the late 19th century.”

In recent years gays and lesbians seemed to be pushing the envelope as they, and heterosexual supporters, advocated for the right to marry. I wondered to myself why official recognition by government registrars had become so important to men and women of a sexual orientation different from my own.

Then I saw a public television documentary of a cross-country bus trip by gays and lesbians to San Francisco, where, for a time, the city government recognized and performed nuptials for homosexuals. I heard men and women of all ages and backgrounds express, with deep sincerity and emotion, what marriage meant to them and why it should mean something to me.

Marriage bestows official status to a relationship with the right to speak for one another, care for one another, travel and live with one another with the protection of the law.

We in Arlington are far ahead of much of the nation in the County’s relationship with gays and lesbians. We have Northern Virginia’s first law enforcement Gay and Lesbian Liaison Team in our police department. We have elected the Commonwealth’s first openly gay public official, Jay Fisette. We have a vibrant homosexual community represented, among others, by the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, the oldest such group in Virginia (

At a time when some are castigating those of the same sex who are attracted to one another, I leave you with the above reflections of a glorious night and ask that you, too, search your heart for what marriage is and means, no matter who we are. Rodgers and Hammerstein put it to music and words many years ago:

Hello young lovers, whoever you are,
I hope your troubles are few.
All my good wishes go with you tonight,
I’ve been in love like you.

Be brave, young lovers, and follow your star,
Be brave and faithful and true,
Cling very close to each other tonight.
I’ve been in love like you.

Nick Penning is an Arlington, Va., freelance writer. His column, “Penning Thoughts,” appears in alternating editions of The Arlington Connection.

There’s Still Hope

Saturday, July 7th, 2007

The non-Arlingtonians who want to carve out two more lanes of our precious County for I-66 have moved another step closer to their real estate dreams now that the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board voted in mid-May to approve widening this gash through our community from Spout Run to Sycamore St. in Falls Church.

This planning board is made up of officials from six federal and metropolitan agencies, together with four members from the District, 15 local and state officials from Maryland, and 12 from Virginia. Arlington’s only vote is County Board member Chris Zimmerman.

In his story about the decision, the Connection’s David Schultz reported, “Gerald Miller, a program coordinator with the Transportation Planning Board, said that lanes are only being added to westbound I-66 because ‘There’s tremendous controversy just to doing this.’” No kidding. How’d you like us to rip up your back yard, Mr. Miller, for a neighborhood thruway?

Then Miller commented, “Arlington County has been opposed to this road since it was open. It’s been very difficult to even study or consider expanding the road in any place.”

I guess it’s only us Arlingtonians who have any concept of what this veritable open heart surgery will do to our sense of urban suburb calm, which we treasure, amidst a surrounding sea of auto insanity.

Promises made long ago to our Arlington parents that this cursed concrete monstrosity would never be bigger than four lanes have clearly been dashed to the dust bin of history and thus — in the minds of new 21st century road planners — no longer applicable to today’s Arlington.

Well, we still have a chance to at least slow down this widening process, with the hope of perhaps halting it altogether, because, according to David’s story, the “I-66 plan will now be subjected to an environmental analysis to study the impact that adding more lanes to the highway will have on the air quality of the surrounding area.” Next, “after the analysis is completed in late fall of this year, the plan will go back to the Transportation Planning Board for final approval,” with a final ok needed from the Virginia transportation department.

As the Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation notes on its website — “Congestion on I-66 could be eliminated immediately, permanently, and with almost no construction cost or traffic disruption, simply by expanding the current hours of HOV-2 restrictions which have been overly limited to 2.5 hours Monday-Friday in one direction only.”

Of course, the moneyed interests — who thirst for more buyers of more beyond the beltway homes and more of the shopping centers that will serve them — will never agree to such a reasonable and fuel-saving solution.

No, they want more concrete, asphalt and cars; while the beyond-Arlington politicos want more development campaign contributions in this society that seems to focus with each passing year on money and those who have it. Democracy? That’s old school. Get with it, Arlington. Money talks, while common sense, green solutions and kind behavior are being bulldozed and paved.

Is this just another stake in the heart of The Arlington Way?

We can accede to this situation or we can continue to speak up. To write our governor, go to; to contact Congressman Moran, go to . To reach Senator Warner, use and Senator Webb is at We need not and we must not give way to the power of money. People matter in Arlington. With a little effort, maybe Arlington can start to matter to those who claim to represent us.

Nick Penning is an Arlington, Va., freelance writer. His column, “Penning Thoughts,” appears in alternating editions of The Arlington Connection.