By MEGHAN DE ST. AUBIN
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When Robert (Bob) W. Gibeling Jr. was young he struggled with reconciling his faith and his sexual orientation. He says when he overcame that struggle and came to realize that God “wanted him to be gay,” he decided to live life as an example to others. One way Gibeling chose to lead by example has been by becoming an alternate delegate for the state of Georgia.
“It really has been a remarkable journey especially considering that exactly 40 years ago I was a member of a youth group that attended the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach,” says Gibeling, a native of Atlanta. Richard M. Nixon was the Republican nominee in 1972 at the convention Gibeling attended.
As a very active member in the Lutheran church, Gibeling worked to help change the policies of the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States so that it came to accept same sex relationships.
Gibeling’s journey began about two and a half years ago when his good friend Sally Rosser, Vice Chair at the Democratic Party of Georgia, invited him at church to be a part of a newly forming caucus of the Democratic Party of Georgia. While Gibeling moved through an incredibly fast track, he became an alternate delegate.
In order to become a delegate in the first place, Gibeling decided to run for election at the congressional district level.
“I knew it was going to be an uphill battle for a variety of reasons anyway and it was a very positive experience although I wasn’t elected,” says Gibeling.
Gibeling spoke in front of a group of about one thousand people about his platform and he pledged that if elected he would bring the language of faith to the campaign. Still encouraged even though he lost, the next way he tried to become a delegate was to run as a delegate at large from Georgia.
Already with visibility, Gibeling advocated for his election in front of the state committee, which he was already a member of. He was elected as an alternate delegate.
“For me that was an incredibly fast track to go from a position where 99 percent of the people didn’t know who I was to being an alternate to the Democratic National Convention. It was really remarkable,” says Gibeling.
Gibeling was able to vote in the place of his friend Sally Rosser who graciously stepped aside because he says she knew how important the full marriage equality issue was for him.
The approved platform language on Tuesday recommended that the federal government grant the same rights and benefits to same gender couples as married opposite sex couples. Gibeling insists the entire issue is really about civil rights.
“It is so necessary that this platform be passed because The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed a number of years ago under President Clinton and that prohibits granting any of those rights, privileges and benefits to same gender couples,” says Gibeling
DOMA is a United States federal law, which states marriage between a man and a woman is the only legal union between two people.
As it stands, every single state in the union could pass a full marriage equality law and yet the vast majority of those rights, benefits and privileges do not come to same gender couples because of this law, says Gibeling. This platform is important because it sets the stage for overturning that law and granting rights to people in same sex relationships.
On Tuesday evening in Charlotte, the platform of marriage equality passed unanimously, the platform will be sent to Congress, where Gibeling hopes there will be a Democratic majority to vote and approve it after the November election.
“I am moved to tears and very proud of my party and the Georgia Delegation,” Gibeling noted from the convention floor in Charlotte.
Gibeling was in attendance at a Lutheran convention called Churchwide Assembly when they approved the blessing of same gender relationships in the church.
“I will have been at the national convention where my church has approved same gender blessings and my party has approved granting the civil rights to same gender couples so that’s pretty remarkable to be at both of those in the space of three years,” says Gibeling.
The platform of marriage equality in the party has energized the LGBT community to support the president and to be more active. When President Obama announced he supported gay marriage, Gibeling says he was thrilled because he could tell President Obama was genuinely struggling with the issue.
“I believe he said it was his children who helped him with that decision and that’s so fascinating. I’ve heard that from other people, notably a pastor at my church whose children talked with her and said this is just something we have to do, to give full rights to these people,” says Gibeling.
Gibeling describes an evolution of a new generation with President Obama, because gay marriage rights is a sign of genuine consideration, not political expediency.