The mathematician I admire more than any other in the 20th century is Alan Turing. He is widely considered to be the father of computer science. I’ve studied his work and the consequences of his work for the last 10 years, but not until recently did I learn about the man himself.
I won’t get into a long Wikipedia-style retelling of his life, but focus on its tragic end. He was arrested in 1952 for “homosexual acts” which at the time were illegal in England (and remained so until 1967). Two years after that, Turing committed suicide.
Gay rights have been in the courts and in public discourse recently. The point of contention is whether homosexuals should be allowed to marry. I believe that of course they should (though I do believe marriage is a religious practice, and government should only just grant civil unions to everyone). Many people disagree. However, what bothers me is the amount of value the opponents of gay marriage assign to this issue. It seems the Christian community is making this its primary battle cry under the umbrella of “values”.
So whenever someone brings up the issue of gay marriage to me, I think of Alan Turing, and the suffering he endured at the hands of a society that couldn’t accept who the man wanted to love, but sure as hell could accept the brilliant contributions to technology and science that he provided.
To this day, the British government has not pardoned Alan Turing for having sex with another man.