Thursday, November 20, 2014

Turning the tide

It's an important day in Arkansas today.  This morning, the Arkansas Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the state's appeal from Judge Chris Piazza's decision earlier this year invalidating that portion of the Arkansas Constitution that restricts marriage to one man and one woman.  And as I type this, a federal district judge is hearing arguments in a similar case that seeks the same result.

The good guys in both cases are represented by Jack Wagoner, a talented Arkansas trial attorney who brought these cases to vindicate a simple principle:  That we ought to treat that committed relationships of homosexual couples with the same force and dignity with which we treat the committed relationships of heterosexual couples.

A lifelong friend of mine is one of the plaintiffs in the federal case.  She and her wife have been married for quite some time, and they have children together.  They have built a life of love and a family together in exactly the same way as any other married couple does.  What had been missing until Judge Piazza's ruling was the legal recognition of their marriage.  They were able to get that legal recognition--and corrected birth certificates for their children, reflecting both parents' names--during the short window between the ruling and the issuance by the Arkansas Supreme Court of a stay of that ruling a few days later.

I have heard all of the arguments why my friend and her wife don't deserve the same thing as my wife and I got when we married.

It has been argued that their relationship is immoral and sexually deviant.

It has been argued that their relationship is detrimental to their children.

It has been argued that the people of Arkansas voted by an overwhelming majority to keep marriage restricted to opposite-sex couples.

It has been argued that Arkansas has a compelling interest in promoting heterosexual marriage for the protection and benefit of children.

It has been argued that recognition of same-sex marriages will degrade the value of opposite-sex marriage.

It has been argued, by persons who appear to be serious in their argument, that recognition of same-sex marriage will lead to incest and bestiality.

It has been argued that only opposite-sex marriage carries the tradition of millennia.

It has been argued that the Bible commands us to sanction only those marriages that are between one man and one woman.

These arguments are not real arguments.  They are pretexts.

These arguments, no matter how sincerely felt by those who advance them, constitute the moral bankruptcy of prejudice and hatred.  Those who advance them are bigots, whether or not they clothe themselves in the flag or the cross.  As loath as I am to call ugly names, there is no other name that fits.

We are at a place where people of good conscience can no longer disagree about this subject, not today, not knowing what we know, and especially not in our Constitutional Republic.

Others have noted, and I echo, that each of those arguments, modified only as to the subject, was lodged against what states referred to as "miscegenation," the marriage of members of different races.  More than forty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court saved us from the bigoted instincts that led to those kinds of laws.  The reasoning of the unanimous Court was a beautiful and powerful statement of equality before the law:

The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men. Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival. ... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law.
Just as not one person--other than Mildred and Richard Loving and their family, and the different-race couples who became free to marry--was affected by the invalidation of the anti-miscegenation laws, no individual in our society who is not gay will be negatively affected by the full equality of same-sex marriages before the law.

If you don't believe that same-sex marriages are right, you are perfectly free not to enter into one.

But how can you dare to tell my friend that she is less than you, less American, less worthy than you are of making a dignified commitment to the person she loves and wants to spend the rest of her life with?

Could you look her in the eye, in person, and say to her that she is not your equal?  That she is not entitled as entitled to the happiness she seeks as you are to the happiness you seek?

I could not, even if I were motivated by some irrational hatred to think those things.

But I would be lying if I said that marriage equality won't change Arkansas.  It will change us, for certain.  It will bring us closer to the promise of freedom that so many have fought to achieve.  We Americans have not always been the best people we could be.  Slavery, Jim Crow, the internment of Japanese-Americans, 100% Americanism, the denial of equal rights to women, the removal of Native Americans from their lands--these are but a few of our moral transgressions, of our failure to honor our highest principles.  Sometimes it seems that we have gotten it wrong more often than we've gotten it right.  But at every turning point, at every time when we have been faced with the opportunity to turn away from the old ways and toward our greater promise, there have been brave men and women to show us the way.  They have rarely constituted a numerical majority, but they have always been a moral majority, operating with truth and logic and above all principle on their side.

In the coming days and weeks, the seven justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court, and the district judge and (most likely) three appellate judges, and maybe even the U.S. Supreme Court will decide these issues.  I'm hoping for the triumph of love over hatred, of equality over prejudice.  The tide will turn.  It's easy to be impatient, but we'll get there eventually.  We always do.

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