When “We the People” Decide

By | October 20, 2012

From the Letter to the Editor I’m submitting:

I’m writing to ask you, a voter and citizen of Washington, to carefully consider your choices this election. I’m sure you already do value your vote and cast it after thinking about the candidates and the ballot questions—the initiatives, the referenda, the propositions—where We the People get to decide what we want from our government.

I’m going to ask you to base your choices this year, as you do every year, upon what is not only best for all the people of Washington, but also what is best for you, your family, your community, and your state. I am not going to ask you to vote a certain way, but I do hope you’ll carefully think about your choices.

But first, several short points and an even shorter history lesson. The United States of America started off as a dream of a better place for us and our children. In almost 250 since our founding, we have gradually improved the fortunes for us and our fellow citizens—indeed, we have expanded the idea of citizenship to include former slaves and women and native Americans, three groups of people initially excluded from full participation in the American political life until we figured out that it was the right thing to do after all. We take it for granted now, I suppose, but our current governor and both federal senators are women, and our president is black. This wasn’t possible until We the People figured out that it really mean We.

Those of us who moved freedom forward did so because we knew it was the right thing to do. We included people who were once excluded, shifting the landscape, but making for a better, freer country. But then, I guess it’s expected we’d do so—our founding document says “in order to establish a more perfect Union…”, which to me means that we are not there yet, but we hope to get there—to that more perfect Union.

Granting former slaves the right to be citizens and to vote came at enormous cost and after great battles, but we figured it out: Yes, a man born in this America Union is a citizen. Granting women the right to vote came after discussions and marches and arguments, but we figured it out: Yes, women, too, are citizens and can vote. We figured out that the first people here, before we arrived, should be granted the right to be citizens in the country which developed around them. We did the right thing because we fought and argued; many even died in order to preserve, protect, and defend this Union and the people of the United States. We who are alive today due to their sacrifice and their vision owe them our gratitude.

We do the right thing, eventually, but it’s not always something we do right away. It took a long time to figure out citizenship for former slaves, and even longer for women’s voting rights and citizenship for native Americans. But we did it.

Now Washington State has on its ballot a referendum to ask the people “Should same-sex couples be granted the right to marry?” This is a difficult question, even though it looks simple. It’s “Yes” or “No” for people to decide. However, if you’re like me, you’re probably struggling with your feelings and your thoughts. No one wants to be the bad guy, telling someone “No,” but we will, if we think we should, especially when those people we trust tell us to say “No.” But no one wants to be that guy who says “No” when in a few short years everyone says “Yes.”

No one wants to be that guy in 1866 who voted “No” for citizenship for former chattel slaves, because granting that citizenship meant that we have incorporated a new set of people into our society. Saying “No” in 1866 was popular with many, but upon reflection we’d all agree it was the wrong vote.

No one wants to be that guy in 1920 saying “No” against women’s voting rights, even though everyone knew it would transform American society. Women might and would vote their own interests, but today we can’t imagine a society without them. No one wants to be that guy in 1924 who says “No” when it comes to including native Americans as full citizens; we are a richer and better place for doing so.

Today the question isn’t about citizenship or voting rights. We’ve figured that one out: if you’re born here, and you’re of the right age, you’re eligible to vote. (There are other ways to get citizenship, of course, but this is the main way.)

Today the question is about whether we the people of Washington State will grant same-sex couples the right to marry. On the surface it seems a simple question, with a simple “Yes” or “No.” But underneath it’s more complex. Most of us are trained by those whom we respect to think of same-sex couples as wrong or evil. Our church, our culture, our government says they are second-class. It doesn’t seem right, and we have reasons to hold our opinions: it is just against so many things we know to be true and right.

I understand that, and I have held that opinion for years. But I would say that I was wrong, not bad, in believing those things. And what I’m being asked isn’t whether I think it’s wrong. I’m being asked if it is just and right to allow people in love to marry. I’m being asked to include same-sex couples in my definition of loving couples.

I am not being asked to be in such a relationship myself. I’m simply being asked to expand the definition of marriage to include same-sex as well as opposite-sex couples. That’s all.

After granting African-Americans the right to vote and to be citizens, we struggled for years (and still struggle) to incorporate them in our idea of a just and perfect union. After granting women the right to vote, we struggled still, but to a lesser degree, and we are still working at it. And we are still working out what it means to be born here as a native American, but we’re figuring it out. We’ll get it together.

Granting same-sex couples the right to marry is something in the same tradition. We are moving forward towards a more perfect union, to a place where more Americans can experience justice and liberty. Granting them the right to marry will cause some changes in our society, but we’ll figure it out. We’ll do the right thing.

Same-sex marriages will not affect any opposite-sex marriage. No extra burden will be placed upon you or me or society, other than what would be required if they were opposite-sex couples. Same-sex couples will simply be allowed to share in their assets, will be allowed to share their lives together, will be allowed to simply be who they are. Yes, we will have to adjust some of our benefit plans, but we’d do it for opposite-sex couples, so it is not much to consider, and besides, it’s simply just.

No church or synagogue or mosque or other religious house of worship will need to change their practice of worship or their own institutions of marriage. You will still need a license to marry, acquired from the state, and as a couple you will still need to find a place who will marry you, whether it is a church or a synagogue or a mosque; if you cannot find one, you can still go to a secular service such as a justice of the peace. That won’t change.

You will still be free to attend the church or synagogue or mosque that you like, and you can still hold all your beliefs. Nothing will change.

The only thing that will change is that you will see slightly more people, perhaps, at concerts or theatres or sporting events sitting next to each other who are married and who are the same sex. You yourself will have no significant changes, and you will pretty much wake up on November 7th with all the privileges and rights you already have.

You will only awaken to a society that has simply granted more people the right to marry. That is all.

So I will not urge you to vote “Yes” or “No” on Referendum 74. That’s not the purpose of this letter. I simply urge you to consider your vote, to consider the people most affected by this vote, and to consider what is the right thing to do.

Someone I respect highly said this about America and Americans: “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.” I hope we do the right thing November 6th, and will be saddened if we don’t, but I am assured that eventually we will do the right thing.

After all, we are simply giving our friends, our families, and our fellow citizens the right to participate more fully in our American liberty.

ETA

A response to a friend:

Thanks for the courtesy of a reply. You’re here on my wall posting to me, so I take that as a compliment that you are interested in what I say. I’m not talking about church-state issues at all, except to say there is no church-state intersection here.

All that it here is the guarantees of the Constitution with regards to the protection of liberty to all people. Same-sex couples cannot marry while opposite-sec couples can, and that is a violation of the equal protection clause. It’s the same principle and argument for mixed-race marriages: at one time, white people could marry only white people, and black people could marry only black people. In 1967, the Supreme Court of the U.S. had to step in to say “That’s not right: if any two white people can marry and any two black people can marry, then it is equally right for any two people, black or white, to marry.”

People like Jerry Falwell predicted that if America allowed mixed-race marriages then God would judge us. I’m not picking on Rev. Falwell, but it appears he was wrong, and later admitted he was wrong.

Allowing same-sex marriages is simply the extension of personal liberty. If any two straight people can marry, then any two same-sex–attracted people can marry.

No religious infringement will occur, because the United States does not base its laws upon the Bible or the Koran–it bases its laws upon the Constitution of the United States, enacted in 1789 and amended 27 times since, 3 times to include black Americans into American life, and once to grant women the right to vote. (A law was passed in 1924 to grant Native Americans their right to vote; the Voting Rights Act of 1965 regularized and extended this to ensure that Native Americans on or off the reservation could vote.)

We don’t have to amend the U.S. Constitution to grant same-sex couples the right to marry, because there is no Constitutional law or principle excluding them. We can simply vote to allow them the right to marry; indeed, we _should_, because the Supreme Court will eventually overturn any laws forbidding such right by using the principle of the 14th Amendment (as well as the full faith and credit clause which says contracts from one state must be upheld by all other states).

So for me it’s a matter of justice and civil rights. I would rather do it now that wait for the Supreme Court to do it.

No Christian or Jew or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or Zoroastrian or member of any faith will have their faith infringed. The government cannot step into any house of worship and tell believers how to worship or what they must believe. We currently have religious systems in place where women are excluded from full participation, and the government of the U.S. says “That’s your way to worship.” No church/synagogue/mosque or other house of worship will have to marry same-sex couples or hold funerals for them. It will all go on as before. As proof of this, witness that the government of the United States officially ended the outcast status of black Americans in 1866-1868 with the Civil Rights Amendments and with the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964 along with the Voting Rights Acts of 1965 & further; yet the Christian church has done almost *nothing* to desegregate itself: the church on Sunday morning is still the most starkly segregated community in all America, and *no one bats an eye*. We still take it for granted that it’s normal, but in our secular life we accept that there are no valid reasons not to incorporate all Americans into all of American life.

What will happen if we grant same-sex couples the right to marry in the rest of life is…nothing at all. Couples in a same-sex relationship will have the same relationship to a house of worship as they have now. They will still be able to drive, vote, live, raise their kids, love as they wish; they will only receive the additional benefit of the right to marry, which carries some additional extensions and benefits such as inclusion in life insurance policies, social security benefits, and the like.

We will probably still differ on what’s important and how to incorporate the worship of God in our civil lives, and that’s understandable. I’m not saying we’re bad for doing it a certain way; I’m just saying I, myself, was wrong to act the way I did for so long. and that I think it’s simply justice to allow same-sex couples to marry.

  • Lora Ensign

    Nice

  • Michelle Mackenzie

    Such great writing.

  • Lisa DeMaile

    Agree, it’s really nice.

  • Claus Thurn

    Hey There. I discovered your blog through MSN. This is a well-written article. I’ll make sure to bookmark it and return. Thanks for the post.

  • Linda Estraven

    I liked this.