"The Plank in Our Eye": On Gay Marriage
-by Jason S. Miller
How often have we heard George Bush reiterate his desire to "spread freedom and liberty" as the justification for his illegal war in Iraq? The United States has spent over 1500 precious lives and in excess of $150 billion of our hard-earned tax dollars allegedly to further the goal of "spreading freedom and liberty". Why are we paying such a high price to attempt to achieve this end in Iraq when we still have so far to go toward this ideal within our own borders?
In the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the subsequent Amendments, the United States has the greatest blueprint for a government based on justice, freedom, equality, and individual liberty in the history of humanity. In reaction to a tyranny, our founding fathers concocted a recipe to formulate a secular government predicated on the prevention of the tyranny of the government over the people. They carefully crafted system of checks and balances to prevent one branch of government from dominating, and a Bill of Rights to protect the rights of individuals. Unfortunately, Americans are still struggling to follow that recipe. We have made substantial progress. Examples include the abolition of an inherently evil institution called slavery, Women's Suffrage, the integration of public schools, and the elimination of Jim Crow, However, we still have a long way to go here at home. The obvious hypocrisy in Bush's message and goal of "spreading freedom and liberty" is sickening, to say the least.
Estimates vary, but approximately 5% of our population is homosexual, gay, or lesbian. This represents 14 million people. Ironically, Jewish people comprise only 2% of our population, yet there are no government-sponsored attempts to deny them of their civil liberties (at least not at the time of this writing). Meanwhile, our nation does not recognize the fundamental civil rights of homosexuals. Gays can be, and often are, denied many of their Constitutionally-guaranteed rights simply on the basis of their sexual orientation. Until the Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence and Garner vs. Texas (in November of 2003) that a Texas law banning private consensual sex between same sex -adults was unconstitutional, a significant segment of our population did not even have the legal right to express themselves sexually in private. Thankfully, this ruling overturned Bowers vs. Hardwick, the 1986 Supreme Court ruling that upheld Georgia sodomy laws.
Sadly, ignorance and hatred directed toward gays pervade our culture. In his dissent in Roomer vs. Evans, the Supreme Court decision which struck down a Colorado referendum that denied homosexuals the right to be specifically granted protection under municipal laws, Justice Antonin Scalia (who unfortunately will probably be our next Chief Justice) wrote:
Since the Constitution of the United States says nothing about this subject, it is left to be resolved by normal democratic means, including the democratic adoption of provisions in state constitutions. This Court has no business imposing upon all Americans the resolution favored by the elite class from which the Members of this institution are selected, announcing that "animosity toward homosexuality is evil."
With respect to the Supreme Court's decision striking down anti-sodomy laws, Scalia stated:
"Today's opinion is the product of a court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda," Scalia said, "by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct."
Scalia went on:
"What many don't understand," Scalia said, "is that those opposed to homosexual conduct are trying to defend their homes, their schools and their families from what they consider a destructive way of life."
In contrast to Antonin Scalia's obvious hostility toward gays, Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, wrote in his majority opinion in Lawrence and Garner vs. Texas:
"In our tradition the state is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the state should not be a dominant presence. Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression and certain intimate conduct. The instant case involves liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions."
The two contrasting opinions of Scalia and Kennedy go a long way toward representing the two ends of the spectrum in the court of public opinion in America on homosexuality. I feel thankful that progressive, open-minded, and humane individuals like Kennedy, and the other justices who contributed to the majority vote on these two landmark blows for gay rights in America, were in positions of power to strike these blows for gay people in America. It is frightening to think that upon the demise or retirement of Chief Justice Rehnquist, a person with a narrow-minded, bigoted viewpoint like Antonin Scalia will probably assume the mantle of leading the Supreme Court.
Christians who cite Biblical scripture to support their claim that homosexuality is a sin or is immoral are quite short-sighted in their view of their own religion. Christ, who I personally do not view as the son of God (despite my personal belief in a Higher Power of my understanding), was probably the ultimate liberal. As their leader and savior, Christians need to look to his example. Most certainly, Christ would not have condemned homosexuals, condoned or promoted hatred of gays, nor denied them their rights as fellow human beings.
Despite the fact that their opinions and viewpoints were limited and shaped by the paradigm of their time in which white men of wealth held the power, founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were quite progressive in their views. If they were alive today, they would not support the exclusion of homosexuals from full participation in our republic, as equals. Another point to consider about these two, and many of the other founding fathers, is that they recognized that the Constitution needed to be a living document whose implementation and interpretation would be subject to changes in circumstances over time. They would readily endorse re-interpretation of the Constitution by the Supreme Court, which social fundamentalists rant against. Humanity is not static, therefore, our laws need to be fluid as well.
One of the most twisted arguments from anti-gay rhetoric is that homosexuality is a choice. While science has yet to find a direct genetic cause for homosexuality, most behavioral professionals and therapists will attest to the fact that it is not a choice. I have several gay friends, and one of my most important mentors was a lesbian. They would certainly attest that it is not a choice. Suicides by gay teens show the torment that the culture of gay hatred places upon homosexuals, and would also strongly suggest that being gay is not a choice. Who, at a young age, would make a conscious choice to be a part of a segment of our population who faces discrimination, hatred, persecution, beatings, and even murder, just for being who they are?
Here in Kansas, I feel embarrassed to say, we are home to Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church out of Topeka. Their congregation claims to have held 20,000 anti-gay protests and states that "God's hatred is one of his Holy attributes." Their website is http://www.godhatesfags.com/ . Fred Phelps, a disbarred attorney, spews his hateful messages through the Internet, emails, and faxed fliers. He has a second website at http://www.godhatesamerica.com/ in which he "demonstrates" how God has abandoned America because of the support we have shown for gays.
On April 5, Kansas citizens will go to the polls to vote on a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. It is my sincere hope that we do not join Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska, and Nevada in adding such an amendment to our constitution. In his most recent State of the Union address, George Bush stated his support for a US Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. As Bruce Robinson recently pointed out to me, this begs the question as to whether or not our society is just in empowering a majority vote of the people to permanently strip the rights of a minority group. I think not. James Madison had a great deal to say about the tyranny of the majority in Article 51 of the Federalist Papers. He strongly asserted the need to safeguard against the majority imposing their will upon the minority. To those of you who happen to be in the majority, I would caution you not to abuse your power. At some point in your existence, you will find yourselves in the minority.
We are waging a war with real American blood, and real American dollars, allegedly in the interest of "spreading freedom and liberty". Before we waste our valuable resources and show the world a face of ugly hypocrisy by "spreading freedom and liberty" abroad, we need to get our own house in order. 5% of the people in our nation are denied their civil liberties and face hatred and discrimination. Now, we are considering further legal measures to worsen their plight. The Judicial branch of the government has been the "Lone Ranger" in enforcing the rights of gays. It is time for the Executive and Legislative branches to step to the plate and put laws on the books to protect the rights of gays. Let's focus on "spreading freedom and liberty" right here in the US. Laws cannot force people to change their thinking or beliefs, but they can go a long way toward influencing their behavior. If we had better laws supporting gays on the books, Matthew Shepard might be alive today.
I will continue to work for the cause of social justice through my writings, my activist efforts, and through teaching my children the value of diversity and respect for others. Please join me in my efforts. We have a plank in our eye that we need to remove before we can focus on the specks of sawdust in the eyes of our brothers.
Jason S. Miller is a 38 year old father of three and an an active participant in the ACLU. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.