[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B000EUKR2C” locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41RZVN56TAL._SL160_.jpg” width=”100″]On Election Day this year, Minnesotans – like myself — will vote on whether or not to add a ban of gay marriage to the state’s constitution. This is an open letter to anyone planning on, or considering, voting “Yes”, as in, planning on voting to add the amendment to the constitution and thus ban gay marriage by law. Even if you’ve made up your mind, I implore you to let me bend your ear (or eyes), and I promise in return to respect your choice, whatever it may be. It can never hurt to have another perspective.
Let me say upfront, I understand where you’re coming from. Fifteen years ago or so, I would have absolutely voted “yes.” My position at that time was largely informed by my religious values. I’m not here to argue those views (if you share them) because they are unarguable. If you hold certain religious beliefs, you hold those beliefs. Nothing I can say here would change that, nor do I wish to try. The debate on the merits of religion is not relevant to this issue, despite it being entwined with the issue in the media.
What is relevant is how you regard freedom, and the covenant We the People have with our government as expressed in the US Constitution.
You may say this amendment merely impacts a state constitution, but all state constitutions must adhere to the US Constitution as the ultimate law of the land. If you read the US Constitution, you’ll note that all of the Amendments, except for the 19th (Prohibition of Alcohol), preserve the rights of the people, not limit them. That one amendment limiting freedoms was repealed soon after it was enacted. It didn’t work.
This is a powerful concept: Laws limit freedoms; Constitutions preserve them.
The US Constitution was designed so that no law could be created that limits freedoms (of the majority and the minority alike) preserved within it. I am not going to argue that gay marriage is protected in the Constitution. It’s not. Not directly. But the Founders very carefully crafted the original Bill of Rights with the intent of enabling individuals to pursue their own individual happiness without stepping on the rights of others to do the same. That is the primary purpose of the Constitution.
I’ll say it again in another way. The Constitution is there to ensure you can do anything you want – anything – so long as you do not infringe on another person’s right to do the same.
This new amendment if enacted, clearly limits the rights of certain individuals to pursue their own happiness. This amendment if not enacted, does no such thing to any individual. I take it as a very serious matter any law that restricts freedom for any reason. You can disagree with a behavior and not require that it be set into law. The creation of any law – much less one set in a constitution – should be undertaken with extreme caution, and thoughtful reason, and not merely on the basis of trying to mold the world into a single group or individual’s ideal. We are all doomed to having our freedoms limited if we misunderstand that truth.
True freedom is messy. True freedom requires that we live among people who do not hold our values. True freedom requires that we work together, if not to live in harmony, then to at least leave each other alone. Each law we add to the books tears down the fabric of true, voluntary (free) society a little more. Would you rather your neighbor adopted your beliefs because they are beliefs worth having or because they are required by law to do so?
Another argument for voting “no” is more esoteric. The discussion always turns to the idea that those who are pro-gay marriage want to “redefine” marriage. The problem is that marriage has had vastly different definitions during our relatively short time as a country, much less throughout all our existence as social creatures. If you have the time, I’d encourage you to read a fascinating book called Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz. It is quite dense, but it is immensely thorough in its study of the history of marriage throughout human history, from ancient cultures, to our own. One thing is certain: Marriage has never had a consistent definition.
Marriage has been through many upheavals and re-definitions throughout its existence. For example, marriage licenses required by states and other governments are a recent phenomenon. Until very recently, the state had no business in “defining” marriage. That was done by religious institutions and local custom. In some cultures, a couple merely had to say “we’re married” for it to be binding. Just as easily, they could say “I divorce you.” The point being that marriage was a contract between individuals. Some hold it as a religious sacrament, and that is fine. Nothing prohibits you from getting married in a church, and having that recognized by God without getting a “legal” marriage certificate. True, there are many “benefits” bestowed upon married couples in today’s law crazy world. The stakes are high for deciding who is married. I would solve that by saying the state should have nothing to do with deciding anything about marriage. Leave that to We the People. Leave that to your churches, mosques, and synagogues. Leave that to you and your partner (gay or straight) to decide what commitment you want to have to each other and how you want that defined.
Laws never succeed in changing behaviors as much as social pressure and good ideas do. True democracy comes from the bottom up – from us – not from the top down via mandate. Prohibiting alcohol did not eradicate its use, and alcohol abuse has arguably done much more to destroy the fabric of society and family than gay marriage could ever dream of doing. I am not asking you to give up your beliefs about gay marriage. As I said when I began this essay, I once believed as you do. I understand why you hold those beliefs and do not wish to demonize them despite having significantly changed my own beliefs on the topic. But I implore you to not be part of setting something in near stone because it does not conform to how you believe your life should be lived.
The beautiful thing about this country and the ideals upon which it was founded is that people with vastly differing opinions and beliefs about how life should be rightly lived can literally live side by side in peace. Thomas Jefferson was speaking of religious tolerance when he said the following, but I think it equally applies to the idea of marriage:
“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
The only way to ensure that one day your own ideals won’t be made illegal is to preserve the rights of others to be different — even if you don’t agree with their lifestyle — as long as they do not hurt you, take your property, or infringe upon your own rights to purse Life, Liberty, and Happiness. Voting “Yes” on this Amendment is about far more than gay marriage or marriage in general. Voting “yes” sets us down the path to giving up on this Great American Experiment and deeming it a failure.
That is the ultimate tragedy.
I doubt I have convinced you to change your vote, but I hope I have at least given you something to consider. Thanks for reading. Vote “No!”