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Marriage Has Not Always Been This Way

The principles of liberty and toleration prohibit the use of specific religious mandates to write law. This is a simple lesson from the First Amendment. Whether one group agrees or disagrees with another group’s view is irrelevant. To say that inter-racial, same-sex marriage, or apparently civil unions in North Carolina are not prohibited due to such specific religious convictions is shortsighted, ignorant, or dishonest.

One line of reasoning for the definition of marriage in our legal proscriptions is that “it has always been this way.” If this was the guiding principle that the founders had in mind with a nation built on a foundation of revolution, we wouldn’t even be here. The very process of our government is about managing change. As minority groups speak more loudly and oppose laws that prohibit their liberties and rights defended by the Constitution, laws change. Every four years we are supposed to have a revolution in the ballot box to provoke change that happens in the interests of personal liberty.

Allowing a simple majority vote to change the Constitutional document of a state is a ticket to media manipulation. We saw the same thing happen with Proposition 8 in California when there out-of-state money funneled into campaigns in support of the bill. In North Carolina it is a Constitutional Amendment which is historically a more difficult document to change. On face value, it does not seem that this was all too difficult.

If “keeping things the way they have been” is the standard for making law then the following is a telling sample of why such a perspective ought to be abolished from the discussion:

In North Carolina in 1869, Wesley Hairston, a black man, and Puss Williams, a white woman, went on trial in Forsythe County for “fornication and adultery.” They claimed they were married, but the judge instructed the jury that no such marriage could be valid in North Carolina. When the jury convicted both defendants, they appealed the judge’s instruction and the jury’s verdict. The North Carolina Supreme Court dashed their hopes when it declared: “The only question in this case is, whether the intermarriage of whites and blacks is lawful.” A unanimous appeals court rejected the “pretended marriage” and upheld the convictions. – (Wallenstein, Akron Law Review, 1999, V. 32:3)

Sodomy, interracial marriage, and other offenses weren’t just unrecognized, but were punishable felonies. We don’t simply preserve laws and definition because that is how it has always been. We change those laws to reflect the rights of our citizens.

Perhaps in many of our states and with many of our citizens who are at liberty to take some texts literally, the following words are excluded from that mindset:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

These are the words we must carefully understand in the age of political and ideological warfare. At stake now, as it always has been, is how we define “all men.” Many in our past have not fit within the scope of this phrase. Many still do not. The question is simple: Is this exclusion right or wrong?

The only response that makes sense is to offer compassion to those betrayed by their state and given second-class diminution of their humanity by the state. May we also offer compassion to those whose beliefs do not match our own convictions on either side of this controversy.

May we all be tolerant of each other even if loving one another is too tall of an order.

About Andrew Tatusko

Secularization, critical pedagogy, sometimes agnostic, politics, and a ton of running. Penn State is definitely not responsible for what I say.


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