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Monday, May 25, 2009

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness...For Some

Today we commemorate veterans of the American military who lost their lives in service to our country in defense of our freedom and liberties. Freedom and liberties enshrined and enumerated in the Constitution. Freedom and liberties protected by our Judicial system. Freedom and liberties provided through representative governments in all fifty states and nationally. Freedom and liberties that through the decades and centuries of our Republic have expanded to include more and more Americans with equal rights, freedoms and liberties. Those who died fighting to create America in the Revolutionary War were fighting to establish a new country, a new nation honed under the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson's words that, “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.” When the Constitution was finally adopted almost a decade after the ending of the Revolution it was not written, but known at the time, that the laws applied to white men, and in many cases white men who owned land. Women and blacks were not included in the Constitution as they had no political power and no rights other than those given them by their husbands, fathers or owners.

As Americans fought in more wars the nation they were defending and the freedom for which they fought was expanding the rights set down in the Constitution to include women, minorities and seemingly all Americans. Seemingly. Social conservatives, like social liberals, are proud Americans. Social conservatives, in general, revere our military and their duty to serve and protect the Constitution of the United States and our defend our liberties and freedoms. Social conservatives do not wish the freedoms and liberties they enjoy to extend to others in our country, they wish to continue to deny equal access to government services to gays that they as heterosexuals enjoy. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, for some, for those who are hetero sexual; limited liberty and limited pursuit of happiness for those who are homosexual. In the opinions of those who deny equal rights and access to homosexuals the men and women in our military are protecting equal rights for all, non-gay, Americans; and more limited rights and access to those who are not--for those who are gay.

The time has come to correct the discriminatory application of our Bill of Rights, of Jefferson's words, the time has come for two fundamental changes in policy and law to ensure equal access and liberty for America's homosexuals. Gays in the military and gay marriage must be addressed and policies changes if we are to be truly a country with equal rights and opportunities for all.

A gay man or woman can be elected to serve as a mayor, or governor, or even as the President of the United States--serving as Commander in Chief; but he or she cannot serve openly in the United States Army, or Navy, or Air Force, or Coast Guard or Marines. A gay man or woman can serve in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Tulsa Police Department or the Wisconsin Highway Patrol protecting American citizens, upholding law and order and defending the Constitution and our freedoms; but he or she cannot serve openly in any branch of the United States Military. A gay man or woman can work for a private contractor on a military base in Germany, Japan, Alabama or Texas; but he or she cannot go through Basic Training to become a soldier or Marine. A gay man or woman can work inside a United States Embassy in Paris, or Ankara, or Santiago; but he or she cannot wear a uniform of the United States Military and guard that same embassy.

In every aspect but one a gay man or woman in the United States can protect and defend our nation; they cannot serve openly in the United States military. It is time to overturn the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy that denies homosexuals the opportunity to serve openly in our Armed Forces. The policy is a joke and the longer it stays in the place the more of a farce it becomes. Gays have been serving in the Armed Forces for decades, just not openly. When we honor those who gave their lives to defend our nation we are certainly honoring homosexuals who were killed in combat--just don't tell anyone they were gay. When we honor our Veterans past and present in November we are honoring homosexuals who have served, and are serving, in our military--just don't tell anyone they are also honoring homosexuals for their service. Gays have served and are serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines--it is time to allow those currently serving and those who will serve in the future to do so openly with pride in who they are and the service they perform.

Policy two is becoming the most divisive issue of this era, gay marriage. Like abortion it has become a polarizing issue that cuts into political parties, churches and households. In California those in favor of gay marriage saw a Constitutional Amendment passed with Proposition 8 that stated marriage in the state can only be between a man and a woman. The timing of this issue being put on the ballot was unfortunate for those in favor of gay marriage as it coincided with the Presidential election of Barack Obama and saw record voter turnout in the state for black and minority voters--demographic groups opposed to gay marriage. Had the measure been on the ballot at any other time the chances were far greater that it would have failed.

Unfortunately Proposition 8 never should have made it to the ballot. Unfortunately the members of the California Assembly and Senate are political cowards who are great at giving speeches and taking donations but poor at leading and taking a stand. It is my assumption that the overwhelming majority of homosexuals in California are not Republicans, it is further my assumption that the majority of political support and contributions from homosexuals in California are made to elect Democrats to office. This support in time, effort and money has been for nought as Democrats in the Assembly and Senate have refused to take on the issue of gay marriage in California and pass legislation legalizing the act; unlike legislatures in Vermont, Massachusetts and even Iowa.

Following the passage of Proposition 8 the more activist and vocal members of the homosexual community wasted no time in castigating members of various religions and private individuals for their support of Prop 8, to me this has been a waste of time and energy and has done nothing more than create more opposition to their cause. Rather than screaming vitriol at those who could not have passed Prop 8 on their own (i.e. registered Democrats and independents who voted for Prop 8--which are the voters who caused its passing); they should be screaming at the politicians they have helped elected in election after election who have refused to put the issue through legislatively. Democratic elected officials were very prominent at rallies up and down the state prior to the election voicing their opposition to Prop 8, but the words were hypocritical and empty given their united lack of action on the issue. Afraid of any backlash in their home districts the Democrats kept gay marriage of the legislative agenda, the result was Prop 8.

Many people ask me, "How can you be a registered Republican and support gay marriage." My reply is that marriage is licensed by the State of California, as such it should equally apply to all couples regardless of sexual orientation. Two men or two women getting married and having all the same rights and responsibilities as Leslie and I enjoy in no way harms our nation, harms my marriage or harms anyone else. Opponents espouse that allowing homosexuals to marry will lead to "other" marriages, polygamy and even bestiality--ridiculous arguments that have no basis other than conjecture. They decry such unioins will demean "traditional" marriages, which by saying this they demean their own marriages as being defined by others rather than by themselves as husband and wife. As will be shown in those states where the elected officials had the courage and integrity to ensure equal access to government services and rights to all Americans, there is no damage to society or the state through gay marriages.

My solution to the gay marriage debate is very simple. Most of those opposed to gay marriage are opposed because they feel "marriage" is defined historically and Biblically as the union of one man to one woman. They object to labelling unions between a man and a man or a woman and a woman as "marriage." The State of California allows the issuing of "marriage licenses" therefore there exists a problem in syntax and definition. But the State of California bars the issuing of such a license to anyone but a man and a woman to legalize their union as "marriage."

Change the name of the license. Instead of issuing a marriage license the state can amend the name of the license to a Licence of Union, or something similar. It would be the only such license in the state and available to any couple desiring the legal status currently defined as "marriage" in the State of California.

For those who want a sanctioned marriage then churches can provide their own "certificate of marriage" and it would be up to each church, religion, congregation to determine who is and is not eligible for certificates of marriage from that institution. As part of this provision however I would find a way to preclude any couple from using the courts to force an institution to provide certificates to homosexual couples if said unions are not part of that religion or churches doctrine. Therefore if the Presbyterians or Unitarians want to issue certificates of marriage and Catholics and Mormons do not, then they are free to issue or not issue as long as their policy is consistent and equally applied.

A gay man or woman can perform the marriage of a heterosexual couple in many different churches and religions in our state who allow gay clergy--but they cannot be married themselves to their partners. A gay man or woman can work for the County Clerk's office and issue a marriage license, but cannot receive one to marry his or her partner. A gay man or woman can be a Justice of the Peace and perform a marriage ceremony for a man and a woman, but cannot participate in such a ceremony with his or her partner. Like precluding gays from openly serving in the military it is hypocritical and discriminatory for the state to issue a license for some to marry but not others. It is time for the elected representatives in Sacramento to have the courage and integrity to back up the empty words they shouted into microphones and from stages supporting gay marriage. Change the name of the license, create an equal status for all couples desiring of legalizing their romantic unions in the form of marriage or matrimony or whatever definition they choose to use.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, this applies to all Americans not just most. As we commemorate those who gave their lives in defense of these principals let us look at those who are excluded from their meaning.


Bob Schilling said...

Bless you, Dennis. It takes courage to stand for what you believe is right, when you know others will react in anger. You've touched on the key point. This isn't a matter of religion -- it's a matter of civil rights. And it's time for those rights to be extended to the gay community.

John Greet said...

Your comments and sentiments on this topic mirror my own very closely, Dennis, as you know.

To my mind the only reasonable challenge to our shared positions in this area is, of course, the drawing of lines of acceptable societal behavior.

If we agree that consenting adults, regardless of sexual orientation, should be extended any State-offered rights and proveleges of marriage, then what about polygamy?

Those interested in multiple spouses (in either direction) are also otherwise law abiding and consenting why should that societal line continue to be drawn?

For me the answer seems simple enough: Despite that it may not necesaarily be Constitutionally consistent, we, as a society, draw such lines of behavior beyond which we are not, again as a society, uncomfortable crossing. As society adapts and evolves, those lines get the marriage "line" has, indeed, been moved in the past.

Multi-racial couples couldn't always marry...but we eventually moved that line. polygamous adults used to be able to marry...but we moved that line too.

And we've moved the gay-marriage line twice now...once in one direction, and then back in the other. I feel certain that this particular line will be moved *at least* once more as society continues to evolve (or devolve as some no doubt characterize it).