The debate about gay marriage took an interesting turn last week when the President of the United States said he supported it. I think most people would agree that Mr. Obama is a very thoughtful and intelligent man. Up to now, he has admitted his discomfort with the the idea of same sex marriage, and I believe that had he found a single valid legal or moral ground on which to legitimately oppose it, he would have done so. But like everyone else, including those who vehemently oppose it, he could find none, beyond his own irrational and very human discomfort with the idea. But, his resistance notwithstanding, what he and countless others in this county have come to realize is that the moral LOW ground is in creating laws to prevent it. That’s because they seriously hurt people.
Real moral dilemmas have at their core the question of who gets hurt? Abortion, for example, is a very contentious moral debate because, either way, there is a party who gets hurt — the fetus if you do it, and the mother who is forced to go to term when that is not her choice or in her best interest, if you don’t. So, people legitimately take positions on the issue and do their best to argue it out. That’s true moral discourse.
Making same sex marriage legal would hurt no one. Therefore it doesn’t count as a moral issue in my mind. The only thing it asks us to do is to overcome our natural resistance to the idea that the term marriage might be applied to anyone regardless of gender. The extent of our pain around it amounts to nothing more than our being willing to give up a long-held habit of mind. That’s not moral discourse. It is rigidity of mind and a lack of compassion.
Who would deny that slavery was the result of a long-held habit of mind among white Americans—that the negro race was inferior and sub-human and that they could legitimately be bought and sold as slaves? Look how long that habit of mind endured, not just by a few bad people but by the vast majority, at least in the south. Same thing with the Germans agreeing to exterminate the Jews. How long would that have endured had the Germans won the war?
I have to ask my African American brothers and sisters who voted to ban same sex marriage on the grounds of what is in the Bible, if they were to find a reference in the Bible (written many hundreds of years ago and translated many times since it was written), that slavery is justifiable, would they be willing to be enslaved again on those grounds alone? I doubt it. Then why deny homosexuals the freedom that your ancestors fought so bravely for and that you enjoy today, simply because of what you read in the Bible? Jesus taught us to love and accept each other, not to hurt others in defense of our own righteousness.
Today, when we look back at how we justified 200 years of slavery and Jim Crow discrimination against blacks, we are all deeply ashamed. We cannot imagine, today, how people could have thought that that was OK. I believe the children and grandchildren of all the people who have voted to ban gay marriage in all the states that have done so up to now, thereby depriving gay people of their civil rights and their freedom to be who they are, will carry the burden of shame on behalf of their parents in much the same way for many years to come.