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The Washington Post’s She The People: Sorry North Carolina, Marriage Is A Basic Civil Right

The Washington Post’s She The People, May 9, 2011

I am a Christian.  I believe that America is the greatest nation on earth.  I also believe that the much-ballyhooed fight to preserve the socially conservative notion of “traditional American family values” is nothing more than an attempt to go back in time to an era where white males dictated culturally, legally, and politically, virtually all aspects of how Americans lived their lives.

Hundreds of people gather behind the state capital building for a rally supporting a constitutional ban on gay marriage in Raleigh, N.C.. (Allen Breed – AP)

In that version of America, white males held positions of corporate and political power, while their wives mostly stayed home, raised children and made sure the laundry and shopping were done.

The days of June and Ward Cleaver and their sons Wally and Theodore “the Beaver” in the 1950’s sitcom Leave It to Beaver are remnants of a bygone era to which America will never return.  Rather than defining traditional family values and using that notion of what America should be to divide the nation, policymakers should focus on supporting and advancing the America that is, not the America that was.

As in several Southern states, same-sex marriage was already prohibited in North Carolina by statute.  Nevertheless, at the prodding of Republican lawmakers, North Carolinians voted on Tuesday in favor of a constitutional amendment declaring that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be recognized in this State.” Prior to the vote in favor of the ban, North Carolina’s House Majority Leader, Paul Stam (R), maintained that the amendment would invalidate all civil unions and domestic partnerships whether “opposite-sex” or “same-sex.”

Additionally, Rep Stam, argued that the amendment is not discriminatory against “homosexuals” who wish to marry because, in his opinion, marriage “… has served the purpose of channeling procreative sexual activity into an institution which will provide a stable environment for children produced from the sexual union of the partners in marriage.”  Additionally, he states that there is a “real threat to the institution of marriage.”  He notes that courts that have used “state constitutions to reverse the very pro marriage policies that were in effect when the state constitution was adopted” and that this is now happening in North Carolina.

This sentiment is one that serves to exclude an entire class of people from enjoying the same civil rights as other Americans enjoy.  It is as morally wrong as the arguments that were made in denying freedom to America’s slaves; in denying women and blacks the right to vote; in denying whites and blacks the fundamental right to marry each other.

The opposition to same-sex marriage which resulted in yesterday’s vote in North Carolina is at odds with the sentiment of nearly half of the American public.  According to a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, opposition to allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry has decreased significantly over the last two election cycles.  According to the Pew Center’s research, “[s]ince 2004, there has been a broad-based decline in opposition – including strong opposition –to gay marriage.”  In 2004, just 31% of Americans supported gay marriage.  In 2008, 39% of Americans supported gay marriage.  As of April 2012, 47% favor gay marriage. Cultural change in a country of free people is inevitable, and our nation’s policies must reflect not only that change, but the desire of all human beings to determine their destiny and how they wish to live their lives.

On March 20, 1924, the Commonwealth of Virginia enacted the “Racial Integrity Act of 1924,” criminalizing interracial marriage.  In a legal opinion upholding the constitutionality of the ban on interracial marriage a trial judge declared, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

It is this same bigotry that seeks to deny the legal right to marry (or not) to all Americans in the name of preserving “traditional American family values.”

Today, June Cleaver may wish to marry or not marry a woman and Ward Cleaver may wish to marry or not marry a man.  As Representative John Lewis (D-GA) said in 2009, “Gay marriage is not a threat to heterosexual marriage. It is time for us to put that argument behind us. You cannot separate the issue of civil rights. It is one of those absolute, immutable principles. You’ve got to have not just civil rights for some, but civil rights for all of us.”

Michelle D. Bernard is the president & CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy.  Follow her on Twitter @michellebernard.

Tags:  Sam Sex Marriage, North Carolina Marriage Amendment, Civil Rights

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