Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for May 10, 2012On the same day President Obama went on TV to affirm that he has finally “evolved” to believe that gays have the right to marry, just like straight couples, 61% of North Carolina voters went to the polls and voted to not only outlaw same-sex marriage but to outlaw previously legal “common-law” civil unions and domestic partnerships, even for straight couples. It takes a powerful fear for people to want to take away rights already granted to fellow straight citizens. No “common law marriage,” no domestic partnerships for them, because those forms of making a legal family unit might be used by gay people and that cannot be tolerated. So everything must be cut out, sterilized, cleansed, sanitized, protected. If it isn’t, those gays might get a toehold and infect the whole “married” community, which would be intolerable.
As I said, it takes a powerful fear to do something like that. Fear of change, fear of the dreaded “other,” the false conviction that the Golden Rule is a zero-sum game and if you gain, I lose. And good old-fashioned bigotry, too. Can’t ever forget that because it’s always sadly present in so many hearts as We the People struggle to perfect our more perfect union and ourselves.
And it’s all so sadly deja vu. Same fears, same hatreds. That dreadful darkness was there during the long, terrible struggles to gain civil rights for all black Americans. It seems that human nature decrees that so many people will always fight so fiercely and for so long to keep rights for themselves they would deny to their neighbors. Which is why I keep wondering how North Carolina voters can square this circle? What does it feel like to be on the wrong side of history? Again? Because that, too, is deja vu.
The whole direction of our history has been one of inclusion, of expanding rights, of transforming the “other” into “one of us,” all guided by an extraordinary document: A Constitution that translates a religious Golden Rule into a secular Equal Justice Under Law.
It was the power of that document that transformed a slave into 3/5ths of a person into the N-word into a Negro into a Black into an African-American into an American into an American President.
It was the same document that transformed women from chattel into voters into CEO’s into Secretaries of State. And changed gay soldiers into soldier soldiers. And struck down segregated schools and housing and all manner of discriminatory laws of all kinds that diminished and demeaned our fellow citizens. It was that document that held that in America, there are no second-class citizens. Not under law in a nation of laws, the primacy of which is “equal rights.”
Plus, the blood, tears and strength of good men and women who held the golden rule in their hearts instead of fear and were willing to do battle to see that our union, our shining city on the hill, kept its promise to all its citizens.
And thus it will be for gay citizens. It’s simply a matter of time. The clock is ticking, the legal cases are making their way to the courts for what can either be one final ruling from the Supremes or a series of rulings that will make the logically obvious the legally obvious. In the meantime, the legal patchwork tangle that fear hath wrought in so many states will have to be untangled by the courts. The law of unintended consequences will claim its share of victims until the inexorable push of history straightens out the road ahead. For the old and the fearful, this world is passing away. Their grasping effort to keep gay people excluded by neo-Jim Crow laws is futile. After all, the future now belongs to the young. And for the young, the issue is interestingly moot. To the majority of them, gay people and black people aren’t the scary other – they’re classmates and friends. And the idea that friends and classmates should be treated as second class citizens can’t be so easily squared away.
Which is why I keep thinking about the North Carolina voters. And all the other voters in other states that have enacted similarly fearful bans. In ten years, how will they square that circle to themselves? How do they do it now?