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thoughts on Amendment One

Tonight North Carolina voted to make it not only illegal but also unconstitutional for two adults to build a legally-recognized family unit, simply because those adults are the same gender. It's a bit odd - I haven't lived in NC since 2006, but I still feel like a Tarheel at heart, and NC news tends to hit me harder than NY news does. For me, this amendment isn't academic, it isn't general - it is a slap in the face to all affected, no matter the remove.

I have my own history with a good friend from my undergrad days who happened to be gay. And I remember the way he was impacted by homophobia he experienced. It breaks my heart to think of the gay, lesbian, whatever kid who's sitting in his college dorm room hearing that his state doesn't think whatever love he might find should be protected by law. The one consolation I have is that this kid, if he's been following the news all along, might have seen that many people in his state didn't feel this way. But I know how news media works. All those clergymen who signed the petition saying they opposed the amendment are dwarfed by that shameful Billy Graham ad:

This amendment process is offensive and insensitive to a minority group. It's also harmful to families with heterosexual parents but that aren't married. As has been pointed out many times, it makes it harder to deal with domestic violence, child welfare and any other range of things that affect stable but unmarried couples. But things like this are really and truly discouraging because they point to how little value we place on rational argument in this society. The bottom line is, in an amendment ratification process like this the best argument doesn't become law. Direct democracy like this doesn't give any weight to how well-considered your reasoning is. Are you voting because you have thought things through and one way or the other decided on a position, or are you voting out of fear or on a whim? The votes add up the same.

Also, it should not need to be said, but in case it does: not everything is up for a vote. I can't speak to legal rights - I heard somewhere that some Supreme Court case decided marriage was a right, but I don't recall the details - but philosophically, the ability to form a family unit and receive legal protection of the same is a right. Sometimes the state has a good reason to keep two people from marrying, like with incest or pedophilia where consent is iffy, but there's just not a reason here. (As a side note, it actually amused me to no end that if we're looking for a biblical definition of marriage, polygamy probably comes closer to the mark than the one man, one woman formula. But that's neither here nor there.)

I know I've quoted this passage here before, but on nights like this, I have to go back to Dr. King. He wrote in the Birmingham letter:

One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Laws like this are a kind of segregation. And they make me sick.

One other thing: I know a lot of people will say that this is an instance of religion needing to stay out of politics. One thing I have seen over these last few weeks, though, is that religious people have been among the most active in challenging stereotypes and unchallenged beliefs some people have. The backward pastors encouraging parents to beat their limp-wristed children get all the attention, of course, but then you also have pastors like this guy:

I'm not convinced that this had much to do with religion, and to the extent it did, I'd suspect it was more religion used as a crutch for hatred and us-vs-them mentality.

Enough of that, though. And enough of these high-brow words. Tonight, I just wanted anyone hurt by this amendment (in any way) to know how sorry I am. It's not right, it's not just, and you don't deserve that pain.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 9th, 2012 05:07 am (UTC)
Also, it should not need to be said, but in case it does: not everything is up for a vote.

Very true.

In this particular case, I'm upset about the result of the vote, since it's contrary to every notion of freedom and equality this country allegedly stands for.

But ballot propositions and votes on constitutional amendments offend my legal sensibilities as well. The US Constitution guarantees a "republican" form of government, and any sort of direct democracy flies in the face of that.

I have to say I do think there's a significant religious component to this, even if it's just an overly politicized form of religion that seeks to exploit the world around it. Conservatives (who largely self-identify as Christian, or at least as believers) have a limited definition of family, and same-gender couples just don't fit into that rubric. What this has to do with the state is beyond me, but I suspect there's a sense that the law must be moral, and for many, morality is a religious issue.
May. 9th, 2012 12:41 pm (UTC)
Beautifully written, Marta.
This was not an easy decision for us in NC, either.
There was fear-mongering on BOTH sides.
Today, NPR says the reason voters approved it was because they didn't understand how it applied to civil unions. Yet the "against" campaign never articulated that. Instead, they loudly imagined it might hurt the children and increase domestic violence--peripheral issues at best.
For those of us in the church, the real concern should be why we needed the crutch of the constitution to institute this. I'm not sure how Jesus would have voted on this, and I can't imagine him turning water into wine at a civil union ceremony, but I do know that we Christ-followers have a long way to go in terms of what he taught about loving our neighbors and, yes, our enemies.
May. 9th, 2012 02:21 pm (UTC)
They will do their best to get something similar here. I already hear the rumblings.

I find the direction things are taking in this country terrifying.
May. 9th, 2012 03:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you for commenting on this issue with far less bile than I was capable of. ;) I like hearing your perspective as a longtime NC resident. I'm just a transplant, still getting used to things around here. Still very disappointed, but in the run-up it was also wonderful to see how many people came out against the amendment--gay, straight, all ages, all religions, Democrats and Republicans, alike. Definitely got to see a great side of this state in the process.
May. 9th, 2012 07:31 pm (UTC)
I'd suspect it was more religion used as a crutch for hatred and us-vs-them mentality.

To me, a good argument against religion; it gets used to veil things. Without religion, people might have to pull out and examine their fears and bigotries, and perhaps overcome them.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )



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