Hear the wedding bells ring

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Bailes celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary and the one-year anniversary of a California Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex marriages
Bailes celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary and the one-year anniversary of a California Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex marriages

What a time to be living! Just this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court declared gay couples in every state enjoy the constitutional right to marry.

No exceptions. No exclusions.

This is more than a victory for those gay couples living in the 14 states that have yet to grant these couples the right. The 5-4 decision certainly is a big win for them.

This is also a win for all of us who cherish the fundamental American values of freedom and equality. We’ve pledged “justice for all” since kindergarten. We’ve pledged it at the start of the school day. We’ve pledged it at ball games. We’ve pledged it our homes. Now the court has put some meaning in that pledge for gays.

Indeed, the court’s affirmation reminds us of what’s woven into the fabric of our Republic. To be sure, the arc of history can be long, as the old saying goes. “But it bends toward justice.” I love the solemn promise of that phrase.

I’m embarrassed to admit that in the many years I wrote editorials and columns for the morning paper in Fort Wayne I never said a thing about gay marriage. Nor did any other major daily, I’m sure. I don’t recall anyone at our very welcoming Unitarian congregation raising the question.

I retired from the paper in mid-2000. So in this case justice has come swiftly, within just a few short years. But I want to tell you, our church certainly has been prepared.

If any denomination has always openly welcomed gays and lesbians, it’s the Unitarian-Universalist churches. At beginning of our Sunday service the person presiding welcomes everyone no matter who you are or whom you love.

Here in Indiana, lower courts already have upheld gay couples’ right to legally marry. We attended once such wedding together. In that ceremony my wife Toni was honored to stand up with good friends as they exchanged vows.

With Friday’s high court decision, every state’s gay couples can now enjoy the rights and privileges. They can now feel the joy of having their rights as Americans affirmed, their full humanity upheld.

Maybe in time, the dissenting four conservative justices will come around to see that granting equality to gays was the only right decision. Consider that at the beginning not every Supreme Court justice embraced the New Deal, Social Security or Medicare.

I must add three more cheers that the Supreme Court, once again, affirmed this week the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare.

More struggles for a just and peaceful society remain. I know that. Too many families don’t get the boost they need to join the middle class. Too many children remain in segregated schools. Too many elderly citizens waste away in their own homes alone and forgotten. Too many guns are in the hands of the wrong people.

But with affordable health care now affirmed, with the right of gays to marry secured, this surely is a time to celebrate. If you see me in the next few days and I’ve wearing that old Larry Hayes grin from ear to ear, you’ll know exactly why I’m so happy.

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Cheers to my Irish kin

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Snapshot-IrelandSome years back, when I lived in Cincinnati, a downtown department store featured Irish woolens. A grizzled old guy with a beard wearing traditional Irish clothes sat at a table with a huge book of Irish family names in front of him. Behind him was a larger-than-life map of the Republic of Ireland with light bulbs distributed throughout the map.

I gave the gentleman my family name. He nodded, smiled and pressed a button. The entire map lighted up. This week that map could have been illuminated again. By an overwhelming vote, the Irish made gay marriage legal. Voters who approved same-sex marriage weren’t just people in their 20s and 30s. Oldsters joined in, too.

I’d like to think many of my distant relatives voted in the majority.
If so, good for them. Good for my Irish roots.

Catholic leaders, in Ireland and in Rome, denounced the outcome of the election. I expected that. But this most Catholic country has been losing its influence ever since officials exposed the church coverup of the scandal that found priests sexually abusing children.

Social change, though, can happen quickly. Consider it was only in 1993 that Ireland decriminalized gay sex. Divorce, meantime, became legal there in 1995.

That’s been the story in this country, too. When I retired writing editorials and columns for the paper in 2000, I don’t believe there was any public discussion about gay persons marrying. Just a few short years later, it’s now legal in 37 states.

That includes Indiana. Just recently we attended the wedding of two women friends at our Unitarian church.

I suppose many conservative Americans will find it hard to accept the right of gay persons to marry. Many other conservatives will come around.

A few years ago, our good friend Roger McNett gave a speech at our church. He made the point that he didn’t see how gay marriage would affect his and Rachael’s marriage. There it is. The best answer to critics of gay marriage.

Stop and think about it. Who really are the losers in gay marriage? Studies have shown for years that the children they raise have no more problems growing up than the children in heterosexual marriages.

Again, who are the losers? Leaders in the 20 countries that allow gay marriage figured it out. This week Irish voters demonstrated that they figured it out.

There are no losers with gay marriage. In fact, every person wins. In the end, equality always wins.

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Justice for gays, justice for all

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Plymouth Congregational Church of Ft. Wayne
Plymouth Congregational Church of Ft. Wayne

What a delightful surprise I had recently when I opened the morning paper and saw a photograph on the front page of my wife Toni giving a speech at Plymouth Congregational Church.
The photo was even “above the fold,” as they say at the paper.

Before more than a hundred people from various churches, Toni was speaking out against attempts to ban gay marriage and in favor of granting this fundamental right to every person, whatever his or her sexual orientation. Just a few weeks after her talk, we joined friends, gay and straight, at the downtown convention center for a gay and lesbian dinner dance to raise money for the cause of equal rights.

Then this Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court dropped the bombshell. The court declined to take up appeals by opponents of gay marriage. Before the court had been seven petitions. The non-decision was a decision. It meant that gay marriage is now legal in more than 30 states – those states where lower court decisions had struck down bans. That included Indiana.

Opponents may not give up their battle. But the constitutional scholars and other legal experts that I’ve read say that it’s only a matter of time before every state must honor the marriage of gay and lesbian couples.

I thought that Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Court of Appeals had it about right. In a recent case, he noted that the arguments of opponents to gay marriage were so full of holes that they couldn’t be taken seriously.

Surely gay marriage is one of the great civil rights issues of our time. But the federal courts aren’t the only or even the most important battleground. Like black leaders who fought segregation for generations, gay and lesbian leaders have been waging this struggle for equal rights for nearly as long.

They’ve led parades. They’ve written letters to the editor and op.ed. columns. They’ve testified before the committees of state legislatures. They’ve enlisted political leaders. They’ve enlisted ordinary people. They manned phone banks. They’ve championed the care and treatment of AIDS victims.

Straight men and women such as my wife have joined this cause for justice. You probably won’t find a town or city that doesn’t have advocates. But winning the right to marry is not the end. Even as our gay and lesbian friends celebrate their hard-fought victory today, many still will face discrimination in housing, employment and within many families. The laws on the books that should give them full access aren’t universally honored.

So all of us who care about simple justice must not think these recent victories permit us to withdraw from the battle. This is no time to be silent. This isn’t only about a minority of citizens. It’s about who we are and what we really stand for. We still must speak up for everyone’s right to be true to themselves, gay or straight. Yes, to marry. Let’s make ours a better community. Indeed, let’s make this an even greater, more just country.

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