The last civil right


It never fails.

After I’ve been on a panel or a radio talk show, I think of some brilliant thing I should have said, an argument that would have made everyone slap their forehead and declare, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Today it was a local public radio talk show, “Midday Matters.” The subject was the move by the Republican majority in the Indiana General Assembly to insert a prohibition on gay marriage and civil unions into the state constitution.

If lawmakers endorse it one more time, it goes to a statewide referendum in 2014.

The person on the show who supports amendment was the head of a pro-family, anti-gay, conservative group based in Indianapolis. His name is Micah who called in his thoughts. Bob Caylor, a reporter for The News-Sentinel here, moderated.

I’d say Micah’s argument boiled down to this. Marriage is supposed to be between a man and woman and only in such a family arrangement can you properly raise children. I must say he was pretty cool the way he rattled off statistics from countries that have legalized gay marriage and from studies conducted in this country.

Of course, the studies I’ve seen over the years told a quite different story. Yet when you’re talking about civil rights, research doesn’t take you very far. Here’s the deal.

When you’re in any kind of debate, you have to pay close attention to any move your opponent makes to change the subject. The shift can be pretty subtle. In this case, Micah didn’t address the fact that the state constitution already bars treating any person or group differently than any other group.

So we’re not supposed to pay women less than men, blacks or Latinos less than whites. We’re not supposed to bar anybody from renting or buying a home in any neighborhood where these people can afford the payments or the rent. That’s the law.

But Micah didn’t explain why that equal rights language in the state constitution had nothing to do with gay marriage. Or to this latest move to discriminate against homosexual persons. Or to enshrine it in Indiana’s highest legal code.

Further, he could only repeat that it takes a mother and a father to properly raise a child. Yet lots of successful people have been raised by a single parent, usually a mother. Indeed, lots of successful – and I might add successful heterosexual people – have been raised by gay individuals or gay couples.

All this is beside the point. The issue isn’t successful parenting. If it were we’d require that everyone prove they’d be good parents to obtain a marriage license. You see why I think the opponents of gay marriage really want to change the subject. And how I wish I’d been quick enough to point this out during the talk show.

It’s hard to say where this anti-gay amendment will go in the coming legislative session. But in March the U.S. Supreme Court will take up gay marriage in two separate cases. So the decision there, in June, could render moot the state’s mean-spirited move against gays.

Meantime, polls in Indiana show that a slight majority favor gay marriage. The trend, within just a few short years, shows the entire country has been coming to accept gays as regular citizens and gay marriage as their right.

Our Unitarian Universalist congregation recently co-sponsored a “Faith and Politics” day-long forum with the Jewish Temple next door. The topic was this very state constitutional amendment. No lawmaker would accept an invitation to speak or even attend. Nor did any of them, Republican or Democrat, send a written statement on their position. No profiles in courage here.

The temple’s rabbi and our UU minister were among the speakers at one panel I attended. All supported gay marriage, yet a couple said that some people simply weren’t going to change their minds. Whatever the evidence or the argument.

Maybe my fellow debater on the radio show today is one. Who can say? Yet back during the clergy panel, I thought of something toward the end of that panel’s discussion that needed to be said. And I said it. The fact is that in nine states and the District of Columbia, where gay marriage is legal, lots of people originally were opposed. Obviously, many changed their minds. I’ve learned to never give up on anybody. Never.

As recently as the 1990s, when I was still writing editorials for The Journal Gazette, gays were battling employers and landlords for equal treatment. Who talked then about granting gays the legal right to marry? Well, more and more people have changed their minds here. My hunch is that within a few short years, most of us will have learned to accept gay marriage. The last civil right will be won. Justice, at last, will prevail.

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