Marriage: How did we get here?

How did a country, whose citizens strongly disapproved of same-sex marriage only a decade ago, go from marriage being understood as union between one man and one woman in nearly every state in the union to having it be redefined to include same-sex unions nationwide?

A decade ago, leaders in both major political parties embraced the traditional definition of marriage, even among the most liberal Democrats.  Many politicians across the political spectrum, including George W. Bush in 2004, supported civil unions, but most in office holders and office seekers rejected the idea of changing the marriage definition, at least publically.

How did attitudes on this issue change so rapidly?

There is no easy answer to this question but here are a few items to ponder.

No sustained and articulate pushback

When this issue came up in the late 1990s, it was largely dismissed.  Few could imagine that any state would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  This was especially true after Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

The debates that took place during the following decade would focus on what the historical definition of marriage had always been and whether that definition was fair to homosexuals.  There were never (or rarely) discussions about why the government had an interest in the institution.  Proponents of the traditional definition were often left trying to explain something obvious to them, but which did not seem to be very convincing and did not seem to address the arguments as to why the historical understanding of marriage was not discriminatory against homosexuals.  It was as if someone was asking: why does two plus two equal four?  As obvious as this result is, we effectively see it as axiomatic and the words to articulate a coherent response can be elusive.

Civil Rights Issue

“This is the civil rights issue of our time.”  Many on the Left (and a few who are supposedly on the Right) repeat this quote with respect to the recognition of same-sex marriage.  Though it is utter nonsense, it has some appeal due to the apparent similarity to the public’s widespread disapproval of interracial relationships decades ago.  The fact that the Civil Rights Movement of a half-century ago had nothing to do with the push for legal recognition of interracial marriage does not stop those who want legal recognition of same-sex unions to wrap themselves in the memory of Martin Luther King and to see their quest as a continuation of his work.

The Relentless Left

The Left never gives up.  They have a goal in mind and like a laser beam, they focus on accomplishing it.  This is especially true if they can frame a goal as correcting some injustice or denying someone civil rights.  Even after the presidential election of 2004, where George W. Bush defeated John Kerry, in part, due to the country’s non-acceptance of the idea of same-sex marriage, the Left did not concede defeat on that issue.  They got up, licked their wounds, and moved forward with their agenda.

Language

The Left is quite adept at changing the language to their advantage on various issues.  Asking people to prove who they are prior to voting with photo identification is now called Voter Suppression.  Abortion is now called Reproductive Rights.  Similarly, same-sex marriage is now referred to as Marriage Equality.  Marriage Equality, which rhymes with Racial Equality.  Even the word “gay” took on a new meaning decades ago.  By changing our language, the Left has claimed the moral high ground.  Again, linking this battle to the quest for racial equality decades ago, they have placed those on the other side of this issue on the defensive.  Also, referring same-sex marriage as gay marriage and referring to laws that explicitly limit marriage to the traditional definition as banning such unions, it appears that the those who are proposing such laws are trying to do away with homosexuality altogether.  The language simply sounds mean.  The white middle class in America is uncomfortable with being seen as racially bigoted.  Linking the same-sex marriage issue to civil rights makes many Americans uncomfortable in opposing such recognition without a clearly articulated good reason.  Since no good (enough) reason has been offered to the public, the forces of the Left have won by default.

Leadership from the top

The President came out in favor of same-sex marriage in May 2012 in the run up to the election.  He was the first sitting president to embrace this view.  He won re-election.  A number of elected officials in the Democratic Party after the 2012 election changed their stated positions on the issue; it was clear at that point that it was no longer political suicide to embrace same-sex marriage.  Public opinion also moved in this direction.

Conclusion

It appears that, despite the strong views of those on the other side, this issue is settled.  This writer believes that it may not be as settled as the Left would like us to believe.  If a new president takes office and has a different view, he or she may be able to sway public opinion, but only if the president can clearly explain why the current view is flawed.  Also, the Supreme Court, with a possibly different makeup, may take up this issue again in a few years and could possibly overrule the decision it made in June, which nationalized the recognition of same-sex marriage.

Elections matter.  The people will follow a leader, especially if there is no good argument challenging the leader’s position.  In 2016, we must elect a good and articulate leader.

More on the Rebel Flag

There is no doubt that some regard the Confederate flag as a symbol of white supremacy or racial hatred toward black Americans.  Some may even view it as a longing for a way of life that existed in the antebellum South, which of course might imply a longing for the institution of slavery where those of African descent were clearly subordinate.  There are indeed those who fly the flag to communicate those sentiments.  With these interpretations of what the flag means, it is understandable why some find it offensive, particularly blacks.

There is also no doubt that some, if not many, view the flag as honoring those Southerners who fought honorably in a war for a cause that many Americans today find to be dishonorable.  And for some in the American South, the flag signifies just plain old Southern pride.

Regarding this symbol, one might simply say, it’s complicated.

For those who view it as a symbol of slavery, it is worth noting slavery existed under Confederate flags (there were several) for only four years.  Slavery existed a lot longer under the flags of the United States (the flag changed as states joined the Union).  The institution did not simply exist; there were legal accommodations for it in laws passed by Congress and in the Constitution.

Laws promoting racism in America, too, existed far longer under the Stars and Stripes.  Federal courts, including the Supreme Court, supported it.  Congress did nothing for decades to protect the civil rights of all U.S. citizens, even though it had a duty to do so under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments.

Given that, should we ban the flying of the American flag, particularly on public property?  I think nearly all Americans would shrink from embracing such a foolish idea.

Should we demolish the Washington Monument since George Washington owned slaves?  Should we change the $1 bill for the same reason?  Should we bulldoze the Jefferson Memorial because Thomas Jefferson owned slaves?  Should we stop quoting the Declaration of Independence because the principal author, Jefferson, and a number of signers owned slaves?  Should we not revere or obey the Constitution since the author, James Madison, and many who voted to ratify it were slave owners?

To these absurd suggestions, I believe most Americans would answer probably not.

The Civil War can be understood as a conflict between with the United States of America (the Union) and the Confederate States of America (the Confederacy), opposing sides whose political and military leaders directed their war efforts to achieve their respective goals as though they were two separate countries.   The war can also be understood as the inevitable cultural conflict between the industrialized North and the agricultural South.  The Reluctant Conservative believes that the war is best understood as a conflict between the Republican Party and the Democrat Party.  The Democrats wanted to preserve and expand the institution of slavery, where the Republicans wanted “restrict the territorial enlargement of it” and to place it on a path toward its ultimate extinction.

Should we therefore abolish the Democratic Party?  Good luck with that.

A different way to view the Rebel flag is to remember how it came into existence.  The election of 1860 produced the country’s first Republican president with virtually no votes from the South.  As a result of this election, several Southern states decided that secession was the only answer, precipitating a national crisis.  The crisis led to civil war.  The war gave rise to the Emancipation Proclamation, which applied to slave-holding states in rebellion.  The end of the war brought about the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery nationwide.

The existence of the Confederate flag reminds us all that there was a secession crisis.  Had there not been a secession crisis, there would not have been a war.  Without the war, American slavery would have certainly lasted longer, perhaps much longer, than it actually did.

This is not to say that Americans across the country should display the Rebel flag in their living rooms draped over the fireplace.  It is to say that maybe the flag could represent the period in American history that led to abolition of American slavery.  Maybe all Americans can celebrate that.

The Rebel Flag

The Confederate battle flag has come down.

After 15 years of it being on the grounds of the South Carolina State House, over two-thirds of the legislators in both houses voted to have the flag removed.  Governor Nikki Haley signed the bill and that was that.  The next morning, the flag was taken down.

Prior to the flag being on the grounds of the State House, it had been flown on the capitol dome since 1962.  It was placed on the dome is protest to the Civil Rights Movement’s push for racial desegregation.  In 2000, the political leaders of the state reached a compromise and the flag was moved from the dome to the grounds.  This writer went to Columbia in July 2000 on the day after it was moved, and saw it flying peacefully.  As I saw this symbol that dominated part of the presidential campaign in 2000, a black gentleman in a car at a red light shouted over to me, “It has to come down” before he drove off.  This week the driver got his wish.

The way this whole thing unfolded over the couple of weeks, however, was unsettling.

The push to remove the flag was in direct response to the June 17th mass shooting in Charleston where nine churchgoers were gunned down at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  The shooter was Dylann Roof, a white 21-year-old man, who purposefully chose that church due to its long history beginning during the slavery era, through the years of Civil Rights Movement, to the current day.  Based on shooter’s writings, Roof’s gunning down of the members of this church was motivated out of racial hatred.  All nine victims were black.

In the wake of the shooting, a number of prominent national politicians called for the flag to be removed.  Crowds came to the State House in protest of the flag.  At a press conference on June 22nd, South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, called on the legislators to vote to remove the flag.  Haley was joined by a many of the state’s leading politicians, including both sitting U.S. senators.

One key reason this has become an issue is that a photo surfaced on Roof posing with the battle flag.  The problem is that the killing of the nine people had nothing to do with the flag.

The governor and the legislator have used this tragedy to address this controversial symbol.  Many in the state and across the country have long wanted the flag removed.  Exploiting the murders of these church parishioners, however, is not the way to settle this issue.  This was not the way to honor the victims.  Also, a sensitive matter such as removing the flag should not simply be left to the political leadership.  The flag belongs to the people of the state.  The people should, by referendum, decide whether or not to keep it on the State House grounds.  The people who view the flag as a symbol of Southern history and not a symbol of racial hatred must feel a sense of betrayal.  A symbol they have had a deep connection to has essentially been taken from them at an emotionally charged time when they were political powerless to prevent it from happening.  These people will not be quick to forgive.  Or forget.

Still, many across the state and the nation have applauded the move.  And Governor Haley has become a national figure for her role.

Whatever one feels about this battle flag, there was a right way and a wrong way to have it removed.  The political leadership in the state chose the wrong way.