We have seen the National Defense Authorization Act 2012 pass in the both houses of Congress and signed into law by the president of the United States that allows for indefinite detention of American citizens without habeas corpus. We have seen basic human rights ignored and denied by our fellow Americans through bans on gay marriage. We have seen basic health care and housing denied to our population because they haven’t the money to care for themselves. We have seen corporations evolve into entities that are considered individuals deserving rights. What this all means is that we have forgotten who we are. Any society, Roman, Ottoman, Egyptian, or any other, that forgets what it is, is doomed to reduction into oblivion so that something more aware and healthier can take its place.
When we removed ourselves from under the rule of King George III of Great Britain, we codified several facets of the lives we wanted into two documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
United States of America Declaration of Independence
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Most people discuss the “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” part of this sentence. A word at the beginning is much more intriguing – “self-evident.” They could have used the word “clear,” or perhaps “obvious,” but they chose “self-evident” in this beautifully-crafted statement. The authors made it clear that we as individuals are supposed to assume that all members of our society are equal and deserve the same treatment and benefits as every other citizen in our country. These rights are not issued with discretion by any other citizen; they are a natural part of being a citizen of this country. Not only are they a natural part of being American, we cannot be alienated or separated from those rights in any way by anyone or any entity, including our own government.
This first section is the part we all know; however, there is another part of this paragraph that we tend to forget:
“— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Most people discuss the rights identified in this section as pertaining to themselves, missing the broader picture. Individuals have the proclivity to protect their own land, property, families, and rights. It may be an instinctual process; however, by focusing on one’s self alone, one misses a larger responsibility as a citizen of the United States – to protect our nation as a whole. We rightly value those who serve in our military as protectors of our liberties, yet we forget that we, too, have a weight on our shoulders as well. We must assume the rights of all citizens and fight to correct anything that disallows members of our society from their freedoms.
In the Preamble to the Constitution, the first words, “We the People of the United States in order to form a more perfect Union,” reiterates what we found in the Declaration of Independence. The authors said again that we as a whole must come together to work hand-in-hand to achieve the most unified citizenry and society we can. It didn’t say, “We the governors…” or “We the few…” or “We the wealthy and powerful…” It says “We the People.” All the people. Everyone single one of us inclusively has a role to play to elevate ourselves toward the hopes of those who began our country.
Preamble to the United States of America’s Constitution
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The question for us becomes this: Which single individual in our country deserves less than everything promised in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution of the United States? Which person out of the millions born in our land or who have chosen our country as their homeland, requires or deserves fewer freedoms than any other? Any thinking person will, of course, respond that there is not one person that deserves less. Some might say non-Christians, gays, Muslims, the disabled, the mentally ill, or those born in other countries deserve fewer freedoms. Certainly those who would say this are wrong according to our nation’s establishing documents. They are acting contrary to our national intention. And who is responsible for defending these individuals who have lost their voice and their first-class citizenship in our country?
In the same way as our founding fathers intended, each one of us is responsible, wholly and without abjuration, to ensure the full and irrevocable rights of all American citizens through word and deed. Anything less is contrary to who we are as a people. As we’ve learned in other fallen civilizations, we must remember who we are if we are to survive as a nation.
Something is troubling me mightily. It must be, because I dreamt about it last night. In my dream, I was invited to speak before a joint session of Congress on the current status of our country. Now, this must have been a dream of the absurd, because certainly, no one would ever invite me to speak at that particular podium; and even if they did, what would I say? More importantly, who would really want to listen? But, speak I did.
Although I do not remember the full text of my speech, it carried this timbre:
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,
I normally would address you as “esteemed,” or “honorable,” but as a body, I don’t really think of you in that light anymore. I am sorry to lump all of you into a faceless group irrespective of the truth of your individual characters, but perhaps for a change, you will understand how we feel now when you do this to us. It is clear that, to you, we are not people; we are “constituents,” “statistics,” or “resources.” You assume our gullibility and ignorance. That is a mistake on your part.
I stand before you today to inform you about my perception of your work and our path as a nation. Both are failing, and they are failing at your hands. When I see your choices and listen to your words, I do not recognize statesmen and stateswomen for the most part; I see arrogant, ideological zealots who are more interested in firming your place in history than serving the people who elected you. You allow the wealthiest in our country, of which many of you can be counted, to decide what is best for the majority of us, who are poor and working-poor. You permit corporate interests to surmount the needs of our children, the disabled, and veterans. You propagate other countries’ dependence upon us on the backs of citizens of the United States who ourselves are rapidly becoming residents of a second-world country. The most challenging part of all of this is that you have heard my words so often that you have had to close your ears and hearts to them just to protect your sense of self. If you actually internalized these sentiments and thoughts, you would despair.
Yet, I must backtrack for a moment. This is not wholly your responsibility. It is ours. We elected you, and reelected you, then elected you-substitutes when your term-limits arrived. The truth is that you, too, have become interchangeable faces with your predecessors. You could disappear today, someone would take your place, and we would barely blink; yet, you believe the hyperbole about your importance so elegantly crafted during your elections.
Your money does not make you more valuable than my friend, Carrie, who teaches art at a charter school. Your prominence does not make you more important than my friend, Amy, who works at a university. Your education does not make you more vital than my sister, Lorraine, who is a stay-at-home mom. You are important to your family and friends. We have created whatever external sense of importance you have. Remember that we as the electorate have done this; therefore, we have the power to dismantle that public value as well.
As we watch groups like AmericansElect, the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Independents, and other groups grow, know that business-as-usual is coming to a close in our government. The standard operation of the Federal Reserve is on its way out. Anyone who uses demagoguery as a platform is at grave risk for disengagement from their political power base, especially as the broader population learns that although those who speak the loudest get the most attention, the majority actually have the power.
Our founding fathers foretold our current situation time and again. We simply refused to believe them. As an example, recall what Thomas Jefferson observed when he wrote to John Tyler in 1816:
“And I sincerely believe with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a grand scale.”
George Washington understood the humanity of the citizens he served. He offered clear guidance that would well serve our elected officials when he said in a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette in 1785,
“Democratical States must always feel before they can see; it is this that makes their Governments slow, but the people will be right at last.”
I take this to mean that with prudent and open hearts, individuals of conscience will find a resolution to all of America’s woes, and that the people, not just the wealthy, will win the day.
Ladies and gentlemen of Congress, your arrogance and insensitivity is not prudence. You refusal to compromise is not an expression of a feeling heart. Our fear to replace you with someone completely different from those who have served in your office in the past is cowardice on our part. We are all to blame.
Today, my fellow citizens, which is, after all, who you are, I claim my culpability and declare to you that I now reclaim my power as a citizen of these United States of America. You no longer have the power to sway my vote without my conscientious consideration. You no longer have the right to make deals in secret without my consent. You will acknowledge the decimation of those peoples who stood in our way to statehood, for it is only in recognizing the injury we caused that we can even begin to ask for forgiveness. You may no longer abscond with funds from my elderly parents and students to pay foreign governments’ bills. You may no longer pepper-spray my sons and daughters who sit on a cement sidewalk at a university without cause. You may no longer send my children to wars around the world without the purpose of defending the lives of our citizens, not our oil or political status. You may no longer borrow against the futures of my grandchildren. You may no longer give money to megacorporations and banks that rightly belong to our fellow countrymen and -women without my considered approval. No longer shall you deny rights to even one member of our population; rights that you have no jurisdiction to govern in the first place. No longer may you allow anyone to be turned away from health care because they cannot afford it. You will ensure that an affordable education for all our young people is available. No longer may you collect your salary while damaging our brother- and sister-Americans; and even then, you may only collect that salary until the end of your term. Today, and not a day later, you will acknowledge the innate freedoms and equality that we Americans were promised at the time of the founding of our country. Remember, you answer to me and to all of us who put you in office. I suspect my voice is simply a reflection of millions of voices across the country.
From this day forward, we decide how our country runs. You will do our bidding, and not the bidding of corporations or small, monied enclaves of power who insist on stoking the conflagration that has become our American lives. You are put on notice that effective today, you are accountable down to the penny for our money, because, after all, it is our money. The walls of Congress will no longer be an expression of your xenophobia. Not only will those walls be transparent, but metaphorically razed so that we have complete access to everything you know about us and our country.
Your personal lives are yours alone. If you are faithful or unfaithful to your spouse, that is between you and your mate. Whether you are gay or straight, Christian or Buddhist, fat or thin, from the South or the West, these issues are of no concern. Again, your private lives are yours alone. The same is true for us. Anything to do with our personal lives neither requires nor will tolerate governance. You will stay out of our bedrooms, our churches, and our doctor’s offices. As such, we will also not consider those issues when it comes time for your election. There is room for all of us in our country, not only to be tolerated, but to be celebrated.
I hope you have enjoyed your tenure under the old administration; however, this is a new day. Everyone from our local dog catcher to our President of the United States is now on notice: The People rule America. Anyone who works with a different understanding than that will be removed from office immediately. If you didn’t like Occupy Wall Street, you will certainly loathe Occupy America! Only those who understand compromise and collegiality shall inhabit these hallowed halls from now on.
We will return to “E pluribus unum,” or “Out of many, one,” as our national motto. “In God we Trust,” is exclusive of those who do not believe in a monotheistic god, and is inconsistent with the separation of church and state. Remember, not one person shall be excluded from our system. With this mutual understanding in place, let us now begin a new day in camaraderie, equal citizenship, and a vision toward tomorrow as a unified country. Nothing less will be tolerated.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Over the last couple of days, I have been contemplating the end of the federal government’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. With DADT gone, anyone who otherwise qualifies to be in the military may now join any branch without concern regarding the enlistee’s sexuality. The United States of America has taken a step forward with the change, but I must admit, as happy as I am about this fact, I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about the celebration.
Since the days when Lieutenant Gotthold Frederick Enslin was discharged for sodomy from the Continental Army in 1778, American military policy regarding gays has consistently banned homosexuality among its soldiers, but the structure of that disapproval has changed many times, most often in the 20th Century. During World War II, the psychiatric component of the military evaluation began, at which time homosexuality was considered a psychopathology. Thereafter, several categories of discharges were established, such as the blue discharge which was neither honorable nor dishonorable, although it held a stigma in society after the individual left the military. In 1942, if an individual was not found to have sexual contact prior to the court martial, they were given an undesirable discharge. A dishonorable discharge was given to those who had sexual contact with individuals of the same gender. General discharges were also offered to some servicemembers. Interestingly enough, the Crittendon Report in 1957 determined that gay people did not pose a security risk, but that the anit-gay policies should remain because homosexuality was “evil.”
When DADT began on December 21, 1993, there was a mix of hope and disappointment in President Bill Clinton’s choice to go this route. Although he promised to be the president for all American citizens, his initial attempt to eliminate the gay ban in the military was shot down by Congress. He was advised that full permission for gay and lesbian individuals to serve in the military was unthinkable. He chose to establish a policy of “ignorance is bliss” instead. I know many people were happy with this policy, but it seemed that any codified ignorance would not be a good thing. I mean, what did the policy really do?
Prior to DADT, a servicemember could not openly state that he or she was gay. The soldier could not openly date a partner, be seen in public holding hands with an individual of the same gender, and they could be asked whether he or she was gay. If the soldier answered, “Yes,” then court-martial proceedings ensued, after which the soldier was ceremoniously removed from the military.
After DADT, the same things could happen, except the military was not allowed to ask the question in the first place. If the soldier admitted to being homosexual, the same process began as before DADT. Ask many soldiers, such as Lt. Daniel Choi, if there was any difference. DADT was hailed as a step forward toward full equality for Americans, and I suppose at some level, it was.
Here’s my issue: I have known family and friends who served in the military who are gay; one of whom served during World War II. He was a decorated veteran and served honorably for several years overseas. The thought that had he served during DADT and it became known he was gay, the same thing that would have happened to him during WWII, would have happened to him during the 1990s as well if his superiors discovered he was homosexual. The only difference is that during DADT, no one would have asked in the first place. The bottom line is that gay folk were personae non grata in the military until yesterday.
Something has changed now, of course. Gay people can enlist in the military as they can in many western countries, such as England, Canada, Spain and Italy. They can serve beside their straight counterparts and all of them will be called soldiers… sort of. For a while, at least, we know that because we are neither gender blind nor sexuality blind, these soldiers will continue to be called gay soldiers and lesbian soldiers among the rank-and-file and in the country as a whole. The other salient thought is that married and registered domestic-partnered gay soldiers, will have no benefits for their spouses because of the Defense of Marriage Act.
We should call this event as it is: Another step forward. It is not the end of the journey for our service members who happen to be gay. A group of our soldiers will know they cannot support their spouses with health insurance, death benefits, or be ceremonially recognized if they should die as the spouses of straight soldiers are. They will give the same service, but not have the same benefits. This is not equality.
So, as we celebrate this movement forward, let us stay aware that until full equality is achieved, work still must be done to ensure our American soldiers… all our American soldiers… are treated equally.
Beginning in the 12th Century, the Roman Catholic Church sought to purge the world of those who were heretics to the Word of God and the law of the church. Heretics were punished, sometimes by death depending on the era, and most often at the hands of secular and governmental bodies. In the 15th Century, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella established the Spanish Inquisition, separate from the Roman church, but with the same intention and outcomes.
The purpose and reasoning for these trials were specified in the 1578 handbook, Directorium Inquisitorum, “…quoniam punitio non refertur primo & per se in correctionem & bonum eius qui punitur, sed in bonum publicum ut alif terreantur, & a malis committendis avocentur.” Translation from the Latin: “…for punishment does not take place primarily and per se for the correction and good of the person punished, but for the public good in order that others may become terrified and weaned away from the evils they would commit.” 
As I read the commentary by candidates and public officials such as Sally Kern (R-OK) who have stated that HIV/AIDS and the bombardment of homosexuality upon our children is a greater threat than terrorism, and that our country being exposed to homosexuality destroys our virtue as a country, I cannot help but harken back 900 years to the era of those who would cleanse their world of those who had different views than those in power for the betterment of the community-at-large.
There are some differences, though. First of all, the extreme right-wing political groups are a tiny fraction of the overall electorate. They are loud, certainly, but they are not the majority by any measure; yet, when we look again at the structure of the Inquisition in the 1100s, we realize that the powerful minority was attempting to take action against those who spoke against their belief systems. How is it that we are allowing this process to begin again?
As we see “Don’t Say Gay” and “Defense of Marriage Act” bills flooding our country, we realize that a segment of our population seeks to quash the civil liberties of a portion of our population. Legislative action has been suggested and taken to stem the evolution of our social structure to ensure that the status quo remains in place. This all sounds dreadfully familiar to those who understand history. The manner in which these processes are developing may be different, but the results are the same: Stop anyone who speaks out against those who bellow the loudest and do not believe as the extremists believe. Is there a difference, though, in these processes?
Some right wing candidates have put forth a suggestion that there should be a congressional inquiry into the operation of pro-gay and pro-equality organizations. With their desire to get to the truth about who funds and supports these causes, conservatives suggest that these organizations identify all donors during this inquiry. Is this an inquiry or an inquisition? Either way, this reeks of McCarthyism and the Inquisition, using terroristic and threatening methods against people who are simply seeking equal status in the United States. Should anyone question my use of the word, “terrorism,” Dictionary.com defines this words as, “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce,especially for political purposes.” Our access to freedom is being threatened by congressional attack and verbal abuse in the media.
One must wonder, why is the right wing is becoming increasingly vehement about their patterns of attack upon pro-equality groups? I can only think that like a drowning person who is so afraid of dying he ultimately drowns the person assisting him, the extreme conservatives recognize that the country is changing all around them. They are so desperate to save what they know and trust, they are lashing out with every fiber of their being against a segment of their constituents to maintain their current status. If progressive groups succeed in moving the country into the 21st Century politically and socially, the conservatives will play a diminishing role in the government. They will be seen as archaic entities that are no longer necessary on the political landscape. Even in my own life, I recently heard that someone I care about very much, and who is very right wing in beliefs, say to a mutual friend of ours, after reading a particularly pointed blog I wrote, “I thought James was a nice person.” I believe I am a nice person, but a nice person who has a strong belief in equality for all Americans.
Perhaps we are not hearing hatred shouted from the mouths of angry divisive people; perhaps, rather, we are hearing the death throes of a dying breed, the extreme conservative. Ultimately, they may not be so interested in what is happening in the pro-equality movement as they are in how it is possible they are watching their demise as a power in the United States. In the same way as the Roman Catholic Church did as they heard an uprising of people who did not agree with them, they are simply screaming the question, “Why?!”
I read something today that impacted my focus on current politics. George Washington said in his “Farewell Address” in 1796, three years before he died, that his countrymen should “forswear party spirit and sectional differences and to avoid entanglement in the wars and domestic policies of other nations (Archives.gov, 2011).” If only our current politicos could hear President Washington utter those words again.
As I watched the Tea Party debate last night, I realized something very important: the men and women on that stage were genuinely interested in the success of the United States. That is not to say I agreed with them, but as an American citizen, it was my right and responsibility to hear them speak to us about their beliefs and plans for this country. Some on the stage were so far from my beliefs about our country, I had to recognize that their plans were not my plans, and I would necessarily not vote for them. Others had ideas that I believed may have merit. Would I have known that had I not listened to these American citizens of another party, or dismissed them out of hand because they were Republicans? Of course, not! Would I vote for any of the individuals on stage last night? No. Might I have considered it had they resonated as correct? Perhaps.
Washington asked in his speech that we listen to one another regardless of party affiliation. My understanding of his admonition is that we should never allow our party boundaries to become xenophobic in nature. Sadly, that is what is increasingly happening on both sides of the aisle. It appears to me, and I know to others as well that when a Democrat speaks, a Republican automatically says, “That has to be wrong.” The same can be said for the Democrats listening to a Republican.
After years of teaching in both public schools and privately, one thing is absolutely true: I can learn something from everyone with whom I come in contact. It may not be a lesson I want to learn, and it may be painful to hear it come from the individual offering this lesson, but ultimately, I grow from the experience. I learn both by example and by contrast what I want and what I don’t want. Can our legislators and candidates say the same thing? I must wonder.
George Washington, a fourth-generation British citizen of the colonies and first generation American, knew that zealous adherence to party dogma was not good for our nation. He recognized that when citizens band together with a variety of ideologies, everyone brings a piece of the puzzle together in one place. When leaders stop listening, this divisiveness can topple a national community.
We can disagree, sometimes vehemently, with our fellow Americans. We can expect nothing else. We must, however, always respect everyone with a voice enough to hear them out and contemplate in good faith the others’ opinions and beliefs. Stalwart devotion to dogma is not healthy for our country. Deigning gravitas to the opinions solely of those with whom one agrees is sheer idiocy and arrogance.
Compassionate communication between those who disagree is power. Sophisticated learning from those who hold opposing views is genius. Cooperative work with those who have differing priorities is strength. These are the qualities I hope to see in our government in short order, because what we’re doing now is simply not working toward anyone’s benefit. I believe in my heart of hearts that George Washington wold agree with me.
Archives.com (2011) “Founding Fathers – George Washington.” Charters of Freedom. Acquired on September 12, 2011 from http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.archives.gov%2Fexhibits%2Fcharters%2Fconstitution_founding_fathers_virginia.html%23Washington&h=JAQA5rLa2AQCSqJJwSGOTgVo1d-K2CpGStJNR1k4Mh8mrDg
According to Dictionary.com, a theocracy is defined as:
“A form of government in which God or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler,
the God’s or deity’s laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities.”
A republic, on the other hand, is identified in that same source as:
“A state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is
exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them.”
What would one call a government that is elected by the people, but is governed by the tenets of religiosity? Might it be a theorepublic or a theodemocracy?
The orthodoxy of this particular form of government relegates the beliefs of nonbelievers or those who believe differently to second class citizenship under this rule, and would force everyone to live under the governmental belief system as the rulers and their religious advisors divine as appropriate. The United States thankfully does not fall under this category… yet.
There are those who would invite us to live according to Christian dogma and patterns because the believers are convinced that through governmental intervention, citizens will be saved from their sins and go to heaven. Because they are called to minister to those nonbelievers, their intention is to create a society that reflects these healing and saving traditions. It is clear that their intentions are good. The challenge is that these well-intended people are missing a basic American conviction that the laws of the land are meant to serve all people, of every race, creed, and tradition with respect and freedom, without regard at the legislative level to any religious beliefs.
In the Middle East, several forms of this religious-based legal system are in place. In Turkey, Mali, and Kazakhstan, Islamic religious leaders are welcomed to guide the legislators in the development of their sharia-based laws. In places like Afghanistan, Morocco, and Malaysia, sharia law takes a larger, but blended role. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, sharia law is the strict foundation of the governmental and legal systems.
Israel, although not a true theocracy, has many of the trappings of this type of government, including granting automatic citizenship only to Jewish individuals, and ensuring this system has many halakhic qualities.
Roman Catholics have Vatican City, a city-state ruled by the pope. Even in America, Catholic priests were threatening excommunication of legislators that voted against church teachings regarding abortion, marriage equality, and the death penalty. Geneva was a near-theocracy with Lutheranism leading its government. The exiled Tibetan government is overseen by the Dalai Lama. Even in United States history, the region from Colorado to the California Coast was identified as the State of Deseret by the Mormons until that area was incorporated into the United States by the Treaty of Hidalgo.
The concept of theorepublicanism or theodemocracy is not new. We can certainly see the revisitation of this concept today in our campaigns. A quality has developed to the language of those desirous of elected office to couch their beliefs in more acceptable terms; however, let there be no misunderstanding: In the same way as when “those people” were not welcome to move into the neighborhood, or when segregated areas were identified for individuals who did not meet certain standards of color, religion, or tradition, we are seeing an upsurge in exclusionary focus. This cannot be healthy or wise for the United States. We must look to people who are inclusive, both in language and action, to lead us forward. Intelligence, wisdom, and strength must be the only qualities that guide us.
When one hears individuals such as Barack Obama and Rudolph Giuliani, and others of their quality speaking to all the people in the country, regardless of identification, one has hope that we will see the light of day with our drive toward a theorepublic.
James Madison offered a speech in 1789 regarding the developing Bill of Rights, one of which was intended to secure the rights of all Americans in practicing their religion or not practicing any religion. In that speech, Madisons said:
“The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.”
Inasmuch as an individual has the freedom and right to espouse, speak about, and act on their beliefs in their own lives, we also have the responsibility, based on our Constitution, to ensure that no one group dictates the religious beliefs or practices of another American citizen. A theodemocracy is antithetical to the very structure of our government and anyone who suggests it should be otherwise should be seen as misunderstanding our way of American life. We must depend on those leaders who ask the question, “What did our founding fathers intend for our people,” rather than, “What does my religion require me to do?” For those who practice a strong orthodoxy, this is admittedly a terrific challenge; however, to hold an elected office, there can only be one answer that will truly benefit the American people. After all, they were elected to uphold our Constitution, not our holy books.
Today, June 24, 2011, New York became the sixth state in the republic to provide marriage equality whether a couple is heteroamorous or homoamorous when their State Senate voted 33-29 for the bill. Previous states that have provided marriage equality include Massachussets, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire. The District of Columbia and the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon also allow the same rights. The population of these original five states equals 15.63 million American citizens. New York adds another 19.3 million people, more than doubling the number of citizens who now have complete freedom to marry the partner of their choice.
It is a momentous day because New York has shown that men and women of conscience can come together in honest debate and negotiation to structure a plan that works for all its citizens. There were compromises on both sides of the equation, but the whole is what truly matters. The New York legislature was wise enough to ensure that this bill did not affect religious organizations and their ability to choose the couples they would join. This has nothing to do with religion. It is a state issue of equality. The small details of their compromises will barely be remembered, but the wedding day that joined Dad and Papa, or Mom and Mama, will be just as important to their children as my parents’ wedding pictures are to me.
When my mother died, I went through her photographs. As the family historian, it fell on me to maintain these photos that included my parent’s wedding pictures from November 1956. As I wandered through the pages of this vibrant couple’s memories, neither of whom were now here to remember them, I recognized this as the starting point toward our family.
Now, the children of LGBT couples will be able to have the same memories as straight couples do. It is as important to them as it is to me. My wedding pictures with my now ex-wife, Barbara, from 1977 are still as beautiful as the photos of my marriage to my husband, David, in 2006.
As we celebrate this victory for equal rights in our country, we must also ask ourselves who is next? Which state next will take the appropriate actions to ensure that 100% of American citizens will see in their lifetimes a nation that will not leave anyone behind regarding equality. Equality is not limited to marriage. Equality must be pervasive in every area of our lives. If one individual does not have equal rights in our country, then none of us have equal rights. As it stands, some people continue to be offered more freedom than others. This cannot be what we mean by the beginning of the second paragraph in the Declaration of Independence when the signateurs affirmed:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
~ The Declaration of Independence (USHistory.org, 1776)
Since May 17, 2004, when Massachussets became the first state in the Union to finally attain freedom for all regarding marriage, our country has been on a trek toward consistency. Eventually, marriage equality will become the law of the nation, and our descendants will raise their eyebrows when their history teachers tell them that at one time, gay people couldn’t get married. As I’ve seen firsthand as a classroom teacher, this same response occurs when the young people are told that at one time Blacks and Whites were not allowed to marry. We do not call marriage between mixed-race couples anything other than marriage. That is the way it will be in the years to come about marriage for same-sex couples. It will simply be marriage.
In many ways, our country is like a majestic redwood; no matter how much shade is in our way, we always stretch toward the light. Today, we have stretched a little bit higher toward that light.
“2010 Resident Population Data” (2010) U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved June 24, 2011 f
USHistory.org (1999) “The Declaration of Independence.” USHistory.org. Retrieved from http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/.
As I listened to CNN report on the possibility of New York being the fifth state in the country to allow same-sex marriage, a question popped into my head: If one is fully an American citizen, why is it possible for him or her to have different rights than other American citizens? Should my status as an American supersede every other subgroup title I carry, including gay, Latino, Native American, European, dark-skinned, heavy-set, short, parent, grandfather, adoptee, or anything else? I suggest it should.
When I attended school as a child, I learned the Pledge of Allegiance. We said:
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, [under God (added in 1954),] indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” ~ Francis Bellamy (1892)
I cannot imagine that when Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892 that he, as a Baptist minister and christian socialist, would have imagined that this statement would mean Blacks, Asians, Latinos, women, gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals; however, it does. Bellamy did write, after all, that “[a] democracy like ours cannot afford to throw itself open to a world where every man is a lawmaker, every dull-witted or fanatical immigrant admitted to our citizenship is a bane to the commonwealth; where all classes of society merge insensibly into one another (Beato, 2010).” Much to what I’m certain would be Bellamy’s chagrin, we are merging into one distinct American society. So, why then are there different levels of citizenship in our republic?
Nothing is simpler than layering a group by status. The “haves” have more than the “have-nots.” Land owners had more power than the slaves. The European-based pioneers in the West decimated the indigenous people across the American territories. Experiences like these repeat themselves time and again because the status of one group is perceived as higher or lower than another. We face an issue of status today as gay couples are disallowed full marriage rights in the United States of America.
One issue I have with those who support equal marriage rights is that they perpetuate the current lexicon by claiming we are fighting for same-sex marriage rights. The discussion should be about making American citizenship the same for everyone by allowing every individual the right to marry whomever he or she chooses to marry. I understand the questions about relatives marrying, even though the current science does not support many of those arguments. I understand the age requirements for marriage. Children cannot make a healthy choice about marriage, and they should not be asked to be in that position. The paternalism of government has continued to encourage the placement of the gay and lesbian community within the same spectrum as children: the LGBT community apparently cannot make a healthy choice to marry any more than children can.
If one is an adult American citizen, one should be able to marry the person of his or her choice. That’s the whole concept in a nutshell. This is true marriage equality. It has nothing to do with religion. It has nothing to do with region or history. An American anywhere in the United States may marry the person of his or her choice. Which individual or group has the right to deny anyone that right or any other right? Our only job as a country is to ensure that all rights are assured in every state of the union. That is freedom. When we assure everyone have the same rights, then we can sleep soundly knowing that we have the “liberty and justice for all” promised in our Pledge of Allegiance and our Constitution.
Beato, Greg, (2010, Dec. 16). Face the Flag, Reason
Bumper sticker (2011) “Love is gender blind.” Retrieved from http://middleagedqueers.com/?p=5575
As we continue having debates regarding rights, freedoms, and full citizenship for people in same-gender relationships, we may want to conserve our energy and make our discussions more efficient and accurately reflective of every type of relationship.
As I watched Current TV, the channel developed by former vice-president Al Gore, and Illinois senator, Al Franken (D), I heard a woman say that these debates, especially those going toward the U.S. Supreme Court, are made more challenging because the word sex is involved. The word to which she was referring was, “Homosexuality.”
If it’s really an issue, why not use a different word? The Latin word, “homo,” means, “same.” “Hetero,” mean “different.” The Latin root, “amor,” means, “love.”
Homoamorous means two people of the same gender love one another.
Heteroamorous means two people of different genders love one another.
So, why not change the word. It’s not as though we’re using ancient or sacred words to describe our relationships. “Homosexuality” was coined on May 6, 1869 by Karoly Maria Benkert, a 19th Century Hungarian physician, who first broke with traditional thinking when he suggested that people are born homosexual and that it is unchangeable. With that belief as his guide, he fought the Prussian legal code against homosexuality that he described as having “repressive laws and harsh punishments (Conrad and Angel, 2004).”
One would suspect that Dr. Benkert would appreciate this change in lexicon so that we change our focus in this debate from sex to love. John and Frank are not two people in sex. They are two people in love. Deborah and Sheila are not two women who spend their lives sexing each other, they are two women loving each other. This is especially true because homosexuality has been demedicalized in so many ways.
If we’re going to have to have this debate in the first place, let’s speak accurately about the people involved. We are homoamorous people. We are two people of one gender who are in love. Those in opposite gender relationships are heteroamorous.
How complicated can that be? If I were to approach someone and ask them if they’d like a slice of bread, their first question is likely, “What kind is it?” As a people, we love clarity. Homosexuality and heterosexuality are simply not clear enough terms for the breadth of our relationship. Homoamorosity and heteroamorosity are clear winners when it comes to describing the relationships with which I am most familiar.
Sexuality is an important, if not a terribly time consuming part of most marriage relationships. It helps motivate our interest in a particular person whose gender is consistent with what we prefer; however, that, too, is not always the case.
Is it unthinkable that two people can have a relationship that is purely emotional in form, without sex, who continue to love one another nonetheless? Ask many people who are of a certain age.
Homoamorosity and heteroamorosity are not only options for the terms homosexuality and heterosexuality, they might even be the preferred forms given their more emotionally inclusive qualities.
My mother used to say, when trying to get the direct truth out of me, “Jim, call a spade a spade.” Although I never played bridge, from which this term comes, I knew what she meant. Name something as it is. I now get that message all the more clearly.
2010, Plato.stanford.edu. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/homosexuality/
Conrad, P., & Angell, A. (2004). HOMOSEXUALITY AND REMEDICALIZATION. Society, 41(5), 32-39. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.