The silence speaks volumes.
When, in early October, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected requests to review lower court decisions overturning bans on same sex marriages, reactions across the nation were predictably split along two lines: those who see the decision as a positive step toward equality for all Americans, and others who feel any marriage that deviates from the one man-one woman tradition is nothing short of an abomination.
Compared to past debates on the issue, however, the response to the most recent swinging of the social pendulum has been relatively subdued, not quite a collective shrug of the shoulders but certainly a far cry from the vitriolic outbursts that once greeted any discussion of gay marriage.
Anyone paying attention to the poll numbers on the issue shouldn’t be surprised. The recent court decisions are simply the most visible aspect of a slow revolution in public thought and opinion that has taken place over the last few decades. Slowly but surely, the outrage and disbelief have been replaced by grudging acceptance, or at least a weary acknowledgement that marriage between consenting adults should be open to everyone.
This country has long struggled with its obsession with and fear of sexual expressions not strictly confined to procreation. It’s a contradiction that has provoked discrimination, irrational accusations, and even murder. The problem goes deeper than the issue of how our government and citizens have treated homosexuals, but it has fed the voices that have condemned that community, unceasingly, throughout the years.
And those voices are still out there. In many rural communities the reactions to the gay marriage decision have been more uniformly negative. The arguments, at least the more rational ones, generally fall into two categories: the religious and the political.
There are those who would argue, correctly, that 60 percent of North Carolina’s citizens who voted on the state’s Amendment 1 in 2012 did so in favor of amending the state’s constitution to ban same sex marriages or civil unions. To that argument I would point out a simple fact, one that is embedded in the U.S. Constitution: federal law trumps state law. Article Six, Clause 2, known as the Supremacy Clause, mandates that all state judges must follow federal law when a conflict arises between federal law and either a state constitution or state law.
The argument that elicits the most emotion, however, focuses on the Christian injunction against homosexuality. Discussions of Biblical truth aside, I for one am all too glad to dispense with the ‘traditional’ marriages detailed in that book, which abounds with concubines and polygamy, and wherein virgin females are carried off as spoils of war and forced to marry their captors.
Traditions are not sacred. They are simply the ways that people of the past conducted their lives, sometimes for good reasons. But I suspect many traditions were passed on based on a poor understanding of reality, simple laziness, or that most common fear of all humankind, the fear of change.
I’m tempted to say that the legalization of gay marriage won’t lead to the end of the world any more than abolishing slavery or giving the vote to women, two milestones in our nation’s history that were also opposed on religious grounds.
Instead of politics or faith, I’d like to invoke a higher power—common sense. Somewhere out there an alien race is surely laughing at this nonsense, a world of barely upright beasts squabbling over their arcane unity rituals as they systematically destroy their planet through sheer ignorance and greed.
That’s one tradition we seem destined to carry on for many years to come.