I believe in social equality for all. If I had made this statement in any other year but this one, in any other state but California, no one would have batted an eye. As I say it now, I look around prepared to debate the much talked about Proposition 8, a legal definition over “marriage” here in California. In all fairness, and in trying to maintain a forthcoming and succinct tone in my “This I Believe” essay, and as an English professor, my opinion is that the Prop 8 campaign simply was an expensive semantic debate between two groups of people: one group who put faith first and country second, the other a group who put country first and faith second. The former quote scripture; the latter cite the U.S. constitution. One group uses phrases like “protect marriage,” the other group says “protect civil rights.” The debate has been won, the scripture quoting, “marriage protecting” group now legally has the copyright of the definition of marriage.
You know, in studying social injustices of the past, not only in our own country but throughout the world, we see a common pattern. Social movements down through the ages have all attempted to alter laws and customs. Democratic politics, industrial growth, along with ideas about the capacity for individual reason have shaped our modern society. Let us not forget that in almost all of these cases, the minority was never en vogue. And in this short space, where the tendency could be to name drop the token historical examples that would help build my case, I don’t think there has ever been a case where people voted on whether to grant constitutional rights or not. Actually, our judicial branch has that utterly tedious responsibility, day in and day out combing through the constitution, deconstructing its inherent meaning which transcends the boundaries of historical time periods and social movements, shifts in popular public opinion and political power.
I also believe in marriage. I myself am married to a woman. We were married in a library; we had wonderful guests, great wine, and banquet of gastronomic delights. My uncle married us. He paid thirty dollars for a certificate that ordained him as a Unitarian minister. Now, is our marriage not real? Should my wife and I not be allowed to call ourselves married? We have a daughter now, she is two months old, and we consider ourselves a family. And you know what, and I say this not to prophesize, but to highlight an important point, I am not even religious. In fact, I do not believe in god. I am what religious folks call an Atheist. But I am no more a practicing Atheist than some of my Christian friends are practicing Christians. I never sit atop my soapbox in the park, nor do I ever hold out a sign along the freeway pontificating to random strangers my non-belief on Fridays, just as some of my “practicing” Christian friends never attend church on Sundays.
So what’s all this talk about protecting families? What’s all this talk about protecting our children from teaching them about marriage? Isn’t part of being a freethinker and enjoying the right to be equal, at least socially, if not economically, an inherent right? Since when have we voted for equal rights? Social inequality leads to social injustice, and this is what’s at stake. This I believe