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Don Roach: Gay marriage debate at the tipping point

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

 

I’ve always considered respect to be a two-way street. If you want respect, you need to give it. If you feel disrespected, disrespecting someone else isn’t going to solve your problems. I’ve failed at this a time or two (or 10) but I strive toward it nonetheless.

In this whole gay marriage debate, something has been lost along the way – respect for one’s fellow man. I don’t want to wax too philosophical today, but I have written previously about what I think we should do to answer the gay marriage issue. Two years ago, I suggested that we allow the populace to decide. If you read the comment section of that article, I think you’ll agree that ‘respect’ wouldn’t be the term that characterized many of the exchanges.

Most political writers like to write things that get people talking and certainly gay marriage is no different. What’s troubled me when I’ve written on the subject is the lack of true dialogue.

For instance, many proponents of gay marriage will skim through my piece, take a phrase or two, latch onto it and perhaps call me some of the colorful names that I’ve been called before when I write about this subject.

Responses like many I received in the linked article above do not help advance the conversation on gay marriage. Last week, Travis Rowley commented on gay marriage and I was pleasantly surprised that many of the responses addressed his actual points with only a few sprinkles of the hate speech that has become so prevalent when we talk about this issue.

My hope is that this trend will continue over the next few months as our legislators debate gay marriage. One thing, as Americans, we must not forget is that we do not all need nor should we all believe the same thing. Some of us are for more taxes on the rich while others want to abolish the Department of Education. What’s defined our country and what I believe what has made it great is that we have had the ability to seriously consider questions that test our character, our faith, and our resolve to make positive change.

We certainly have had our share of bumps and bruises along the way (e.g. the Civil War) but we continually meet challenges. We’re a very mixed culture that continues to evolve and the question around gay marriage is no different than other questions we’ve had to answer as a people.

Let the people decide

That’s why I’m concerned that we’re leaving this question to our legislators and not deciding it ourselves. In my opinion, there are parts of our society, our culture, that should be answered by the people and not by those we elect to represent us. Issues that define who we are, that tell our children and grandchildren what we stood for. And these issues, in my opinion, should not be left to less than 100 people.

Our governor vehemently opposes this idea as do many who support gay marriage. It makes sense; it’s easier to convince less than 100 people than an entire state. Yet, marriage isn’t raising taxes two percent, defining the ‘rich’ as anyone making over $250,000, or consolidating the school departments of Warwick, Cranston, and Coventry. This question deserves to be answered by you, me, and the hundreds of thousands of voters across this state.

Father Tobin deserves an opportunity to persuade us as does Ray Sullivan.

That’s what democracy is all about – making decisions that define the character and culture of society.

No need to check religion at the door

I’ve also come to a conclusion – there’s no need for anyone to check their religion or any other aspect of who they are at the door in this debate, or any political debate. Whatever makes who you are who you are I expect you to bring that to any conversation. That many people of faith have been asked to remove their religion from this debate is asinine, in my opinion. It’s like asking someone to have a discussion on a subject that affects them and their culture but not talk about certain parts of themselves that are affected by a particular outcome.

As I said, asinine. If someone is an atheist and that affects how they view a particular debate, do we ask them to leave their atheism at the door? If they’re black, a woman, or a young person do we ask them to check those aspects at the door while we debate an issue that affects them? Uh, no.

Do we ask gays to not debate this issue from a perspective of their homosexuality? No. Instead, some have tried to make religion a pariah in the public sphere and doesn’t that run counter to the ‘equality’ gay marriage proponents are talking about? What I mean is it’s duplicitous to trample on person’s belief system while asking those same people to accept yours.

That’s why I now believe that we need to have an open conversation, no holds barred, about the issue. We may not end in agreement but because we’re a democracy, let’s let the people decide.

Many gay marriage proponents cite recent polls showing that a majority of America is starting get comfortable and support redefining marriage. Ok – well let’s see if that’s so in little Rhode Island by allowing the people to say whether or not they support redefining marriage or not.

It’s pretty simple and I have yet to see convincing arguments as to why we should not let Rhode Islanders make this decision and that it’s best left in the hands of the legislators. We’re talking about marriage here, not the car tax.

Speaking of, when we do answer the question on marriage, hopefully we’ll be able to deal with some of the economic issues facing our state as well.

In any event, I hope the legislature decides to pass a constitutional referendum to go to voters and doesn’t decide this issue themselves. I also hope that as we debate this issue over the next couple of months and beyond we have honest conversations about it and are willing to persuade and be persuaded in a respectful manner.

Perhaps a little altruistic but the world didn’t think 13 little colonies could defeat the British juggernaut so anything can happen, right?

 

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