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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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Examine yourself, why do you want voters to decide this issue and not a myriad other issues? Is it your opposition to marriage equality and a better chance that it would be rejected?

You mark being gay as a belief system. This is where you fail. And the failure runs through this piece.

Also, when did "the people" vote to ban gay marriage? The legislature was good enough for this decision in your eyes. That's a double standard.

Comment #1 by Chris Schneider on 2013 01 16

Chris - I think where you are erring is believing that marriage has been defined as anything other than a man and a woman joining together. There currently is no 'ban' on gay marriage, there is no such thing as gay marriage.

And in my piece I clearly stated that something that is at the core of our society such as marriage needs to be decided by the people. It's not everyday marriage gets redefined.

Comment #2 by Donn Roach on 2013 01 16

Don, the point you seem to ignore is that many people feel that marriage is a civil right. If this is a right, should people get to vote on it? Maybe the first thing we need to decide is whether or not marriage is a civil right. If it is, then you can't allow the majority to vote on that. If it's not a right, can a state decide that interracial marriage should not be allowed? Take a look at the results of that question in Mississippi. Many there still feel inter racial marriage should not be allowed. Do they have the right to vote against it? I guess according to your argument, that should be allowed and we should all live by their decision. Gay marriage does not affect other people other than in their minds. If two gay men live across the street from you for 5 years, then get married without telling you, how has your life changed or been affected? It hasn't. I agree that someone's religion is part of who they are and they should be able to take that to the table, but it can't be used to force their values on other people. If you do that open the door to other religions to try to do the same thing. I have yet to see a valid argument for how gay marriage would negatively impact anyone or society. I hear reasons from opponents, but those reasons have no facts backing them up, and they are opinions at best. Surely same sex marriage has existed in Massachusetts long enough to see that the sky hasn't fallen, and people haven't married their dogs or television sets.

Comment #3 by Rob Felber on 2013 01 16

Don, one of the more rational pieces I've read about this explosive topic. As expected, proponents of gay marriage will question some of your presentation but it doesn't negate the many valid points you offer.
As some in our society continue to push a totally secular agenda, it is understandable why they would not want such a controversial issue placed before the electorate for a true referendum. I agree with those that disagree with the analogy of the civil rights movement. It is not even close to that issue. What it appears to be is an attempt to create a more "libertine" society similar to what's taken place in many parts of Europe. The fairest way to address this ongoing debate is to let the people vote.

Comment #4 by Harold Stassen on 2013 01 16

First, marriage equality advocates assert the electorate should not be allowed to vote on minority civil rights. Nonsense.

RI’s constitution is the foundation for civil rights in this state. Any amendment to it requires electorate approval. If constitutional amendments require electorate approval, so, too, should such a momentous decision as to redefine a centuries-old definition of marriage.

Furthermore, as far as marriage equality advocates are concerned, it’s okay for judges and legislators to vote on this significant, societal-altering issue, but not the people? Are judges and legislators imbued with far more intelligence and wisdom than the common man or woman? How incredibly elitist.

If the electorate is prevented from deciding this issue, then marriage equality will be viewed by many as illegitimate, which will have profound effects regarding its enforcement. As an example, unelected U.S. Supreme Court judges decided the abortion issue in Roe v. Wade. Look at the divisiveness that has resulted ever since.

Trust the people to decide this issue. If the electorate approves gay marriage, it will enjoy far greater acceptability. If the governor and legislature decides this issue, divisiveness will result.

Second, marriage equality advocates assert homosexual marriage ought to be equal to heterosexual marriage in the eyes of the law. Well not everything is equal in the eyes of the law, nor should it be. For example, inequality exists when:

1) A 40-year old man is prohibited from marrying an 8-year old girl;
2) A brother is prohibited from marrying his sister;
3) A man is prohibited from marrying three women at the same time;
4) A man is prohibited from being married when he is still legally married to another woman;
5) A 10-year old boy is prohibited from marrying a 10-year old girl.

As a society we codify in law inequality all of the time. All inequality does not rise to constitutional dimensions. Some inequality makes perfect sense. There are very sound reasons why marital arrangements that are contrary to our centuries-old Judea-Christian definition of marriage ought to be considered unequal in the eyes of the law. Nature’s law, which transcends any written law, provides many such reasons. Religion provides still more reasons.

An institution that has lasted for centuries should not be altered by our governor and legislators. Allow the people to decide this issue. After all, if the governor and legislature cannot amend our state constitution, then they should not be allowed to amend in such a profound way our definition of marriage.

Comment #5 by Christopher Lee on 2013 01 16

You engage in elaborate gymnastics to not make yourself seem like a primitive bigot, but your views on marriage equality are still transparently inhumane and unjust. Same-sex couples are constitutionally entitled to equal treatment before the law. Yes, public opinion polls show that the majority of Americans agree with this constitutional principle today, especially the young, well-educated, affluent, and urban. However, this constitutional principle of equal protection transcends mere public opinion. The great news is that the majority of Rhode Island legislatures are likely to do the right thing very soon and legally recognize same-sex marriage, as all other New England states have already done. The world, not just the nation, is changing rapidly on this issue, and justice will not be denied. I applaud the progress.

Comment #6 by Marcos L on 2013 01 17

Excellent points taken Don. The problem is our general assembly have no courage nor convictions. They are pirates who make "deals." They sell their souls to accrue more power with the hope of being re-elected which 99 percent of them are.

We have no true representative government here in Rhode Island; we have cowards who pretend they understand the concept of governance.

It is tragic and it is true. These dealmakers in our GA are not thinkers; they are not serious people. Most likely they do little to instruct themselves on the monumental and devastating impact redefining marriage will have on this culture. We will devolve in parent one and parent two where Mom and Dad will now qualify as gender specific hate speech.

I am devoid of Hope for our little State.

Comment #7 by Tricia Cahill on 2013 01 18

"devolve into "parent one and parent two" --that's right Mother and Father will no longer be allowed on birth certificates. Babies will be routinely borne through gravy baster conceptions. We will have four parent custody disputes. So very, very sad.

Rob... marriage is a civil right. The point is that "marriage" is a right which accrues to people of the opposite sex. The two involved in the contract are one man and one woman; two men and two men do not have the "capacity" to be married. Therefore, if same-sex marriage becomes law, "marriage" itself has been redefined with devastating implications for our children. Orwellian.

Comment #8 by Tricia Cahill on 2013 01 18

Tricia, I haven't seen any of your dire predictions come true in Massachusetts. I don't see the devastated children. Your penchant for hyperbole is the true problem here. Your arguments may have held some merit before same sex marriage was allowed anywhere in the country, but now that it's been law for over 7 years in Massachusetts and in other states for several years, I have yet to see even a hint of your prognostications evident. If you don;t support same sex marriage, that's fine. Don;t marry another woman, but don;t deprive other people of marriage because of your distaste for it, and don;t make bogus claims when you have no proof to back them up. And marriage has changed and evolved several times through the years, so don't pull the "redefine" card. It's been done before and the sky is still there. If you really want to do something meaningful, why don't you work on the divorce rate of straight people or find a way to stop straight people from having gay children. Straight people are having gay children, then the straight people point their finger and say, "you're not as good as us". People need to get over themselves.

Comment #9 by Rob Felber on 2013 01 18

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