Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Constitution's arc of justice

When Connecticut and Minnesota lawmakers voted to allow same-sex couples to marry, they joined other legislators who understand that when they took the oath they put their hand on a Bible and they swore to uphold the Constitution. They didn’t take an oath to uphold the Bible.

Connecticut’s decision to join the marriage equality movement has special significance.  Of the twelve states adopting marriage equality laws, eight are among the original 13 colonies. Only five of the original 13 states haven’t legalized same-sex marriage, but then four of those five once chose secession from the Union over giving equal rights to African-Americans.

Among the original 13 colonies extending marriage rights are Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Maryland, Delaware, and Rhode Island.

It’s meaningful that two-thirds of the states that gave us the traditions of the “Founding Fathers” have decided that gays and lesbians have waited long enough for justice. Dr. Martin Luther King said, "I know you are asking today, "How long will it take? I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth crushed to earth will rise again.

"How long?  Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
The founders created the American “arc of justice.” They held as “self-evident” the fact 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.”
They knew it was often religious dogma that stood in the way. Pilgrims in Massachusetts left England to worship freely. Maryland and Rhode Island guaranteed religious toleration. As people from Sweden, Germany, Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands settled in New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, those colonies quickly became religiously diverse.

European rulers forced religious choices on the people. Thus, freedom-seekers came to America. They wanted religious freedom then and they expect it now. The heirs of the founders of America’s 13 original colonies have concluded that the only justification for the denial of marriage rights to homosexuals is the religious beliefs of some Christians.
Using one’s religious beliefs to deny “certain unalienable rights” to others is un-American and contrary to the reason our ancestors came, violating the rights the founders secured. Since the days when the Declaration of Independence was signed and the US Constitution ratified, Americans of different races, creeds, socio-economic status and sexual orientation have asked Dr. King’s question, “How long?”
King answered, echoing words of Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, who in an 1853 sermon, "Justice and the Conscience," declared, "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience.  And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."
What about Wyoming? Does the long arc of justice bend toward justice here? Those who wrote our Constitution put that bend in its arc. The Preamble of Wyoming’s Constitution sets the stage. “We, the people of the State of Wyoming, grateful to God for our civil, political and religious liberties, and desiring to secure them to ourselves and perpetuate them to our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution.”
Most rights arising from marriage emanate from federal law and hopefully the US Supreme Court will assure marriage equality regardless of where you live. Still, Article 1, Section 2 of Wyoming’s Constitution bends the arc inevitably toward justice. “In their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all members of the human race are equal.” Wyoming’s founding laws assure that all members of the human race are equal. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes true for everyone.

“How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever.”

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