If US history has taught us anything, it’s that if a group of people are denied equal rights that are guaranteed to them under the US Constitution, eventually those people will turn out, politely ask for them, and most likely get arrested.
In the wake of the recently passed North Carolina amendment banning same-sex marriages, a small, dedicated group of gay rights activists, the ‘Campaign for Southern Equality’, showed up to a government office in Winston-Salem, N.C. to fill out the complete marriage forms, only to be turned away one after another. The clerks explained that they were just following the law, but one of the demonstrators, Brent Morin, told the clerk after he and his partner were rejected, “I just want to point out that we’re married in the District of Colombia, our nation’s capitol.”
This protest is one is a series to come by the gay rights group and has already captured major media attention, particularly over the arrest of Mary Jamis and her friend Mary Lea Bradford who refused to leave the government office until Jamis received a marriage license for her and her partner. After 30 minutes they were both detained. Their charge was second-degree trespassing.
Though it is always inspiring to watch fellow citizens stand up for what they believe in, it is sad that in the year 2012 people still have to fight for equal rights in a country where they are guaranteed to have them under the constitution. Whether you are in favor of the amendment that passed earlier this week in North Carolina or against it, the fact remains that it is an illegal, unconstitutional amendment. Let’s explore this by dissecting the two most common talking points used by proponents of marriage inequality.
1. “Same-sex marriages violate the sanctity of marriage.” What this means, essentially, is that marriage is a holy, ‘sanctimonious’ union and homosexuality would violate that sanctity. There is only one argument that need be referenced to nullify this point: The first amendment of the constitution.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
For this reason, arguing for the legality of something based on its sanctity is a fallacy because under the Constitution of the United States, laws cannot be made in favor of things religious. Furthermore, to suggest an objective sanctity from the point of view of a handful of specific religious groups is to ignore the very idea of religious freedom itself. Would it be easier for the gay community to achieve equal rights if they just founded a new religion (something the last hundred years have shown to be very, very easy) in which same-sex marriage is the only sanctimonious form of marriage? It’s an idea, but unnecessary because…
2. “The states and voters should decide whether gay marriage should be allowed.” This appeal to democracy may sound reasonable to many people, but to anyone who knows anything about the history of civil rights knows that states and the public are generally not the best key holders for the rights of others, particularly groups that have been vilified forever beforehand (Jim Crow laws, anyone?) That aside, this argument is made void by one simple point also: The fourteenth amendment of the constitution.
“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”
Put simply, it’s not legal for states to take your constitutional rights away, nor is it legal to arrest people for politely asking to be treated as equal citizens under the US Constitution.
For the Campaign for Southern Equality and to anyone reading this, or anyone who plans to demonstrate for equal rights, I want to close on one final lesson we can take from US history: with perseverance, justice and peace as your weapon, injustice is always defeated.