Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
by Michael Tubbert
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This is the second sentence in the Preamble to our Declaration of Independence. It is the central principle upon which the whole of our Constitution is based. These values on life and individual freedom and liberty are the foundation that makes the United States of America the greatest among nations.
I have desired to write this for some time, but only now has that urge borne fruit. Maybe because it’s because I am starting to consider my options for the 2012 national elections, maybe it’s because, for the first time, I personally witnessed a very small anti-gay marriage rally. Maybe it is because part of me wishes I had the courage to stop and have a conversation with those people. When it comes to political discussions, too often the discussion gets beyond civil discourse and we revert to our stereotypes of the opponent: Democrats being left-wing atheist socialists and Republicans are right-wing Bible-thumping bigots, for example. How easy it is to forget that behind those stereotypes are real people of infinite diversity.
I don’t believe a day passes when you hear “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” quoted by the leading conservative commentators, politicians, or organizational leaders. This repetition is not without cause. Demanding accountability, fiscal responsibility, and limitation of our local, state, and federal governments is at the heart of guaranteeing our personal liberties and our ability to pursue that which makes us happy.
Pardon the unintended pun, but the “whitewashing” of the Republican Party’s history regarding Civil Liberties is a great disservice not only to young conservatives, but also to those who place a strong emphasis on racial and gender issues during the political season. How many of you are aware that the Republican Party was founded as an anti-slavery political party? How many of you are aware that notable historical African American Republicans include Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and according to Dr. Alveda King, so too was her uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Which leads me to my biggest concern with the visible conservative leaders in media and politics: why is it so easy to point to these historical truths when trying to fight the conservative “bigotry” stereotype, and then forget them in a heartbeat when the issue of same-sex marriage is raised?
The constitution was written as a document to restrict the power of government and the extent to which it could regulate its citizenry. As fiscal conservatives we fight against the government’s ability to create ever-increasing tax burdens, regulate ever-increasing levels of business conduct, and create an ever-increasing number of social programs. We believe the government’s reach should be shortened, its role decreased, and its budget drastically reduced.
Except, it seems, when it comes to social issues. Where the Democrat party tends to be a party of fiscal restriction and social freedom, the Republican Party, in stark contrast to its founding purpose, fights for fiscal freedom, but pushes for social restriction. On both sides of the aisle: Where is the consistency when you fight for government restriction on one set of issues, but clamor for government control over others?
Though neither the purpose of, nor the inspiration for, the desire to make my voice heard, I find it appropriate that across the United States, local gay communities are organizing and/or celebrating “Pride” week over the course of this month. For better or for worse; to those who have no direct interaction with gay men or women, these Pride festivals, and similar mass media products, become the foundation upon which stereotypes are formed.
The problem with the Pride festivals is that they tend to represent only the vocal among the so-call “gay community.” There is a quiet, and I believe, a not-insignificant percentage of gay men and women for whom the word “gay” isn’t a primary identification; it is but a portion of our private lives. We are business professionals, caretakers, parents, children, siblings, students, medical professionals, teachers, and neighbors, but, we also happen to be in a same-sex relationship.
Those of us who quietly live our lives are rarely heard in the marketplace of ideas behind the cacophony, color, flash, and (sometimes) controversy of the Pride festivals. To us, it’s not about being “Out and Proud,” it’s about being loved and respected for human being that we are. That we, equally created ‘men,’ be granted the exact same “self evident” right to “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”
Historically speaking, as our country has grown and matured, our Constitution has been amended to grant increased freedoms, and for all time, identify the equality of ever-smaller groups of minorities. First the colonies as a whole were guaranteed freedom of religion, speech, self-defense, privacy, and justice (see the first 10 amendments, also known as The Bill of Rights).
As we go down the list we see the abolition of slavery, the definition of citizenship rights, removing the race restriction on voting rights, women’s suffrage, limiting presidential terms, and increasing the voter pool by reducing the age restriction. Only once do we see an increase in the limit of individual liberty, and that, the 18th Amendment, was later repealed with the 21st Amendment.
As a man of principle, and one who believes in consistency of conduct as a conservative, I firmly believe the implementation of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) under the Clinton administration, was a step backwards in reducing the role of government in our daily lives.
There is nothing more important in my life than my family. I somehow doubt that I am the only one in the “gay community” that feels the same way. My devoutly Christian family instilled in me unwavering values of love, respect for life, honor, honesty, loyalty, personal responsibility, sacrifice, and service. The bond and stability that marriage has brought to all of my family is a value both worth praising and emulating.
I suppose that’s why it comes as such a great shock to me that those who aim to be pinnacle of those ideals also tend to be greatest opponents of same-sex marriage. To someone such as myself, to whom family is everything, is it such a wonder that I would want to create that same bond, and be able to pass it down to the generations that follow me?
The de facto reasoning against same-sex marriage is the devaluation of the institution of marriage itself. I would ask you: Is your marriage any stronger because your neighbors have wed? Is your marriage weaker because of the 50% divorce rate in the United States? Is a couple who married civilly, but not religiously, still married? It would seem to me that your marriage, as with any relationship, is reflective only upon you and the person you interact with. On the other hand, does it not speak volumes of what you have created if so many others wish to emulate you?
I understand the religious foundation for objection to same-sex marriage. Each of the major religions of the world has a long history of helping guide civil society. I can respect this history, the personal fulfillment, and the beauty that each of these faiths bring to the world. However, I would ask you to answer a few questions of yourself before you make blanket judgments about others. If you are married, did you choose the person you fell in love with. Do you say to your wife, “After we met, I spent months making myself love you, because I wanted to choose you?” Would it not be more accurate to assume that you believe God created your husband, wife, fiancé, or significant other, to be your soul mate?
Do you honestly believe it is any different for gay men and women like me? We desire so much to emulate the love and stability found in marriage, to emulate what it means to have strong moral character, but then would choose to sabotage that by choosing a path believed to be contradictory to the people we respect?
We are not asking the government step in and require that religious communities be required to marry same-sex couples. However, as you would not wish the obligations of a competing faith be thrust upon you by the government, so too do I ask that you respect my request to not be beholden to your personal beliefs. What would your opinion be if Federal legislation passed that aligned the law with the stricter Catholic guidelines regarding divorce and remarriage? What if legislation passed incorporating Shari’ah Law into our judicial system?
What I am asking is that the same legal and social recognitions currently given to heterosexual couples also be given to their homosexual counterparts. What I mean is that you should be able to recognize, and respect that the love, devotion, commitment, and respect that I feel for my fiancé runs no less deep than that which you feel for your own spouse or “significant other.”
The best qualities of God are those of love and self-sacrifice. These are also the qualities that are believed to be the foundation of a solid spiritual marriage. The judgment by anyone, that any emulation of those qualities is contrary to God’s nature, is the height of mortal conceit and ego. Our universe and the inhabitants therein, represent the infinite diversity, the infinite beauty, and the infinite mystery of its creation.
All other points aside, the political reality is that popular opinion is moving in the direction of support for legalized gay marriage. I have seen in my own life how my personal interactions with others shed away the fears, stereotypes, and prejudices that often accompany this subject.
To Republican candidates and media figureheads, I hope you look back to the roots of your party, and help usher this next frontier of civil liberties. I think you would be pleasantly surprised by the number of new constituents you would find. I know many who vote against you solely because of the stance against gay marriage and how it correctly, or incorrectly, illustrates your view on civil liberties as a whole. “We have, as we all will agree, a free Government, where every man has a right to be equal with every other man.” In his speech to the One Hundred Sixty-fourth Ohio Regiment in August 22, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln made no exception to his statement. Freedom and Liberty are universal, without exception.
To Democrat candidates and media figureheads, I hope you once again recognize that the same freedoms and personal liberty that have made this country great, is also the freedom to succeed and fail on our own terms. A life without risk is a life without progress. As Albert Einstein once said, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” We should not be requiring others to do for us, but should be requiring of ourselves to do for others. One of the Democratic leaders I respect most, President John F. Kennedy, said it best, “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man”
To those of you who I may never have the opportunity to know or converse with, and who may not otherwise regularly interact with a gay man or woman: I ask that you simply take the opportunity to analyze your own prejudices and fears, and actually sit down and talk to one of us. In the end, it is, after all, our desire for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that unites us equally created ‘men.’