What follows is a letter I wrote to the editors of my local newspaper in response to this column from Roger Hines, Why not tailored laws for everybody? I left it to the editorial staff to title my letter and am not displeased that this is the message they took away. Equality under the law will prevail.
I hesitated before writing this letter in response to Roger Hines’ column, “Why not tailored laws for everybody?” because a part of me just wants tired, desperate, and homophobic opinions like his to stay hidden away where they typically reside; in the dark recesses of old frightened minds. My trepidation was that by bringing it up again, I may inadvertently goad these ideas back in to the light of day. But perhaps that’s what we need. For the extinction of this unsightly beast called bigotry can only be brought about by its relentless exposure to the light of reason.
You see, this single statement in Roger’s column, “The homosexual lobby and their sycophant corporations don’t want me to live according to my beliefs, but according to theirs,” provides more than enough context to expose the absurdity of his argument. It’s typical of the warped rationale that takes place in the minds of anyone who has convinced themselves that extending equal rights to others different than them, will somehow diminish their own well-being.
How does someone’s respect for diversity and their desire for all people to be treated equally with dignity and respect, keep another person from believing whatever it is that person wants to believe? It doesn’t. So as is often the case where a certain segment of society has vilified another segment based on some characteristic they fear, the argument makes no rational sense.
Roger quoted Thomas Jefferson’s 1809 letter to the Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church as a means to insinuate that Jefferson would have supported his position. But he needs to take a closer look. Jefferson said, “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of civil authority.” Conscience. This is the realm of ideas, not actions. When marriage equality is extended to all members of society who are legally able to enter in to contracts, Roger’s “conscience” will remain intact. No government intervention will force him to change his mind about what he believes is true, nor will Roger be punished by the government for expressing those beliefs.
And please, before you even go there, don’t confuse “beliefs” with “actions.” The rights to hold beliefs and to freely express ideas are protected, as they most certainly should be. Actions however, no matter what belief may have inspired them, are well within the purview of civil authority. On this subject, Jefferson was also unequivocally clear. He explained as much in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association when he said, “…the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions.”
And while we’re in the business of invoking the sagacious Jefferson, his 1816 letter to John Adams provides perhaps the most salient sentiment given the times. “Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both. We are destined to be a barrier against the returns of ignorance and barbarism.”
Some beliefs will remain intact. Some people will change their minds. The world will turn. But let the reasonable among us deliver the antidotes. Equality under the law will prevail, eventually, as it always has in our great nation.