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In 1964 Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act. He was labeled a racist and much worse for his position. Goldwater, a dedicated libertarian, voted on the constitutionality of the issue and not on the issue itself. I knew him well, and he was no racist. He had integrated the Arizona National Guard, had hired African Americans in his family company and was an early member of the NAACP.
Years later he would say publicly that he regretted his vote. As a close friend of my parents, he once told me that he ended up actually being ashamed of his vote.
Shame. That’s a strong word. But toward the end of his life (he died at 89) he had changed a lot. Goldwater was a strong pro-choice advocate — his wife was one of the original founders of Planned Parenthood in Arizona. He was also pro-gay rights long before it really became a public issue. His grandson was gay.
Still, he was ashamed of that one thing in his life.
Today, there are many potential Goldwaters out there on the gay marriage issue, which has recently been argued in two cases before the Supreme Court: reviews of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage. There are decent people with good values who are against gay marriage. One day, in the not-so-distant future, these people will be ashamed of their position. If any of the Supreme Court justices vote against it, they will eventually be ashamed as well. Not only that but their children, their grandchildren and their heirs will be ashamed of them.
To see how quickly the public has come around on this issue is to recognize how soon it will be totally accepted in our country.
However, the people who will have the toughest time with their anti-gay positions are the religious. The priests and pastors and ministers and rabbis who are against gay marriage are struggling with their consciences more than anyone else. In their hearts, they cannot square their teachings that God made man in his own image, that we are all children of God, with the fact that they discriminate against people simply because of those they love.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan said recently that he felt the Catholic Church needed to do better and that he didn’t want the church’s “defense of marriage” to become an “attack on gay people.” But the first thing he would say to gay people is: “I love you, too, and God loves you. And you are made in God’s image and likeness. And . . . we want your happiness . . . and you’re entitled to friendship . . . but we also know that God has told us that the way to happiness . . . especially when it comes to sexual love — that is intended only for a man and a woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally.”
The head of the U.S. bishops conference then watched when a gay man from New York, who was active in the church until he married his partner, was kicked out of church ministry. This, despite 18,000 signatures in his defense.
I have had a few religious leaders confide in me that they were not personally against gay marriage but could not take that position publicly for fear of losing their congregations. Think of the conflict and, yes, shame they must be feeling now and how it will only worsen with time. One day, they will have to come around or they really will lose their congregations. They have one thing going for them. Most religions believe in redemption. They’ll need to pray for it big-time.
Politicians are rushing to get on the train before it pulls out of the station. Look how many have changed their position, even in the past few weeks. President Obama read the public right when he abandoned the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and then came out actively for gay marriage. Not only that but he speeded up the rush to “evolve” as so many of them profess to be doing.
Suddenly a majority of senators support same-sex marriage. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) stunned his colleagues when he came out in support several weeks ago, explaining that he had a son who was gay. “I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married.”
Of the members who are in opposition, most are facing reelection and are afraid. In fact, it is fear and religion that keep most people from “coming out” in support. What is increasing the momentum is that so many are now in favor that the scales are tipping and that those against will appear to be “left behind,” as we say in the jargon of the apocalypse
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) put it this way: “The civil rights and responsibilities for one must pertain to all. Thus, to discriminate against one class and not another is wrong for me. If we are endowed by our creator with rights, then why shouldn’t those be attainable by gays and lesbians?”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), on the other hand, has twisted himself into knots on the subject, saying he was against same-sex marriage because marriage had been between a man and a woman for thousands of years. Paul knows he is on the losing side of the argument. He has even conceded that if opponents of same-sex marriage go for “federally mandated one-man-one-woman marriage, we’re going to lose that battle because the country is going the other way right now.”
He has suggested that the issue be left to the states to decide, because if the debate goes on “for another couple of decades,” his side might be able to “win back the hearts and minds of people.”
Interestingly, Paul said in 2010 that he would have voted for the Civil Rights Act, the same one Goldwater voted against, because “it was necessary.”
Goldwater’s experience should be a good lesson for the Rand Pauls of the world — and for fearful Democrats up for reelection, Republicans who have dug in their heels, Supreme Court doubters and especially religious leaders who know in their hearts they are on the wrong side.
They should turn to their Bibles, to Ephesians 5, for guidance:
“For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light — for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly, but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”