On November 2 Georgia voters will have the chance to act upon our highest prerogative as citizens. Although it might be tempting to assume that the most powerful vote we cast is the one that helps select the next President; the opportunity to amend our state’s constitution potentially has much greater significance.
A President serves for a short time and with limited authority. Our state and federal constitutions, on the other hand, are the foundational documents that define our rights as citizens. Our ancestors showed great faith in us by creating a system that would allow us to alter those rights, and historically their faith has been justified. We have chosen, for instance, to extend the rights that were once limited to white men to people of both sexes and all races.
Sadly, some political groups are hoping to reverse this trend and transform the Constitution of the State of Georgia into a weapon against liberty. Ignoring real threats like promiscuity, divorce, and unwed pregnancy; they claim that the only way to “protect” marriage is a constitutional amendment barring gay and lesbian citizens from marrying. In addition, the actual amendment (which differs from the wording we will see on the ballot) may withhold even the benefits of civil partnerships from Georgians in homosexual relationships.
In a secular society, there is no rational justification for this prohibition. Perhaps more to the point, there is no conclusive theological argument to oppose same-sex unions either. Nevertheless, since logic is not on their side – and despite our tradition of church-state separation – opponents of same-sex marriage have had to rely on weak theological rhetoric to support their cause. As a member of the Christian clergy, I realize that their arguments are far less conclusive than they will admit. In fact, my faith and theological education are what lead me to support same-sex marriages.
My greatest concern about the proposed amendment, however, is not as a clergyperson. Every citizen should be deeply distressed that the Constitution of Georgia might be used as an instrument to impose the beliefs of one group on a minority of our fellow citizens. Although laws may change to meet the majority’s wishes, the fundamental rights of citizenship within our state constitution are not intended to be subject to the biases of even a majority.
Taking advantage of a preponderance of socially conservative voters to pervert that protection is a shameful act, and I hope the people of Georgia will not fall for the prejudicial rhetoric that encourages it. To put it plainly, the issue is not a hypothetical threat to heterosexual marriage. The issue is that same-sex marriage opponents are simply uncomfortable with homosexual relationships, and they hope that there are enough people who share that discomfort that they can get sufficient votes to impose their will on the minority.
This attitude of domination by ideology is the real threat to our nation. If a majority of citizens can use their religious beliefs to dramatically limit the freedoms of a minority group that does them no harm; what other threats to personal liberty might emerge from other, future majority groups? If the personal beliefs of some citizens can prevent two men or two women from getting – through lifelong commitment – the legal protections and financial benefits that two Hollywood actors can get after one night in Vegas; what other rights might fall victim to the prejudices or preferences of the majority?
The vote on November 2 is not a vote on gay marriage. By simply touching a button on a screen, every voter in Georgia will act to either affirm or subvert the tradition of liberty upon which our state and nation were established. Our foremothers and forefathers trusted us to rise above our personal beliefs when faced with that decision; and I pray that we will once again prove their trust to be justified.