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Published Jan 9, 2010
By Theodore B. Olson | NEWSWEEK
Together with my good friend and occasional courtroom adversary David Boies, I am attempting to persuade a federal court to invalidate California’s Proposition 8 — the voter-approved measure that overturned California’s constitutional right to marry a person of the same sex.
My involvement in this case has generated a certain degree of consternation among conservatives. How could a politically active, lifelong Republican, a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, challenge the “traditional” definition of marriage and press for an “activist” interpretation of the Constitution to create another “new” constitutional right?
My answer to this seeming conundrum rests on a lifetime of exposure to persons of different backgrounds, histories, viewpoints, and intrinsic characteristics, and on my rejection of what I see as superficially appealing but ultimately false perceptions about our Constitution and its protection of equality and fundamental rights.
Many of my fellow conservatives have an almost knee-jerk hostility toward gay marriage. This does not make sense, because same-sex unions promote the values conservatives prize. Marriage is one of the basic building blocks of our neighborhoods and our nation. At its best, it is a stable bond between two individuals who work to create a loving household and a social and economic partnership. We encourage couples to marry because the commitments they make to one another provide benefits not only to themselves but also to their families and communities. Marriage requires thinking beyond one’s own needs. It transforms two individuals into a union based on shared aspirations, and in doing so establishes a formal investment in the well-being of society. The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance. Conservatives should celebrate this, rather than lament it.
Legalizing same-sex marriage would also be a recognition of basic American principles, and would represent the culmination of our nation’s commitment to equal rights. It is, some have said, the last major civil-rights milestone yet to be surpassed in our two-century struggle to attain the goals we set for this nation at its formation.
This bedrock American principle of equality is central to the political and legal convictions of Republicans, Democrats, liberals, and conservatives alike. The dream that became America began with the revolutionary concept expressed in the Declaration of Independence in words that are among the most noble and elegant ever written: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
So there are now three classes of Californians: heterosexual couples who can get married, divorced, and remarried, if they wish; same-sex couples who cannot get married but can live together in domestic partnerships; and same-sex couples who are now married but who, if they divorce, cannot remarry. This is an irrational system, it is discriminatory, and it cannot stand.
Americans who believe in the words of the Declaration of Independence, in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, in the 14th Amendment, and in the Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and equal dignity before the law cannot sit by while this wrong continues. This is not a conservative or liberal issue; it is an American one, and it is time that we, as Americans, embraced it.
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Marriage is a civil and human right. The American public must come to know what gay marriage actually looks like such that they come to fear it less. What is more, as New York University professor Patrick J. Egan, explains, “opposition to same-sex marriage shoots up a bit in the month or two or three after a big court decision” in favor of gay marriage. However, over time and with further exposure, “people’s experience with the policy changes their attitudes.” Photographing couples and families from around the United States as part of States of Union, and then exhibiting the photographs will help promote this adjustment as well as show the general public whom they are voting against, in order to make relationship recognition a reality.