NORTHFIELD, Minn. — The proposed marriage amendment has me, oddly, thinking of a moment from my years as an unremarkable undergraduate, when our history class viewed a documentary about the civil-rights movement. I specifically recall our gasps and groans as we watched peaceful people, many our age, being beaten with billy clubs and attacked by police dogs. Our professor didn’t need to tell us that what we were seeing was wrong.
History’s lens tends to clarify things. How, we now ask, could our European ancestors have raped and ravaged millions of indigenous peoples? How, for hundred of years, did they treat Africans and other black-skinned people as farm equipment? These days, Americans may agree about little, but few of us disagree that those were immense moral failings.
Fact is, though, we must admit that had we been alive and members of the ruling classes, races, and genders during such times, at least some of us would have wielded those billy clubs, deployed those weapons of mass destruction, and locked those shackles. For as neuroscientists accumulate information about our brains, they commonly conclude that we’re not the authentic authors of our lives we think we are. That is, our views on everything from the Vikings’ chances this season to the issue of marriage equality arise from all previous conscious and unconscious thoughts, intertwined with our genetics and environments.
In other words, our votes on this issue will express beliefs that sit atop so many factors — everything from the sermons we hear (or don’t) to the books we read (or don’t) to the foods we eat (or don’t) — it would take a week to identify a fraction of them.
The winds are blowing
If you’re planning to support the amendment, I’d like to change your mind. And, while I could rattle off rational and ethical reasons as to why your vote is misguided, given the mountain of influence I’m up against, few of them are likely to persuade you. Yet, rest assured, friend, your view will change. Maybe months from now, certainly years from now, you, like the rest of us, will feel differently about this issue. Perhaps you’ll be even more resolute, but the collective winds to which you are subjected — and, like it or not, affected — are blowing in the other direction.
Consider how much greater is homosexual acceptance since Ellen DeGeneres made the world laugh the moment she came “out.” Consider how favorably public opinion on the issue of gay marriage has changed even in the last five years. Many of us “no” voters think progress has been too slow, that this ballot question is a discouraging sign. But, really, when we compare demographics — when we consider the predominantly gay-rights-supporting younger generations, the unwitting beneficiaries of countless courageous efforts who are already creating the new normal — the amendment seems like merely a last-ditch effort by people exposed only to anachronistic ideas.
In fact, when we step back and look at what a great civil-rights leader I learned about in that documentary called “the arc of the moral universe,” we see that full civil rights for our homosexual brothers, sisters, friends and colleagues is a matter that clearly “bends towards justice.”
Prejudices will eventually be calmed
So, dear “yes” voter, if it’s a given your beliefs will be revised and very likely that they will be revised toward justice for all, why not take another view of your vote? Because, make no mistake, this ballot will one day hang on history’s hook. And just as if we lived in the past we almost certainly would have acted in ways our present selves would abhor, your current prejudices against marriage equality (the Vikings will no doubt amend your views of them soon enough) will similarly be calmed by the collective view.
In other words, if the amendment passes, someday students in classrooms will learn that in 2012 we wrote discrimination into our Constitution. And their professors won’t need to tell them we were wrong.
Tom Swift is an award-winning author and writer who lives in Northfield.