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Will 21st Century America Finally Embrace the Values of the 19th Century?

Posted: 03/07/2013 7:15 pm

Bob Dylan was right! The times indeed are a-changin'.

A recent Field poll shows that 61 percent of California voters now back same-sex marriage -- twice the support when the question was originally posed in 1977. In 2008, Proposition 8, which provided only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in California, passed by a 52-48 margin. President Barack Obama is publicly on board along with 75 high-profile Republicans.

More than 200 businesses ranging from high tech to high finance recently signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief in Windsor v. United States, a case challenging the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The court will hear the aforementioned same-sex marriage cases at the end of March, with rulings expected in June.

How the Supreme Court rules is anybody's guess. But the recent trend of public support for same-sex marriage does indicate a growing number of Americans are finally catching up to where the country's stated values were in 1868.

For all of the controversy surrounding same-sex marriage over several decades, it is an issue, constitutionally speaking, that was resolved with the ratification of the 14th Amendment. The same-sex marriage debate has been based largely on how individuals felt with little regard for the constitutional premise that the issue rested on.

Section one of the 14th Amendment, which was ratified in 1868, states:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Three years before the 14th Amendment was ratified, the concept of equal protection under the law, contributed to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's final public statement on April 11, 1865, supporting voting rights for those blacks that served in the Union Army drew the ire of John Wilkes Booth who was in attendance.

Booth reportedly said to a friend, "That means (n-word) citizenship. Now, by God, I'll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make." Three days later, Booth made good on his promise.

From its inception, the notion of equality has always faced an uphill battle. It is a tension fostered between American ideals and its application.

Section one of the 14th Amendment was the basis for women's suffrage and civil rights -- transformative movements that are seen much clearer through the light of hindsight. But it was the contemporary reliance on the blinders of fear and emotion that created decades of stagnation on issues that today is part of the nation's standard.

It has been with steadfast patience that the 14th Amendment remained undeterred by public opinion that suggested the nation was not ready to expand the collective definition of equality.

Section one also possesses 168 years of institutional memory. It fully understands that how the country feels about an issue is not a constitutional consideration.

If the Supreme Court upholds Prop.8 and DOMA, would it not suggest there is a hidden caveat of subjectivity embedded in the 14th Amendment? The country would remain stuck in the quagmire of arrested development, unduly pacified by fear and emotion.

It should be a concern to all Americans if the Amendment that guarantees equal protection under the law rests on the slender thread of how some Americans feel.

Continued bans on marriage equality would also raise the question: when will 21st century America catch up to the values it ratified in 1868?

 

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