Today, January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing 3 million slaves. Critics of the President were quick to condemn his action. The town crier, using his megaphone, shouted that that this was further evidence of the President's war on families. He wondered how families would survive without those who feed, clothe and care for them free. He pointed out that our founding fathers had slaves. This was a tradition that dated back to the early colonies, and now Lincoln was turning his back on decades of tradition. He claimed that Lincoln was doing it just for political reasons to gain favor with black people and elite northern liberals.
A noted young intellectual suggested that President Lincoln tell his children that there was no reason to change thousands of years of thinking about slavery. Everybody had slaves, so why shouldn't we? She added that, in general, kids do better being reared by a nanny slave than a mother and father. Opposition leaders predicted "that the next thing they'll be sitting at lunch counters and taking our seats on buses and God forbid, going to school with our children." The Slavery Research Council issued a statement declaring that outlawing slavery remains outside the mainstream of American politics, especially in the critical Southern states and pointed to numerous references in the Bible such as Leviticus 25:44-46, which clearly condones slavery. Even some of the President's supporters found fault that he did not go far enough -- complaining that the Proclamation did not outlaw slavery and did not make slaves citizens.*
Yes, I realize that a president speaking out for same sex marriage does not equate to freeing the slaves, but there definitely is a similarity. First and foremost, it is a statement of principle coming from the President of the United States. To fault the timing is ludicrous. Every president seeks the appropriate time to make an important announcement. So what if Joe Biden forced him to do it sooner than he planned. The Republicans point to the unanimous number of states that have rejected same-sex marriage and then suggest that the pronouncement was politically motivated. I do not know how they can reconcile their contention that the policy is against the mainstream but was announced for political gain.
The country has faced and survived the dire predictions regarding the freeing of the slaves, giving women the right to vote, inter-racial marriage, integrated schools, gays in the military or gays adopting children, and it will survive gay marriage as well. Same-sex marriage harms no one and it benefits millions. I expect that every statement made by a president has some political purpose, but when one proclaims equality and ends discrimination for millions of people, it should be celebrated and given the respect it deserves. Complaining about its timing, its limitations or its alleged political motivation does not and should not demean its importance and the humanity it offers. The "tradition" that is sought to be preserved here is one of inequality and discrimination. Doing something wrong for a long time does not make it right.
*The 13th Amendment, which made slavery illegal, was adopted 2 years later in 1865.
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