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​Joy for gay rights, regret for a missed opportunity

by Rob Port | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Say Anything | July 1st, 2015

The news that gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states is joyous. I watched glady as my gay friends celebrated on social media. Open to them now is an institution that has long brought joy to those of us who are straight.

My marriage to my lovely wife is a deep well of satisfaction and stability for me. It is the foundation upon which I build the rest of my life. To know that the homosexual community can now enjoy that same bond is news worthy of rejoice.

Some on social media were not as happy. I saw many of these people threatening to move to Canada due to the ruling, apparently unaware that our northern neighbors legalized homosexual marriage a decade ago.

A word of caution, though, to my gay friends: Consider that about half of all heterosexual marriages end in divorce. Stop and think before you go rushing headlong into a marital relationship. Marriage is hard, and the commitment long.

Just because you can get married now doesn’t mean you should.

And if I might impart more advice to my homosexual friends, I would ask that you be gracious in victory. Despite recent shifts in attitudes, in many ways gay rights continue to be a hugely divisive issue.

Our goal should be to ease that division with patience and understanding.

Which brings me to my one regret about events this last week. It is not that gays can now marry, only the manner in which it became legal.

We missed a real opportunity to transition to a new era of acceptance for gays with more peace and less resentment. I wish our lawmakers, or perhaps we voters if the politicians refused to act, had been given an opportunity to settle this matter using the democratic process.

The point of democracy is not simply to provide a means by which the majority in society might impose its will on the minority. Democracy is more than just a ballot box. Democracy is a process wherein all sides of an issue are allowed to campaign and make their arguments before the matter is settled, either by our elected representatives or at the ballot box.

It is that process leading up to the voting that makes democracy the best, if not the perfect, form of government. It soothes resentment by making the minority on a given issue feel like they had a fair chance to have their say.

The judicial process does not afford this. Which is why matters addressed by judicial fiat often continue to be rancorous for generations after they’re supposedly resolved. In the decades since Roe v. Wade the abortion issue divides us as much as ever. The Citizens United v. F.E.C. ruling, which found that political spending has the same protections as free speech, will continue to be disputed by future generations.

It would be a travesty if, a generation of two hence, we are still as divided over the concept of gay rights as we are today.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has not helped us avoid that issue. But what might have helped is if states like North Dakota had settled this issue in their legislatures, or at the ballot box.

To be fair, the states had plenty of opportunities before SCOTUS acted and didn’t. But then again, at least here in North Dakota, gay rights activists didn’t exactly push the issue either.

North Dakota passed its ban on gay marriage by a wide majority in 2004. Yet, based on more recent polling data, it seems clear that legalized gay marriage probably enjoys majority support in our state today.

As a long-time political observer in this state, I think a bill legalizing same sex marriage could have passed our legislature. I am even more certain that it could have passed on the statewide ballot.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know if that’s true, which is a travesty. A small one. One dwarfed by the justice done by legalizing gay marriage. But still an unfortunate reality.

Here’s hoping, despite an opportunity to settle the issue with democracy, that lawful gay marriage is something we embrace peacefully in North Dakota and the nation.

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