I’ve spent a lot of time in elementary school classrooms in the last month. Which means, more than once, I’ve put my hand over my heart, stared at the American flag, and pledged my allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” It’s very different to pledge my allegiance as an adult than it was as a child—I know what I’m saying now, and I know just how often my country has fallen short of being indivisible, or of providing liberty and justice for all.
My knowledge doesn’t make my pledge any less heartfelt—in fact, it makes it more so. Human nature doesn’t naturally give liberty and justice to all, so it stands to reason that a country built on that principle would have to struggle to get there. And my, have we struggled. We started, as William Carlos Williams pointed out, with murder and enslavement. With women in a codified position of inferiority. It has taken us centuries to make progress toward equality for all people—and we aren’t there yet. Racism and sexism still rule the day, and the country, too often. Fear and greed masquerade as moral superiority, which dons the respectable clothing of law.
So it was in North Carolina last week, when the state became the 30th to ban gay marriage.
In the same week, President Obama announced that his own view has changed, and that he personally supports gay marriage but believes that states should be allowed to decide this issue. I’m glad that he made a statement in support of gay marriage, but I disagree with him about where this issue needs to be decided.
The truth is that for too long we have allowed a view of Christianity that elevates intolerance of others to a sacrament to define a religion built around the life of the most tolerant man who ever lived. (The pastor who advocated violence against children who don’t conform to gender norms is a perfect example of Christianity-as-homophobia-gone-wild.) And we have allowed this intolerant version of Christianity to define our politics. Which means that a fear of sex—in this case, homosexual sex—has hijacked not just Christianity but, increasingly, American laws. I believe this issue will continue to build, and build, and build until—gasp!—we reach a climax at the Supreme Court.
And if that court acts within the spirit of American law—which seeks to give people the freedom to be who they are—gay marriage will not only be legal, it will be indistinguishable from straight marriage.
That day is a long way off, but I believe it will arrive. Because American history is not the history of people figuring out that laws are unfair, fighting them, losing, and giving up. It is the history of, group by group and law by law, the oppressed fighting laws that suppress their liberty and winning. If not the war, than at least the most significant battle at hand. And then coming back to fight another day, so that we might get ever closer to that ideal of liberty and justice for all.
The balance of power, despite the president’s announcement, went the wrong way last week—I hope I am alive to see the day it goes the right way. Cause you know I’m gonna put my hand over my heart and bust out the pledge of allegiance while wearing a gay pride shirt.