“We would be more, emphasize more, American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were on the day before.”
These words were spoken by a witness during the historic 2010 federal trial in which the U.S. District Court of Northern California ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. These very words will be heard in the Adams State University’s Main Stage Theatre on March 23 as the student acting company, “Will Act for Change,” presents a staged reading of the play “8” just three days before the United States Supreme Court hears the challenge to California’s ban on same-sex marriage.
For those of us who support marriage equality, these are exciting times that hold the promise that state and federal laws will no longer permit discrimination and inequality with regards to the right of marriage. For those who oppose marriage equality, it may feel like our society is changing too quickly and that long-held values are being forgotten. These are uncertain times and it is unclear what the Supreme Court will do. But the reality is that change is happening and we are at defining moment in our country’s history.
Poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans support the right for same-sex partners to marry. The Obama administration has asked the Supreme Court to overturn Proposition 8. Recently, more than one hundred prominent Republicans signed a brief asking the Court to overturn Proposition 8. The lawyers who represented Al Gore and George Bush in the disputed 2000 election have joined together to argue the case against Prop 8. Americans across the political spectrum have reached the conclusion we are a less just, moral, and democratic nation when our laws discriminate against any of our fellow citizens.
The play “8” is a docudrama that uses the actual words from the district court trial transcripts, first-hand accounts of the courtroom proceedings, and interviews with people involved in the case. Through their testimony and the evidence presented during the trial, it becomes strikingly clear that there are no legitimate legal, scientific, or social reasons to forbid same-sex marriage. The primary arguments against marriage equality are religious based. While we each have the right to our own faith-based beliefs, we do not have the right to impose those beliefs on others in a democratic society. Instead we must look to the Constitution whose 14th Amendment requires equal treatment under the law for each citizen and let it be our guiding force as we create the laws which govern our nation.
Denying gay women and men the right to marriage has real and indisputable economic, legal, and social consequences. It means our laws have created and enforced a category of second-class citizenship for many people who are our family, friends, and neighbors. It is a proposition that is unacceptable and un-American.
As Americans, it is our continual challenge to create a society that reflects our highest ideals. As we strive for a more perfect union, we will never go wrong if we are guided by the principles of justice and equality for all. When our laws treat all citizens equally, we become a better nation and we truly become more American.
One of the most exciting parts of living in a democracy is that we have the opportunity to disagree with one another; and these disagreements can be dealt with through discussion, debate, and, hopefully, through a lot of dialogue. One of the topics that is currently under debate in our country is the issue of same-sex marriage. This has led to a lot of partisan venom-slinging that has further deepened divisions within our country, our communities, and even our families. I would like to propose an alternative to the debate mentality for our San Luis Valley community. I believe that if we create space for dialogue, rather than debate, we will be able to avoid the partisan divisions that have become all too common in our polarized society.
When we engage in dialogue with one another, we listen to understand, rather than to rebut. We speak to be understood, rather than to score points. Ultimately, we attempt to deepen our understanding of where the other person is coming from. What are their values? How did they come to their opinions? What can we learn from one another?
By approaching things in this way, we have a profound opportunity to develop and deepen relationships. In communities like ours, relationships are what matter most. When we listen to understand, and when we seek to develop and deepen relationships, is when we are most able to “create a society that reflects our highest ideals,” as Dr. Taylor challenges us.
I believe that opportunities such as those presented by Dr. Taylor and his student acting company “Will Act for Change” are great opportunities to create space for dialogue. For those in the community eager to find ways to understand one another more deeply, I urge you to attend the play “8” regardless of your personal feelings about same-sex marriage. The opportunity for dialogue after the play will be well worth it.
Dr. John Taylor is a Professor of Theatre at Adams State University
Luke Yoder is the Executive Director for the Center for Restorative Programs