As we learned earlier this month, North Dakota will join the ranks of other states who will experience a challenge to our restriction on gay marriage. Seven committed same sex couples brought suit against the state, making North Dakota the last of the 31 states forbidding gay marriage to face either a current or previous legal challenge to what an ever-increasing number of Americans (and North Dakotans) feel is a discriminatory practice on the part of government.
The winds of change are shifting rapidly on this issue. According to polling by the Williams Institute in 2012:
Overall, there has been an average increase in 13.6 percentage points [between 2004 and 2012] in support for marriage in the states, though there is substantial variation between states regarding how much change is observed ranging from 8 to 21 percentage points
One can pick apart polling all you want, but it can serve as an indicator of trends even if the specific datapoints can be argued. In North Dakota, support went from 23% to 40% between 2004 and 2012 according to this poll. While still not a majority, a shift of 17% in eight years is nothing to sneeze at, because it does show a rapid shift in attitudes towards gay marriage. The trend shows much more acceptance of the practice, even if one disputes the percentages.
I count myself as one of those whose attitude has changed. I was in full support of the measure which placed Article 28 into Section XI of our State Constitution back when the support for gay marriage was near the 23% mark. This amendment states:
Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman. No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect.
I opposed gay marriage then on religious grounds as a Christian. I still do, but as a Christian and within the confines of faith only. I have never (then or now) felt hatred towards the homosexual community. I resent those who choose to paint others opposed to gay marriage and homosexuality in general as “haters”. There are some who definitely are, but to use that paintbrush on all is a stereotype equivalent to blaming the AIDS epidemic solely on the homosexual community. I believe that true acceptance includes respecting my religious viewpoints as they relate to marriage from a faith perspective, just as I accept the fact that two men or two women want to be together.
As a libertarian leaning conservative who has (hopefully) learned more as I have aged, I have reached the point where I just don’t care if two adults of the same gender want to legally commit to each other in the eyes of the State. Forbidding them from doing so won’t stop them from being together, nor should it. But I do have a lot of concern with recent rulings requiring bakers and photographers to provide their services to gay weddings. Cakes and pictures are not essential goods and services, and the government has no right to tell a business to extend such services to individuals, especially when the owner of said business opposes extending their services on religious grounds protected by the 1st Amendment.
I think it will be interesting to see if today’s Supreme Court of the United States ruling, upholding the right of closely-held corporations (i.e. family-owned businesses, etc.) to claim a religious exemption from contraceptive coverage, may not play a part in correcting the trend of forcing businesses like bakeries and photographers (generally also family-owned) to offer their services against their religious convictions. I hope this ruling does play a part. But, I also feel the table is set for overturning restrictions on gay marriage in our country and in North Dakota, as it should be.
North Dakota does have an opportunity in front of it, however. Rather than wait for Article 28 to be struck down by a high court, our State Legislature should seek to modify it and place it before the voters; or if it is struck down before our State Legislature can act, they can place a new measure before the electorate. Either way, a modified or new measure can set what I feel is a very acceptable compromise in place that will reaffirm the rights of consenting adults to enter into a civil contract with each other; and reaffirm the freedom of religion in our state. It could read as simple as this:
The right of two consenting adults, regardless of gender, to enter into a civil contract with one another for purposes of legal union shall not be infringed by this state. The right of religion to define, in the doctrine of their faith, what consists marriage or other union between two consenting adults shall not be infringed by this state. The state shall recognize marriages or similar unions under the doctrine of religious faith between two consenting adults as a legal union, and they shall be given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect.
Everyone wins with something like this. If you are gay and your faith allows gay marriage, it will be recognized by the state as a legal union. If you are gay and your religion does not recognize gay marriage, you can still join in a legal union under the eyes of the state. If you are straight and oppose gay marriage from a faith perspective, others can’t use the state to interfere with your religious beliefs or the doctrine of your faith. The state stays out of defining religion, and religion stays out of defining what constitutes a legal contract.
This can work if we let it.