Parini: Marriage Rights

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(Host) President Obama endorsed gay marriage on Wednesday.
But what got commentator Jay Parini thinking about the topic was how
North Carolina voters dealt with what he considers a civil rights issue.

(Parini) In a recent vote North
Carolina amended their state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. And
watching that state’s electorate go through its twists and turns of
pre-vote debate, I was reminded that progress comes slowly – too slowly
for many, perhaps – but the fact remains that in due course, progress
comes. It can’t be stopped.

I like to remind my students that,
when my mother – who is still going strong, by the way – was born in
1917, women didn’t have the right to vote. The constitution wasn’t
amended until 1920 to make that possible. Today’s students almost can’t
believe there are people still alive who once didn’t have the right to
vote just because of their gender.

But Civil Rights often take a
long time to find enough like-minded people to secure their place as
settled law, and I’m proud of Vermont in its response to gay rights.
We’re a small state that packs a big wallop. Twelve years ago, we
became the first state in the country to pass a civil union law. The
right to marry in Vermont came in 2009. But it’s going to take a long
time to bring states like North Carolina up to speed.

legendary preacher, Billy Graham, has rarely taken sides in overt
political ways; but on same-sex marriage he was clear: "Watching the
moral decline of our country causes me great concern," the pastor said,
"I believe the home and marriage is the foundation of our society and
must be protected."

This seems ironic to me, because the
conservative South has considerably higher divorce rates than the
supposedly liberal northeast. The numbers, in fact, are quite dramatic
here – and prompt people like me to wonder what’s going on.

according to the Pew Research Center, it’s at least partly related to
educational levels. One recent study suggested that couples with less
education have a much higher rate of divorce. Nobody knows why,
exactly, but it may be true that wisdom comes with age and hard
thinking. According to statistics, people in the South tend to marry
younger, and these same people often have fewer educational

In fact,, a web site that
aggregates a broad number of educational measurements, gives Vermont a
ranking of number one in the country in the area of education, while
North Carolina ranks 22nd, with all other southern states except
Virginia falling well below that.

Now, I hasten to admit that one
can see very smart people messing up their lives every day of the week,
and an advanced diploma is no guarantee of wisdom or morality. But
there are patterns, and they do suggest that the more you know, the
better for everyone concerned. Certainly the moral fiber of American
life has only benefited from the Civil Rights movement, and this
encompasses race and gender, as well as sexual preference.

It was Ben Franklin who said: "Where Liberty dwells, there is my country." And as always, I say: Go, Ben.

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