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Will same-sex marriage be lawful? Someday

Published 8:40am Tuesday, December 2, 2008

As a journalist, I can look at issues with the perspective of a political scientist. I have been consuming a large swath of news for about 15 years. I have met and interviewed thousands of people, from famous politicians to unsung, hard-working farmers. I have discovered intimately how civics and politics work in various parts of the country. And I read a lot of American history.

I have been able to look at all these experiences through the lenses of a simple Iowa kid who grew up with a Rural Route 3 address, served his country in the Army and then attended a land-grant university, which is where my journalism trek began.

Therefore, I can look you straight in the eye and tell you this: Even though same-sex marriage took a beating at the ballot box on Nov. 4, there will come a day when same-sex marriage will be allowed in every state in America.

How do I know this?

Just look at the past. America expands the rights it gives to its people, but fights for rights seem to take two steps forward and one step back. Nov. 4 was an example of one step back on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Let’s look at an example. Many people know little about the fight for men’s suffrage.

At the country’s founding, most rights, such as the right to vote, once belonged mostly to land-owning white males. This left 85 percent of the American population without the right to vote or a voice in politics for 60 years after the ratification of the Constitution. It took many political fights forward and back, even the jailing of politicians and people fighting for change, but the spark of liberty couldn’t be doused. The defeat of Andrew Jackson in 1824 for president, even though he won the popular vote, moved the country’s sentiment closer to expanding voting rights. When he won in 1828, he was considered the first president to be a man of the people. Still, the cause took many more years of political wrangling.

Through amendments to state constitutions or court rulings, eventually the property requirement was dropped. Some states had wealth requirements that were dropped. By about 1850, the right to vote was granted to all white men. With the post-Civil War Reconstruction amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the right to vote was granted to all men. If you want more on this issue, read about Rhode Island legislator Thomas Wilson Dorr.

The story of women’s suffrage is more well-known. Women struggled for the right to vote, with many political setbacks, but the right was granted with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

These two tidbits of history are merely the right to vote. Think of the battles for other rights. The Irish once were widely discriminated against. The Mormons were chased out of Illinois. The civil rights movement is still in our rearview mirror. Blacks, Jews, Catholics, immigrants, uneducated, veterans, disabled and other minority groups have all had to fight for rights to bring this country to where it is today.

Veterans, read about the Bonus Army Conflict of 1932. Cavalry and infantry soldiers charged on World War I veterans camped at the National Mall to the astonishment of onlookers. This was how America treated vets?

Interracial marriage was once illegal in many states. Richard Loving married Mildred Jeter in the District of Columbia, then returned home to Virginia. Loving was white, and Jeter was black. Talk about government in the bedroom. They were rousted from the bed one night by police, charged and later found guilty of miscegenation, a felony. Miscegenation is the mixing of races. The judge even wrote that God didn’t intend for the races to mix.

The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in the 1967 ruling for Loving v. Virginia the court struck down their conviction, opening the door to interracial marriages.

Many of the men and women who today want to keep gay people from having the same rights as they do at the founding of this nation would not have been able to vote, let alone have access to many other rights.

I am not arguing in this column in favor of one side or the other in the issue of same-sex marriage. You can make up your own mind on the issue.

I am saying that by looking at American history from a political-science perspective, it is clear that right of same-sex couples to marry indeed will be granted someday. It could take 20 or 60 years, but it will happen. Opponents can’t stave it off forever.

When it does, churches won’t be forced to marry gay couples. They still will have religious freedom. But same-sex couples will be able to go to a courthouse and be granted full marital status by their state government.

Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.