Opinion: Why I changed my mind on gay marriage

  ·  Allen Grosboll, The State Journal Register   ·   Link to Article

SPRINGFIELD — When I began working for the Illinois legislature four decades ago, same-sex marriage was not on the legislative agenda. Few gay people spoke about their sexual orientation and society preferred it that way. At the time, many states defined homosexuals as criminals. Later, in the 1990s, I was skeptical about President Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. But today, I hope the Illinois House approves same-sex marriage.

Why do I feel differently today? Why have social attitudes changed so dramatically? Possibly, it is because many gay people have come out of the closet to talk openly about themselves and their sexual orientation. More families have come face to face with gay children, sisters, brothers and parents. We have learned they are not sick or crazy. More people understand gay citizens do not choose to be gay. Isn’t it logical to ask why anyone would choose to be subjected to society’s scorn?

Homosexuality has been present in every culture and region of the world, as well as in every historical age. Genetics explain much about our differences, but we still do not know what determines sexual orientation. We should recognize, though, that no laws or societal attitudes will stop millions of citizens from being gay. They are present in all sectors of society. They are artists and poets, athletes and educators, blue collar and white collar, doctors and farmers, soldiers and astronauts, and even Democrats and Republicans. They are the neighbor next door and the worker in the next office. They live with the same aspirations and dreams as everyone else.

One of today’s great ironies is that the most outspoken radio personalities who criticize government overreach are the first people to urge government intervention to prevent gay marriage. It is inconsistent to preach about freedom while crushing the liberties of other citizens. Americans who truly cherish liberty should oppose government denial of marriage rights to law-abiding adults.

President George W. Bush‘s Solicitor General, Ted Olson, is a conservative and defender of freedom. He argues in support of gay marriage:

“We’re talking about an effect upon millions of people and the way they live their everyday life and the way they’re treated in their neighborhood, in their schools, in their jobs. If you are a conservative, how could you be against a relationship in which people who love one another want to publicly state their vows ... and engage in a household in which they are committed to one another and become part of the community and accepted like other people?”

Religions have the right to bless or not bless marriage, and religious liberties must be honored. Surely our laws can both protect religious freedom and respect rights for gay citizens. Marriage is a civil action with legislated rules, rights and responsibilities, but government should not “pick and choose” which two people can marry. One generation ago, many states banned interracial marriages. Whether employed to stop interracial marriage then or gay marriage today, such laws limit individual freedom.

There are parallels between historic civil rights battles for minorities and women and the struggles of gay people today. My generation witnessed African Americans fighting and dying for the right to vote. Minorities and women confronted many legal barriers to equality but with each battle won, America expanded freedom. Do American ideals of freedom and the pursuit of happiness not apply to gay citizens?

To my friends who oppose same-sex marriage, I respectfully ask what purpose is served by denying marriage rights to two loving adults? How does their marriage harm you? Will discrimination cause gay people not to be gay? We casually say, “Live and let live.” We declare, “Government has no right to tell people how to live.” Do we really mean those words?

Today, government is an instrument selectively denying marriage rights. If we believe in freedom and condemn government overreach, we should end this discrimination against same-sex couples.

Allen Grosboll worked 25 years in state government, including serving as deputy chief of staff for Gov. Jim Edgar. He also worked on three campaigns for Republican candidates for governor. Today, he lives with his wife and son in Petersburg.

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