While the Supreme Court's landmark decision striking down the imaginatively-named Defense of Marriage Act was being unveiled, the president of the United States was in an airplane on his way to Africa. He landed in Senegal, prepared to compliment that nation on its stable democracy, to continue and affirm the transition underway throughout the continent: African countries are changing rapidly, fiercely desiring to leave behind the permanent victim status with which the rest of the world views them and to emerge as active partners in commerce in the world community. Most people who work in the field of aid to developing countries believe that this is an exciting development and that its time is now. It would be appropriate and good for an American president to second that motion.
The Senegalese press had other ideas -- all they wanted to talk about was the overturn of DOMA. President Obama offered a strong affirmation of the Supreme Court decision as a good thing for all Americans, not just the LGBT community, and immediately the difficulty of living in the world community showed itself. The Senegalese president offered a comparison which gives one pause: You have one view on this issue, while we have another. But we abolished capital punishment long ago, and you still execute people in America.
Yes, but sexual orientation isn't a choice. Studies have shown that.
Yes, but capital punishment isn't a deterrent to crime. Studies have shown that.
Yes, but marriage is strengthened, not attacked, when more are permitted to honor it.
Yes, but capital punishment has resulted in the death of the innocent, many times.
Yes, but the children of gay marriages succeed in about the same proportions as other kids.
Yes, but capital punishment is sometimes unevenly applied, based on factors unrelated to the case, like race.
Achieving moral consensus takes a long, long time. Legislative or judicial actions articulating are intermediate steps toward it, not final ones. They do not reflect consensus; they precede it. It can be -- and usually is -- decades before consensus around an historic decision like the DOMA overturn takes hold. Now the work will be located in the same structures that made the Court's decision even possible: the day-to-day experience of ordinary people as the implications of the overturn take effect, the sharing of worldviews made possible by social and broadcast media, the mentoring of the older segment of the population by their young, for we do not lead our children into the future -- they lead us.
Most of my readers will not be surprised to hear that I welcome the Supreme Court decision. I have blessed gay marriages over many years, before either church or state thought I should -- in matters of civil rights, the spirit of the law must often be honored in the breach, and a person who acts on that belief must be prepared to face the consequences of having done so. But I have readers all over the country and all over the world, and I treasure the fact that while God is one, the children of God come in many stripes, with many different experiences, and their opinions differ on important things. Some of you reading this little essay will not agree with it. I honor those with whom I disagree, and I know that turning away from each other when we encounter a profound difference is no way to build community. That way lies madness.