Another perspective on HJR-3 and gay marriage constitutional amendments by John McGauley.
Someday, we will regret this.
Maybe not now. Maybe not for years. But someday, we or those who inherit the State of Indiana from us will regret this. The “this” I refer to is HJR-3, the proposed amendment to Indiana’s Constitution that seeks to write a ban on same-sex marriage into our state’s most foundational document.
History is not on our side when it comes to enforcing fleeting societal norms through the documents that set up our systems of governance. History shows us time and time again that when we do it, we eventually wind up regretting it.
Throughout the United States, during the early 20th century, some of our most beautiful, historic neighborhoods felt they also needed to take steps to protect their quality of life and the social integrity of where they lived.
They felt so strongly about it that they wrote these precautions in their most foundational documents – the restrictive covenants that established subdivisions and neighborhoods. The founders of these neighborhoods felt these steps were so important that no one should be able to come along and change them without a fight.
At the time, with the societal norms of the day in mind, this made perfect sense. Most of the well-meaning people who lived in these neighborhoods probably even agreed with the rules laid down in their restrictive covenants. Why would things that seemed so important and so essential to life as they knew it ever change?
Why? Because times change. People change. Society becomes willing to accept things it did not accept before. The discomfort with “different” someday becomes acceptance. The world keeps turning in spite of the fact that humanity evolves.
They are no longer willing to accept neighborhood covenants that specify that “only people of the white race shall use and occupy any lot in said addition” as states the rules of one subdivision in the heart of Fort Wayne. How about another neighborhood that bans “any person of Mongolian or Ethiopian race or any person who is a native of any Eastern European country”?
I wish such covenants were limited to those two examples, but they are not. They are found scattered throughout the neighborhoods our community was built around. These rules are utterly absurd today and, more importantly, in violation of a multitude of state and federal laws. But there they are in the historical record, staring at us as a sorry reminder of the priorities someone once held dear.
The founders of these neighborhoods may not have lived to regret the rules they wrote. But the people who inherited those neighborhoods certainly regret them. There is nothing these descendants can do today to erase what seemed essential in another era and what now seems anathema to decent people.
Do we really want to do the same thing to Indiana’s Constitution? Do we really want to write into our state’s most foundational document that the Hoosiers of 2014 wanted to push away an entire segment of society so badly?
The people who seek to change our Constitution through HJR-3 are not racists, they are not bigots and they are not bad people. They may not even be wrong in the fleeting moment that is right now. To insinuate otherwise is to oversimplify this and inflame passions in a way that is without value.
But they may be ignoring history’s lesson that people change, society changes and the world evolves to accept things it did not accept yesterday. Writing today’s values into a document meant to span generations will not change that.
Please don’t do something that we know Hoosiers will someday regret. History can be ignored, but it cannot be erased.