Dear Governor Schwarzenegger –
Today is, of course, Abraham Lincoln’s 199th birthday and the start of a two-year bicentennial celebration. I understand that presidents are a sore subject for you since you are specially banned from being President simply because of where you were born – but maybe that will give you some sympathy for what I am about to propose.
There is a great deal of debate about Lincoln’s life: where he was actually born, whether he was actually against slavery, whether he was gay or straight – but there is little debate about what he would think of today’s fashion of removing from people the freedom to marry.
There is no question that same-sex couples operate on a different level in this country with regards to marriage. The country is divided, and as Mr. Lincoln pointed out, this is not a stable situation. A house divided, falls, but “I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.” (1858)
The modern Republican sooths his soul by pointing out that all the same rights of marriage can be metered out by civil unions and some good lawyers, and anyways, gay people can get married as long as it is to a person of the opposite sex.
Of course, being able to marry the person of your choice is a lot different than being able to marry. Lincoln said “I do not understand that because I do not want a Negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife.” (1863)
And having a “middle ground” of domestic partnership as a substitute for marriage is also awkward. Mr. Lincoln famously asked an opponent in a debate “If we call its tail a leg, then how many legs does a dog have?” The reply was “Five.” Mr. Lincoln, delighted, said, “No, it is four. Just because you call a tail a leg doesn’t make it so.” Clearly, a marriage by any other name is not the same.
So how are we to unite this house? We must choose to either permanently deny same-sex couples of the freedom to marry, or treat all men (and presumably women) equally and fairly under the law.
“We have, as all will agree, a free Government, where every man has a right to be equal with every other man. In this great struggle, this form of Government and every form of human right is endangered if our enemies succeed.” (1864)
Who are those ‘enemies?’ To answer that question, we need only examine how Mr. Lincoln elevated the Golden Rule, such as in this letter to Henry Pierce: “This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.” (1859)
Would you, Governor, dare to tell a couple they cannot marry because one person is not born in the same country as another? Or because they espouse different political parties? Your own marriage to Maria Shriver (an Amercian, Kennedy & Democrat) is based on those contrivances – and yet in telling some people they must access the time-tested social and legal structure of marriage through some second-rate institution, you reverse the divine rule to do unto others as you would like done to you.
Let me conclude the same way Mr. Lincoln concluded his Address at Cooper Union in 1860: with an admonishment to reject apartheid because it yields no path to freedom.
“Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored – contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man – such as a policy of “don’t care” on a question about which all true men do care – such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance – such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did.”
It is not an accident that Log Cabin Republicans choose the founder of the GOP as their icon. They are not aligning themselves with Mr. Lincoln’s sexuality, they are aligning themselves with the concept that after freedom itself, the greatest blessing of civic life is the opportunity to marry the person you love.
Governor, if Abraham Lincoln were alive today, what do you think he would tell you to do about same-sex marriage?
“Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”
Please, do your duty, protect the Constitution and give us all the same freedom – the freedom to marry.