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Legal marriage in the Tar Heel State

Friday, October 10, 2014. A day for the history books. The people of North Carolina celebrated a major human rights victory. The legal definition of marriage at long last has become justly inclusive. “Gay” and “same-sex” modifiers are no longer necessary, all members of the human community are finally able to participate in the fundamental right of legal matrimony.

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As if on cue, myopic zealots offered their typical religion-tinged moral superiority to issue asinine arguments regarding marriage as a legal arrangement made between a man and a woman. Usually upon hearing such bigotry, my response is to blend outrage with disappointment. But on this day of celebration, I’m calmed and comforted with the knowledge that history is indeed on our side, the side of justice. To borrow a phrase from scholars, Joe Soss and Sanford Schram, our legal system – a state institution that itself is shaped in part by societal values – will alter or reinforce our perceptions of “what is possible, desirable and normal.”

Marriage equality is not only possible and desirable, it’s rapidly becoming “normal.” Look at what happened in Germany: when East and West Germany were divided, East Germans were adamantly opposed to socialized healthcare. Yet soon after reunification – and the rapid provision of socialized healthcare for all Germans – East Germans’ attitudes about state-provisioned heathcare resembled those of West Germans’. Also consider recent changes in public sentiment in Spain: Under Jose María Aznar’s conservative Partido Popular, extrinsic values such as wealth-creation and a distaste for unionizing were shared by the government and public alike.  However, public values became significantly more intrinsic when power shifted to José Luis Rodgríguez’s Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, which privileged campaigns such as greater social justice and environmental protections.

Sectarian blowhards like Phil Berger and Thom Tillis’ are keen to assert that “the people have spoken” when referring to the vote on banning same-sex marriage in North Carolina. But it’s far more accurate to say that the ban was approved by those who voted, which is clearly not the same as “the people.” What is for certain, starting on Friday, October 10, 2014, North Carolina’s legal system – itself a representation of social values –  has introduced a new, more inclusive definition of marriage, one that finally, rightly and justly includes all of our Tar Heel brothers and sisters.

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