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48 down, 1 dozen to go

Mary Schmich

March 20, 2013

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To: The Decisive Dozen

From: Your Supporters

Re: The Illinois House of Representatives Vote on Same-Sex Marriage.

All it takes is the 12 of you, whoever you are. That's the rumor anyway.

"Twelve votes short of passage," said Michael Madigan, speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, a few days ago. He was tallying how many more legislators need to be rustled up to get the 60 votes to make same-sex marriage legal in Illinois.

Twelve.

A carton of eggs. A box of doughnuts. A bouquet of roses. A table of apostles. A couple of six-packs. You.

You know who you are. You're waffling. You're worried. You're tired of the squeeze. Why are people preaching at you? Strong-arming you? Calling you names?

If this were an obvious decision, you'd have made it, right?

But here's the thing. You have made it, almost.

When you reach into the quiet of your soul, when you think about the meaning of freedom and equality, you know what you need to do. Deep inside — in that private place that instinctively divides justice from injustice — you know.

Voting yes will take guts. People you value may get mad. You'll survive. The respect you earn in the long term will be greater than whatever you lose, and one piece of that respect will be self-respect.

Such power. You. Without your vote, same-sex marriage won't become legal in Illinois.

Yet.

But it will become legal. The question is only when. Now or later? It's up to you.

We're a country built on the ideas of freedom and equality. We also have a long, sad history of denying freedom and equality to certain groups while rationalizing the injustice as fair, moral, responsible.

And yet over time — as knowledge defeats ignorance and courage conquers fear — we tend to get it right.

So one day, with or without these 12 votes, most Americans, most people in Illinois, will look back and think: Can you believe there was a time that people weren't allowed to marry just because of their sexual orientation?

They'll be as dismayed as we are today when we look back and think: Can you believe there was a time when women couldn't vote? When black people were forced to the back of the bus? When it was against the law for blacks and whites to marry? When those injustices seemed right?

That future is coming fast.

Every day, it seems, another politician converts to the cause, either out of moral revelation or the revelation inspired by polls.

Just last week, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, defied the party line when he came out in favor of gay marriage. He has a gay son and says he wants his son to be treated fairly.

"We conservatives believe in personal liberty and minimal government interference in people's lives," he wrote in an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch. "... We should encourage people to make long-term commitments to each other and build families, so as to foster strong, stable communities and promote personal responsibility."

Before Portman could grasp what justice looks like for gay people, he had to see it up close and personal. That's OK. We all have different learning styles.

And all of us are learning.

Support for same-sex marriage is on the rise in virtually every category of Americans: liberals, conservatives, Catholics, evangelical Protestants, whites, nonwhites.

A Washington Post-ABC poll released this week shows 58 percent of Americans think gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry under the law. Among people 18-29, eight in 10 are for it. The numbers are on the rise in Illinois too.

So if you're worried what your constituents will think, be assured that what they think is changing.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights leader, used to borrow a line from an abolitionist Unitarian preacher that is now so famous it's a bumper sticker: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

You, the 12 of you, whoever you are:

When you are old, looking back on life, don't you want to know that you helped bend the arc in the right direction?

mschmich@tribune.com