Gay marriage: A sad day for America?

Last week's Supreme Court ruling granting marriage rights to all U.S. citizens was met with jubilation in this household. After nearly eight years of sharing our lives with one another, my partner and I can now enjoy equal dignity under the eyes of the law.

Yet among the mostly euphoric Facebook posts, tweets and text messages that I read and received in response to the court's decision, many — including my own friends and family — expressed deep sadness and yes even trepidation about what had transpired. And if there is a common thread uniting these dissenting voices, it is a resounding mantra of "It's a sad day for America. We are living in perilous times."

For these individuals, marriage is a sacrament, an institution founded on Biblical principles and ordained by God. It is to be shared only between a man and a woman.

Stuart Gaffney (L) and John Lewis, plaintiffs in the 2008 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case, celebrate while traveling along Market Street during the annual Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco, California on June 28, 2015.
Josh Edelson | AFP | Getty Images
Stuart Gaffney (L) and John Lewis, plaintiffs in the 2008 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case, celebrate while traveling along Market Street during the annual Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco, California on June 28, 2015.

Having grown up in a conservative Christian household, I can understand why those who detest the ruling feel this way. It does, as they strongly believe, threaten to undermine the values that they consider to be at the core of what makes this country great. It is also, they fear, yet another step towards removing "One Nation Under God" from our Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" from the dollar bill.

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Seeing their disappointment and, in some cases anger, in the midst of what for me was one of the happiest days of my life, got me thinking about how the Supreme Court's decision compares to other "sad days" in our nation's history. And trust me, there are plenty.

  • The Trail of Tears and usurpation of land from American Indians was a sad day for America.
  • The Salem Witch Trials was a sad day for America.
  • The Dred Scott Decision was a sad day for America.
  • The Battle of Antietam was a sad day for America.
  • The interning of Japanese-American citizens was a sad day for America.
  • The assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King were sad days for America.
  • The Oklahoma City Bombing was a sad day for America, as was Sept. 11, 2001.

Granting marriage equality to couples who ask only for legal recognition under the law somehow doesn't fit on this list.

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The sentiments expressed by those who morally disagree with the court's decision also reminded me of an old copy of Time magazine that I bought a few years back. It was the Oct. 6, 1958 issue and featured an article entitled, "Integration and the Churches." The article's focus was a press conference called by then Arkansas' Governor Orval E. Faubus to discuss the issue of segregation and how the church should respond to the fact that African-Americans were gaining political ground in this country. Schools were being desegregated. "Now our churches?"

Among those in attendance were ministers from a multitude of faith traditions. Catholic priests stood beside Episcopal and Methodist bishops. Presbyterian pastors stood shoulder to shoulder with staunchly conservative Baptists. One minister in particular caught the attention of the reporter who wrote the article. His comments echo what I've read and heard from many these past couple of days.

"This statement is not made with any enmity or hatred in our hearts for the Negro race," said Rev. M.L. Moser Jr. of Little Rock, Arkansas. "We have an abiding love for all people…We believe that the best interests of all races are served by segregation. We resent the implication by certain liberal ministers that it is un-Christian to oppose integration. We believe that integration is contrary to the will of God…is based on a false theory of the universal brotherhood of man. We believe that integration is not only un-Christian, but that it violates all sound sociological principles and is not supported by Scripture or by biological facts."

80 ministers signed the statement.

It's difficult to imagine that just 57 years ago, a press conference was called to discuss why we should not desegregate our nation's churches. And as is the case with marriage equality, Holy Writ was the only grounds on which they had to defend their position.

Many, including some in the African-American community, argue that being gay is a choice, and thus should not be treated as a Civil Rights issue. I won't go down that path here, but I can attest that my sexuality was never a choice.

The U.S. is now the 21st country to legalize same-sex marriage, and couples, like my partner and I, can now enjoy the same legal rights and benefits as married heterosexual couples — whether they live in California, Alabama or my home state of North Carolina.

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As one long-time friend expressed on his Facebook page upon hearing the news, "So this is what not being a second-class citizen feels like? I think I like it!"

I couldn't have said it better.

Accepting change takes time. The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones. It's easy to forget, for example, that just decades ago, many felt equal angst about the Loving v. Virginia ruling that invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage. For these individuals, that ruling, too, was a dark moment in our nation's history. Most later came to accept that the Supreme Court had made the right decision.

My hope is that those who, today, feel let down by their country, will one day see this not as "A Sad Day for America," but rather further validation that no matter what one's race, gender, creed, religion, or sexual orientation, ours truly is one of the greatest countries in which to live.

Commentary by Miles Christian Daniels, a writer, filmmaker and director at Bateman Group, a communications firm located in San Francisco and New York City. Follow him on Twitter @MilesCDaniels.

Disclosure: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of any organization for which he is affiliated.