Last week, I explained why I hope Massachusetts voters reject the assisted suicide referendum on their state’s ballot. There are two issues the ballot in Maryland (where I vote) that I hope voters support: the state’s Dream Act on behalf of the children of illegal immigrants, and the marriage equality law.
A “yes” vote on Question 4 would ratify a state law that would make some undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition rates at state universities. These are students who were brought to the United States as young children and can hardly be said to be responsible for breaking immigration laws themselves. Honestly, how many better investments of public money are there than allowing students to continue their educations?
There are some real limitations in the offer, so this is hardly a massive, open-ended commitment. In an editorial endorsing Question 4, the Washington Post described these limits clearly: “As drafted, it would apply only to youngsters whose families have paid state income tax; who have applied for green cards to remain in the country legally; who have no criminal records; and who first graduate from a Maryland community college. For the purpose of admission to state universities, they would compete with out-of-state students, so as not to displace any native-born Marylanders.”
Our immigration debate over the last several years has been flawed by the fact that it has focused almost entirely on the problems of illegal immigration and hardly at all on how immigrants can help make our nation stronger and more prosperous. There are legitimate concerns about illegal immigration, but there are enormous upsides to encouraging newcomers to our shores who want nothing more (or less) than the chance to stand in the ranks of productive and innovative citizens.
Dr. Joshua Starr, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, put the choice well:
The Maryland DREAM Act is not about politics: it’s about our future and the future of our students. The Act would simply allow hard-working students who have been in our system for years to pursue the dream of post-secondary education and receive in-state tuition rates. A college education is often the key to unlocking opportunity and all students — regardless of where they were born or their parents were born — deserve the chance to have a bright future and be a productive member of society.
I hope that Maryland voters approve Question 4 and thus set a tone for our nation. The next Congress should pass a National Dream Act and, ultimately, comprehensive immigration reform.
By voting for Question 6, voters would be approving the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, which would permit same-sex marriage. I hope it passes (and I hope that voters in Maine, Minnesota and Washington approve marriage equality measures on their ballots).
It’s worth noting that the “religious freedom” part of the Maryland act’s title matters. The law specifically includes language to guarantee that clergy would not be required to perform gay or lesbian marriage ceremonies in violation of their religious beliefs. And religious organizations could not be required to participate in such ceremonies if they objected. This is the sensible compromise that, over the long run, will open the way for legalizing gay marriage around the country. Polls show that religious opponents of gay marriage are often most worried that their congregations could be forced by law to violate their traditions’ moral objections to homosxuality. This law makes clear that respecting the rights of gays and lesbians will not come at the expense of religious liberty rights.
There are many good arguments for legalizing gay marriage and thus honoring the committed relationships of our gay and lesbian friends, neighbors and fellow citizens. But I have long thought that the most persuasive argument is the one that might be seen as the conservative case. The idea — advanced by my friends Andrew Sullivan, Jonathan Rauch and David Brooks, the New York Times columnist — is that a society that wants to demonstrate its faith in the values of fidelity and commitment should be eager to extend marriage rights. As Brooks wrote in a powerful Nov. 2003 column:
The conservative course is not to banish gay people from making such commitments. It is to expect that they make such commitments. We shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity. . . . It's going to be up to conservatives to make the important, moral case for marriage, including gay marriage. Not making it means drifting further into the culture of contingency, which, when it comes to intimate and sacred relations, is an abomination.
If you have doubts about voting for Question 6, I would urge you to read the entirety of Brooks’ column. I think he is right that those who truly care about strengthening marriage as an institution should be among the strongest allies of gay marriage.