The Washington Post

Jefferson, our ‘barbarous ancestors’ and marriage

My run yesterday found me bounding up the stairs of the Jefferson Memorial. One of my favorite things to do is share Jefferson’s unobstructed view across the Tidal Basin of the White House. But this time, I took a moment to read one of the panels holding the wise man’s wise words. These particular words renewed my awe at the Founding Fathers’ ability to foresee a nation that would grow and advance in ways they could never imagine.

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

Of course, my mind went immediately to how far this nation has come (and has yet to go) on marriage equality.

This nation is more enlightened than even twelve years ago, when the term “civil unions” joined the political lexicon. It became the default position of every serious national elected official. Then-President George W. Bush was for them. But others have since gone further. Former Vice President Cheney, former first lady Laura Bush, former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman and a host of other Republicans and Democrats have pushed for legalization of same-sex marriage.

When President Obama became the first sitting chief executive to express personal support for allowing same-sex couples to join the institution of marriage, gay men and lesbians moved a step closer, at least rhetorically, to living out our country’s hallowed ideals. And we have seen how his simple words have had the power to change hearts   and minds.

But with 30 states etching discrimination into their constitutions — and with the fate of marriage equality potentially in the hands of the Supreme Court — we’re a long way off from freeing ourselves from the regimen of our “barbarous ancestors.”

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.


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