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"We're a better people"

Published May 31. 2014 09:00AM

Dear Hon. John E. Jones,

Just some feedback from a conservative Pennsylvania Dutchman up in the mountains.

I heard what you said, that "we're a better people than what these laws represent." Then, with the stroke of a pen, you extended civil rights and helped to pull Pennsylvania out of the Dark Ages. Our state now has a clearer vision of equality.

But let's face it, in a perfect world, marriage equality would've been a given.

But, you see, some influential politicians in Pennsylvania are, perhaps, not a better people.

If they were, this marriage ban never would've been contrived. Similarly, it wouldn't have taken a federal judge to overthrow it and correct the injustice.

Truth is, we still have a sitting governor and many lawmakers out of step with human rights. Last year, the governor actually compared marriage equality to incest. Then, after your ruling, he made references to his religious background in order to justify discrimination, as if we live in a theocracy.

Folks like that simply don't have a clue. That's why it's good we have federal judges in harmony with lofty ideals.

We live in a democracy founded on the promise of equality under our living, breathing Constitution. It promises to lift us high above egregious mistakes of the past.

As you know, equality is a progressive concept; Gov. Tom Corbett and others won't find much written about it in books that exhort slavery and misogyny.

And equality isn't an "opinion." It's an absolute.

Still, humans are fallible. Many otherwise decent people are products of an upbringing which instilled fear of the unknown. As a result, they discriminate against fellow citizens who are different. They believe a faction of taxpaying Pennsylvanians don't deserve equal rights. This sort of thing is unfair. Actually, illogical. And it leads to discriminatory laws.

I'm sure that's what prompted your proclamation to discard them "into the ash heap of history." Of course, you're right.

And guess what?

One day before your ruling, an arbiter in Oregon did the same thing.

District Judge Michael McShane said: "Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other … and rise."

With those powerful words, he did his best to eradicate prejudice.

Equality is happening everywhere these days. Going forward, recorded history will validate your insight; conversely, it'll make permanent record of those lawmakers who tried to deprive good people of basic rights. We all choose our legacy.

Judge Jones, what many of us understand is these laws were wrong all along.

Yes, I'm conservative. But I'm not a bigot. There's no rational basis to deny good people the right to marry.

Would you believe some lawmakers actually want a vote, a referendum? But civil rights aren't something we vote on. Since when do we vote on somebody else's marriage? Again, unfair. Illogical.

Their objection to marriage equality is an objection to the people involved, not the institution.

It's discrimination, not against a "lifestyle," but against fellow citizens based on who they are. It's also an insult to intelligence.

The bottom line is that it's wrong. And no excuse of religion, tradition or custom makes it right.

Slavery, too, was fully supported by religion, tradition and custom. Slavery is another law on the ash heap of history.

I realize I'm preaching to the choir.

Judge Jones, my conservative values make me aware that fear and prejudice are the biggest threats to our freedom.

And so, thanks to your courage, we celebrate that everybody in Pennsylvania is now free to formalize a relationship.

Same-sex couples and their families finally will benefit from joint property rights, child custody, survivors' benefits, tax benefits and much more.

And yet, the job isn't finished, not as long as there are lawmakers with eyes that don't see.

I sometimes wonder ... could they imagine what it'd be like if their spouse were dying in the hospital and they were unfairly denied visitation? Could they imagine being stopped at the ICU door and questioned unfairly whether they are "family" as their soulmate takes last breaths?

Many Pennsylvanians could tell them exactly what it feels like. And so could I.

But it'd be a waste of time. I don't think they particularly care. I don't think they have the capacity. They're a different breed from you and me, Judge Jones, and there are many of them.

One thing I've learned in my 60 years is that bigotry can be a lifelong mental affliction. As we say in the mountains, a zebra doesn't change its stripes.

And so marriage equality has come to Pennsylvania without their help. But it's here nonetheless, thanks to plaintiffs in lawsuits, the unstoppable equal rights movement, the ACLU, and a wise judge who understands the dynamics of society and the concept of equality.

Thank you, Judge Jones, for doing your job and doing it well.

As you know, a good life is lived according to simple truths.

There's nothing more sacred than human rights.

And love always wins.

These aren't radical ideas. They're good, wholesome, conservative values. Values for all families, not just some.

Happiness belongs to everyone.

All the best to you and yours,

Your conservative friend up in the mountains.

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