LETTER: Reflections on being an American

To the Editor:

Many of our ancestors came to this country because of religious persecution in their homelands. That is why one cornerstone of our Constitution is the basic right of religious freedom. Other civil rights have evolved over time. At first, only white, land owning men were allowed to vote. Over time we have had many battles over expansion of those rights. Women who fought for the right to vote and to own and inherit property were imprisoned. Black Americans fought and died for their right to vote, to use public facilities, to be treated as equal human beings in counting of the census.

Now we find ourselves in two new battles sweeping across our nation.

One is the right of citizens to vote, many of whom do not have ready access to their birth certificates or other documents required to get a government issued photo ID. Many people don’t realize the difficulties some have in obtaining these documents, but that should not mean that this class of people should be shut out of our democracy.

The other is the right of two adults to enter into a civil contract we call marriage. As a Catholic, I was raised to view marriage as a sacrament. Our Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom means that our churches have the right to decide when to perform sacraments, including the right to refuse. As an American, I was raised to view all Americans as having certain fundamental rights, including the right for adults to enter into civil contracts, and in strictly legal terms, marriage is also that.

As a white woman married to a black man, the idea of the civil right to marry is a personal one. If put to a popular vote 50 years ago, many people would have voted to keep marriages such as mine illegal. Civil rights should not be based on what is popular. Marriage is a commitment to stick it out through good times and bad, and creates stability. For those who are uncomfortable with the idea of gay people having the civil right to marry, I hope and pray you will remember that stability and long-term relationships are good things. To ban civil rights is un-American.

Chris Brazelton