As more Democrats formally announce their presidential candidacies, it will be interesting to see how they handle questions about same-sex marriage. Hopefully, they won't insult us like John Edwards did recently.
About a week ago, Edwards explained his position to George Stephanopoulos this way:
Edwards makes his opposition to gay marriage sound almost genetic: "It's part of who I am." If we accept Edwards' explanation, then we are obliged to excuse anyone who is unwilling to reconsider the prevailing beliefs with which they grew up.
"... I'm 53 years old. I grew up in a small town in the rural South. I was raised in the southern Baptist church. And so I have a belief system that arises from that.
It's part of who I am. I can't make it disappear. .... Do I believe they should have the right to marry? I'm just not there yet, me, I'm not there yet."
If they grew up believing that women are fragile and frivolous beings who can't be expected to handle any task more difficult than cooking a pot roast, then it's a belief they just can't make "disappear" — it's part of who they are.
Edwards' argument was used historically by white southerners to provide cover for slavery and segregation. In fact, the leading spokespersons pushing for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage often cite their religious beliefs as the basis for their position.
Where we grow up definitely influences — but it doesn't dictate — how we look at social and economic issues. People can grow intellectually.
I've met a significant number of white southerners who work in Washington, D.C., for progressive groups, candidates, or think tanks. Most of them were probably raised by families who attended conservative Protestant churches. Yet today they embrace positions on gay rights, the environment, labor issues, the First Amendment, foreign affairs and other issues that are at odds with the prevailing belief system they grew up with.
True, each of us has a "belief system." What's at question here is whether we are willing to periodically re-examine our views and see if they reflect the new information and understanding we have gained in recent months and years. Edwards is essentially telling us that on the issue of gay marriage, he's incapable of reconsidering his belief system — "I can't make it disappear."
It would be one thing for Edwards to be politically afraid to take a "yes" position on gay marriage. But it's a whole 'nother thing when he asks us to swallow the flimsy argument he makes to justify his opposition.