Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Viva Obama!

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We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. – United States Declaration of Independence.
It is somewhat ironic that the above statement was made at a time when President Barack Obama himself would not have met the qualifying bar for being a “man”. Now some 236 years later, he is making a statement that has the capacity to attack one of the bases of discrimination among men.  
As this issue is dissected, the focus should be on the extent to which a gay American is qualified to be a “man” based on a contemporary interpretation of the United States Constitution. As such, “he” is entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. If “he” is, then Obama is a hero; if “he” isn’t, then his detractors are correct.  
This is garden variety human rights. However, the issue has been hijacked by the church, which seeks to move it out of the realm of human rights and civil liberties into a vaguely and conveniently defined Christian context.
It is important first to address the politics of Obama’s statement and the perception that he is seeking to score cheap political points. This is unlikely since his move was a risky political manoeuvre, even though the most recent Gallup poll indicated that more than half of Americans now support gay marriage.
He might stand to attract the support of the more liberal supporters of the Republican Party, as well as some conservatives who are uncomfortable voting for a Mormon, but he also runs the risk of alienating one of his bases, which is an amorphous following of black “CME”  (Christmas, Mother’s Day and Easter) Christians who find expressions of gay equality offensive.  
Defining moment
This is a defining moment of the Obama presidency that will be referenced as Americans years from now review the contributions presidents have made to the evolution of human rights and civil liberties.
In this context, we need to examine the reaction of the Barbadian community and the role of the church here, which is yet again uncomfortable as evidenced in the published opinion of Dean Frank Marshall and Reverend Vincent Wood.
Over the years Barbadians have been led by clerics like these to believe that the church owns the institution of marriage, which is a proposition that will find no comfort within the four corners of our Constitution nor the realms of common sense.
Barbados is a secular country and our constitution guarantees religious freedom. No person seeking to marry needs to convince any church that he or she “believes” and, worse yet, our Family Law Act explicitly recognizes unions other than marriages and accords equal status to these, which is a most profound statement of the extent to which we believe that unions between persons can and should exist outside of that which is defined by the church.
Notwithstanding my conviction that the opinions of the church on this matter should be irrelevant to the state, it is useful to pause and reflect on the Bible’s position on marriage that I am reminded can be found in Genesis 2: 21 to 25, Malachi 2:14, Hosea 2:19 and several other pages which Christians are happy to quote. These passages essentially argue that marriage is a holy covenant sanctioned by the Christian God and make it clear that God’s intention was that marriage should take place between a man and a woman.
Christians are, however, convenient (as is their custom) in references since they forget to mention several other perceptions relating to marriage that they have found to be untenable over the years.
As such, we tend to ignore both the letter and spirit of Genesis 16 which not only condones slavery but essentially argues that upon marriage, a man “acquires” his wife, along with her property.
This section goes hand in hand with a proper reading of Genesis 2: 21-23, along with Colossians 3:18 and Ephesians 5:22 that make it clear that God’s wish would be that women ought to submit themselves fully to their husbands, since they are but one of his possessions along with his ox and ass (Deuteronomy 5:21).
Then we have the case of Solomon who is reported to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines and clearly also considerable energy in the pre-Viagra era.  To this is added the traditional stance relating to marriage within the slave community that could be “arranged” by the slave master without reference to the wishes of either the male or female slaves.  
In more contemporary times, it was “illegal” in some parts of the United States for couples of different races to marry, which prompted that infamous statement by Justice Warren (Loving vs Virginia) that “Almighty God created the races . . . and He placed them on separate continents . . . . The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix”.
Not the intention
The foregoing examples are not intended to poke fun at Christians, but instead are presented to make the point that the institution of marriage has frequently been defined throughout history.
As Thomas Jefferson once said: “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.”
It is for this reason that marriage is now available to inter-racial couples, Muslim and Hindu couples and to the non-believer and, moreover, why women and men are now equal partners in the marriage contract.  
Ironically, we in the Caribbean should have been ahead of the “curve” by virtue of our comfort with common law marriage, but we continue to allow clerics who should know better to advance arguments suggesting that marriage belongs to and is defined by them, which is a most unfortunate position.
• Peter W. Wickham (peter.wickham@caribsurf.com) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).

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