Reader's View, same-sex marriage: Tradition is not the reason why something is moral and just

July 9, 2013 

I have been reading a lot about how the DOMA ruling will have a terrible effect on traditional marriage. But, what is traditional marriage and, for that matter, what is tradition and why is it so important? Tradition is what we have always done. Does that make it right or wrong, good or bad?

When I was growing up as a white person in the segregated South many years ago it was traditional that black people were not allowed to go to school with white people, eat at the same food counters, drink from the same water fountains, sit in the front of the bus or in the same waiting rooms at the bus station.

My mother had to work to help support the family when I was very young and I was left in the care of a black nanny we called "Mammy." She fed me, changed my diapers, sang to me, and tenderly rocked me to sleep. When I got a little older, it was hard to understand why my beloved Mammy could not sit with me on the bus, or in the waiting room, or at the food counter and why I couldn't go to school with her children whom I had grown up playing with. When I asked why these things were so, I was told that it was tradition and that black people were created inferior to white people and should always be subservient to them.

After high school, I went off to college and, all of a sudden, I was going to school with black people and the world didn't end. Then I went into the Army and, all of a sudden, I was living with black people and the world didn't end. In fact, by the time I was halfway through basic training, four of us had formed a close friendship - two white men from the South, a black man and a Native American, and the world didn't end.

By this time, I had become convinced that my family and cultural tradition was wrong and maybe even evil so I happily embraced the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the world didn't end.

I found myself like Tevya in "Fiddler on the Roof" saying to myself time and again, "It is tradition but, on the other hand . . ." I had never even heard of "Fiddler on the Roof" at that point in my life but I immediately identified with it when I did see it.

So, I have to say tradition can be right and good, especially when formed by family members for use in increasing the enjoyment of being a family. Or, when formed by all the members of a community to increase the enjoyment of being a community. It can be wrong and even evil when formed by some of the members of a family or community to control or even exclude other members.

Considering all this, how do I feel about the DOMA ruling? I am in a traditional marriage with a traditional wife and traditional children and grandchildren and I do not feel threatened in the slightest. In fact, I embrace it as one more step in eliminating the barriers that keep us from being one great community and enjoying one another. It may be tradition, but on the other hand..!

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