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March 01, 2004

Thomas Jefferson on Gay Marriage

Sir Ian McKellan recited this apposite quote from Thomas Jefferson during a discussion of gay marriage on Real Time with Bill Maher last Friday:

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but 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. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors. -- Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

Would that we saw such wisdom today.

Posted by david at March 1, 2004 02:53 PM | TrackBack
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It's often surprising to go back in history and find out what the founders have said about the issues that are so much on our minds today. When you look for enlightened ideas, Jefferson, who was a clearly flawed human, comes up time and again, speaking eloquently against the government's involvement in our personal lives.

Jefferson was as eloquent about the separation of church and state too: "...religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God..." And on war: "War is an instrument entirely inefficient toward redressing wrong; and multiplies, instead of indemnifying losses." Compare Jefferson's statements to these: "The reason we start a war is to fight a war, win a war, thereby causing no more war!" and "It is fitting that we have a National Prayer Breakfast. It is the right thing to do, because this is a nation of prayer." That's our president.

It's sad that when we look forward for role models and fine speakers, we find increasingly bitter voices. (See Jim McDermott's statement about gay marriage here). I support Mr. McDermott, whole heartedly, but there is something tragic about his using the bible to beat the bible thumpers.

Posted by: pam on March 1, 2004 10:51 PM

Thanks for the link, Pam. Though I think McDermott should be careful about remind the prez of some of those Bible quotes. It might give him some more ideas about best to control the personal lives of those in his prayerful nation.

Actually, all of the president's over-the-top Bible crusading has kind of inspired me to think about finding religion. As soon as I find a good-likeness W action figure, I'll be ready to begin my study of voodoo.

Posted by: paulette on March 2, 2004 12:45 PM

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Posted by: pam on March 2, 2004 11:56 PM

I'm sorry to break it to you all, but Thomas Jefferson, who you praise for being so much more "enlightened" than President Bush, in actuality wrote that the "crime" of homosexuality should be punished by castration (although, this was a bit more lenient than the death penalty that was generally accepted at the time of our Founding Fathers). Also, if Jefferson was such an opponent to war, why would he support US military support to France when France and England were at odds (as usual). He also didn't seem to have many problems with the American Revolutionary War, which I think did a particularly good job at "redressing wrong" on the part of the British. Jefferson is also the man who argued that slaves ought to be free, but kept slaves his whole life. President George W. Bush has Condolezza Rice as his National Security Advisor and Colin Powell as his Secretary of State - two African Americans. Perhaps actions should speak louder than ("eloquent") words?

I don't mean to criticize Jefferson so much, because I do respect him greatly as one of our Founding Fathers, as he did make valuable contributions to this nation. However, trying to use him to defend Gay Marriage, or even the Civil Rights Movement (both of which I support), is flawed because his words are without substance when it comes to that context due to his hypocritical character. After all, at least President Bush's words, ableit rough around the edges, support his actions.

Posted by: Vicki on April 17, 2004 07:25 PM

I am afraid I have to break it to you that you completely missed the point of the Jefferson quote. His statement was precisely rooted in his understanding that many of the opinions of "enlightened" people of his day would one day be judged barbaric, himself included. This lets us savor the clarity of his thought, without being slavishly devoted to the topical opinions he shares on the issues of his day.

And if you're comparing Iraq War II with the War of American Revolution... I'm just not eloquent enough to comment on that. As for the presence of two African Americans in Bush's war cabinet, it's not exactly a high point in the struggle for civil rights. They have helped lead a disproportionatly minority (and socio-economically disadvantaged) military into a misguided war that is making the world a more dangerous place.

The real problem is that Bush never seems to change his mind on anything, no matter how many facts accrete that would force a wiser man to reconsider his course of action. Bush often seems a little boy lost in the White House (did you catch that press conference last week?), so I guess it's no suprise that the intellectual "coat which fitted him as a boy" doesn't feel tight.

Posted by: jay on April 17, 2004 10:08 PM
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