In My Words: ‘Who the marriage amendment is aimed at’

Professor Jeffrey C. Pugh argues against a proposed state constitutional amendment in one of North Carolina's leading newspapers.

Jeffrey C. Pugh


The following column appeared May 1, 2012, in the (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer.


Who the marriage amendment is aimed at
By Jeffrey C. Pugh –

“Dad,” she said, looking at me with fear and hope, “I’m gay.” I’m sure the fear was because she wasn’t sure how I was going to respond to the news of her discovery. Perhaps she wondered if her ordained United Methodist father, like her church, was going to reject her. She may have had reason to fear her church, but not me. That was where the hope came in.

I think about my daughter frequently these days. I must confess, it is hard not to think that Amendment One is just a cynical ploy by politicians who want to keep us divided from one another so they can maintain their hold on power. That, at least, would be understandable. As long as there have been people who desire social power, “divide and rule” has been a time-tested strategy.

However, most people who plan to vote for this amendment will do so out of religious convictions. Because of the way that they interpret the Bible they have arrived at a particular abhorrence about homosexuality that they don’t have about divorce, something Jesus addressed directly.

The supporters of this amendment have been told that the family is under attack and must be protected, but from where I sit the only family under attack is mine. From my lesbian aunt, who took her own life in the 1940s because societal pressure was so harsh, to my daughter, my loved ones are the ones who are under attack. People like my daughter are no different than you or I, save for their sexual orientation. They have the same hopes, fears and dreams that the rest of us have.

The people this amendment is aimed at work hard in their communities, seek to live their lives with integrity and hope they will be appreciated for their contributions to society. They are our children, our friends, our brothers and sisters, our parents, and they find it hard to understand why they are so hated, so vilified, that special oppression must be placed on them and their lives. I’m a bit mystified myself.

How is it that those who use the rhetoric of “freedom” so strongly are the same people who are eager to deny civil freedoms to others not like them? Or perhaps freedom belongs only to those who believe they are on the side of the righteous? If this is the case then “freedom” has acquired a very narrowly defined meaning.

My daughter and others like her wish they lived in a world where they weren’t so hated and feared, a world that didn’t work so hard to deny them the freedom to live their lives in peace. Unfortunately, they don’t live in that world; they live in one that restricts the meaning of families to relatively recent norms. If the supporters of the amendment really knew what families looked like in the Bible they would realize that family is a very fluid term, not as fixed as they think.

There are many things in the Bible that look different to us than they used to. We don’t justify slavery though Scripture as we once did. Women are now priests and pastors, though for centuries they were forbidden to occupy these positions due to interpretations of the Bible that kept them from ministry. I realize nothing will convince those in favor of this amendment that they are hurting God’s own people, but that is exactly what this amendment does.

Amendment One sends a clear message to those whom we love and care for. My daughter and others like her stand outside the boundaries of the society that the supporters of this amendment wish to construct. Why is it beyond our moral imagination to grasp that gay folks may want to live in committed relationships just like the rest of us? To my friends who are pushing this amendment, if you wish to forbid gay marriage in your churches do so, but don’t cut off my family members from the same civil protections you enjoy.

I have read much rhetoric lately by supporters of Amendment One that they are concerned about the gay “agenda” and the gay “lifestyle.” These words are solemnly intoned as if there were a tide of immorality just waiting to wash over us. The only “lifestyle” my daughter has is to live her life with the integrity her mother and I raised her to believe in. She, like many others, serves her community with grace and compassion. The only “agenda” she has is to help those who fear her understand that she wants to live in society with the same freedoms they take for granted.

I’m voting for my daughter by voting against Amendment One, because compassion, also, is a family value.

Jeffrey C. Pugh is Maude Sharpe Powell professor of religious studies at Elon University.


Elon University faculty with an interest in sharing their expertise with wider audiences are encouraged to contact Eric Townsend ( in the Office of University Communications should they like assistance with prospective newspaper op/ed submissions.