June 29, 2013

No one should fear speaking their mind

CHICKASHA — This country is severely politically polarized.

From a social and fiscal standpoint, region and demographic play a far more pivotal role than they ever have in our nation's history in regards to individual political litmus.

Frankly, I celebrate this fact. Diversification of ideas creates a far more educated and invested electorate than when all citizens are sitting around a camp fire, holding hands and singing Kumbaya.

However, after researching information regarding a story I wrote earlier this week - you know, the one involving a gay couple - I found a rather disturbing thread from the majority of my sources: a fear to talk.

Now, I did not use everyone I interviewed in that piece, and I certainly didn't write anything that was spoken under a mutual respect for off the record comments, and I won't hash those out now.

I will give some vague and some specific examples of this fear though.

One of the sources I used in the piece compared openly defending, or even proposing the idea of gay marriage in Oklahoma as virtual political suicide.

I can't blame this person for wanting to protect their career, but I am appalled that simply voicing an opinion surrounding a social issue that affects a minority of voters could lead to the death of his service.

That's why we are the country we are. People should not have to fear catastrophic career repercussions for voicing one idea that may be contrary to the norm.

Next, there is the religious aspect surrounding same-sex marriage.

There is no quote from any clergy in the aforementioned piece, but that was not for lack of trying.

Three different pastors from three different churches opted not to comment on something the cannon from which they derive their faith denigrates as wrong. Regardless of my opinions, or anyone else's, these people have a duty to speak the word of their respective deity. I gave them a platform to do so, yet, they refused, which to me is shameful.

Finally, there is the politically conservative aspect of this argument.

I have to tip my hat to State Representative Leslie Osborn who was candid in her comments, and despite regularly having many different views from her, I found myself agreeing with some of her statements.

Prior to my interview with Rep. Osborn, I reached out to a Republican freshman state representative, who said he would rather not comment on this issue.

In all fairness, this representative believes we misconstrued some of his quotes in a previous story about the end of the most recent legislative session. I don't believe we did, but I certainly support his right to have that opinion.

However, this person serves a vastly Republican constituency that would almost summarily speak out against same-sex marriage, and given that he is the voice for these people at a state level, I find it to be odd and a little disconcerting that he would not speak on this topic.

My goal with this column was not to call anyone out on what I view as their shortcomings, or produce an arrogant diatribe lambasting politicians. I simply want to express my extreme disdain with the obvious fear these people have when it comes to expressing their ideas in this regard.

It is no longer 1970, and the time of burying heads in the sand and pretending like this is not the major civil rights issue of this generation has passed.

We are a free republic, and as such, should not fear to express our opinions regardless of how wrong or right others may think they are.

For elected officials and clergy, this holds doubly true, as you have a duty to your constituents and congregations to speak your mind, so they can make the best choices possible on who they want to affect theirs.

Thomas Jefferson said I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend, and it's time we embody that statement.

We are a diverse and polarized country. We are a diverse, and albeit less than other areas, a polarized state.

But we are one people, and a fear to speak our minds because of political recourse or backlash is detrimental to our republic at every level.

I am going to end this piece with an attempt to practice what I preach. I am for marriage equality. I realize this is not a popular idea among many in Grady County or Oklahoma, but I say it with the belief that we as a people can have a civil discussion devoid of prejudice and all types of rhetoric.

I took a call from a gentleman on Thursday about the story I wrote earlier this week. Our views contrasted to an extreme extent, but we were able to have a civil conversation for 10 minutes with mutual respect.

During this conversation he expressed that he believed actions like repealing portion of the Defense of Marriage Act would be the death of this country.

I wholeheartedly disagree.

The truth death of this country comes when proponents on either side of an argument are too afraid to speak their minds.

At that point we have restricted our freedoms with our own fear and simultaneously burned that which we declared independent almost 240 years ago.

Our nation's birthday is upon us, and in between setting off fireworks and eating what I hope will be a delicious piece of meat, I can't think of a better way to celebrate our country than by taking a moment to discuss a political issue that affects this nation, or this state, or even this county with friends and family .

Having a civil moment of political interaction and ending as friends, regardless of differing views would be truest way to celebrate our freedom.

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