Fowler: Marriage equality’s time has come

Guest ColumnistJune 25, 2014 

Don Fowler

Marriage is hard. It’s also very rewarding. Ask anyone to tell you about his or her own marriage, and you’ll hear about the hard days as well the easy ones. You’ll hear about disagreements and moments of joy. But overall, you’re likely to hear about how marriage has made their lives richer, more meaningful and clearly better.

And as good as marriage is for individuals, it might be even better for communities. Strong marriages make for strong towns and counties and states. We’re all better off when kids are taken care of well and when couples can help each other shoulder the burdens of life.

So the way I see it, anyone who wants to share both the burdens and joy of marriage, who is eager to pull his or her weight, to contribute to a stronger, healthier South Carolina deserves our respect.

Civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis recently said, “I fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up — and speak up — against discrimination against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. I see the right to marry as a civil rights issue.”

So do I.

We are all well aware of the South’s history of discrimination based on race, and we owe a debt of gratitude to leaders like John Lewis who were on the front lines of the civil rights battle. That’s why I’m proud to join him and my fellow South Carolinian Congressman James Clyburn as an honorary chair of Southerners for the Freedom to Marry, a new campaign to build and grow majority support for the freedom to marry in the South.

It has been nearly 50 years since Earl Warren wrote the Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion in Loving v. Virginia, which invalidated laws against interracial marriage in the United States. Just last month, three judges in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on Bostic v. Schaefer, the case that struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban in February.

The parallels between the two cases are clear — one based on race, the other based on gender. Warren’s powerful words in Loving make the case that same-sex couples should enjoy the same freedoms and rights as heterosexual couples:

“Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival … . To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law.”

Some South Carolinians may struggle with the idea of same-sex marriage, believing that it goes against the teachings of their church or their own personal values. But no person will be forced to perform a wedding that violates his or her religious beliefs. Religious freedom will be protected when the basic civil right of marriage, as Warren called it, is granted to all loving and committed couples. The Golden Rule, the foundational belief of so many faiths, applies here: All loving and committed couples deserve to be treated with respect.

Nothing is more important than family, and I know that all of my fellow South Carolinians share that view. If family is the bedrock of our communities, then marriage is the bedrock of families. To deny all of that to fellow citizens simply because of the gender of the person they chose to love goes against everything that makes South Carolina, and our nation, great.

Granting the freedom to marry to same-sex couples will make us stronger. The time is now, and I believe South Carolina is ready.

Dr. Fowler is a Columbia public relations executive and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and the S.C. Democratic Party who teaches political science at USC; contact him at

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