An American Canon: The Declaration of Independence
"…an ancient power runs through human history, rising through men and women of vision and compelling us towards our better nature. These prophecies bridge the chaos of history towards a more perfect union, justice, domestic tranquility, and the blessings of liberty…"
Abstract: The struggle for marriage equality lies within a broader movement of reform and social progress. The tenets of marriage equality are substantiated by a succession of living documents, including Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, that act as guideposts in humanity’s quest for self-improvement and justice. The Church’s belief builds on this history of universal rights. While marriage is the centerpiece of The Church’s agenda today, our mission falls within a broader context of social justice reform that is as old as civilization itself. This task never ends, bestowing upon The Church a timeless mandate to promote this vision of a just and equal society for as long as society exists.
A Brief History
For thousands of years, the forces of creation and destruction have wrestled humanity down two teleological paths. Down the first, humankind’s better nature urges us towards a halcyon future, while down the other, the forces of destruction would subvert millennia of progress, sacrificing our greatest achievements to a directionless nihilism that seduces the unconscious with its false validation.
This timeless struggle is written into humankind’s history as much as it is etched into our DNA. The conflict unfolds in our daily routines, courses through the corridors of power, and decides outcomes on battlefields where men die to satiate history’s appetite for creation and destruction.
This chaos was the primordial swamp from which society emerged, willing itself into existence with the dogged survival instincts that earned humankind primacy over its dominion.
Abandoning the wilderness, early humanity erected barriers between the destruction of the wilds, exalting the innate urge to improve its plight and make peace with the world at large. Turning from the jungle, we entered into society, relinquishing our animalistic freedom in exchange for incipient laws that freed us from primal pursuits, offering instead community and protection from the wilds.
Embracing society, our ancestors established a judicial power to arbitrate disputes, establishing laws that demanded equality, and enforced by an executive power that transcended the individual, to reaffirm the rights of the collective.
Over time, these proto-societies developed habits, norms, and social institutions, and over millennia transformed into thriving cities, nations, and civilizations.
Surveying this remarkable transformation, we see that this commonwealth is valid and just only so long as these common powers serve the interests of all of those who have relinquished their rights to join it. When this compact fails to uphold this universal access to the benefits of society, it gives up its raison d'être. Over time, if they don’t self-correct, these failed societies became known as tyrannies.
Humankind is fallible, never far from the siren song of chaos. The individual is easily seduced by power, wealth, and other temptations that would cause him or her to attack the interests of the collective in a quest for personal enrichment. As societies crumbled and rebuilt themselves, its members struggled to discern, and then codify, principles that guaranteed the rights of the individual within the collective.
These corrections exacted a steep price, often devolving into bloody uprisings such as the French Revolution, swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction, as happened when Lenin and his comrades seized power in Russia.
Over time, great minds wrestled with the question of how to embody this compact, and what laws perpetuated the assurances of this social contract. These philosophers invented many names for this guarantee, in many languages, but what united all these efforts were three concepts. These rights were firstly universal, applying to all who entered into society; they were eternal, guaranteeing the rational governance of everything for perpetuity; and finally, they codified the ideal, accommodating the inalienable rights of everyone – with none barred that would join the social union.
Taken in conjunction, these concepts can best be defined as, "Universal Eternal Law," a timeless testament to the rights of everyone, regardless of defining characteristics, to draw upon the freedoms and benefits of society, provided their doing so does not infringe on the rights of other to do the same.
A Modern Standard
Society is in perpetual flux, and the rules with which we govern ourselves must reflect the world around us. A law that made sense last year could become obsolete next year. Universal Eternal Law’s potency stems from its embodiment of this dynamic. It presents as concise a directive today, as we contend with modernization, as it did governing the first cavemen that banded together against the wilds in prehistory.
If society enacts a law that conflicts with natural law, meaning it goes against the natural order, then it is no longer a law, but a corruption. Without law, there is no society, and without society, there can be no law.
No rational person would sacrifice his or her natural freedom to enter into a society that would discriminate against him or her based on his or her natural and lawful characteristics. For example, we would not expect a woman to enter, uncoerced by violence or circumstance, into a social compact that forbade her gender from obtaining all the social and material benefits that she created through her labor.
Based on this principle, a society that claims the mantle of justice must afford all members equal access and rights to its institutions. At the center of this society stands marriage, an institution that affords a cornucopia of benefits and security, and one that society has celebrated as for as long as it recorded the world around it.
Marriage, the Pillar of Integration
Just as proto-societies first welcomed all entrants into their mutual promises of protection against the wilds, the modern family welcomes all entrants into its protections against the economic vulnerability and the isolation of modern capitalism. For billions today, family is a portal to economic and social security, affording its members mutual support and existential peace against a backdrop of political and economic uncertainty.
The modern by workplace is fraught with stress, a constant jockeying for leverage and value as we strive to assert our position and influence in the marketplace. For billions, their sacrifices to this daily drudgery are validated when they return home, shedding their aggression and ambition for the sincerity and solace of family, recharging their batteries to tackle the challenges all over again the following day.
That validation and support gives people an edge and may explain why married men significantly out earn their bachelor counterparts. We live in a society that rewards marriage, whether we like it or not.
From a legal standpoint, the institution of marriage confers additional social and economic benefits. Married couples benefit from a tax structure that rewards joint filing, while economies of scale allow couples to cut costs while providing a secure framework for long-term investments.
On the social side, marriage is an important indicator of stability that married couples use to signal to potential employers, churches, and other organizations. The legal guarantees of marriage are especially important as we age, providing us with a legal advocate who can make end-of-life care decisions. Married partners have privileged access to hospitals in the event of illness.
With all these factors in mind, The Church posits marriage and the family as a pillar of integration into society and maintains that none be denied this right. To bar any class, gender, or race from reaping the benefits of this institution represents a gross violation of Universal Eternal Law. Marriage is a right, a freedom, and a social guarantee that underpins the society in which we live.
With the knowledge that millions of our brothers and sisters are prohibited from entering into, and benefitting from, this sacred institution, The Church commits itself to their cause, demanding that the law reflect the social and economic realities of the world around us, rather than clinging to an anachronistic bigotry that runs counter to Universal Eternal Law.
Our society is closer to attaining this dream than ever before, and the means of equality will soon be seized by future generations as they turn from bigotry towards equality and acceptance.
We know this, because we have seen the dragon eating its tail, as history repeats itself, cleaving to a cycle of destruction and creation, abandoning failed paradigms for working ones, and stepping forward again and again.
Universal Eternal Law is an ancient power that runs through human history, rising through men and women of vision and compelling us towards our better nature. These prophecies transcend the chaos of history, guiding us towards a more perfect union, justice, domestic tranquility, and the blessings of liberty.
In humanities darkest hour, when it seems that disorder and destruction have prevailed, this power rises up once more, with prophetic authority, demanding action and compelling us to return to the tenets of Universal Eternal Law. The chapters of history could be written around these resurgences of human creativity and decency, and just as quickly closed by times when our species abandoned these sacred tenets.
It is to one such upwelling that we turn to now, a moment of seismic historical significance. And while it’s nationalistic implications garner the most headlines, this moments subtle insistence on the importance of Universal Eternal Law is what makes it resonate through history.
The Declaration of Independence
"When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States."
A Declaration of Universal Eternal Law
The influence of Universal Eternal Law was weak in 1776, strained by thousands of miles and the British Crown’s quest for global domination. For settlers inhabiting the British Colonies, it seemed that tyranny had undermined their venerable right to freedom and equality. In this dark time, a group of courageous men restated their claim to protection under Universal Eternal Law. This historic claim not only changed the course of history, it also codified and advanced these timeless principles, giving them new life for another generation.
Written by a young lawyer and statesman, Thomas Jefferson and four other forward-thinking patriots including Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, the United States Declaration of Independence stands as a timeless testimony to the universality of human rights. In the years since the document was first promulgated across our restive country, Jefferson’s words have taken on a prophetic quality, guiding the country’s political and social leaders towards the ideals that he so carefully framed in the document.
The Declaration of Independence began as an announcement of rebellion against tyranny, but over time, gave voice to the moral standards by which the Unites States governs itself to this day. Jefferson’s words captured a Universal Eternal Law that lent authority to what were just words, transforming them into a living document that has guided the nation through one existential crisis after the next. The Declaration of Independence has reaffirmed the supremacy of law, and the equality that it entails, forcing the nation to shed ancient inequalities including slavery and gendered voting restrictions.
This moral standard still guides our country. As we strive to establish marriage equality and eradicate other systemic prejudices, it points us towards the utopian ideals of the founding fathers, reminding us of our responsibilities to each other and to our nation.
The Price of Revolution
Our forefathers set about forming a government so just, so equitable, and so promising that they laid their blood and treasure on the line and marched into battle with an evangelical fervor. "Give me liberty, or give me death," Patrick Henry demanded during the Second Virginia Convention in 1775.
When Jefferson set about drafting this timeless document, he borrowed heavily from texts and ideas that were available to him. In his studies of scholars and philosophers, Jefferson would have read the likes of Plato, Locke, Smith and others who laid out the central tenets of this unifying rule of society. As an avid student of history, he would have been familiar with those times when the laws and the world they governed grew apart, divorcing into tyranny and failing to enforce universal access to the benefits of society.
Governments may turn away from justice, but Universal Eternal Law is constant. It lurks on the periphery, reminding societies of their obligations. All Jefferson had to do was capture that timeless message and reaffirm it to his countrymen.
Jefferson wrote amidst a growing sentiment of social justice that welled up in colonial society in response to British tyranny. The volume of material that Jefferson could draw upon to craft his masterpiece demonstrated how deeply these values were ingrained in American society.
There are at least ninety documents classified by historians as "declarations of independence," that preceded the one drafted by Jefferson, all echoing that same demand that coursed through the veins of the colonial population in that Spring of 1776 – that all people were entitled to Universal Eternal Law. This litany of pronouncements represented a painful severance with the motherland, one that was only possible because natural law had been rescinded. These were men and women who, earlier would have fought and died for Britain. But for the first American’s, there could be no higher calling than freedom, no matter the cost.
It was as if the colonies themselves gained a voice, weighing in on, and editing the final document so that it became the living embodiment of the Universal Eternal Law of equality of all humankind – the authentic expression of the American mind.
Jefferson’s words, deployed to incite rebellion, were dispersed through edicts and declarations like windblown dandelion seeds. His insistence on the universal rights of all people impregnated the national discourse during those turbulent years, and still bears fruit to this day, reminding us centuries later that all are entitled our own pursuit of happiness.
What started out as a declaration of rebellion grew into a moral standard by which the United States learned to govern itself. Its timeless words constitute a living document that has guided the nation through one existential crisis after the next, reaffirming the supremacy of Universal Eternal Law, and the equality that it entails. It has forced our nation to shed the ancient disparities of slavery and gendered voting restrictions.
In those days, news spread by word of mouth. One can imagine horsemen traveling across the new country, reading Jefferson’s reaffirmation of universal human rights. The message electrified the masses, who rallied behind its revolutionary cause. The rebels destroyed of all portable signs of royalty, melting statues of King George III into bullets that they turned on their oppressors. In this same way, The Church tears down the barriers to marriage, mobilizing those same rituals to unite a nation of minorities under the banner of universal matrimony.
This moral standard still guides these United States. As we advocate for marriage equality and stand against other systemic prejudices, it points us towards the utopian visions of the founding fathers, reminding us of our responsibilities to each other and to our nation.
What right do we have to call ourselves Americans if we would deny our brothers and sisters the freedom that our forefathers risked their lives for?
Jefferson’s vision of democracy can only be realized through that unambiguous equality that he spells out in the Declaration of Independence. That same equality is the locus of the modern debate over marriage equality.
Many documents serve their purpose and fade into historical irrelevance. Not so for the Declaration of Independence. It is as germane today as it was in 1776, a living document and constant reminder of this country’s founding principles.
On Human Rights
Shortly before he died, Jefferson wrote his fellow draftsman, John Adams to say that, "I shall not die without a hope that light and liberty are on a steady advance." A survey of American history confirms the document’s role in preserving the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Declaration of Independence establishes a chain of transmission from one social movement to the next, notably influencing the abolitionist movement, and leading up to this moment in history where it sets a clear precedent for marriage equality.
The Original Abolitionist Document
In Jefferson’s proposed draft of the Virginia Constitution, a predecessor to the Declaration of Independence, he wrote that, "no person hereafter coming into this country shall be held within the same in slavery under any pretext whatsoever." Regarding inheritance, Jefferson wrote, "females shall have equal rights with males." Neither of these proposals made it into the final draft, due to opposition from slave-owning states and patriarchal norms of the time. They were omitted in the interest of presenting a unified front against Britain, however, these revolutionary ideas – and they truly were revolutionary for the time – present an important underpinning of the final Declaration of Independence.
While certain language may have been struck from the final draft, Jefferson persevered, subtly interjecting notions of equality throughout the document. To the careful reader, these unwritten morals are a continued source of inspiration.
One inspired reader, Abraham Lincoln famously called the message of the Declaration of Independence, "an ancient faith." Lincoln created an unambiguous connection between the document and his abolitionist agenda when he said, "I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence."
In many regards, the Declaration of Independence was the original abolitionist document. Abolitionists brandished the document as an indictment against the hypocrisy of slavery.
"…we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal: That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights: That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
It’s easy to see why representatives of slave-owning states were troubled by the language in the document. But they also knew that removing these assertions of equality would have rendered the document powerless and they were forced to sign off on the final draft, despite much hand wringing.
The paradox of a slave-owning country agitating for freedom wasn’t lost on Jefferson, and he deployed those words, laden with indictment, as a slow-burning antidote against the poison of slavery. The words cornered slave owners, forcing them to either admit that their position was at odds with America’s founding ideals, or worse yet, contend that the men and women they held in bondage were not human at all, but animals. Such a profound racism was as untenable then as it is now. There was no way around this predicament, and their stunted defenses and evasions have long since been relegated to the dustbin of history.
The Suffragette Movement
It was no coincidence that many early advocates of women’s voting rights cut their teeth in the abolitionist movement. One such activist, Sarah Grimke, campaigned on the premise that the Declaration of Independence justified women’s suffrage, using the same arguments she had honed during her anti-slavery days. In 1837, Grimke wrote that, "men and women were created equal," arguing that, "whatever is right for men to do is right for women."
A few years later, the movement found its voice in a 1948 document known as the Seneca Falls Declaration. Under the leadership of Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the participants of a convention for the rights of women called for equality in a document patterned after the Declaration of Independence.
"When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course."
"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…
The close resemblance of the Seneca Falls Declaration was no accident. It allowed the suffragettes to argue their case on a number of levels beyond the rational argument for self-governance. By equating their demands with those of the Founding Fathers, the suffragettes anchored their cause within a broader understanding of freedom that all Americans could identify with. This strategic outlining was important, because, at the time, women were truly second-class citizens and their demands for equality were met with widespread derision from society.
The women (and their male advocates) were also able to leverage the language of the Declaration of Independence to bolster their case. By simply adding "women" to the existing text, the Seneca Falls Declaration’s authors could suddenly command Jefferson’s powerful arguments for their own cause.
It would take another seventy-two years for the 19th Amendment to finally grant women the right to vote, but the solace and validation provided by the Declaration of Independence remains an important part of that struggle. The arguments presented by those early suffragettes also laid the groundwork for arguments that marriage rights advocates are making today.
The similarities don’t stop there either, in part because a major focus of the suffragette movement was on the family, and the way that traditional marriage had restricted women. Much as Jefferson listed off a litany of complaints about the colonies treatment by the crown, the suffragettes listed off their own grievances.
"He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead," the Seneca Falls Declaration stated. Their phrasing was intentionally similar to Jefferson’s structuring of his indictments, such as, "He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us."
Much has changed in the hundreds of years since Jefferson out pen to paper, and since Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton first advocated for women’s right to vote. With each subsequent generation, citizens committed to the improvement of this country have rallied around the Declaration of Independence, and it is to the latest upwelling of national morals that we now turn our attention, asking how can we capture the power of this living document to make America great?
Marriage, the Universal Right
"… the pursuit of happiness." It’s in this opening sentence of the declaration’s second paragraph that we see Jefferson making the most overt reference to a group of rights that includes marriage equality.
The Church regards the Declaration of Independence as an explicit defense of marriage equality, to the same extent that its words unequivocally prohibit slavery and the restriction of voting rights based on gender or race.
Building on the declaration as a foundational legal and moral document that embodies Universal Eternal Law, we are presented with the following logic. A) all humans have the inherent right to participate in value-adding social institutions such as marriage, which are enshrined in Universal Eternal Law, and described by Jefferson as "the pursuit of happiness." B) No person, or set of people, are entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from societies’ commonly held assets, based on race, gender, and other such traits. Thus, all consenting adults are entitled equally to the institution, and benefits of marriage.
Expanding slightly on the concept of "commonly held assets" raised in the previous paragraph, The Church also maintains that there exists a range of material and non-material assets to which all citizens of this country are equally entitled. These range from natural resources like national parks and clean air and water, to participation in a thriving marketplace of ideas, services, and products. Having established that marriage is a portal to social integration, and the economic benefits thereof (Jefferson’s pursuit of happiness), marriage becomes a right as sacrosanct as voting or freedom.
With the Declaration of Independence justifying our cause, we once more contend that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights including Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, and the joys, sorrows, and benefits of marriage that such rights afford.
We regard this struggle as the highest form of patriotism, and while the risks we face pale in comparison to those faced by the founding fathers, The Church commits its blood and treasure to the cause.
By providing the tools and resources for all people, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, to enter into this sacred bond, The Church is advancing the equality and freedom that define what it means to be an American.
At the same time, The Church recognizes that our laws have failed to keep pace with society’s evolution, and we share a commitment to advocating for legal reform as well. As Americans, it is our patriotic duty to prevent that the same tyranny that we overthrew centuries ago from arising in our midst. Until we can all say, "I do," in front of our loved ones, this struggle will continue, and we welcome all to our cause.