Say NO to Fear of the New World
Say No to Fear of The New World
On the eve of the Commonwealth’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, our Republican-dominated legislature has tendered to the voters its idea of an appropriate way to commemorate that watershed historical event: Ballot Question No. 1, the proposed Marshall/Newman Amendment, which is often deliberately mislabeled by its proponents “the Marriage Amendment,” apparently in the hope of obscuring the significant fact that a far greater number of Virginians will be affected by its second paragraph, which prohibits civil unions and domestic partnerships for straight and gay unmarried couples alike, than by its relatively less controversial first paragraph, which simply declares that marriage shall consist only of a union between one man and one woman.
The op-ed piece in opposition to Ballot Question No 1 recently published in The Roanoke Times which was written by my old friend, and one of my many wonderful Republican mentors, former Sixth District Congressman M. Caldwell Butler, brought tears to my eyes. First, because I was so gratified to see the persistence to this day of the political courage, intellectual honesty, and incorruptibility which Caldwell Butler demonstrated as a freshman GOP Member of the House Judiciary Committee back in 1974 when he sadly but wisely voted to impeach Richard Nixon, a president of our own Party.
Second, because anyone who was ever as proud to be a Republican as I used to be can only weep at the depths to which this once-great instrument for political reform and social justice has fallen in modern times as a result of the Faustian bargain which it made a couple of decades ago with the Commonwealth’s most narrow-minded and backward-looking elements in order to savor long-sought but long-elusive electoral victories.
When I was a teenager, under the influence of a loving Republican father and a loving Democratic mother, I was drawn to admiration and support of two great Republicans who had gained the respect and the votes of both of my parents: Dwight D. Eisenhower and Radford Republican State Senator Ted Dalton. I remember like it was yesterday being held on my father’s shoulders in the huge crowd that assembled excitedly in South Roanoke Park, now the River’s Edge Sports Complex, in 1952 to hear General Eisenhower deliver his stump speech from the back of a railroad car which pulled to a stop on the track which still runs right beside the park, and I remember the adoration of the crowd, people screaming and nearly sobbing with joy that the architect of the Allied Victory in Europe was actually here, in Roanoke, such a Great Man.
A couple of years later, when I went with my parents to a performance of the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus under the Big Tent erected in the field between Victory Stadium and our old baseball stadium, Maher Field, I remember that at the end of one of those three-ring galas, with acrobats and clowns and elephants parading around in all directions, with all due pomp and pageantry and music and just plain circus noise, there came a time of finale, of climax, when in the center ring three great curtains fell to the ground, revealing three slowly revolving huge portraits of our now President Eisenhower, one image showing him in uniform, one in an academic cap and gown in recognition of his service as president of Columbia University, and one with just plain “Ike” grinning from ear to ear in simple business suit.
And as before, the entire crowd exploded with cheers and applause, because he was, after all, not only our President, but our hero. Among other things, you may remember, Dwight Eisenhower had said, “I will go to Korea,” and “this war cannot be ended by those whose miscalculations brought it about,” and he had gone to Korea, and he had ended that war.
When I was 10 or 11, my Daddy introduced me to a tall, lanky, well-liked member of the Shenandoah Club (which Daddy managed after he returned from service in the Army in WWII), an impressive red-faced man with a deep, seemingly godlike voice, who was, in fact, State Senator Ted Dalton of Radford. All of the Club members thought he not only looked like a Governor, but that he should and might become one. He lost when he ran for that office the first time in 1953, but not badly, getting a surprisingly large vote for a Republican in Byrd-dominated Virginia, but it was his second try for the job which most stands out in my mind.
By the beginning of Senator Dalton’s second gubernatorial campaign in 1957, I was a sophomore at Roanoke Catholic High School, and I was quite excited by the newspaper reports which said that Senator Dalton might actually win the election and become Virginia’s first Republican Governor since Reconstruction. But in the fall, during the height of the campaign, President Eisenhower sent Federal troops to enforce the order of a Federal judge to de-segregate Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, and the Dalton campaign just sort of splattered against the sidewalk of that school, doomed without question to defeat in the November election.
Ted Dalton raised some questions about President Eisenhower’s actions, as I recall it, but one thing he absolutely did not do was to embrace in response to his own acute political crisis the reprehensible, anachronistic, and thoroughly illegal policy of “massive resistance” to school integration which the Virginia Democratic Party, at the insistence of Senator Byrd and his lieutenants, made State policy until it was simply no longer tenable.
I remember one of the national news magazines, Time, or Newsweek, or U.S. News & World-Report, running a recap of the Virginia gubernatorial race “after Little Rock,” and showing two pictures, one of the man about to become Virginia’s next Governor, J. Lindsey Almond, who had vowed to “cut off his right arm before a single black child would ever set foot in a white school,” bearing the caption, “In victory, no solution,” and the other of a still smiling and still red-faced Ted Dalton riding in the back seat of a convertible down the Main Street of some Virginia town whose citizens were no doubt getting ready to vote resoundingly against him, with the caption “In defeat, no shame.”
Forgive me some patent speculation, but in my heart of hearts I cannot believe that, if they were here today with the same values they demonstrated during their lives, either Dwight David Eisenhower or Ted Dalton would vote for Ballot Question No. 1. Of course I can’t prove that, but I do believe it.
Nor do I believe that any of the brave men and women who with their children boarded those boats in England and sailed so very far across the intimidating Atlantic to a completely New World, ready, willing and able to take their chances here, in the faith but certainly the hope that whatever was on this side of the ocean would be better, or could be made better, than what they were leaving behind.
Those were people who were willing to go to great lengths, and eventually would in fact endure great personal hardship and suffering, to do everything in their power to create a better New World, fully aware that they had no assurance that they could do it. But they came here, their backs facing England and their hopes facing Virginia, and they landed, and they and their descendants toughed it out, and they prevailed.
There is always some Old World needing to die because it has served its purpose, outlived its usefulness, and now dampens creative, curious, ambitious minds and spirits, and which therefore must be left behind, first, of course, by the most bold and courageous among us, if the human race is to continue on its upward path toward whatever end God intends for us.
There is always some New World beckoning to those with the stoutest of hearts and the most burning curiosity to see what better things may be out there beyond the horizon, just waiting for human intellect and persistence to bring them to fruition.
The Republican Party of Virginia was once a valuable, indeed indispensable, instrument for innovation and reform in Virginia. With great regularity we used to hold racially integrated dinners and other meetings at the Hotel Roanoke and other venues, in flagrant violation of the State’s immoral and unconstitutional laws against integration of public gatherings. We opposed the Democratic Machine’s use of poll taxes and blank paper registration rather than fill-in-the blank forms, all for the clear purpose of suppressing registration and voting by the poor, uneducated, and illiterate, i.e., poor whites and, of course, blacks.
Governor Linwood Holton, who, rather than that great, good, courageous Senator Ted Dalton, turned out to be Virginia’s first Republican Governor in modern times, made a point of enrolling his children in integrated public schools in the City of Richmond rather than any of the still segregated private schools which, as a highly successful lawyer, he could easily have afforded.
We do not have to speculate about how Governor Holton would vote on Ballot Question No. 1, because, thank God, he is very much alive, and like Governors Chuck Robb and Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and former Congressman Caldwell Butler, he has stated emphatically that he intends to vote NO!
My wife Mary and I were there on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 when the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., decorated and dignified American history by declaring “I Have a Dream.”
Truly not meaning any conceit, I follow his lead in saying that I, too, have a dream: It is that the once grand, progressive, reformist Republican Party of Virginia will soon learn how to let loose of the ferocious tiger that it has had by the tail for too long now, which is the disproportionate influence of backward-looking religious extremists who insist that everyone must live the same way, the way the extremists choose for us all to live, and no other.
Yet, at a time when more Americans than at any time in our history choose, for their own personal reasons, not to enter into traditional marriage, when credible polls show that already 59% of Virginians favor allowing civil unions, when even President George W. Bush has said publicly that he is not opposed to allowing States under the Federal Constitution to create civil unions as an alternative to traditional marriage for same-sex couples like Mark and me who wish to express to the world their love and fidelity and commitment.
Ballot Question No.1 would amend the Bill of Rights of the Virginia Constitution authored by George Mason in order to deprive the General Assembly of the power to respond to modern changes in domestic living arrangements, which may or may not in time prove satisfying and utilitarian to those who adopt them, but which are certainly not necessarily harmful just because they represent changes.
That is no way to celebrate, of all things, the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. I urge my fellow Virginians, including Republicans who may at this moment still feel a need to follow their consciences only in the secrecy of the voting booth, but whose Party, if the amendment is defeated, will be the most direct beneficiary of the reduction of the undue influence of those ever-fearful souls–to be pitied rather than despised–who have never been blessed by God with the vision and courage of Jamestown’s founders—the folks who are always back on the shore of the Old World, staring without comprehension at those who lift anchor and sail away toward something new and, they hope, better.
I urge all of my fellow Virginians, regardless of Party, who want to know just what it was like to enjoy the thrill of supporting Ted Dalton, whether he won or not, just because he was so very, very right on the most burning social issue of his day, in utter disregard of the ire of the staunchest defenders of the Old World that was then a-dying, to join me on November 7th by voting NO to Ballot Question No. 1, by taking this, the best chance they may ever have in their lives to vote NO to fear of The New World.
Sam Garrison lives in Roanoke, is a former Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Roanoke, and is now a member of the State Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia.