3/12/04 2:41 PM
Copyright 2004 David C. Loebig
Let's Put Same-Sex Marriage in Context
When government restricts our rights, there should be good reason. We live under the ideal that all people are created equal and we all have equal rights. We even have laws explicitly granting the equal rights of certain minorities, so jobs, loans, housing and many other privileges can’t be denied based on gender, race or age. We accept this as the equal opportunity for the pursuit of happiness.
On the other hand, there are legitimate and accepted restrictions. Convicted criminals have to serve time and report to parole officers when released. Adolescents can’t drive until they are in their mid teens. Non-citizens can’t vote. There are legitimate grounds for these laws.
And so we come to the restriction on the rights of some to enjoy the legal benefits of the marriage they prefer. We justify the laws against same-sex marriage on several counts: 1) family values: Same-sex marriages are not traditional and are a threat to the family. 2) child rearing: The best way to raise a child is with two parents of different genders. 3) the sanctity of marriage: Marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman.
This issue is particularly sensitive because of the word “marriage.” Perhaps a simple solution is to remove the word “marriage” from all legal definitions and make all unions “civil unions.” Then we can leave the word “marriage” to churches or whoever wants to apply it.
Instead of taking a measured, inclusive approach like this, some politicians are now calling for the extremist action of a constitutional amendment. The proposed law would restrict only gay couples from the legal rights, benefits, obligations and pitfalls of a marriage contract.
And let’s face it. To government, marriage is just the legal status that bestows obligations and rights on the individuals involved. It’s the clerk of courts that keeps the records, not the clerk of sanctity, and government makes little if any effort to qualify the compatibility, the morality or the family values in any marriage. (Would you really want government regulating sanctity?) With the reasonable exception of child welfare in a divorce, to government, a marriage or a divorce is just another entry in the books.
Even so, legalized gay marriages would affect the broader meaning of marriage, and that shouldn’t be too easily ignored. But our culture changes every year, for better and for worse, and nobody is seriously calling for an amendment restricting the media, pop stars or whoever the scapegoat may be.
More specifically, with same sex marriages the legal definition would change to allow any two people to enter into the marriage contract. But the legal definition wouldn’t prevent any person, family or church from their own meanings. It wouldn’t infringe on anybody’s religious or personal pursuits.
And whatever can be said about the negative impact of gay marriages on child rearing, on the family or on the sanctity of marriage; multiply that negative impact fifty-fold and apply it to heterosexual adultery and divorce.
The real threats to child rearing, the clear and present dangers to the family, the most rampant desecrations of the sanctity of marriage are adultery and divorce. They are undeniable and devastating. Yet the politicians calling for defense-of-marriage laws ignore them. With the rally cry of “sanctity,” they are moving to restrict the legal rights of homosexuals, a minority of the constituency, instead of outlawing divorce or blocking adulterers from getting married. It wouldn’t work even if they tried, but if this is a matter of principle, the politicians wouldn’t ignore these most pressing problems.
So it seems that the proposed amendment is really about the moral objection to homosexuality, the goal of thwarting its social acceptance and the use of government to impose that morality on others. If this were really about the principles of family and marriage, proponents of a marriage amendment would attack with the greatest energy the lasting and far-reaching devastation of adultery and divorce. This willing, blatant and discriminatory negligence undercuts the credibility of the political and Christian right.
When all else fails, the final justification for defense-of-marriage legislation is the fact that the majority is against same-sex marriages. But does the majority justify the prejudicial restrictions on the rights of a minority group? If so, then was slavery justifiable in 1700? The answer is NO. Slavery always was a moral abomination even when the majority was for it. The majority can make a law, but the majority can be wrong.
I don’t understand homosexuality, and it just doesn’t “seem” right to me, but the American ideal is that we accept or at least tolerate differences in cultures, creeds and preferences even when we don’t understand them. We have a more perfect union because we have equal opportunities, even minority groups. It’s what gives America moral high ground. In other words, restricting a minority and legislating “sanctity” changes the meaning of America. In further words, government should not be in the business of regulating sacredness.
Is it time for same-sex marriages? It would have social ramifications, but it is also an issue of equal opportunity and civil rights. It will happen eventually. After all, to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.
Dave Loebig writes and banters out of the Tampa, Fla. area. You can banter with him at RandomDigressions.com.