A pair of judicial decisions (Sullivan striking down Texas’ discriminatory “sodomy” laws and Goodridge mandating marriage equality in Massachusetts) has garnered significant media attention over the past several months, but much of it has been of little or no value. For all the well-publicized blustering of the anti-marriage crowd, the mainstream media – allegedly “liberal” – rarely mention any of the solid arguments in favor of same-sex marriage.
(By the way, I have no compunctions about calling the anti-same-sex marriage contingent just that: anti-marriage. If marriage is truly a positive social institution – and I happen to believe that, on balance, it is – those people preventing legal recognition of same-sex marriages deserve to be called anti-marriage. Similarly, I use the word recognized instead of allowed or permitted because same-sex marriages already exist in this country; they are recognized as such by the married couples, by their friends and families, by their churches and synagogues – but not by government agencies.)
The current prohibitions against civil recognition of same-sex marriage are reminiscent of the Vietnam-era “we had to destroy the village to save it” mentality. In a time when many couples choose to live together and raise children outside of marriage, is it really sensible to deny marriage to families that want (and deserve) it? Many conservative commentators are being blatantly hypocritical when complaining about extramarital promiscuity and child-rearing while simultaneously opposing marriage rights for a substantial portion of the population.
Some groups are proposing an anti-marriage amendment to our Constitution, but this is both unjust and unnecessary. Clinton – in another one of his shameful political triangulations, along with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – signed the egregiously misnamed “Defense of Marriage Act” in 1996, which permitted states to prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. (If our Congressional lawmakers had any integrity or honesty, it would have been called the “Denial of Marriage Act,” but that’s another topic.)
Bush’s proclamation of “Marriage Protection Week” (12-18 October 2003) was another example of prejudice disguised as moral principle, starting with an exhortation for us all to “continue our work to create a compassionate, welcoming society, where all people are treated with dignity and respect.” If he really believed that “children raised in households headed by married parents fare better than children who grow up in other family structures,” he would support same-sex marriages and families instead of illogically bragging that his administration is working to “support the institution of marriage” by restricting marriage to heterosexuals. Along similar lines, Bush used part of his State of the Union speech to opine that “Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.”
How, exactly, do heterosexual relationships need to be “defended” or “protected” from same-sex ones? Are they somehow more deserving of “sanctity?” My spouse and I wouldn’t have shunned marriage or avoided becoming parents if our gay and lesbian friends were granted equal rights under the law, and I doubt that anyone else would have. I’d love for every like-minded couple – of whatever sexual orientation – to share in the joys of family life; legal recognition of same-sex marriages would neither demean nor diminish our marriage or anyone else’s.
I highly recommend two online articles (Katha Pollitt’s "Adam and Steve – Together at Last" and Andrew Sullivan’s "The Sacred and the Pop Star") as background for the editorial and online debate I’ve attached (from The New Republic). The debate is especially interesting, but the pro-marriage commentator blunders in suggesting that “judicial imposition” by the courts would “short-circuit the political process.” One of the most important justifications for an appointed judiciary is, as Justice Robert Jackson noted in reference to the Bill of Rights,
“…to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”
(West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette)
The Brown decision preceded public opinion on desegregation; Lawrence and Goodridge are doing the same for same-sex marriage. A regressive decision – today’s Plessy v. Ferguson, perhaps, or an anti-marriage Constitutional amendment – cannot be justified by popular prejudice. I have yet to see any argument against civil equality for same-sex couples that isn’t founded on the specious and egotistical notion that heterosexuals somehow have a monopoly on meaningful relationships.
Marriage doesn’t need to be “protected” from same-sex couples, but rather from feckless politicians seeking political advantage by pandering to ignorance, fear, and hatred. Civil unions and domestic partnerships (which create a separate-but-not-equal second-class citizenship for same-sex marriages) are a step in the right direction, but are ultimately only a partial solution to fulfilling our national promise of liberty and justice for all.
If you want to learn more, some organizations working for civil rights are: Marriage Equality, Human Rights Campaign, Alliance for Same-Sex Marriage, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Thanks for reading.
Quotes of the Day:
“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
George Washington (letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport RI, 18 August 1790)
“They [the Founders] meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere. The assertion that all men are created equal was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration not for that, but for future use.”
Abraham Lincoln (speaking about the Dred Scott decision, 26 June 1857)