uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum -- Q. Aurelius Symmachus, 384 C.E.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Of Gay Marriage

In light of the Minnesota Senate's passage of marriage equality Monday, I reprint my column in the Northwest Arkansas Times from 10 years ago -- August 2003-- on the matter. I am so proud of my state for taking this step. The headline was the same as the title of this post, hence my post title, even though we should of course hitherto refer to all same-sex marriages as just "marriages." Here it is, uncut and unedited (so be kind):
It’s a good thing President Bush recognizes that we are all sinners. It’s just too bad he and so many other conservatives are so eager to take one of their believed sins and elevate it to a constitutional prohibition. After remaining quiet for some time about gay marriage, the president made a rather contradictory argument last week: "I am mindful that we’re all sinners," he said. "And I caution those who may try to take the speck out of their neighbor’s eye when they got a log in their own.... On the other hand, that does not mean that somebody like me needs to compromise on issues such as marriage.... I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and I believe we ought to codify that one way or the other and we have lawyers looking at the best way to do that."

In other words, Bush theology admits that everyone sins, and that it isn’t right to condemn others’ sins and attempt to control them in light of one’s own. But getting the government to do that, well...

Bush’s argument is contradictory because it at once concedes the notion that the government can’t legislate morality based solely on one group’s religious convictions, then goes on to say that folks in his Evangelical camp shouldn’t have to "compromise" on forcing everyone else to adhere to their religious conviction via a federal statute or constitutional amendment defining who someone can marry.

Marriage is the legal contract that two people sign with the government in order to receive certain government benefits and legal recognition of their contractual obligations. It is also a covenant, often religious, taken between two people who wish to honor each other before their god. Ironically enough, any constitutional amendment or any law passed by Congress can only outlaw the former, though it is in the language of the latter that gay marriage is being debated. Like it or not, gay marriages are performed in this country every day, and will continue to be. The only thing the government can do is refuse legal status to these marriages, based solely on subjective religious beliefs. And a decision by the government that "codifies" a religious belief is a violation of the freedom of conscience guaranteed by the Constitution.

The reactionary rhetoric being spewed by conservatives should be expected in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling kicking them out of consenting adults’ bedrooms. Social conservatives naturally fear that because they can no longer criminalize the speck in another man’s eye, they will soon lose their grip on marginalizing those who don’t adhere to their literalist religious beliefs. And so they’ve begun attacking gay marriage, and have put the pressure on Congress and the president to in some way make sure that some other couple out there doesn’t get that certificate from the court house. Because their reasoning is inherently religious and therefore violates the separation of church and state, they have turned to re-writing the constitution to ensure gays can’t get legally married. Such an amendment would mark the only time outside of Prohibition that the Constitution would be used to infringe on a liberty instead of guarantee it.

The Vatican, which apparently hasn’t gotten over losing its status as the state religion of the known world, has launched a campaign to convince lawmakers to prohibit gay marriage. But same-sex unions aren’t the only place that religion could coerce laws with regard to marriage. Jesus never spoke of homosexuality, but he did speak of divorce. Why not a constitutional amendment banning divorce, something the Vatican also condemns?

In a recent issue of The Weekly Standard, conservative Maggie Gallagher argues that the traditional notion of marriage between a man and a woman must be maintained legally to avert further downfall into a society of fatherless children. The production of children is thus seen as the central component to marriage to social conservatives, and Gallagher attempts to knock down analogies between gay marriages and those of sterile married couples. She even postulates on a hypothetical man who might marry an older woman unable to have children: No matter if children do or don’t result in the marriage, she writes, the legal contract of marriage means, "if he keeps his vows, that he will not produce children out-of-wedlock." Aside from a sexist and outdated tack that seems to put more likelihood on fathers producing children out of wedlock than mothers (what’s that old cliché about tangoing?), conservative arguments like that ignore the fact that there is no state compulsion for one to remain faithful within his marriage and thus refrain from fathering other children, nor are we likely to see any. Divorce — which leads to more fatherless or motherless children than gay marriage ever could — is not illegal, despite having clear scriptural prohibitions. And adultery is likewise condemned by the Bible and can lead to the break-up of the "traditional marriage." Is there a law coming on that one?

It also uses a circular argument: That marriage is intended to produce children, something gays and lesbians can’t do, and thus we must protect marriage to ensure all children have two parents. If gays can’t have children, how is gay marriage an assault on the nuclear family?

Another concern of conservatives is that clergy will be forced to marry gay couples if gay unions are made legal. This is likewise in contradiction of the constitution for the very same reasons a prohibition on gay marriage is: It would have the state decide what is orthodox and then force it onto the masses. The Roman Catholic Church currently refuses to marry those outside of the Church or those who have had a divorce, and no compulsion exists forcing priests to perform such ceremonies against their will.

Also irrelevant is the notion that "compromising" on marriage might open the door to legalizing polygamy or bigamy. Because marriage carries with it legal benefits and distinctions, the government does have an interest in how many people one marries. It doesn’t have an interest, however, in who one marries.

There is simply no rational reason why the state should prohibit unions between same-sex couples. Doing so only puts constitutional weight behind what amounts to nothing but religious prejudice.

-- Aug. 6, 2003

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