Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Is your marriage State approved?

Once again, the issue of same-sex marriage is in the news.
NPR [March 15, 2005] A San Francisco County Superior Court judge overturns California's ban on gay marriage. Judge Richard Kramer ruled the ban unconstitutional and said withholding marriage licenses from same-sex couples violated their civil rights. Supporters of the ban plan to appeal the decision.

This is one of those boiler-plate subjects in which both proponents and detractors often become exercised. To be sure, there are those that are ambivalent, but they don’t figure into this debate. Interestingly, as each side all but demonizes the other, they both claim the moral high-ground.

With those for whom this is a matter of civil rights, they have a champion in California. In 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom gained notoriety as the nation's most ardent crusader for same-sex marriage. He's was lauded at the Democratic National Convention for unilaterally ordering the issuance of license to homosexual couples. Newsom claimed that ALL should enjoy the same rights and that current law was discriminatory.

Among the most vocal opponents of gay unions are Christians in general and the *religious right* in particular. The primary basis for their view is the Bible’s prohibition of ANY homosexual activity. The logic suggests that by granting approval by way of legislation, the gay population will increase exponentially and thus bring God’s wrath upon the whole nation. Further, the slippery slope argument is made, which implies that allowing gays to marry will preclude discrimination against polygamy and incest. A back-up point is that the traditional definition of marriage should stand.

Thomas Sowell has an interesting take with which both sides would likely take issue.
Of all the phony arguments for gay marriage, the phoniest is the argument that it is a matter of equal rights. Marriage is not a right extended to individuals by the government. It is a restriction on the rights they already have.

People who are simply living together can make whatever arrangements they want, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. They can divide up their worldly belongings 50-50 or 90-10 or whatever other way they want. They can make their union temporary or permanent or subject to cancellation at any time.

He goes on to say:

The issue is not individual rights. What the activists are seeking is official social approval of their lifestyle. But this is the antithesis of equal rights.

If you have a right to someone else's approval, then they do not have a right to their own opinions and values. You cannot say that what "consenting adults" do in private is nobody else's business and then turn around and say that others are bound to put their seal of approval on it.

Some folks that I’ve spoken with about this seem to have formed an opinion without letting the facts intrude. In my view, maximum individual liberty is the default. I recognize that anarchy is not feasible and some restriction of movement and action is essential for the protection of everyone. That said, ANY such limitation should be irreducibly minimal.

With respect to Newsom’s action, I think he failed to understand that the rule-of-law trumps one’s desire to correct a perceived injustice; the Constitution allows for orderly creation and repeal of legislation.

The religious opponents seem to think that the Constitution and individual liberty are subject to the Bible. Not only is this an asinine misconception, the logic is flawed on its face. If God were to *punish* people Sodom and Gomorra style for transgression of his law, why would he not be angry about the First Amendment, which acknowledges freedom FROM religion. As one for whom the Bible is a subject of study, I suggest that those who make such arguments use the Bible to control the behavior of others; their Democrat counterparts use the Constitution in a similar way to affect societal change.

While I have a great deal of respect for Thomas Sowell, our views diverge here a bit. He seems to err on the side of cultural stability, where marriage is concerned. I see culture as a means of societal health to a point, but for me, individual identity must not be subjugated by a group’s sensibilities. Sowell’s point about the mutual property of consenting adults has merit; the main difference between marriage and cohabitation is an enforceable contract with the former and nil with the latter. The issue’s core, for me, is that any consensual union of individuals that is bound by a contract enforced by the state, should be devoid of the spiritual/mystical. All marriage ought to be secular civil contracts. Those that are so incline have every right to allow the religious sect of their choice to place its imprimatur and blessing upon it. I don’t seek to give anyone, with whom I am not acquainted, my approval and I don’t expect to receive their sanction. The US Constitution neither respects one’s faith nor one’s sexual proclivities…at least not yet.