Although I’ve expanded upon this topic twice before—and I promise I have absolutely nothing new to say on this front, so the following remarks are but a mildly condensed rehash of points already made here and here—I continue to find it fascinating from a civil rights perspective as well as with regard to an aspect of plain elementary logic which precludes me from hopping aboard the gay marriage “rights” bandwagon in spite of my overall sympathy for the cause itself.
Yesterday, Move On posted an entry titled Why Voting On Gay Rights Is Just Plain Stupid, which featured a snazzy shot of Rachel Maddow rocking funky Buddy Holly cheaters and a pithy civics 101 splattered across the nether regions of her caliginous Cash-y cowboy shirt—you’d think she’s about to grab her guitar and break into a medley of Peggy Sue meets A Boy Named Sue. (Not sure, though, if the words in quotes are the model’s own or if her likeness was merely hijacked for the sake of putting a professorial-looking mug to the message.)
So let me explain, once again, why reading gay [marriage] rights into the Constitution is just plain stupid. (I may have phrased this a bit more diplomatically, but since Move On set the tone, who am I to change the key?)
Personally, I couldn’t care less who marries who. When it comes to the subject of marriage, all I want is not to get invited to anything a wedding planner might have planned. Social functions aren’t my speed to begin with, but there’s something about weddings in particular that sends my dork-o-meter into overdrive to the point of my boycotting these things altogether.
I do feel passionate about matrimony only in the sense that I passionately have no truck with this particular institution and its alleged “sanctity.” A chacun son goût. To each his goat, as they say in France. (Luckily, I won my Green Card in the lottery, so I’m off the marriage hook altogether.)
That said, if the institution of marriage makes for societal stability, I’m all for it, and I have no data on which to conclude that same-sex unions might be any less stable than traditional ones or vice versa. So, in the words of Cher Horowitz, whatever.
I am, of course, concerned about civil rights in general, no matter what the specific issue at hand and whether it concerns me personally or not. No one should be denied their rights, and no doubt all minimally civics-literate individuals will second the lesson splattered across Ms Maddow’s shirt, namely that our rights are not subject to popular vote, which is what makes them “rights.”
This, of course, leaves the problem of how to determine what is a true and existing civil right as opposed to merely some personal ideal of justice and fairness with respect to a given issue that a person or a segment of the population feels ought to be elevated into the pantheon of civil rights so as to remove it from the reach of some benighted backwoods majority (“brainwashed by Fox News,” as it were) that might conceivably vote the “wrong” way on it.
But if the majority doesn’t get to decide what’s a right and what isn’t, then who does? Rachel Maddow?
And therein lies the rub.
Let’s assume you subscribe to the idea, as many do, that the Constitution, in its present form, implies a right to gay marriage, for if members of one group (heterosexuals) are allowed to marry whomever they choose, the principle of equal protection under the law, as set forth in the Fourteenth Amendment, ordains that members of another group (homosexuals) must be allowed to do the same.
So now Omar comes along and introduces his brides Aarifah, Tahiya, Noar, and Lemma.
Of course, you tell Omar that he can’t marry all four of them, at least not in the United States.
Omar is confused. After all, didn’t you just a moment ago emphatically proclaim that, in light of some concept called “equal protection under the law,” everyone simply had the right to marry whomever they chose, assuming all parties involved consented to the union, and that it was only a bunch of ignorant Bibleheads that prevented the non-traditional from exercising their existing right to happiness in marriage other than commonplace one-male-one-female type unions? Why won’t you fight for Omar’s right to marry, too, especially given that (a) the Qur’an specifically permits a man to marry up to four women and (b) the First Amendment guarantees his freedom to exercise his religion, i.e., follow the Qur’an?
Well, you explain to Omar (freedom of religion aside—tough luck there, buddy) that the principle of equal protection doesn’t apply wholesale to every union under the sun that anybody might refer to as a “marriage.” Certainly, Omar is welcome to marry anytime—just like everyone else—provided he conforms to an “available” kind of marriage, so to speak. Some forms of marriage are officially recognized as such, others are not. And he simply can’t “marry” four women. He can have as many girlfriends as he wants to, but he can only “marry” one.
Now Omar asks you to define marriage in the sense in which it is constitutionally protected and how come his notion of marriage can be excluded without violating equal protection.
So you tell him that in our neck of the woods, marriage is a union between exactly two consenting adults, period, and that, although not explicitly stated, only and precisely this particular definition of marriage is implicitly enshrined as a civil right in our constitution. Marrying four women just isn’t included as an option in any definition of “marriage” which underlies any of our civil rights. Period. End of story. That’s just the way it is.
Yet since even ardent gay marriage proponents from the “gay marriage rights” camp seem to believe that any type of marriage except the “two consenting adults” variety can very well be outlawed without running afoul of equal protection, Omar quite understandably wants to know how exactly you’ve arrived at the conclusion that it is only and precisely the “two people” definition of marriage—rather than, say, “one man and one woman”—which so transpiciously radiates forth from between the constitutional lines such that anyone who sees a different definition radiating forth must be subjected to a civics lesson by Move On and Rachel Maddow.
At this point, I contend, you’ll have a real tough time justifying the “two people” definition of marriage beyond simply conceding that that’s the one you like the best. What else might you be basing it on?
Obviously, you need a clear definition of marriage in order to tell which types of unions are covered under equal protection and which aren’t. But if you consider the past to be a poor guideline for defining a present institution, you’re literally left with nothing save personal preference to determine what marriage “is.” Without basing your notion of marriage on the past, you might as well insist that marriage is a type of meringue, and no one could prove you wrong.
Trouble is, throughout recorded history, in all its myriad variations, marriage has included a union of male and female. This has been the defining feature of marriage since the dawn of civilization. Ranking common denominators of marriage through the ages, the number “two” as in ” exactly two spouses per marriage” comes in light years below the male-meets-female component.
Therefore, to merrily discard the latter as effectively irrelevant in terms of setting forth what marriage “is” while glomming on to “two” as the keystone element which defines marriage above all else raises the concept of arbitrariness to unprecedented heights. In fact, it doesn’t get any more backward than this. And then we’re in anti-miscegenation territory, where some individual or group just bangs their fist on the table and pronounces what marriage is and what it is not without backing it up with anything other than their own wishes expressed as ipse dixit (“I hereby declare marriage to be a union of one man and one woman of like ethnicity, and don’t bother me for a logical explanation as to how I’ve come by this definition—it just happens to be my favorite one”).
So all these people who robotically yelp out Loving v. Virginia thinking they’ve just deployed the most ingenious argument in favor of the “two people” definition of marriage automatically inhering our system of civil liberty, and who run around demanding that gays be granted their “constitutional” marriage “rights,” have the whole thing dangerously upside-down, I’m afraid.
There’s a reason the 13th Amendment was added: because blacks had had no constitutional rights before. And there’s a reason the 19th Amendment was enacted: because women’s voting rights had not existed prior to 1920.
The “two people” definition of marriage isn’t a bad one.
It’s just a new one.
And I fail to see how something new, no matter how fair and just and wonderful it may be, can be an already existing civil right.