Omar and His Brides

By Cyberquill 12/15/201111 Comments

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.

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  • http://andreaskluth.org/ Andreas

    You’ve made a compelling case that … we should let Omar marry as many (consenting, adult) wives or husbands as he and they please. 

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

      Yep, under equal protection, there’s no rational way to justify abandoning the male+female gender combination while retaining the spouse count of “two.” If you toss one half of the traditional definition of marriage, you must toss the other, too.

  • http://cheriblock.wordpress.com/ Cheri

    The Judge and I were just discussing the Fourteenth Amendment the other night at dinner.
    Ya see. He just bought me a 20-guage Remington shotgun for my holiday gift. Seems to think that should I find an intruder in our home here in the middle of nowhere while he is away solving other peoples’ problems, all I will need to do is fire off a shot in the house. (This is what happens when one replaces a good old Rottweiler with a good young Labrador Retriever).

    Anyway, I wanted to go through the Amendments, especially the Second one.

    Sorry I am not really responding to your entertaining point here. Why don’t you also discuss Mormons and their rights?

    Al

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

      Congrats on your Remington. Now you can exercise your constitutional right to take arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them. 

      No need to discuss Mormons separately, for it’s the same issue, namely the question of what definition of marriage implicitly inheres our system of equal protection under the law such that it cannot be modified via popular vote. 

      I’d say Mormons have a marginally better case in the logics department, for it makes more sense to argue that marriage is a union of male and female irrespective of spouse count than it is to argue that marriage is a union of two people irrespective of sex. (“Is” in the sense of implicitly inhering our system of equal protection, as distinguished from “ought to be.”)

  • http://cheriblock.wordpress.com/ Cheri

    I am not Al.

    Your comments box acts odd. When I arrive at the bottom of the rectangle and there is no more room for text, I keep typing but can’t see it. Then I try to erase it. That’s why the Al is left.

    And now I can’t remember what the Al stood for. It’s tough getting old.

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

       Al stood for Allah. You were about to make a point about the Islamic definition of marriage. 

      No idea what happened to the scrollbar in my comments boxes. There used to be one, if I remember correctly. But I’m not sure. It’s tough getting old. 

  • jenny

    Logic and I, we are strangers.  As you know. 

    But, here is something I thought you might like: http://gretabyrum.com/files/UPL/index.html

    I am (or was) an R train girl, myself.

    Cheers!

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

      How wonderful. Some organization, posing as a harmless library project, encourages people to spy on their fellow citizens and report on their reading habits. That’s how it always starts. Labor camps will be next. Mark my words. God save the United States. 

      Why don’t I just do open threads from now on? .

  • ajn465

    I’m sure your haircut is totally awesome.
     Those words are not on Rachael’s t-shirt. She said them and they are superimposed over her picture through the use of modern technology. She is a very smart and congenial news commentator who is very diligent about checking her facts. When she states an opinion, it is made quite clear that it is one.
    What I can’t understand is why people get so riled up about other peoples’ personal lives and loves. Sorry to hear you don’t have one, though.

    Here’s a concept… when refining the prose of the Constitution (which was written by a group of surprisingly thoughtful white slave owners) let the litmus test be whether anyone is hurt by the interpretation. If we proceed from a standpoint of love, respect and tolerance; we can most certainly evolve past the original prose of the document while celebrating its true intent. Gay people tend to be very nice people. Why do we have to treat them so cruelly? Its not a disease or a mode of thinking which could brainwash you. It just is. Let ’em live and love and watch our nation’s feng shui  go through the roof! ;o)

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

      I never said those words were on Rachel’s t-shirt. Referring to a specific photograph, I said they were splattered across the nether regions of her cowboy shirt, which doesn’t exclude the possibility of those words having been superimposed at a later time through the use of modern technology. 

      Whether gay people are “nice” or not resides light years besides the point of my discussion, as does whether Rachel is a diligent fact checker who labels her opinions as such, and I don’t recall having held forth on other people’s personal lives and loves one way or another, let alone having gotten “riled up” about them. 

      I like your litmus test (although it’s difficult to implement, as opinions will often vary as to who exactly the injured party is, e.g., abortion), I’m very much into true spirits (which is why in this post I got all “riled up” about the way modern presidential elections are held), and, in an amendment added generations after those surprisingly thoughtful white slave owners had devised the original document, the Constitution now even specifically calls for equal protection under the law, which happens to be the starting point of my elaborations on this subject, as I am sure that those equal protection rights are precisely what Rachel was alluding to in those words superimposed upon her likeness.

  • Pingback: My Civil Right to Autosexual Marriage « Cyberquill()

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