I’m going to do the Questions column next, but I promised some people who were at my event last night with Frank Stacio I’d write this first. At the end of our talk in Raleigh, I gave my four or five minute position on same-sex marriage, and started a hullabaloo – of the good kind, as the people in attendance asked me to post something on the topic. So next week it’s Ask That Haven Person, this week, a pressing concern. (Frank, if you have any memory what segued into that discussion of same-sex marriage I’d be obliged.)
I’ve refrained from discussing the same-sex marriage movement because I tend to respect the sensibilities of the religious (even when they’re blindingly wrong), and because I’m not a legislator – I only know what is clear to anyone with a working understanding of constitutional law, or even to someone with a television-based understanding of the judicial system. But recently I’ve realized there are two types of people who believe they have any ground to stand on in opposing same-sex marriage: those who honestly don’t understand the elements at work (they’re genuine, and genuinely confused), and the grotesquely cynical. The cynical – and these are people who understand exactly why their campaigns are illegal, unethical, and not in keeping with the stewardship they righteously claim – far outnumber those who don’t understand the nature of the debate. That isn’t new, of course; each time in our history such a matter needed to be repaired, the brutes and the liars and the corrupt rose up and tried to obscure the vision of their constituency with base appeals to fear, to sentimentality, and patriotism. The irony escapes no one that left to his or her own devices, these are the same bigots who would destroy the actual foundation of this country.
“The preservation, propagation, and perpetuation of slavery is the vital and animating spirit of the National Government . . . slavery, slave-holding, slave-breeding, and slave-trading have formed the whole foundation of the policy of the Federal Government.”
– John Adams (Quoted in Kossuth, by Wendell Phillips)
If you find it disingenuous that I would bring up the government’s romantic claim to the necessity and sanctity of slavery in this discussion, then perhaps you fall under the category of the genuinely confused. In fact, the Constitutional amendments that ended slavery and guaranteed the civil rights of all Americans ARE the issue here.
The XIII Amendment, which abolished slavery, was ratified in 1865. The XIV, ratified July 9, 1868, reads (Section 1):
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Go ahead and read the rest of the Constitution. What you won’t find there is any suggestion that “marriage” is Constitutionally protected; that marriage is defined by particular gender parameters; or that the system now in place is promised to anyone, let alone one man and one woman. So let’s get that out of the way right now.
The Constitution of the United States does not declare marriage to be the fundamental right of any set of citizens.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that in the states same-sex marriage has been legalized, no Constitutional Amendment was necessary or called for. Blinding in its self-evidence, that’s because there is nothing to amend.
Abolition, women’s suffrage, the rights of freed slaves to vote, the right of black Americans to marry, the right of black and white Americans to marry: the Civil Rights movement proceeded on a simple and clear argument. If the government establishes rights and privileges and grants them to one group of people while denying them to all, the government is in violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and is acting illegally.
Your personal beliefs about homosexuality, about the sanctity of one man/one woman unions – your religious affiliation, what you were taught, the notions with which you are most comfortable, your reading or misreading of the Bible: none of these are of the slightest issue. I’m sorry, but they are not. You are welcome to hold your beliefs as dear; you are welcome to rail about people different from you as much as you wish. If the government establishes rights and privileges and grants them to one group of people while denying them to all, the government is in violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and is acting illegally.
Organizations seem to have a gift for walking through their ranks and zeroing in on a person whose jaw is both hinged and loose. The flappy-jawed representative is then sent out to further pollute and tangle our major news organizations – news organizations that should be focusing on a single issue in regards to this question – by spouting nonsense, campfire rhetoric about how gay marriage will imperil heterosexual marriage. The power of gay marriage to do so isn’t logical, practical, or reasonable, but imagining for a moment the nonsense contained a shred of truth? If the government establishes rights and privileges and grants them to one group of people while denying them to all, the government is in violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and is acting illegally.
Perhaps you labor under the mistaken impression that the rights and privileges in question are trifling, compared to your personal feelings. Let’s begin with the tax-break given to married couples, and the widespread practice of insurance companies to lower car insurance premiums the moment an individual becomes a two-some. Those are Big Wrapped Gifts, and they are available to only a certain group of people. The default inheritance right – the inheritance of both property and liquid wealth: Big Wrapped Gift. The ability of a married couple to make life and death decisions for one another in lieu of a Living Will, or power of attorney: Merry Christmas, heterosexuals! Equal weight given to both partners when questions of custody and child support arise; indeed, the very idea that two people raising a child since birth deserve equal protection when issues of custody and child support become critical: just one group. But from my point of view, here is the big one. Married couples are privileged when it comes to immigration, and if you think that doesn’t matter? Ask a privileged couple with children what would happen if a Straight Prop 8 were to pass, invalidating their marriages, thus causing one of the two to be deported back to a native country. Immigration is the huge present, sent by the Federal government; so big it’s like waking up to a bow-wrapped new mini-van in the driveway. Heterosexual couples are given all of this if they marry drunk in Vegas, if they marry under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church, if they marry and divorce eight times. If the government establishes rights and privileges and grants them to one group of people while denying them to all, the government is in violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and is acting illegally.
Watch those governors in the few states who have legalized gay marriage. They don’t make long-winded speeches, they don’t offer eloquent reflections on how Only Love Makes A Family. They appear to be ignoring their own legislators, and the group in the public square with pitchforks and torches. They simply sign a document that grants the same rights and privileges to all, and with that signature they cease behaving illegally. I find it very interesting to see those leaders brave enough to protect the Constitution and in doing so save the United States entire.
And for those of you who “weren’t raised that way,” or who conclude your argument against gay marriage by saying that’s just how you “feel,” you have a right to speak your mind. But let me tell you something the loose-jawed marionettes aren’t saying. If the United States continues to violate the civil rights of a vast number of its citizens, those citizens will suffer in the short-term, but you will lose in the end. If the regressives and religious conservatives push this far enough, the only option will be for the State to exit the marriage game all together, and THEN we will have achieved parity. We will all need attorneys to draw up civil unions, contracts that grant us legal rights in medical emergencies and default inheritance of wealth and property. Tax breaks will be a thing of the past. Your privilege will be a thing of the past, and where you’ll find yourself is in a church, desperately trying to make sacred what is no longer your sacred American right. But you won’t be lonely – there’ll be countless thousands of gay couples doing exactly the same thing, with the same results. So really, Focus on the Family, it’s your call.