Friday, August 27, 2004

Same-Sex Marriage Debate A Question of Morals vs. Rights

In a society that espouses freedom from discrimination, is it reasonable to ban same-sex marriages? The question is a matter of reconciling personal beliefs with the notion of equal rights and democratic government. Many opponents to same-sex unions claim on biblical and moral grounds that the institution of marriage is only the union of a man and a woman. For proponents, equal rights is the centerpiece of the argument, as many seek the ordinary rights of individual liberty and equal protection that heterosexual Americans enjoy under the Constitution. Many other bans on marriages - notably interracial ones - have been upheld throughout the course of United States history, only to be seen as unconstitutional in later years. Are bans based on sexual orientation any different than ones based on race and other forms of prejudice?

Opponents fear the fate of marriage itself regardless of rights. “The sanctity of marriage” is the newest catch phrase in the fight against same-sex marriages, promoting only the union of a man and a woman. The question to be asked is what is a marriage. Is it the final step between two consenting individuals based on love for each other, no matter their orientation? Only recently have unions been based on love and commitment towards another; historically, marriages were based on stature and the production of an heir. With this in mind, a marriage is historically a man-made mechanism for ensuring procreation, as well as a modern means for enforcing monogamous relationships. This is not always the case, especially when couples are unable to have children, nor is it a necessary condition for either to occur.

The question is, does this model of marriage contradict our ideas of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?” In the State of the Union Address of 1948, President Harry S. Truman outlined succinctly the basic tenets of American principles:

The United States has always had a deep concern for human rights. Religious freedom, free speech, and freedom of thought are cherished realities in our land. Any denial of human rights is a denial of the basic beliefs of democracy and of our regard for the worth of each individual. Today, however, some of our citizens are still denied equal opportunity . . . some are denied equal protection under laws. Whether discrimination is based on race, or creed, or color, or land of origin, it is utterly contrary to American ideals of democracy.

Why should Americans who are not gay care about gay rights? Many argue that the movement for gay equality is central to the continuing defense of individual liberty in America. For the proponents of same-sex marriage, religious morality set into law undermines the purpose of American constitutional government: the protection of the individual's right to determine how best to live his or her life. What is perceived at stake is not the fate of the gay community, but the future of constitutional principle and the rights of free individuals in American society.

In a pluralistic society based on the premise of the separation of church and state, there does not seem to be a conflict between morals and rights. After all, a civil union does not need the blessing of the church. Yet, much like a drivers license, a marriage license is a privilege bestowed by the governing state. It is not a right, however, mandated by the Constitution or other such document. The act of marriage is not even a God-given right – it too is a privilege blessed by God Himself, or rejected should that be the case. In either case, the question is often asked: is there anyone that objects to the two being joined together in holy matrimony. As is its right granted by the federal government – and thus mandated by the people – in the matter of civil unions, the state has a right to object to same-sex marriages.

©2004 Steve Sagarra

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