Clarifying an Earlier Assessment

ConstitutionOne thing that’s thrown into sharp relief after a reading of a book like Al Franken’s wonderful Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right is the fact that there’s a dearth of left-wing commentators who can get as fired up as their right-wing counterparts. And it is harder to get folks irate about true injustice than to make up fake injustice. After all, with fiction, there’s no limit to what you can do. With that in mind, I’m going to do my part to fill that void, even if only by a little bit. I may not have a fraction of the audience of the conservative blowhards, but this pounding headache is giving me more than my fair share of self-righteous indignation.

A while back, I implied that those pushing to legislatively — even Constitutionally — bar same-sex unions were, and I quote, “nut jobs.” I was called on it, and in retrospect, it was probably an overly harsh generalization; by no means is everyone who merely opposes same-sex unions a “nut job.” I stand by my contention that there is no rational argument in favor of such a ban, and that those who make such arguments do so strictly on an irrational basis (and yes, the word “irrational” carries a connotation that I fully intend). But there is a world of difference between opposing something and making it illegal at the expense of others.

This is not to say that our system of law carries no influence from our “irrational” history. Much of what we have passed (and continue to pass) into law is without objective, rational origin. But over time, we have gradually moved to eliminate such subjective law, particularly on a Constitutional basis. Our collective values may have religious basis, but we are gradually recognizing those areas in which that basis is applicable only to a particular religious group (or set of groups), and not to an allegedly “free” society at large. I would argue that today, the lack of rational basis for our law is less insidious than law passed on a rational basis, but a rational basis diametrically opposed to that which is publicized; our stunningly idiotic national drug policy, for example — a set of laws explicitly designed to benefit certain industries at the expense of common sense — and scientific evidence. (To cite more recent examples, we have the illegal invasion of Iraq, the so-called “energy” pork bill, or the “screw-the-elderly” plot.)

With that in mind, I can find little to admire — or even understand — in the positions expounded by those proposing anti-gay marriage laws. Churches, private organizations, and the like are perfectly right to make decisions for themselves; after all, churches are societies dedicated to modeling certain behaviors they regard as “ideal.” To require them to sanctify — or even recognize — behaviors they regard as wrong would be ludicrous; as such, the Episcopal church’s decision to recognize a homosexual bishop is strictly an internal matter — a difficult and contentious issue for them, but not something affecting our legal system at large. As a society, however, we have an obligation not to make the decisions of churches or other affinity groups — or, more accurately, a small subset thereof — a matter of public policy. In other words, a vocal minority of society cannot be permitted to establish policy that unreasonably infringes on the rights of others. Private groups are perfectly free to use other methods of social ostracism to discourage certain behaviors (or, more often, certain people), but I’m just as free to call bigotry exactly what it is.

In an earlier entry, I debunked five of the most common so-called “rational arguments” against gay marriage, showing that each is completely meritless. I’ll take this opportunity to add a sixth: The institution of marriage is inextricably tied to the raising of families. Since homosexual couples are incapable of bearing children — at least in the traditional sense — their union is valueless. I feel bad that I even have to point this out, but since when is marriage synonymous with having children? By this logic, any marriage in which the couple is incapable of bearing children is null and void. Not to mention those couples who simply choose not to have children. Are these unions by definition invalid? If not, then this argument is logically false. On the other hand, if we are to take the position that marriage is a necessary precursor to childbearing, but that childbearing is not required, then bearing children out of wedlock must similarly be outlawed. This second position is equally false. Q.E.D.

Oddly enough, I find myself recommending George Will’s column of this past weekend for a perspective on the futility of such legislation. Will, of course, draws what I believe is the wrong conclusion toward the end, though he is valid in suggesting the direction our society — and, by extension, its legal system — may go should gay marriages (or civil unions, what have you) become legally accepted. He rightly points out that we may see a push toward legal recognition of certain rights for polygamous groups, for example. But whereas he provides this as an explicitly negative consequence, I think he’s off base. Again, short of the increase in bureaucracy resulting from keeping track of such arrangements, there is no rational argument against them. (I’d also encourage you to check out William Raspberry’s column today, in which he makes an interesting — though not convincing, even to him — point that the explicit legalization of gay marriage may be as unnecessary as its explicit prohibition.)

The funny thing about this is that it’s all head-in-the-sand reaction. Gay “unions” already exist. Hell, polygamous relationships exist. If the institution of marriage needs a law — or, hell, a damn Constitutional amendment — to protect it, then I think we’ve got bigger issues to worry about. And the whole distinction between “marriage” and “civil unions” is similarly ridiculous. If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck... I don’t know about you, but I’m calling it a duck. Your church doesn’t want to recognize it? Fine. You don’t even have to call it marriage. But to try to make the rest of us call it by something different just so you can feel comfortable... I never was too keen on “political correctness” — and that’s exactly what this is, only now it’s coming from the other end of the political field. Of course, by the same token, I can’t get as all-fired-up insistent that the legal definition use the word “marriage.” I may think it’s a stupid distinction — and I’ll happily mock those who insist on making it — but if the legal protections afforded a “civil union” are identical to those conferred by “marriage,” I’m willing to leave well enough alone.

Again, not everyone who objects to homosexual marriage is by any means a “nut job.” As much as I’d wish otherwise, mankind is all too rarely a rational being, so all the rational argument in the world isn’t going to win everyone over; we’ve been working on it since the time of Socrates, and we still keep hitting a wall. In the end, I think we’ll do better with gradual persuasion than dogmatic insistence. But those who go so far as to legislate irrationality? They’re getting pretty damned close to that line.

And those working toward a Constitutional amendment? Yeah, nut jobs. Card-carrying lunatics. No apologies. Deal with it. Now, some folks are hard to stick into this category; in today’s Post (and elsewhere), spy-buster Robert Novak covers the dilemma facing little George on this issue, but stops short of supporting the amendment himself (though he certainly implies that he endorses it). Others are far easier to peg. Glenn Stanton of “Focus on the Family”? Nut job. Matt Daniels of the “Alliance for Marriage”? Nut job. Republican (duh) Representative Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado (the aptly nicknamed “hate state”)? Nut job, as are Senators Wayne Allard (also of the hate state), Jeff Sessions (Darwin’s waiting room, Alabama), and Sam Brownback (Kansas... sorry, no semi-witty generalization there; I don’t really have anything against Kansas). Maggie Gallagher of the “Institute for Marriage and Public Policy” and hypocritically dubbed “intellectual flag-bearer” of the movement? Irrational, overtly anti-intellectual nut job. “Chuck” Colson of “Prison Fellowship Ministries”? Serious nut job. The “Arlington Group” folks — including James Dobson of the aforementioned “Focus on the Family,” Gary Bauer of “American Values,” William J. Bennett of “Empower America,” Tony Perkins of the “Family Research Council,” Sandy Rios of “Concerned Women for America,” Paul Weyrich of the “Free Congress Foundation,” and group founder Donald Wildmon of the “American Family Association”? Full-on, raving, drooling, worthy-of-incarceration-at-St.-Elizabeth’s nut jobs. Okay, all those quotation marks may be excessive, but note how they all pick seemingly innocuous, patriotic, family-friendly names for their little cabals? I suppose “Bigots for the Elimination of Civil Rights and Rational Thought” is a little too on-the-nose.

So I may not be helping the case against these idiots by going with such inflammatory, judgmental language instead of more reasoned arguments. But then again, they’ve already proven they’re incapable of rational argument. And sometimes, those advocating a position are so far beyond the realm of respected opinion that I have no choice but to call it like it is. These “nut jobs” are so reprehensible as to be unworthy of reasoned debate; I’d do just as well to argue with the dog crap I’m scraping off the bottom of my boot.

How’s that for fired up?


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