First, let me thank Prof. Slavin for inviting me to contribute to the blog. I shall try not to be dull, and in that effort, I begin my blogging stint with a controversial topic, the Iowa Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
My take on same-sex marriage begins with my personal experiences with same-sex couples, and homosexuals in general. If the law treats them like second-class citizens, and my experience shows me that this is just not right, then I look to the law to make sense of why this treatment must be so. And I cannot find the justification.
The first time I met someone I knew to be gay was in the Navy. I met many during my service. On our boat, the presence of gay sailors was open and notorious, and no one cared. They did their jobs and stood their watches; nothing else mattered. It was the same on shore.
Another personal experience was with a particular couple. Before my wife Tara and I were married, we were acquainted with another unmarried couple. They were middle aged; one had chronic health issues. They had been together for many years and took good care of each other. It was obvious in everything they did that they were devoted to each other; that they were in love. They were also good friends to us.
Any successful relationship between two people living out their love to each other is a good example to all. It didn’t matter that our friends were unmarried, and it didn’t matter that they were two men. We were unmarried by choice, still sorting through the implications of marriage. Our friends were unmarried too, but not by choice. Their commitment to each other was certain. Day by day they lived out the vows they weren’t permitted to give legally—“for better or for worse, till death do us part.” In this they did far better than many ‘traditional’ couples. If they were guilty of a sin, it was by no means the worst: the sin of unregulated love.
Rather than harm our relationship, our friends’ good example, like those of our parents, gave us the confidence to make that lasting commitment to each other too. Tara and I did marry—almost 22 years ago. In our marriage, money, career, children, illness, Law School, these have challenged us. Whom our neighbors married—or even if they were married—has never been a concern.
So, after some 30 years of acquaintance with persons I knew to be gay or lesbian, my conclusion is “what IS the big deal?” I try to understand the arguments for prohibiting same-sex marriages, but to me, they just don’t hold water.
· Marriage is for procreation. Once maybe, but not for a long time. Since before the Constitution, marriages between people who cannot or will not have children were considered just as legitimate as those resulting in a pack of children. (I grew up in one of those packs.)
· Marriage is the cornerstone of society, culture, civilization. No argument there, but that does not preclude same-sex marriages from contributing to the stability of our culture.
· Marriage is traditionally between a man and a woman only. Well, not really. But, setting polygamy aside, is it legitimate to deny personal liberties on the basis of tradition alone? Adherence to tradition is voluntary, but the imposition of tradition is oppressive.
· Same-sex marriage threatens family values. Which values are those? Marital fidelity? Nope. Raising your children to be good persons? Nope. Keeping your family healthy and safe? Nope. Which one did I miss?
· A majority of Americans oppose same-sex marriage. I suppose so. I know a majority opposed racial equality too. And inter-racial marriage. At one time a majority opposed abolitionism and enfranchising women and Catholic Presidents. Fortunately our framers understood that individual rights (such as equal protection) are not subject to the fickle will of the majority.
· The Framers of our Constitution didn’t intend to legalize same-sex marriage. Probably true. They also probably didn’t intend to legalize semi-automatic fire-arms, political action committees, NATO, law school blogs, Social Security, or Medicare. And they probably didn’t realize that sexual orientation, left-handedness, and many other character attributes are not choices, but characteristics imposed on people by both nature and nurture. In any event, why do we suppose that the Framers intended our evaluation of this problem be cabined by their evaluations? Unlike many modern Americans, the Enlightenment generation who founded our Nation had a deep faith in progress and intellectual development. They honored the traditions that served them well, and spurned the rest. If they thought picking and choosing acceptable, why can’t we?
So, needless to say, I was gladdened to see that the Supreme Court of Iowa unanimously ruled on Friday that a statute prohibiting same-sex marriage violates the Iowa Constitution.
Critics have not been quiet, of course. “While I respect an individual’s right to live his or her life as they see fit, decisions like this are better left in the hands of legislators and governors.” (RNC Chairman Michael Steele) Government should not tell you how to run your business, but it should be able to tell you who you should marry? Why?
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) condemned the decision, saying Iowa may become a “gay marriage Mecca.” In this depressed economy, when Iowans see the kind of money that people spend on marriages, they may start advertizing their new marital opportunities.
“It’s, quite frankly, a disaster.” (Brian English, spokesman for the Iowa Family Policy Center). This is an odd disaster: no one injured, no property damage, no harm of any kind. This is the kind of disaster we need more of.
I am sure there are other rationales for prohibiting same-sex marriage, but they all seem to be different versions of arguments from tradition, or from religious practices, or from personal philosophies about law or culture. Some may appear persuasive—until you think of the good people who are relegated to second-class citizenship because of tradition, state-sanctioned religious views, or personal philosophies. The bottom line is that if my neighbors were two married men, it would not affect my marriage at all. If they had a dog that barked a lot, that would matter much, much more.