The right constantly stresses the belief in ‘American greatness’ and American Exceptionalism without putting its money where its mouth is. It lauds America for its tolerance while not just condoning, but worse, actively encouraging—if not fomenting—intolerance. The right emphasizes that homosexuals are not entitled to “special” rights—which is simply nothing more than euphemistic language justifying the deprivation of fundamental rights to a rather sizable minority population within this country. Is the right to live free from discrimination a “special” right or is it a right that should be afforded to every single person, citizen or otherwise, living within this country? Is the right to marry the person one loves to be viewed as exceptional? Is the right of marriage so exceptional as to only be afforded to heterosexual couples? Can marriage truly be defined, as it is in Merriam-Webster Dictionary, as “the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law”? Or should marriage be simply defined as “the state of being united to a person as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law”?
I ask these questions in order to determine what really defines marriage. Isn’t marriage like so many other things, simply whatever society deems it to be? It is, like race, a social construction. You see, the right’s dirty little secret is that it understands this fact but doesn’t give a damn about its denial of reality. Traditionally, for example, people could be expected to marry within their own racial group. This “tradition” of intra-racial marriage, however, did not stop the United States Supreme Court from striking down restrictions on interracial marriage between two consenting adults in Loving v. Virginia in 1967. Moreover, tradition did not stop the Court from overturning Bowers v. Hardwick in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas, holding that consenting homosexual adults, as a fundamental matter, have a constitutionally-protected right to engage in sexual intercourse.
Quite simply, the Court in Bowers denied what the right still denies today—that matters concerning “Gay Rights”—i.e. the right to be free from discrimination based upon sexual orientation, the right to freely engage in homosexual sexual relations, and the right to marry a member of the same sex—are resisted so interminably by conservatives in this country purely because they wish to uphold traditional, that is, Christian values. But before members of the right depart with the separation of Church and State, they should ask themselves honestly, “would we feel the same way if this nation were not a ‘Christian country’?” The funny thing about secularism is that it doesn’t matter to the right because the right doesn’t fear its own extinction. Since extinction of the right is not a feasible political reality, the right need not worry about such secular funny talk. At the end of the day the right is left with nothing but their Christian values and ignorance—which is driven by homophobia on its face—to rely upon as justifications for depriving the homosexual community of the right to marry. The right would say that marriage is a legal institution that, at its core, serves the purposes of procreation. But this cannot be true as a matter of logic because people who have no desire and/or ability to have children are still afforded, as a matter of law, the right to marry. No one questions this.
Furthermore, the right is not advancing a compelling, substantial, nor even a legitimate rational state interest by desiring to prevent homosexuals from marrying their partners. Even if one adheres to the outdated view that homosexuality is a disease or believes that homosexual relationships pose a threat to the public health because they are more likely to result in the contraction and, thus, the spreading of HIV, preventing homosexual marriage would do nothing to serve the State’s public health interest, even if the concern were legitimate (which it clearly is not). Homosexuality would not be “cured” as a result of refusing the right of marriage to gays, nor would the denial of a right to marry prevent gays from contracting HIV. The denial of a marriage right does nothing more than deny homosexual men and women the opportunity to validate their relationships to each other and the country in a very meaningful, highly personal way. More important, the denial of a marriage right is a clear repudiation of homosexual legal equality. What is left to see is that the right (along with a fair share of centrist Democrats) denies homosexuals their right to marry out of spite and ignorance, which only further perpetuates spite and ignorance. The current treatment of homosexuals in this country amounts to an illegal punishment based solely on their status as homosexuals. Contrary to what the right asserts, homosexuals are punished for who they are, not what they do.
The right denies fundamental rights to a minority population based upon religious conviction and a desire to maintain the integrity of marriage. Only bigots, tyrants, and barbarians deny fundamental rights to minority populations because of their immutable characteristics; characteristics that they misguidedly view as conclusive differences. The Nazis denied the equality of the Jews in this way, maintaining the purity of the German race by exterminating them. The segregationist denied the equality of African-Americans in this way, protecting the integrity of the races by criminalizing interracial marriage. And the modern-day right proves to be the fitting bedfellows of the Nazis and the segregationists, in promoting Christian morals by acting in direct contradiction to any respectable notion of morality. Pretty bad company, eh?
So I am calling the right’s bluff. If this country is truly as tolerant and exceptional as the right claims it to be, then the right should come out (no pun intended) in favor of tolerance and equality by advocating for the legalization of same-sex marriage. But the right is too frightened to do so. I ask conservatives to please prove me wrong. I want them to prove me wrong, though I doubt they will.
It is sad that more than forty years have passed since Loving v. Virginia declared that marriage is a fundamental right and the same arguments are advanced by parties in justifying differential treatment of similarly-situated individuals. All that has changed are the individuals affected and the “negative” trait that drives their mistreatment. Currently, with the nonexistence of a tolerant right, progressives must look to the courts (and occasionally state legislatures) to uphold the rights of all Americans, rather than just the backward-thinking straight ones!
Nevertheless, there is hope as values change and, indeed, definitions change. Merriam-Webster Dictionary, tellingly, has added a second definition in recent years under the entry of “marriage,” defining the term as “the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage.” While recognition of same-sex marriage is certainly better than non-recognition, it is not good enough. This definition too is flawed because its emphasis, like that of the dictionary’s first marriage definition, is based upon a “traditional” understanding of marriage. Yet, marriage is not about tradition at all, but, instead, is solely based upon unity of two consenting adults in a contractual relationship recognized by law.
Though I do wish the political realities of our time were different and do look forward to the day when everyone in this country, gay or straight, receives equal protection of the laws, I applaud Iowa and Vermont for truly upholding the values that the right claims this country stands for. As the Iowa Supreme Court puts it: “the right of a gay or lesbian person under the [law] to enter into a civil marriage only with a person of the opposite sex is no right at all.” So once again, Iowa and Vermont I thank you as a progressive, as a human rights advocate, as a straight man who cannot begin to understand what it is like to be an “outcast” with regard to his sexual orientation, and as an American for helping to make American Exceptionalism more than a platitude; thank you for helping to make it a reality.