Editor’s note: James Williamson, one of my younger brothers, an Ohio native, currently resides in Nevada. I’m thankful that he wants to contribute material to the blog when I’ve been too busy with grad school to keep the site updated. –DJW
Marriage: Right or Privilege?
Recently the President of the United States of America “evolved” in his views on same sex marriage (some would say “flopped”…) While the announcement was not entirely unexpected the timing of it (shortly after the North Carolina vote on the marriage amendment) seems rather odd. For a campaign that supposedly is transitioning into general election mode the President seems to be spending a lot of time trying to rally his base still. While this subject would be sufficient for a lengthy blog in and of itself I’d like to focus on something very specific that the President said in his “evolved” (flopped) position: the President referred to marriage as a “civil right” and implied that same sex couples should be extended that right.
This is of particular interest to the states because, as the President noted, it is an issue that the states have been deciding. The President (for now) has said he will leave that to the states. There are two things that president has done that lead me to believe that this is only a temporary situation. The first is the refusal to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) the second is the declaration that it is a “civil right” to marry.
First let’s define a right.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (Declaration of Independence)
Thomas Jefferson would probably curdle modern liberals blood if he were alive today. The audacity of declaring that rights are given by our “Creator” and not by government! The only thing that could make that statement more offensive in the eyes of the secular would be the use of the word “God”… But there it is in plain English. A right is given by God, not by government. (I said it… are you offended now?) It is something that governments cannot take away, because when they do they set themselves up for failure as Thomas Jefferson points out in the next phrases of the Declaration of Independence:
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
So a right is something that is given by God, meant to be protected (not abrogated) by government, and extended to everyone. Notice that Thomas Jefferson does not attempt to make a complete list. He even implies that there are more by using the phrase “among these…”
Typically civil (or even individual) rights are guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America. The first ten amendments almost entirely dealt with such rights (hence the name “bill of rights”). James Madison is often called the father of the Constitution, being the principal author of it. James Madison was a federalist and believed that the bill of rights was not necessary because the Constitution itself (un-amended) implied such rights. Furthermore, he believed that if you enumerated those rights that the government would limit recognition to only those rights. In other words, if you create a list then you are limited to that list. John Jay, an anti-federalist and a promoter of the bill of rights, argued that if you didn’t enumerate rights the government would not recognize any of them and the public would eventually be forced to cede those rights. In other words, if there isn’t a list then they don’t exist. As a compromise between the two parties the anti-federalists agreed to support the ratification of the Constitution and the federalists agreed to support the passage of the bill of rights. Both parties kept their end of the bargain and the marriage (pardon the pun…) was complete. (Hardly comparable to “compromise” in today’s government…)
So does marriage fall into this category? Do people have a right to marry? Thomas Jefferson (and I will agree) said that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are rights. Some may argue that marriage essential to all three of these. I am going to take the opposite approach. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are essential to the institution of marriage.
Before we go further I would like to differentiate between a religious wedding and a civil wedding. The terms are not interchangeable. Here in the United States the government allows religious authorities to perform marriages. This is not so in many other countries. In many other countries of the world you must be married by a justice of the peace or some sort of civil officer for the government to recognize your marriage and give you legal standing. By the same token many churches do not recognize a civil marriage as binding before God. Today I am discussing civil marriages and will limit my arguments to it.
No other creature in the animal kingdom formalizes the union of mates the way man does. (OK so not being able to speak or write poses something of a barrier…) Why did society decide that this was necessary when all other animals simply initiate their courtship and consummate it in their own way? Some animals mate for life (most notably birds) and others mate at will with multiple partners (dogs, cats, etc.). Some fathers stay with the family to protect their young (amazon river otters), some leave the young to the mothers (cats), and some don’t have much involvement at all from either parent (sea turtles). Regardless of the method of caring for their young all members of the animal kingdom perpetuate the species and have done so successfully for thousands (millions, billions, whatever your belief is) of years.
Why is this observation important? It is important because marriage is about perpetuating the species. It always has been and always will be. Society has always been concerned about the welfare of children because they are the future of the species. If you do not care for and properly prepare children to be productive members of society then society suffers maladies that are difficult to cure. Civil law concerning marriage and family relationships if examined closely is much more concerned with the children than the spouses. Even in cases where alimony is paid, the presumption is that the wife has dedicated her time to rearing children and therefore not able to provide her own sustenance because those skills require time and effort to develop and are often precluded by child rearing.
I have heard the argument that marriage has been historically about economic union rather than love and affection. I can partially agree with that. What was the goal of the economic union though? It was not self-fulfillment, it was to provide for the children with a hope for a better life for them than the parents enjoyed.
Now we live in a time when people are confused as to what marriage is all about. Since child rearing has become much easier with modern inventions like washing machines, gas/electric cook stoves, electric light, indoor plumbing, etc. it is possible for one parent to provide for the physical needs of a child. This was infinitely more difficult to do for a person who was not wealthy 150 years ago. This has led some to advocate that a father and a mother are no longer necessary to raise a child. (This is another topic that could spawn many more blogs…) Consequently, some erroneously conclude that marriage is about couples that love and care for each other and that two people of the same gender should be able to enjoy the same legal privileges granted to opposite gender couples. The problem with that is that marriage is not about the couples: it’s about the children. Society has not been concerned with same sex relationships because they cannot produce children.
Well, what about all the couples in the world that never had children? There are always going to be exceptions. Some couples don’t want or cannot have children, but most heterosexual couples can and do have children. Same-sex couples cannot. Same sex parents are a modern phenomenon and an artificial creation of society. At least one parent must relinquish custody of a child for such families to exist. Short of cloning (I won’t get into this topic here) it requires a man and a woman to produce a child. It requires heterosexual relationships of some form or another to perpetuate the species. We now have technology today that confuses that fact because we can fertilize a human egg cell in a test tube or in vitro. That does not change the fact that a female (egg) and a male (sperm) donor are required to produce offspring. Heterosexual intercourse is the natural method of reproducing. It is the method that has been used for the entire history of civilization until the late 20th century. Even in societies where same-sex intercourse was popular prior to the 20th century (Greece, Rome) those who wanted children married someone of the opposite sex to form a family.
So to recap, marriage is about life (perpetuating the species), liberty (the choice to reproduce or not), and the pursuit of happiness (the joy of raising children). The proper relationship, though, is that these rights underpin the institution of marriage, not the other way around. No, Mr. President marriage is not a right. It is a legal institution that affords privileges for those that perpetuate (or have the potential to perpetuate) the species. I personally would rather see civil marriages abolished altogether than to watch its intended purpose twisted beyond recognition.