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Monday, June 5, 2006
The Marriage Protection Amendment, Part II

This article examines a host of arguments for and against the amendment by discussing these questions: Is amending the Constitution something to avoid altogether? Is gay marriage good or bad for society? Is it wrong to legislate morality? Is gay marriage or homosexuality in general morally wrong? Is it a slippery slope?

This is Part II of a short series of articles on the Marriage Protection Amendment and, more broadly, the question of reinforcing or expanding the legal definition of marriage. Part I looked at the proposed amendment itself and some procedural details.

The United States Senate begins debate today on S. J. Res. 1, which would propose the Marriage Protection Amendment to the US Constitution, for ratification by the states (if the House also approves).

The proposed amendment would make the one man-one woman definition of marriage a matter of constitutional law nationwide and forbid state and federal judges to contrue the US Constitution or state constitutions as requiring states to allow gay marriages. Americans appear to support and oppose the Marriage Protection Amendment, and legalized gay marriage generally, for a variety of reasons. Some of these are religious, and some are sociological, political, philosophical, or something else entirely. Some of the reasons apply to this sort of proposition at other levels, such as in statewide initiatives or legislation, and some are unique to the process of amending the US Constitution. We should also note that some who favor gay marriage also oppose the amendment, for a variety of reasons.

Is Amending the Constitution Something to Avoid Altogether?

I'm ignoring the folks who think the Constitution is too sacred to amend when they oppose a particular amendment, but are eager to amend it in other ways at other times. But some people really think we should never amend it, no matter what the issue. I don't this view very seriously. Either these people think that the Constitution, once ratified, should never have been amended -- I'm too fond of Bill of Rights and the abolition of slavery to buy that -- or they are constitutional Luddites who believe that past amendments might have been okay up to a point, but we're not wise enough to do it safely now.

Others clearly think otherwise, but I happen to believe that the Founders were exceptionally wise and were divinely inspired -- but not that God himself wrote the United States Constitution. Please note that the Ten Commandments do not include a mechanism for amending them; the US Constitution does. That's the difference between omniscience on one hand and wise men who know their limits on the other.

Is Gay Marriage Good or Bad for Society?

There is research indicating the following:

  • The reported consequences of a decade of legalized gay marriage in Scandinavia include much higher rates of unmarried cohabitation and illegitmate births.
  • The more we tinker with the traditional definition of family, the more of our children wind up in jails and prisons.
  • The children of gay couples are 50 times more likely to suffer incest, twice as likely to be victims of domestic violence, and generally underperform other children in a host of developmental areas.
  • Only a small percentage of gays who are in ongoing relationships take advantage of gay marriage where it is available.
  • It is common for gays in long-term, "committed" relationships to have several other sexual partners in a year, suggesting that the "marriage" they seek is not really the sort of committed, monogamous relationship that is accepted as marriage among heterosexuals.

Proponents of the amendment may bolster their arguments with this research or even base their views upon it. Opponents have several options -- and probably some research of their own, too. They may:

  • Dismiss the aforementioned research as politicized pseudoscience -- as research designed to come to a foreordained conclusion to support a political position. There's certainly enough of that around these days. (Think global warming.) I am actually inclined mostly to believe the research, but I haven't studied the studies themselves or scientific responses to them and therefore cannot evaluate them.
  • Assert, for whatever reasons, that the American experience in these matters will be different than others'. I'm not sure why -- perhaps because we are morally superior (rather arrogant, definitely not PC), because we will learn from others' mistakes, or because once these folks are no longer oppressed by the rest of us, the bad behaviors will disappear. Socialists, Communists, proponents of nationalized health care, and teenagers who want the car keys are very good at believing such things. Everyone else has failed at . . . whatever . . . because they didn't do it right, but we would do it right, right? Or we ourselves will do things differently this time than we have done them before.
  • Assert that sexual freedom (which is what this is all about) is so fundamental that it should be granted regardless of the consequences to individuals or society. Don't just dismiss this argument out of hand. If you're going to reject it, fine. I do. But first consider that we use the same type of argument to justify a free society generally, not to mention most of our less controversial freedoms individually.

Of course, some will care little for the research, basing their belief that gay marriage is good or bad for society on religious principles, personal experience, personal desires, or just a gut feeling. The religious principles are the most controversial, but seem valid enough to me as a basis for political opinions. Ironically, the same crowd that is almost desperate to exclude religious people from the public square, because they might apply their principles to politics, is perfectly willing on this issue to argue that Jesus never said homosexuality was wrong, etc., etc.

Is It Wrong to Legislate Morality?

Shall we face facts? In almost every case, where one side charges the other with trying to legislate morality, both sides of an issue are attempting to use government to impose their moral will on society. This is no exception. Unusually, in this case some on both sides seem willing to rely overtly on moral arguments, but the notion that it is wrong to legislate morality survives in others' minds.

Look first at some of our basic criminal laws. Laws against murder are based upon the moral principle that murder is wrong. Likewise laws against rape and even shoplifting. We legislate morality all the time.

Some people on both sides of gay marriage argue that it's wrong for a majority of society to legislate its morality at the expense of a minority, or even that it is morally wrong to penalize people for acting out the way they were born (which is another complex and debatable issue).

I'm actually pleased to see the amendment's opponents and proponents making moral arguments, and at least one side considering whether imposing its own morality in this matter is necessary. It suggests that we're starting to be fully engaged in the debate, which is a good thing. Even in this divisive matter, in some ways the process matters as much as or more than the outcome.

Is Gay Marriage or Homosexuality in General Morally Wrong?

I happen to accept the position of my church of choice that homosexual activity is evil, but that homosexual inclinations or tendencies do not make a person evil. They are simply something to be resisted -- just as, in my view, heterosexual activity is evil outside of marriage, and temptations to engage in it illicitly are to be resisted. Others believe otherwise and are perfectly free to do so.

My position on these matters does not justify imprisoning, beating, or otherwise persecuting -- or even shunning -- a gay person. Nor do I think he or she should be disqualified from employment (as long as it's not used for recruitment) or participation in civic or other public activities. I think the aggressive public tactics of a small minority of gays are repugnant and inappropriate, but I believe I would think the same if heterosexuals engaged in comparable behavior. For that matter, there are other things which I find distasteful, but which I do not seek to ban: pro wrestling, acid rock, and that popular American Fork Steel Days event where a gaggle of guys spends the evening burning rubber in their hot, jacked up, I-must-be-compensating-for-something cars and trucks. There's no accounting for taste, and, more to the point, someone else's choices are not mine to make.

Is It a Slippery Slope?

Slippery slope arguments are often alarmist or even hysterical. When opponents of ordinances requiring people to clean up their garbage-filled front yards see visions of jackbooted fascists, I roll my eyes. But sometimes slippery slope arguments are appropriate, and one faction will go to great lengths to hide its intention to grease the slope.

There really are factions in the US and Europe (and probably elsewhere) who hope that legalized gay marriage will lead to legalized polygamy, legalized man-boy marriages, and so forth. But the real question, as regards gay marriage in the United States, is whether we may reasonably fear such results.

If I'm standing ten feet from the rim of the Grand Canyon, I might be perfectly safe in moving two feet closer to get a better picture. I really might never advance so far that my toes are hanging over the edge. If I am that stupid or absent-minded, or if the ten feet in front of me are significantly more hazardous that the eleventh foot where I'm standing, then the calculus changes.

How does this apply to gay marriage? I am not certain. On one hand, I think it's foolhardy to underestimate the potential depravity of a society. On the other, the polygamist and man-boy factions are very small minorities and are generally regarded, I think, as being repugnant and well beyond the pale. For that matter, I'm not certain that legalized gay marriage will have much effect either way on what I regard as the ongoing, comprehensive moral decay of modern civilization.

In Summary

My own tentative inclination has been to support the amendment -- once I had read it and judged it sensibly worded -- but to want to think it through carefully before taking a firm stance. For me the latter activity, in this case, leads almost automatically to blogging, as you may have noticed. (The intimate relationship of writing and thinking is a topic for another day.)

I have addressed here several major categories of arguments for and against the amendment. Few, if any, are simple or clear-cut. You may have found in the above list the one or two arguments which move you to take a firm position, or which explain why you have already taken a firm stance. That's fine. But I hope you also see ample room for others to think differently. Even if homosexuality is taken to be a black-and-white moral issue, that does not necessary imply that a particular Constitutional amendment is sound or effective policy.

So far, none of these arguments tips the balance for me. I hope you don't think I'm merely prolonging suspense for dramatic effect, but the next article has some additional views of the issue, and they don't tip the balance for me, either. (They do for a lot of people, probably, and that's okay.)

Specifically, the next article discusses a letter from LDS Church leaders to Church members in the United States (I am one) and also identifies several reasons why someone (not necessarily I) might rationally oppose both gay marriage and the Marriage Protection Amendment. As I said, its arguments don't tip the balance for me, either. We'll eventually get to what does, and in which direction, but we need to work at it a little more first.

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