I’m Sorry, I Thought This Was America! | Volume I, Gay Marriage
September 13, 2010 Leave a comment
James Sasso, Associate Editor
For those of you who are familiar with South Park (especially you religious watchers like me who can quote many of the show’s lines from its 14 seasons), the title of this editorial series, concerning the numerous hypocrisies of American politics, should be familiar. For those who don’t get the reference, don’t worry. Just take it as is; read, and you will understand.
Part I: Legality
As America must know by now, Federal Judge Vaughn Walker recently overturned Proposition 8, which, prior to the ruling, made homosexual marriages illegal in the State of California. There are those who saw this as an affront to democracy: What gives a judge, not even a member of the Supreme Court, the right to disregard the wishes of a majority of citizens? After all America is a democracy, right?
Wrong! America is actually in very few senses of the word a democracy. As every political science major and, hopefully, every high school student who has taken a Civics class (or something like it) knows, the American government was established in hybrid form; a Republic-Democracy. In this very clear, albeit often overlooked, distinction that we find one of the major reasons why Judge Walker had the right to overrule Proposition 8. In a democracy, the people rule directly. Every citizen technically holds equal political weight, which means that the majority always rules since there can be no one power in the minority opinion with sufficient political power to outvote or override the majority.
Obviously America does not operate as a pure democracy. In fact, when one looks back at documents from the founding of America, including the famous Federalist Papers, it becomes clear that the patriarchs of America all agreed upon limiting the tyranny of the majority. While they concurred that a government needed to be “for the people, by the people,” the founding fathers had the foresight to realize that majority opinions, in and of themselves, have the tendency to usurp the rights of, or ignore the well being of, those in the opposition. Since the founders desired to build a government based on Enlightenment principles of liberty and rights, they realized that multiple checks against the potential tyranny of the majority must be built into the American Experiment. And as such, the unique American system of government, with both its Republican and Democratic aspects, can neither operate with full power to the people or with representatives who have no need to answer to the public.
But it is precisely this system of shared powers, of checks and balances, that permits a judge to invalidate the wishes of the majority when it appropriates the right of a less powerful minority. In the case of Proposition 8, a coalition of people who thought they were defending the so-called “sacred” word, “marriage,” managed to get a majority of Californians to vote against allowing gays the same right to marry as straights. Where is the justification for taking away such a right? What wrong had the minority of homosexuals done to garner a limitation on their rights to life and liberty? Nothing, except differ from the majority.
Judge Walker’s decision held such power because he did not make his argument from a purely moral stance. In fact, he used the California State Constitution to point out that the Government of California has an obligation to provide all people with the same personal rights. In instance after instance he disproved the arguments of the defense not simply by calling their stance immoral, but by using legality to show that homosexuals do indeed have the right to marry. In essence he found that legally, because marriage does not necessitate procreation and homosexuals have the same ability to raise children as heterosexuals, gay marriage and heterosexual marriage are no different.
This legal justification isn’t limited to California. A quick look at the American Constitution and its modern interpretation, one finds obvious reason to allow gay marriage nationally. The famous 14th Amendment (in its language) gives all citizens, in all states, the same basic rights to live as one best sees fit so long as it does not interfere with the life, liberty and property of another. All citizens have equal protection of these rights. The government, being secular, cannot impose moral or religious beliefs on its people without an accompanying purpose; Judge Walker could find no such purpose in Proposition 8.
In a sense, the Constitution provides people with a right to privacy (or, if you want to get fancy, the Constitution contains a penumbral rights that provide “zones of privacy”), and the government cannot interfere with the decisions of an individual unless it views those decisions as harmful. Enter the morality debate.
Part II: Morality
Those opponents of gay marriage argue that gay parents cannot be good parents, that their children will be ridiculed and that a child will suffer from growing up in such an “unnatural” environment. Where is the proof of any of this? In fact, I know kids with gay parents, and they seem to have turned out better than the rest of us. Plus, in today’s world, children are taught not to ridicule people for being different. Generations Y and Z are noticeably less likely than previous generations to taunt or tease a person for any sort of perceived difference, whether it be race, retardation, religion or sexual preference.
Furthermore, what exactly makes homosexual parents so unnatural? What about divorce? Is that natural? Is it natural to grow up with a single parent working three jobs who cannot be both present and a provider? Wouldn’t those children rather have more than one parent with a more stable life? I would argue that the epidemic of single mothers in the inner city is much more troubling than any perceived threat from homosexual parenting.
The modern world is changing, and the family structure is changing along with it. Mothers now work more often than they stay at home, and fathers are not always the breadwinners of a family. Look at my familial bracket; I have four parents. Four! Who says that’s natural? It certainly goes against the classical definition of child-rearing: the nuclear family. Yet, in all my unnatural rearing, I have never been ridiculed. And how about separation? In some estimates, the percentage of marriages that end in divorce has jumped to over 50; divorce has become so commonplace that people no longer see it as an invariably bad thing. Society changes, and its members evolve to adapt to that society. And if society can change, surely classical definitions can change.
People argue that the sacred rite of marriage should exist only between a man and a woman, that anything else will drain the already weakened status of marriage. Marriage equality’s opponents believe that opening the doors to gay marriage will cripple the idea of marriage and “the family” so much that couples will have children increasingly out of wedlock (and raise them in tandem) without ever choosing to marry.
First of all, this seems unlikely. Today’s youth will not see the allowance of gay marriage as a blow to the “ideal of marriage;” instead, they will see it as proper because it fulfills the Constitution and the American ideal of equality. Second of all, maybe the type of situation in which one is reared does not matter, so long as both parents are stable, active, present and loving parties.
If marriage is meant to continue the human race, then it should mean nothing more than an ability to raise children well. In the modern world, homosexual couples have ample opportunity either to birth their own children (through in vitro fertilization or surrogate motherhood) or to adopt. In both cases, they continue the human race either by adding to its numbers or by cultivating a productive member of society.
So America the hypocritical, America the hypocrisy, where is equality for all? Where is the protection for minorities laid out in the Constitution? Yes, homosexuals are different from the straight majority, but that should not matter. America has made long strides to rid itself of other inequalities through the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights Movement, among others. Homosexuals are definitively part of American society and, thus, definitively deserve the same rights as other Americans. After all, I thought this was America!