President Obama’s recent statement regarding his evolving opinion of “gay marriage” was a political act. I’m not terribly interested in the reasons he chose for making that political statement, as the political tactics of this issue frankly, don’t interest me.
There was, somewhat predictably, an eruption of noise surrounding the announcement. Most of that noise it seems revolves around the various electoral consequences of the Presidents statement. Again, this isn’t what interests me.
What does interest me grew out of the photo posted at the top of this entry. I am a sucker for witty one-liners and was initially quite taken by the symmetry of the images and the “wit” of the added text. Unfortunately, as my initial interest developed into a more long-term relationship with it, it succumbed to the same shortcoming that most of these “witty” signs do. At some level, they nearly always belittle the views of the people sharing a different opinion. This is unfortunate in the long run, as the logical point of any discussion or debate of issues is to reach either a compromise position or convince the other party of the merits of your viewpoint. Insult does nothing for either. Thanks to a friend from many years ago (Tina) for reminding me of this.
So, without the political implications and witty insults what is interesting about this argument? To me, it lies in the fact that the framework of the current debate finds echoes throughout American History. Advocates of “gay rights” are pursuing equal treatment under law in the same way that African Americans, women, other ethnic minorities (e.g. the Japanese) and other protected classes such as seniors have throughout history.
Nowhere in the current mainstream public debate have I seen a sufficient answer to this question: On what legal basis do we deny certain rights afforded other citizens to those who are acknowledged homosexuals? As we are a nation governed by the rule of law this it seems is the fundamental question we must answer. Ultimately questions about how we define marriage, whether we are horrified by homosexuality or indifferent to it, whether they should serve openly in the military or not, must be secondary to the one above. At worst they are distractors.
To my admittedly uneducated legal mind, the first section of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution becomes the controlling statute:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
In short, my answer has to be, regardless of your personal beliefs on what marriage is, how homosexuality makes you feel or what position your political ally or enemy of choice takes, we cannot continue to deny equal protection of the law to our citizens on the basis of sexual orientation. To do so under any pretense is to deny them a portion of their basic civil rights as Americans and history will judge us.