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From the beginning, the debate over "same-sex marriage" has been one of those topsy-turvy issues in which the side that is truly tolerant and fair has been characterized as narrow-minded and oppressive, while the side that is intolerant and blatantly coercive has been depicted as open-minded and sympathetic.
Favoring government-enforced recognition of same-sex "marriage" is not, as the media invariably characterize it, a kindly, liberal-minded position, but instead a fierce, coercive, intolerant one. Despite their agonized complaints about the refusal of the majority of Americans to give in on the subject, those who advocate government recognition of same-sex "marriage" want to use coercion to deny other people their fundamental rights.
The issue, it's important to remember, is not whether society will allow homosexuals to "marry." They may already do so, in any church or other sanctioning body that is willing to perform the ceremony. There are, in fact, many organizations willing to do so: the Episcopal Church USA, the Alliance of Baptists, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Unity School of Christianity, the Unitarian Universalists, the Swedenborgian Church of North America, the Quakers, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, and the United Church of Christ, among others. Such institutions either explicitly allow the consecration or blessing of same-sex "marriages" or look the other way when individual congregations perform such ceremonies.
No laws prevent these churches from conducting marriage ceremonies—and nearly all Americans would agree that it is right for the government to stay out of a church's decision on the issue. Further, any couple of any kind may stand before a gathering of well-wishers and pledge their union to each other, and the law will do nothing to prevent them. Same-sex couples, or any other combination of people, animals, and inanimate objects, can and do "marry" in this way. What the law in most states currently does not do, however, is force third parties—individuals, businesses, institutions, and so on—to recognize these "marriages" and treat them as if they were exactly the same as traditional marriages. Nor does it forbid anyone to do so.
An insurance company, for example, is free to treat a same-sex couple (or an unmarried two-sex couple) the same way it treats married couples, or not. A church can choose to bless same-sex unions, or not. An employer can choose to recognize same-sex couples as "married," or not. As Richard Thompson Ford noted in Slate, "In 1992 only one Fortune 500 company offered employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners; today hundreds do."
In short, individuals, organizations, and institutions in most states are currently free to treat same-sex unions as marriages, or not. This, of course, is the truly liberal and tolerant position. It means letting the people concerned make up their own minds about how to treat these relationships. But this freedom is precisely what the advocates of same-sex "marriage" want to destroy; they want to use the government's power to force everyone to recognize same-sex unions as marriages whether they want to or not.
The effects of such coercion have already been felt in some places. Adoption agencies, for example, like any other organization, ought to be able to choose whether to give children to same-sex couples, or not. But in Massachusetts, where same-sex "marriage" has been declared legal, these agencies have been forced to accept applications from same-sex couples or go out of business.
What's at issue here is not whether people can declare themselves married and find other people to agree with them and treat them as such. No, what's in contention is whether the government should force everyone to recognize such "marriages." Far from being a liberating thing, the forced recognition of same-sex "marriage" is a governmental intrusion of monumental proportions.
Although pro-homosexual radicals continually refer to the forced recognition of same-sex "marriage" as a civil right, as well as a matter of liberating society from hidebound prejudices, such policies are actually the government-enforced imposition of a small group's sexual values on a reluctant and indeed strongly resistant population. That's why nearly all of the moves to legalize same-sex "marriage" have come from the courts, not the democratic process. After all, court cases would not be necessary if the public already agreed with the radicals.
This was made clear in the California Supreme Court's recent ruling that the state constitution's equal protection clauses mean that individuals have a fundamental "right to marry" whomever they choose and that gender restrictions in marriage are thus unconstitutional. The court, Republican-dominated and previously known as moderately conservative, voted by a slim 4—3 margin that sexual orientation would have to be treated just like race and sex in the state's laws. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Ronald M. George declared,
Our state now recognizes that an individual's capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual's sexual orientation. An individual's sexual orientation—like a person's race or gender—does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.
The court ruled that the state's law approving "domestic partnerships" for same-sex couples was not enough—only official recognition as marriage would do.
Note these words in the court's decision: "Our state now recognizes." Actually, the state did no such thing; the court did it for them. The decision struck down Proposition 22, a ballot measure approved by 61 percent of the state's voters in the year 2000, which stated that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California." Thus, four judges decided to impose their personal views over the people's clearly expressed will, shown powerfully in the state referendum. Nor does their decision reflect a changed social atmosphere. The issue will remain in contention through the November elections, as the ballot in California will include an initiative to amend the state constitution to prohibit the government from recognizing same-sex "marriages."
What that would mean, of course, is not that Californians would be barred from "marrying" people of the same sex, but that they could not use the government to force other individuals, businesses, and institutions to recognize those "marriages."
As this case shows, the people who seek to "impose their values" on others are those who support government recognition of same-sex "marriage," not those who oppose it.
Moreover, it is not correct to argue that government recognition of two-sex marriages is unfair or oppressive. If proponents of same-sex "marriage" ask why the government should be allowed to require people to acknowledge traditional two-sex marriages, the answer is simple: It does not. The institutions of society acknowledge heterosexual marriages on the basis of historical and cultural preferences dating back millennia. The government didn't decide this; society did. Government recognition of traditional marriage was not a change forced upon society, but rather a legal codification of what society had already established.
Moreover, even homosexuals agree that marriage is a valid institution. They confirm this powerfully by trying to alter the institution through force of law so that same-sex couples can be included in it. The key difference between traditional marriage and same-sex "marriage," however, is that the government, in acknowledging heterosexual marriage, does not force anything on society; it merely effects the enforcement of a contract that all—or nearly all—people accept as valid and sensible. Same-sex "marriage," by contrast, is not seen as such by most people; forcing individuals to recognize it is not the legal codification of an existing social reality, but instead a radical social change forced by a few on the many.
A Pew Research Center Survey released earlier this year noted in its title that "Most Americans Still Oppose Same-Sex Marriage." The survey reported that 55 percent of Americans oppose "allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally," while only 36 percent support such a policy. A table in the report noted that "Most Groups Oppose Gay Marriage," though the study observed that poll respondents approved of allowing civil unions for same-sex couples by a 54—42 percent margin. Clearly, this suggests that most Americans are willing to allow same-sex couples to formalize their relationships in some way, but they don't want to be forced to change the definition of marriage to include them.
A Sea Change
Even fewer people would support same-sex "marriage" if the full implications of laws allowing them were widely known. A few days after the California Supreme Court decision, conservative columnist Dennis Prager noted just how sweeping and anti-democratic the decision was, saying, "Nothing imaginable—leftward or rightward—would constitute as radical a change in the way society is structured as this redefining of marriage for the first time in history." Unless the decision is reversed by an amendment to the California or US Constitution, Prager argued, "four justices of the California Supreme Court will have changed American society more than any four individuals since Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Madison."
Prager listed some of the social changes he foresees resulting from the court's decision:
Outside of the privacy of their homes, young girls will be discouraged from imagining one day marrying their prince charming—to do so would be declared "heterosexist," morally equivalent to racist. . . . Schoolbooks will not be allowed to describe marriage in male-female ways alone. . . .
Any advocacy of man-woman marriage alone will be regarded morally as hate speech, and shortly thereafter it will be deemed so in law.
Companies that advertise engagement rings will have to show a man putting a ring on a man's finger—if they show only women's fingers, they will be boycotted just as a company having racist ads would be now.
Films that only show man-woman married couples will be regarded as antisocial and as morally irresponsible as films that show people smoking have become.
Traditional Jews and Christians—i.e., those who believe in a divine scripture—will be marginalized.
Some might argue that Prager is indulging in hyperbole and will only cause unnecessary panic with these absurd hobgoblins, but it is difficult to see how the people of California would be able to stop sexual radicals from using the state's courts to implement all of these changes—and more—if the decision is allowed to stand. Yet, ironically, Prager notes, this far-reaching, radical decision has been deemed by the press as the compassionate, liberal-minded position on the matter. The mind boggles at the thought of what oppression might look like.
The libertarian writer Jennifer Roback Morse likewise notes that same-sex "marriage" is not a reduction of government intrusion into private lives, but an immense expansion of it. Writing in the National Catholic Register, she observes,
Advocates of same-sex "marriage" insist that theirs is a modest reform: a mere expansion of marriage to include people currently excluded. But the price of same-sex "marriage" is a reduction in tolerance for everyone else, and an expansion of the power of the state.
Morse provides several examples that show how oppressive the same-sex "liberators" are in practice, including the following:
Recently, a Methodist organization in New Jersey lost part of its tax-exempt status because it refused to allow two lesbian couples to use their facility for a civil union ceremony. In Quebec, a Mennonite school was informed that it must conform to the official provincial curriculum, which includes teaching homosexuality as an acceptable alternative lifestyle. . . .
And recently, a wedding photographer in New Mexico faced a hearing with the state's Human Rights Commission because she declined the business of a lesbian couple. She didn't want to take photos of their commitment ceremony.
This list could be expanded and will only grow, as sexual radicals across the nation increasingly use the government to break down all resistance to their agenda. Recognizing the vast implications of a successful movement to disallow anyone from recognizing any difference between the sexes, Morse sees who the real victims of oppression would be:
Perhaps you think people have a natural civil right to marry the person of their choosing. But can you really force yourself to believe that wedding photography is a civil right?
Maybe you believe that same-sex couples are entitled to have children, somehow. But is any doctor they might encounter required to inseminate them?
As Morse and Prager both note, what advocates of government recognition of same-sex "marriage" are after is not "tolerance and respect," but a forcible reordering of all of society along "gender-neutral" principles—and anyone who resists will face punishment by the government. In such an environment, it should hardly surprise us to see freedom of speech become a thing of the past.
An example of the suppression of dissent occurred in a debate last year in which the candidates for the Democratic party's presidential nomination discussed issues related to homosexual rights. When Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel came out explicitly for forcing all of society to recognize same-sex "marriages," and the audience erupted in cheers, the more prominent candidates kept their heads down and clearly tried to avoid making any big mistakes.
Two of them, however, were forced into Orwellian moments of self-abasement. Former Senator John Edwards felt compelled to apologize for once having said that he opposed same-sex "marriage" for religious reasons. He promised not to impose his "faith belief" on the American people—though he would apparently be willing to impose the radicals' unbelief on all of society.
Even more revealingly, New Mexico Governor William Richardson, a strong supporter of the homosexualist agenda, blundered when asked whether homosexual behavior is a biological imperative or a choice. Richardson said, "It's a choice." Some people in the audience gasped audibly. This was potentially catastrophic for him because the great majority of homosexual activists claim that homosexual behavior is biological in origin.
Richardson's campaign organization quickly issued a retraction of what he said in the debate. As Prager and Morse point out, this sort of forced "attitude adjustment" will become universal if the "same-sex marriage" agenda is embedded in the nation's laws.
The question of whether the definition of marriage will be made by the free choices of society or by government fiat is the central issue in the "same-sex marriage" controversy. To be sure, those who argue that the government should not discriminate between traditional and same-sex couples can make their case seem principled and liberal-minded. The truth, however, is that those who favor forced recognition of same-sex "marriage" seek to suppress freedom, and those who oppose these ideas represent real liberty. •
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