Same-sex marriage advocates, and their lawyers, cite Jefferson’s “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” to underscore everyone’s right to marry without state interference. Last week, they successfully challenged Virginia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. Given current legal trends, there seems little doubt that the Supreme Court will ultimately agree with U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen’s ruling. Gay rights advocates believe this ruling is a major progressive advance.
We ask: Why is this progressive?
Or put another way: Why is giving the government more power over your personal life, as opposed to less, considered progressive?
Ironically, it may turn out that gay marriage advocates are trying to further cement a dangerous philosophical trend that they would normally see as conservative, retrogressive or even reactionary.
Gay marriage advocates believe the progressive position is to require every marriage to get the same governmental blessing. But this is actually not a progressive or liberating posture at all.
The right approach for those who believe in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” freed from government control is self-evident: no government control over marriage.
The same-sex marriage position requires first accepting the government’s right to sanction marriage. Moreover, advocates don’t merely agree to give government this power, they accept a state’s right to discriminate. The federal court decision overturning Virginia’s gay marriage ban is premised on the state failing to provide a sufficient reason for discriminating between couples wanting to get hitched. This presupposes the right of the government to sanction marriage. Ironically, this is the position of the supposedly conservative traditional marriage defenders.
While the Supreme Court has made other important rulings on marriage in the past, no jurist ever suggested disagreement with state laws banning same-sex marriage — until recently. Gay rights lawyers say such decisions were wrong, surely by today’s standards. We ask: What is progressive about conditioning the state’s right to sanction marriage on changeable judicial attitudes?
The more principled approach, which is consistent across the philosophical spectrum, is leaving marriage to the religious and family institutions from whence it came.
Marriage existed long before there were government bureaucrats looking to raise revenue by collecting license fees. If a person meets whatever common sense, minimal legal requirements are established for people to wed — such as those related to age, health, mental capacity or banning incest — why should government approval be required? If gay rights advocates truly believe marriage is a protected, inalienable right, then they should be in court arguing against state-sanctioned marriage per se.
What about the traditional marriage position – that defining these unions is up to the states and that states have a vested interest in promoting traditional families? It runs counter to the conservative belief in limited government. Same-sex couples are generally no better or worse at parenting than those with different sexual orientations. Limiting marriage on procreation grounds, even if legal, is a slippery slope that would trample the Constitution and personal liberties in a way worthy of China, not America.
Most important, a marriage license is derivative, not the basic right at issue. If the right to marry is inalienable, then the government needs to stop seeing it as another revenue raiser or privilege creator.
In practical effect, all same-sex marriage proponents are claiming is their inalienable right to be required to pay a marriage fee like everyone else.
Norman Leahy is an editor of the conservative Web site BearingDrift.com and producer of the political radio show “The Score.” Paul Goldman is a former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. They are blogging together on All Opinions Are Local during Virginia’s 2014 General Assembly session.