The two court rulings this week relating to the whelming social issue of gay rights provoke fiery passions and deep conflicts. I wish it were not so, but it is, and I think I understand it. But I believe it’s best for everyone to take a few steps back and try to view the larger frame. Regardless the technical strengths and weaknesses of constitutional jurisprudence, and there are both, in the arguments made before the court as well as in the decisions and dissents of the justices, the core issue grinding these judicial proceedings is simply one of human decency and social equity.
My citizenship credentials are conservative; philosophically, politically, economically and ethically. I am Roman Catholic by birth and by informed adult choice. So I understand much of what motivates protest against gay rights. But the good Lord blessed me with a free will and a soul I have a responsibility to nurture with thoughts and deeds that my free will makes manifest. I follow no dictates except those of my conscience. This is only one issue on which I disagree with my church.
To assert that gay couples are somehow less capable than heterosexuals, or worse, less deserving, of sustained loving spousal relationships is prima facie wrong, not to mention mean. So, too, I think, are assertions that homosexuality is not a biological/psychological imperative. And biology incurs no dimension of morality.
I don’t pretend any expertise or special insight. My views develop from an unremarkable life of experience and observation. I fully admit I don’t understand homosexual attraction, and the thought of it can make me squeamish, but my sensibilities should have no impact on the issue. Even if I’m wrong, and instead of an organic compulsion homosexuality is a consciously chosen lifestyle, then I’m entitled to make a moral judgment, but my judgment, or yours, has no legal standing under our system of laws.
Getting back to decency and equity, marriage is an exquisitely personal contract between two people. The state has no business meddling with such a relationship, and certainly not by either requiring or forbidding marriage by anyone. But because marriage has become so complexly interfaced with bureaucracy, the state does have a role, a very simple one, and that is to accept it. All marriages, regardless the sex of the partners, should be treated by the state in exactly the same ways. That is all that decency and equity requires.
Moreover, the escalating war of belligerent rhetoric badly needs a truce. There are no categorical demons in this. Supporters and opponents of gay marriage are neither good nor bad people because of their positions. Both sides sorely need to find a way to respect the opposing view, because without that respect there can be no tolerance, and without tolerance there can be no healthy civil society. Disagreement within a pluralist society is a given, and it often serves as the engine of improvement. But demagoguery, no matter its ilk, will only destroy us. The state, on the other hand, should remain neutral and administer its marriage related functions fairly, without the prejudice to which individual citizens may be entitled.
Marriage is a vital societal lynchpin. But our American institution of marriage is in sad shape. Instead of warring, we should be joining forces to do everything possible to encourage its pursuit. And that applies most assuredly to gay couples as to anyone else.