When people raise issues of gay rights, most commonly they are pondering or pontificating about how our government should address homosexual couples who wish to be married. Since that question concedes the underlying premise, however, that the government should be involved with marriage in any capacity, we invariably resign ourselves to the wrong side of the issue.
I used to think that the problem of gay rights in the United States today was largely one of semantics. I used to think that homosexuals should have the ability to obtain government-sanctioned unions, as should everyone else, and that those unions should impart equal legal privileges upon all who hold them. I used to think that a “separate but equal”-style system, in which the institution of marriage could be preserved in its traditional state, would satisfy all parties involved. However, after pondering the evolving political climate surrounding this issue, I can no longer hold that view. It is quite clear that granting separate civil unions to homosexual couples will never bring about the kind of equality we desire, simply because marriage has intrinsic spiritual meanings which a mere civil union can never entail.
The solution pushed by the gay marriage lobby is simply to add another facet to the legal definition of marriage. This would allow homosexual couples to enjoy all the legal benefits of marriage, and it would allow them to enjoy all of marriage’s spiritual connotations.
Unfortunately, this solution doesn’t address the fundamental problem: a lack of equality. It simply adds another group of people to be graced by government. It doesn’t end the “legislation of morals” which so many leftists decry. It simply substitutes the legislation of one group’s morals for another.
We have to remember that rights are inherent to individuals, not to groups. Groups are social constructs, superimposed upon individuals. In ensuring rights for all individuals, the solution proposed by the gay marriage lobby falls short. Their solution only creates and expands privileges for groups. It is a quick, politically expedient, but inevitably flawed solution.
Re-examination of the fundamental problem reveals not an unfair distribution of privileges, but a complete disregard for any separation of church and state. The sanction of traditional marriage in our legal codes has caused two negative consequences: First, it has produced a legal system which unfairly discriminates against homosexuals. Second, it places the institution of marriage in the precarious position of being subject to public scrutiny, and the further entrenchment of traditional marriage pushed by conservatives through their various state/federal marriage amendments only intensifies the problem. On the other hand, the solution proposed by the gay marriage lobby would, in the eyes of many traditionalists, defile the institution of marriage. Is there not a solution which could satisfy all parties?
Let us consider the extreme logical outcome of the solution put forth by the gay marriage lobby: Even if we overcome the impossible political task of expanding the definition of marriage to include any and every conceivable kind of union between people, we will still have discrimination between those who are married and those who are not. If we expand privileges even further to include both married and non-married people, then we entirely defeat the purpose of having those privileges, and we find ourselves back at square one. In addition to being pointless, a situation in which everyone subsidizes everyone else could be harmless, if not for that fact that money must be skimmed off the top in order to pay the salaries of the bureaucrats administering these programs.
Given this lesson, I think the ideal solution would be to completely remove government from the business of marriage. Abolish all definitions of marriage from legal code, and abolish all privileges enjoyed by married couples. Allow couples to seek any kind of union they choose, from whatever private institution they choose. Leave questions of inheritance, hospital visitation, end-of-life care, etc. for individuals to decide through contracts. Let people be equal through liberty, instead of grasping at an ever elusive equality through privilege and restraint.
If the laws were changed this way, homosexuals could benefit spiritually, and all individuals would be legally equal. It would also insulate the religious community from political scrutiny, and allow heterosexuals to pursue marriages unadulterated by those who hold morals different from their own.
I think many of my fellow conservatives have lost their way on this issue. Reminiscent of leftists, they take the attacks of the other side personally. This is understandable, because traditional marriage, an institution they hold dear, is so ingrained in public life. However, it is nonetheless reprehensible. They allow their spiritual convictions to drive their political convictions. This disregard for individual liberty is the kind of behavior I expect from the left, but to see it come from the right is discomfiting, to say the least. To my conservative friends, I would offer this prescription: if you wish to stop the destruction of traditional marriage, then fight that campaign within the private square, because the continued entrenching of traditional marriage in legal code is an inevitably untenable position. The most constructive action you could take in the public square to save traditional marriage is to join in calling for its complete absence from the law.
As an atheist, I have no vested interest in protecting the institution of traditional marriage. However, I have a deep-seated interest in protecting liberty. I wish we could let that become a uniting factor among both traditional marriage and gay marriage advocates, instead of being driven by divisive emotions.
People should not be ashamed of their sexual orientation, and they should not be subject to institutionalized ostracism or mistreatment because of it. Love is a natural and important aspect of all our lives–far too important to place in the hands of government.