Although abortion used to be the most prominent social issue, gay marriage has taken over, sharply dividing the nation. Some, including Julian Bond, head of the NAACP, have likened efforts to legalize gay marriage to the black civil rights movement of the 1960s. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic National Committee Chair, called gay marriage “the civil rights issue of our generation.” Closer examination, however, reveals that the real question goes far beyond civil rights. In order to be a civil rights violation, discrimination must take place.
On the surface, prohibiting gay marriage appears to be a civil rights violation. However, the first thing to note is that there is no absolute right to marriage, let alone to marry the person whom you love. In an article for the Gospel Coalition, Voddie Baucham, Pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, points out that “people who are already married, 12-year-olds, and people who are too closely related are just a few categories of people routinely and/or categorically denied the right to marry.” None of these restrictions are viewed as civil rights violations.
Second, the ability to marry extends equally to both heterosexuals and homosexuals. A heterosexual male has the right to marry a female, not another male. A homosexual male is in the exact same position. Thus, permitting gay marriage does not equalize rights, but creates new rights specifically for homosexuals. The real issue is not whether homosexuals are being discriminated against under current law, but whether the definition of marriage itself should be changed to extend new rights to homosexual couples. As Baucham points out, “homosexuals have never been denied the right to marry. They simply haven’t had the right to redefine marriage.” The 2009 Iowa Supreme Court Case Varnum v. Brien provides an excellent example. In this case, the Court overturned Iowa’s definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, although the Court admitted that Iowa’s “marriage statute does not expressly prohibit gay and lesbian persons from marrying; it does, however, require that if they marry, it must be to someone of the opposite sex.” This view does not rectify civil discrimination, it overturns the definition of marriage.
Admittedly, it is possible for same-sex couples to be denied certain privileges because they are not married. However, many states, including Washington, have allowed for civil unions. Supporters of same-sex marriage contend this is not enough and want Washingtonians to approve Referendum 74 this November, which would legalize gay marriage in the state. However, approving the Referendum “would offer gay couples no additional state right or benefits beyond what they now have under the domestic-partnership law, other than the right to marry,” according to Lornet Turnbull of the Seattle Times. James Skillen of the Center for Public Justice explains that “the question behind marriage, in other words, is a structural one that precedes lawmaking.” According to an article by Skillen, only after we determine the definition of marriage “can civil rights considerations emerge about how citizens should be treated fairly with respect to marriage.” The real question, then, is: what is marriage? This question transcends the law’s ability to solve. It is a question that pertains to the nature and purpose of humanity itself. In the end, this is a moral and religious issue, and it is to these sources that we must turn for the answer.
Nelsen is a senior majoring in political science. Comments can be sent to email@example.com.