Sen. Gordon Smith said something at a recent gay-rights forum that was so opaque even opponent Jeff Merkley’s campaign couldn’t take a direct shot at him. Marshaling the semantic precision he reserves for his Iraq war talks, the GOP incumbent said something that was either a defense of polygamy, an equating of gay marriage and polygamy or (the most likely explanation) a somewhat undisciplined free-association on the senator’s part. Merkley’s camp could only ask for a clarification.
Smith, as is his wont these days, apologized, but not before critics had their say. “Talking about polygamy and same-sex unions in the same breath — on the face it’s offensive,” Frank Dixon, a Democratic Party and gay-rights activist, told The Oregonian.
Smith can speak for himself. What interests me is Dixon’s notion that talking about polygamy and same-sex unions in the same breath is, ipso facto, offensive. It’s a common enough rhetorical gay-rights counter, designed to end rather than elevate a debate. But, not only is talking about gay marriage and polygamy in the same breath appropriate. So is talking about gay marriage, polygamy and incest.
Nobody’s saying homosexuality is equal to polygamy or, if you like, polygamy equal to homosexuality. Or that either is the same as incest. Not at all. Homosexuality is homosexuality, polygamy is polygamy, incest is incest. The point is that once legislators, judges and other gay-marriage advocates head down the path of redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, there’s no consistent principle that would restrict marriage to couples or consenting adults unrelated by blood. If marriage isn’t between a man and woman, why can’t it just as easily be defined as something else down the line? What principle would stop this?
Divorce marriage from its traditional moorings — an institution of one man, one woman that best nurtures children and strengthens society — and you enter the realm of the subjective and arbitrary. The definition of marriage becomes a matter of fashion. Polygamy becomes the new gay, the latest frontier in taboo-breaking and advancement of “civil rights.”
“The bans on incestuous and polygamous marriages are ancient and deep-rooted, and . . . supported by strong considerations of social policy . . . ,” California Supreme Court Justice J. Baxter wrote in dissenting from his court’s recent legalization of gay marriage. “Yet here, the majority overturns . . . [a] statute confirming the equally deep-rooted assumption that marriage is a union of partners of the opposite sex. The majority does so by relying on its own assessment of contemporary community values. . . . Who can say that, in ten, fifteen or twenty years, an activist court might not rely on the majority’s analysis to conclude, on the basis of a perceived evolution in community values, that the laws prohibiting polygamous and incestuous marriages were no longer constitutionally justified.”
Why, after all, discriminate based on the number of adults or their relationship to one another in a household? What compelling state interest would there be to limit heterosexuals or homosexuals to one husband or wife? If Heather can have two mommies, why not three, four or more?
And what grounds would the state have to disallow adult brothers, sisters or cousins with no interest in kids from enjoying the benefits of “traditional” marriage? Given modern contraception and the rejection of marriage-is-largely-for-kids arguments, worries about a couple’s offspring are so yesteryear. Yes, there’s the yuck factor, but isn’t that just another prejudice the tradition-bound will just have to get over?
March through the reasons that gay-marriage champions advance in their quest to redefine traditional marriage and ask yourself if there is any rational reason to stop the redefining at gender.
“Love conquers all.” What right does society have to confine the benefits of marriage to certain loving arrangements? Shouldn’t those who love each other be able to join together as they like.
“They are our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors, our friends . . .” You know the gay-rights trope. Well, it’s just as true of polygamists.
“Ain’t nobody’s business but our own.” It’s hard to argue that what goes on between consenting multiple adults in the privacy of their home is any more harmful to a heterosexual married couple than a same-sex married couple down the block.
“Me, Myself and I.” It’s the right of each individual to determine what’s best as long as nobody’s hurt in the process. You know, individual autonomy.
“We Shall Overcome.” Only ancient prejudice and bigotry stand in the way of extending the right to marry to these discriminated-against Americans. If the public won’t get on the right side of history, well, we’ll just have to rely on a few judges.
Absent a coherent principle, advocates of gay marriage are stuck in the B.J. Thomas school of public policy and jurisprudence: Their definition of marriage is “Hooked on a Feeling.” Gordon Smith may be a model of clarity by comparison.
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