Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Justice, Rights, and the Culture War

In the aftermath of the election, I've been reading a number of liberal blogs -- Christian and secular -- to see how things are going. I've mentioned some of what I've seen previously, in other posts. Here I want to begin a discussion about another complaint I see being made: oppression.

If you read blogs (political ones in particular), you will have seen that the "moral values" issue was the major topic of discussion for most of the past week, in light of the fact that some 22% of voters pegged that as their number one issue in voting, and some 80% of them went for Bush. Quite a few bloggers (here, predominantly on the left) connected that with the same-sex marriage issue. The argument goes like this: Bush (or rather, Rove) made sure that constitutional amendments on marriage were on the ballots in a number of states (eleven, to be precise), betting that this culture war issue would result in a huge turnout of evangelical Christians, who would also vote for Bush; and he was right.

Now, although this argument was very popular late last week, many bloggers and pundits didn't accept it, including yours truly... to me, "moral values" refers first to the life issues, than to other things. A number of commentators made similar arguments, and over the last four or five days, the previous argument has waned in popularity.

Nonetheless, a number of liberals still think that Bush won this election thanks -- essentially -- to all the homophobes in the red states who have empowered the President to continue to deny them basic civil rights, i.e. the right to marry their same-sex partners. Bush et al -- the assertions go -- are oppressing gays & lesbians; they are denying them their civil right to marry; they are unjustly discriminating against them.

Here's the thing: it's easy to assert that one's rights are being denied. But in the face of opposition -- and especially when your position constitutes a radical departure from the past -- you also need to demonstrate that you actually possess the right that's allegedly being denied.

Let me put it another way. I think those who cry "discrimination!" when the government refuses to marry them have an insufficient understanding of justice. Justice is (classically) defined as giving someone what they are due. But the very point of the same-sex marriage controversy lies in the last four words: "what they are due". Is it due to someone that they may marry someone of the same sex? If so, what is the rational argument in defense of that claim? Thus far, I have never seen these questions addressed. I see plenty of people (gay & straight) saying that it's unjust to disallow gay marriages, but I've yet to see a rational demonstration of the right to marry someone of the same sex.

I'm sure that proponents of same sex marriage are mystified and dumbfounded by this line of argument. After all, why can't gays & lesbians marry? Their right to marry is, well, self-evident, and the only reason people like me can't see that is because we either hate, fear, or don't understand gays & lesbians.

I'm sorry, but that won't cut it.

There is a rational basis for every right we possess, and hence there is a rational argument which can be made to set forth any particular right, in every case.

Again, I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of justice at work here. To help illustrate this, I'd like to quote from the document, "Family, Marriage and 'De facto' Unions" issued in 2000 by the Pontifical Council for the Family:
    (10) Equality before the law must respect the principle of justice which means treating equals equally, and what is different differently: i.e., to give each one his due in justice.This principle of justice would be violated if de facto unions were given a juridical treatment similar or equivalent to the family based on marriage. If the family based on marriage and de facto unions are neither similar nor equivalent in their duties, functions and services in society, then they cannot be similar or equivalent in their juridical status.

    The pretext used for exerting pressure to recognize de facto unions (i.e., their “non-discrimination”) implies a real discrimination against the family based on marriage because it would be considered on a level similar to any other form of cohabitation, regardless of whether there is a commitment to reciprocal fidelity and the begetting and up-bringing of children or not. The orientation of some political communities today of discriminating against marriage by attributing an institutional status to de facto unions that is similar, or even equivalent to marriage and the family, is a serious sign of the contemporary breakdown in the social moral conscience, of “weak thought” with regard to the common good, when it is not a real and proper ideological imposition exerted by influential pressure groups.
Now, the Council is referring here to de facto unions in general and not to same-sex unions in particular, but the point is the same: justice involves treating equals equally, and unequals unequally, and same-sex unions and marriages between man and woman simply are not equals. Why? Because the former are not ordered to the procreation and education of children, while the latter are, even if the couple doesn't have any children.

If same sex unions are going to be equated with marriages between a man and a woman, someone must at least attempt to argue that there is a right to marry someone of the same sex. I haven't seen that yet.

Now, before I get flamed, I want to make something perfectly clear: I don't hate or fear gays and lesbians. Yes, I do know homosexuals. This has nothing to do with denying anybody their rights, but is all about recognizing the natural order of marriage and the family. If you want to disagree with me, fine. But don't do so by merely accusing me of bigotry and discrimination; instead, make your case. Show me how marriage is open to same sex unions. And when you do so, know that my first question will be this: if it's unjust to deny marriage to gays and lesbians, why isn't it unjust to deny marriage to more than two people? So make sure that your argument takes that into account.

Again, this isn't about hatred or fear. It's about recognizing how we are created and what the natural order of the family is meant to be. In other words, it's how we are all meant to find fulfillment and true, lasting happiness.

More on the justice thing to come.

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