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United States v. Windsor v. democratic debate

July 10, 2013

I recently finished reading United States v. Windsor.  In that Supreme Court ruling, an incredible opportunity for public discussion and dialogue on a very fundamental topic was taken from us as a society. This saddens me.  In fact, I’m concerned because much of the marriage equality rhetoric is phrased to shut down dissent and debate, to stifle free speech.  Who hasn’t heard it said that if you oppose marriage equality, you’re on the wrong side of history, or you’re bigoted, or you’re a backwards fundamentalist?

The Supreme Court majority ruling basically side-stepped this question, and Justice Alito pointed it out on pages 13 and 14 of his dissent.  The question isn’t whether homosexual marriage is equal to heterosexual marriage, but more fundamentally the question of whether our culture’s view of marriage is what Alito calls the “traditional” or “conjugal” vision for marriage, or the “consent-based” vision for marriage.  The “traditional” or “conjugal” view of marriage is that in every culture and time of the world up until the year 2000, marriage was intrinsically an opposite-sex institution, because it had to carry the possibility of natural childbirth. The “consent-based” vision of marriage, Alito writes, is “a vision that primarily defines marriage as the solemnization of mutual commitment— marked by strong emotional attachment and sexual attraction—between two persons.”  No-fault divorce arises from the consent-based vision for marriage, as does the current push to legitimize and legalize homosexual unions as marriage.

If the consent-based view of marriage were my view, I would see no reason not to support marriage equality between any two consenting partners.  However, I hold the conjugal view, because I believe it is what our Creator designed for humanity, I believe it is the best environment for raising children, and forming stable families over the long-term, and I believe its prescribed in the Bible.

I’m deeply saddened that as a culture we’ve missed the opportunity for real, robust discussion and debate through democratic processes on this important issue.  We espouse democratic principles of governance, but at least on this one, the discussion has been framed to shut out debate before it happens, by making it sound like if you disagree you’re opposed to equal treatment before the law.  That concerns me: I support the rule of law, and the equality of persons before the law, but I also support free speech and broad, informed, democratic discussion by the people of fundamental issues.

Let me be clear: homosexual people deserve the same civil rights as other people, but this issue isn’t an inequality of civil rights between homosexual or heterosexual couples.  It’s an disagreement between the conjugal or consent-based visions for marriage, an issue of how we understand our humanity as individuals and in communities.  It only becomes a civil rights issue if the consent-based vision for marriage is actually right.

PS – if you think I’m “on the wrong side of history” with this post, please explain why in your comments below.

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