No, You Don’t Have the Right to Marry Whomever You Love
January 30th, 2013
Self-described Catholic blogger Brandon Vogt recently published Rebuttals to arguments for same-sex marriage. He tries to disprove 10 common same-sex-marriage arguments, but merely highlights the most common mistakes of his own camp. I’m addressing each of his 10 points in separate posts as a kind of back-t0-the-basics review of our opposition.
Vogt’s finally on to something with his third rebuttal. He finds a straw man and digs his pitchfork in with gusto:
3. Everyone has the right to marry whomever he or she loves.
Though catchy, few people truly believe this slogan. Most of us acknowledge there should be at least some limitations on marriage for social or health reasons. For example, a man can’t marry a young child or a close relative.
Oh lord — I agree with Vogt! I don’t think an adult should be allowed to marry a child, and when we say everyone has the right to marry whomever he or she loves, we do nothing but set ourselves up for an obvious rebuttal. It’s not just sloppy rhetoric, it’s rhetoric few people believe, rhetoric that just makes us look dumb. It also allows people like Vogt to rip apart the straw man and pretend we don’t have deeper and more substantive arguments for marriage rights.
Instead of that catchy, damaging slogan, I’d rely on Olson and Boies opening argument from the Prop 8 trial:
- Marriage is a vitally important good.
- Excluding same-sex couple from marriage excludes them from that good, and in fact does them harm.
- Proposition 8 perpetrates this harm for no good reason.
That last item is crucial, and it explains why we don’t let adults marry children, who lack the experience or even the basic neural development needed to understand a life-long commitment or to protect themselves from an exploitative adult.
I’ll admit that this 3-point series of propositions doesn’t trip off the tongue as smoothly as the slogan I’m rejecting, so how about this:
If you’re going to deny me the right to marry the person I love, you’d best prove a good reason why!
That’s a statement I can stand by. It has good intuitive appeal, it puts the burden of proof on the other side, and if they ask why that burden lies with them, I can just answer:
Because it’s a free country.
And that’s the crux of it. Which explains why Vogt is just offering up a crock when he says:
So, the real question here is not whether marriage should be limited, but how. To answer that, we must determine why the government even bothers with marriage. It’s not to validate two people who love each other, nice as that is. It’s because marriage between one man and one woman is likely to result in a family with children. Since the government is deeply interested in the propagation and stabilization of society, it promotes and regulates this specific type of relationship above all others.
Sorry, Vogt. In a free country we don’t justify our rights by pointing out their benefit to government or society. It’s the other way around: Government and society exist to secure the rights of individuals, to create an environment that protects our rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You’d imagine that our most vocal opponents (those dwindling conservatives and Tea Partiers still against same-sex marriage) would be the first to take this to heart, but they seem to forget their own rhetoric when it comes to the gays.
That’s enough to wipe out Vogt’s argument, but he says a couple more things worth demolishing. First:
To put it simply, in the eyes of the state, marriage is not about adults; it’s about children. Claiming a “right to marry whomever I love” ignores the true emphasis of marriage.
Here Vogt makes the great mistake so common to his side: He thinks that just because the welfare of children is a true purpose of marriage, it must be the true purpose, as if there exist no others worth considering. And that doesn’t follow at all. Marriage is about adults, too — a fact our opponents always promoted until they started casting around for new ways to work against our rights. As Maggie Gallagher herself wrote long ago:
Marriage is a powerful creator and sustainer of human and social capital for adults as well as children, about as important as education when it comes to promoting the health, wealth, and well-being of adults and communities.
She even called this adult-based case for marriage “equally significant” as the one based on children.
(In case you’re wondering, yes, I do plan to flog this statement of Maggie’s until the marriage debate ends. Neither Maggie, nor Brian Brown, nor anyone else associated with NOM should be allowed to ignore it. In fact, I hope everyone throws Maggie’s research at them until they’re forced to deal with it).
And finally, Vogt gives us this:
Notice that nobody is telling anyone whom he or she can or cannot love. Every person, regardless of orientation, is free to enter into private romantic relationships with whomever he or she chooses.
I’ll pass over the Protestants and Muslims who call for the criminalization of our relationships and focus on the faith I was brought up, Catholicism. Vogt is Catholic blogger. Not a blogger who happens to be Catholic, but a man whose Catholicism is central to his writerly identity. As such, he ought to know a bit more about the Holy See’s stance on whether a person should be “free to enter into private romantic relationships with whomever he or she chooses.”
While the Vatican doesn’t think we should face criminal penalties merely for being homosexual, it’s always drawn a careful distinction between homosexual persons and homosexual acts. And when it comes to those acts, here’s its response to a UN resolution on decriminalizing homosexuality:
Second, for the purposes of human rights law, there is a critical difference between feelings and thoughts, on the one hand, and behavior, on the other. A state should never punish a person, or deprive a person of the enjoyment of any human right, based just on the person’s feelings and thoughts, including sexual thoughts and feelings. But states can, and must, regulate behaviors, including various sexual behaviors.
And the Holy See goes on to cite laws against acts of pedophilia and incest as clear precedents for such regulation, without explaining that connection, that offensive logical leap.
Of course, we’ve gotten off track here. Vogt’s “We still let you hook up as long as you keep it private,” in no way justifies a ban same-sex marriage. It’s just an irrelevant detour. Sorry, Vogt, but from beginning to end, you’ve made a mess of this one.
Tomorrow: Will same-sex marriage hurt all those decent straight people?