With the Supreme Court hearing, not one, but two cases on gay marriage, my Facebook feed has, predictably, become a hotbed of opinions on the subject. Many of the more vocal folks on my friends list are loudly proclaiming their support for gay marriage, and their belief that marriage is a right. It isn’t.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge believer in giving people equal protection under the law, and, insofar as I support the registering romantic relationships with the government at all, I am in full support of allowing that registration to happen regardless of the gender(s) of the individuals in the relationship 1. If one is a consenting adult, one should be allowed to be legally bound to any consenting adult of one’s choosing.
Back to my point, though, marriage is not a right. Rights are a fundamental building block of civilization and are a major part of what it means to be human. The Declaration of Independence says it best 2, “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Keep in mind, this is not the document that established a new government; it is the document that established on what basis the colonies were choosing to leave the British Empire.
The idea expressed there is that there are certain rights that are ours simply by virtue of our humanity. Governments can (and often do) infringe upon those rights, but that is an indictation of the immorality of the government in question, not a repudiation of the right itself. Rights are basic, fundamental building blocks of civilization itself. Being civilized, to me, means acknowledging and respecting the rights of other human beings.
To me, the primary Right, the One Right That Rules Them All, is the right to own property. Before anything else, you own your life and your body. From a Christian perspective, granting us that ownership, the freedom to control those things and make our own decisions, is the core of what makes us special among God’s creations. Because we own our bodies and our lives, we have the right to self defense (which, as its corollary, gives us the right to own and carry weapons for the purposes of that defense (and/or the defense of others)). From those most basic of rights spring our rights to our beliefs (including religious beliefs) and the right to express those beliefs.
Marriage 3 is a legal construct. It does not exist outside of the state. As rights are a fundamental concept that supercede the existence of government 4, a legal construct created solely by a government itself cannot be a right. By declaring a legal construct such as marriage to be a right, you are saying that government can create rights. If government can create rights, rights that are endowed upon us by our Creator, then the government must be God.
This is the major philosophical issue that underpins most of my political beliefs. Human rights determine what a government can or cannot do. The government cannot define what my rights are. Government recognition of a marriage does not make that marriage moral 5, socially acceptable, or “real.”
I will not bow down to “The Lord Our Government.”
- In fact, I’m in full support of allowing that registration regardless of whether the relationship in question is truly romantic. If Billy Mack and Joe decide they want to legalize the fact that they are “the loves” of one another’s lives even though they’re both heterosexual, more power to them. ↩
- Whether Jefferson and others involved in drafting the document lived up to the lofty ideals expressed is a separate discussion from the power of the words in the document itself and does not detract from the rightness of the Declaration. ↩
- Legally speaking, anyway; legal marriage is a separate concept from marriage in the eyes of God or a community. Since we’re explicitly discussing the idea of marriage as it exists with respect to the state, I’m only concerned with that definition of marriage here. ↩
- Indeed, as stated in the Declaration, violation of these rights is a reason to alter or abolish a government: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” ↩
- Peter Lizon‘s marriage may have been legal, but it certainly was not moral. ↩