“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.’’ – Thomas Jefferson
That Jefferson quote is among his best-known statements in favor of privacy and personal liberty. It’s unclear that our third president would have extended this logic to approving marriage for homosexual couples. But I would like to think he would.
As a straight, married man, gay marriage “neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg,” and that leaves me no reason to oppose it. In fact, when one considers the range of personal, financial, and societal benefits offered by marriage, I think it should be available to as many people as possible.
The main reason for opposing gay marriage comes down to religion and, honestly, not much else. One does not have to dig very far into the websites of anti-gay marriage organizations to find passages that cite Bible verses or rely on a quasi-religious defense of “traditional values” to make their case.
As a religious liberty matter, there is nothing wrong with that. Individuals and churches are perfectly free to withhold their personal approval of gay marriage. No minister should ever be compelled to perform a gay wedding and no house of worship should be forced to host one.
However, legal arguments based on interpretations of God’s will are always a dead end in U.S. courts – and gay-marriage opponents know it.
That’s why, in the recent arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, Charles J. Cooper, an attorney representing opponents of gay marriage, had to resort to arguing that the purpose of marriage is tied to procreation. If that is the case, Justice Elena Kagan asked, why do we allow people older than child-bearing age to tie the knot? Cooper did not have a good answer.
What became abundantly clear was that, stripped of its religious rationale, the legal case against gay marriage loses most of its power.
That’s not to say that the Supreme Court will declare gay marriage to be a Constitutional right. The justices appear disinclined to issue a sweeping ruling that would push the country too far, too fast. But, regardless of how the court rules, a swing in public opinion on the issue shows that history favors its supporters.
Given that reality, gay-marriage opponents might be better off abandoning its political and legal efforts in order to fight this culture-war battle where it belongs – in the culture.
Combating gay marriage from pulpits and around water coolers might not be any more successful than opposing it in the courts and legislatures. But, at least the conflict would be on the right battlefield.