The argument over gay marriage in America is not a new one, but it is certainly gaining momentum as it bulldozes its way to the forefront of today's media. Neither side is wavering in their contention on what constitutes marriage, but should one person's opinion on any issue grant the authority to dictate the life choices of another -- exactly where is that line drawn?
The American legal system is based on the concept that all actions, opinions and activities are considered legal unless specifically prohibited by law. The foundation of this system rests upon freedom and equality. In order for something to be outlawed and go against this fundamental principle, a public necessity must be shown, and the government must demonstrate a legitimate public purpose for inhibiting the rights of another.
An example of this is the enhanced prosecution of hate crimes. As a society, we generally believe that we all have the basic right to believe and think anything we choose. However, if one commits a crime of violence against another based on specifically dictated beliefs, we prosecute the offender more heavily than if they had committed the violent act without the accompanying belief. The goal of such laws isn't to punish the offender based on the belief alone and limit the freedom of expression, but society recognizes the reasonable need for limiting such violent acts of expression. There is an established legitimate public purpose for limiting such a freedom of expression.
If our legal system is founded upon the concept of freedom, equality, and protection, with the only deviations being for the reason of legitimate public purpose, what is the public purpose of banning same-sex marriages? Outside of individual opinion, I see none.
Same-sex marriage has become the latest, and possibly one of the last, battlegrounds for civil rights in America. It is less of an issue of personal opinion and more of an issue of individual liberties. As Americans, we all demand equal protection under the law. Imagine for a moment a law forbidding the marriage of individuals from a specific ethnic decent -- such a law would be considered intolerable. I'm at a loss for finding the rationality behind defending the limitations of the benefits and legal protections provided by marriage based on gender. It is a clear departure from equal protection under the law.
My specific opinion of same-sex marriage, either for or against it, is irrelevant. When we as a people legislate laws, we need to take extreme caution to never let personal opinions, biases, or religious beliefs become the basis for our contention of legitimate public purpose. If the rational behind someone's argument is nothing more than a personal bias, the debate is likely to become a relentless tug-of-war with no clear-cut winner. Even more frightening, the creation of law without a direct relation to a legitimate and needed public purpose is the path to tyranny. Limitation without cause is the foundation of oppression.
The answer is quite simple. If what you do in your home has absolutely no impact on the life of another, government has no right to limit that freedom. This is a concept which must not be abandoned by our society, regardless of individual opinion.
I think it is important to remind those in same-sex relationships that there are alternatives to gaining a majority of the rights and protections provided by marriage; after all, marriage is basically a contractual agreement. Authorizations for power of attorney, healthcare directives, living wills, real property wills, and numerous other legal documents can be drafted between any couple to provide many of the protections, rights, and benefits of a marriage. I do find it sad, however, that any group of citizens would ever be required to go through such lengths to obtain a protection which is automatically granted to so many others.
The last point I want to make about marriage and the law is to question why government is even involved in such an institution. At what point did we as a society allow the government to involve itself in such an intimate life decision? The government requires us to seek permission to marry, in the form of a marriage license, and government dictates the definition and legitimacy of marriage to us. When was government called upon to determine who someone is allowed to love and share their life with? I don't remember ever asking.
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