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A LibCon view of Same Sex Marriages

by William Safire Wednesday, Dec. 03, 2003 at 8:02 PM
safire@nytimes.com

The conservative in me wonders: If equal rights can be assured by civil union, why are some gays pushing so hard for the word marriage?



A libcon view of SSM

William Safire, The New York Times, December 02, 2003

I'm a "libcon." To that small slice of the political spectrum called libertarian conservative, personal freedom is central. With a consistency that strikes some as foolish, I'm pro-choice on abortion before the quickening, pro-choice on my investment in Social Security and pro-choice on private competition to Medicare.

That also ex-plains why libcons demand that government protect rather than intrude on privacy, and why we excoriate government officials who permit media mergers that limit public access to all shades of opinion.

The libcon credo: Respect majority rule and deeply ingrained cultural custom unless they step on individual freedom, at which point wave the Bill of Rights and holler. That mind-set, so helpful in providing instant certitude on everything, is generating the jangle of cognitive dissonance on same-sex marriage.

The issue is often posed as one of simple legal fairness: Why shouldn't two adults of the same sex who want to become life partners have the same opportunity -- and gain the same legal rights of government insurance, pension protection and hospital visitation -- as a couple who choose op-sex marriage?

That encouragement to making homosexual relationships more permanent is the primary argument for "civil union," the euphemism for "legal marriage but don't call it that because it makes most straight people angry."

Many gay people, like many casually cohabiting heterosexuals, will embrace the principle but not the practice, as it would involve the consequences of dissolution of such a contract: alimony, child support when applicable, division of assets, and the law firm of Nasty, Brutal and Short.

The libertarian in me says: Civil union corrects an inequity in the law. There should be no legal or economic discrimination against homosexuals anywhere in the United States. And what is lawful in Vermont or Massachusetts should be recognized in every other state because we are one nation when it comes to basic rights, popular statutes to the contrary notwithstanding.

That's the easy part. More difficult is the argument that the primary purpose of society's bedrock institution is to conceive and rear children in a home of male and female role models known as caring parents. But now that there are adoptive and scientific substitutes for old-fashioned procreation, and now that 43 percent of first marriages fail, the nuclear family ideal is not what it used to be. Little lock is left in wedlock.

But what about the religious dimension to marriage? The ceremony performed by clergy in a house of worship involves a sacrament, invokes God's blessing on a man and a woman who take a solemn vow on entering a spiritual and not just a physical union. Won't pressure to marry people of the same sex split denominations, dismay millions of churchgoers and infuriate many ardent believers?

Yes. Divisive it would surely be. Proponents of SSM who want more than a city hall wedding -- who want more than a civil union -- would seek clergy and congregants who welcome them. It would be a source of bitter doctrinal debate in many neighborhoods. So was racial intermarriage; but this faces scriptural admonitions, as in the doomed city of Sodom.

That brings us to the Supreme Court decision striking down anti-sodomy law in Texas. That victory for privacy slammed the bedroom door in the face of prosecutors who disapproved of forms of consensual sex engaged in by homosexuals and others.

The stinging dissent by Justice Antonin Scalia, however, was prescient: The court decision opened the door to agitation for same-sex marriage. It may not be the slippery slope to polygamy, incest and bestiality, but SSM is surely upon us.

The conservative in me wonders: If equal rights can be assured by civil union, why are some gays pushing so hard for the word marriage?

The answer is that the ancient word conveys a powerful message.

Civil union connotes toleration of homosexuality, with its attendant recognition of an individual's civil rights; but marriage connotes society's full approval of homosexuality, with previous moral judgment reversed.

The pace of profound cultural change is too important to be left to activist judges.

As moral-political issues go, this big one deserves examination in communities with minds that can deal with internal contradictions -- which is the libcon way.
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Separate But Equal Sisyphus Wednesday, Dec. 03, 2003 at 9:36 PM
only a conservative would care more rational Thursday, Dec. 04, 2003 at 12:24 AM

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