Civil Rights and Wrongs
This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published May 3, 2015 on The Washington Times.
While the U.S. Supreme Court held an Alice-in-Wonderland session on the nature and value of marriage, one of the nation’s largest cities lay partly in ruins over the death of a black man in police custody.
What do the two events have in common? In each instance, the concept of “civil rights” has been redefined to the breaking point. Each represents an unraveling of the moral order that makes civilization possible.
In Baltimore last weekend, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake expanded civil rights to include giving “space” to rioters “who wished to destroy.” Even though she later claimed her words were taken out of context, here’s what she said:
“I’ve made it very clear that I work with the police and instructed them to do everything they could to make sure that the protesters were able to exercise their right to free speech,” she said, as recorded by NBC, on the weekend before rioting began over the death of Freddie Gray in police custody on April 19. “It’s a very delicate balancing act because while we try to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.” Say what?
Try being Ms. Rawlings-Blake’s spokesman and having to walk that one back. One man’s right to own a car or a store is up there with another man’s right to loot it and burn it?
Thirty-eight miles down the road, at the U.S. Supreme Court, several justices on Tuesday were taking chisels to the Constitution, trying to sculpt a new, previously unknown right to same-sex “marriage.”
Invoking the Loving v. Virginia ruling in 1967 that ended the state of Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage, several liberal justices failed to spot the huge difference that makes this an apples-and-orange comparison, as explained by Illinois Family Institute writer Laurie Higgins:
“Laws banning interracial marriages were wrong for the same reason laws permitting same-sex ‘marriages’ are wrong: Both depend on wrong assumptions about the intrinsic nature of marriage. If marriage has a nature central to which is sexual differentiation, then marriage laws that recognize that ontological nature do not reflect invidious discrimination.”
Indeed, in a rare moment of clarity, Chief Justice John Roberts told the plaintiffs, “You’re not seeking to join the institution —- you’re seeking to change what the institution is. The fundamental core of the institution is the opposite-sex relationship.”
Precisely. And since marriage laws were on the books for thousands of years before the advent of America’s sexual revolution, it’s disingenuous for liberal judges to say that marriage laws are solely the product of hatred toward homosexuals. That was federal Judge Vaughn Walker’s shortsighted argument in 2010 when he struck down California’s constitutional marriage amendment, and it appears to guide the thinking of several Supreme Court justices.
There’s another reason to jettison the false comparison to Loving, as Mrs. Higgins explains: “Laws banning interracial marriage wrongly assumed that blacks and whites have different natures, while laws permitting same-sex ‘marriage’ wrongly assume that men and women have identical natures.”
But they don’t, of course. Even same-sex couples prefer one sex over the other.
There is still another logical problem. As Justice Anthony Kennedy put it, activists want same-sex marriage in order to acquire “dignity” and “ennoblement” of their relationships. But moral capital is not transferable — with the singular exception of God’s unwarranted grace through the sacrifice of His Son for us sinners.
Marriage has dignity because of its importance as society’s indispensable building block. Conveying marital status to nonmarital couples —- including unmarried straight couples —- is a form of moral theft. On a far less important scale, it’s like granting an advanced degree to someone who doesn’t qualify, simply because he feels entitled to the status.
During a discussion of the fallout if the plaintiffs win, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said it would be left to the states to decide whether to force clergy to perform same-sex ceremonies. He noted that this is already an issue in states where same-sex marriage is legal.
So, yet another “civil right” is taking shape —- the “right” to force a minister or rabbi to perform a celebration of what the Bible calls sin. In Indiana, Republican Gov. Mike Pence and the GOP legislature caved in to corporate and media pressure and actually created a law on April 2 elevating “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” over the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom.
As a nation, we agreed that slavery and Jim Crow were evil enough to warrant elevating nondiscrimination based on race to preferred status. But marriage is different.
Using government power to force Americans to ignore their consciences —- and what their children will be taught —- would be an act of tyranny.