Is Marriage Equality Primarily About Equality?

Self-described Catholic blogger Brandon Vogt recently published Rebuttals to arguments for same-sex marriageHe tries to disprove 10 common same-sex-marriage arguments, but merely highlights the most common mistakes of his own camp. I’m addressing each of his 10 points in  separate posts as a kind of back-t0-the-basics review of our opposition.

The second item on Brandon Vogt’s list of “our” arguments is actually a misunderstanding:

2. Same-sex marriage is primarily about equality.

This argument is emotionally powerful since we all have deep, innate longings for fairness and equality. Moreover, history has given us many failures in this area, including women banned from voting and African-Americans denied equal civil rights. The question, of course, is whether same-sex couples are denied equality by not being allowed to marry each other.

Vogt is confused here. Same-sex marriage is not primarily about equality — and certainly not about equality just for the sake of equality — any more than voting rights or freedom of speech are primarily about equality. If that sounds odd, think of it this way: In the U.S., equality under the law is derived from the self-evident premise “that all [human beings] 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.” In other words:

  1. Human beings have rights simply because we’re human.
  2. Governments are instituted to secure these rights.
  3. We’re all equally human.
  4. Therefore, the government must secure these rights equally for all of us.

That’s why I say our equal right to freedom of speech is not primarily about equality. It’s not like we’d be happy with any degree of freedom, small or great, as long as it’s equal among us. No — each of us as a human being has the abundant right to freedom of speech. Equality enters the picture only because we’re all equally human. And that’s true for all our human rights, including the right to marriage.

But I can see why Vogt is confused.. We speak of equality quite a bit, for the very reason he identifies above: “we all have deep, innate longings for fairness and equality.” To deny us equality is to deny us our equal humanity. That makes it a powerful persuader, a great (and true) rhetorical strategy. But that doesn’t mean a desire for equality is our primary reason for demanding marriage rights. As I’ve argued before, we only ask for the rights because we’ve already accepted the responsibilities:

People don’t marry just to take care of their kids. They marry to be responsible for each other: Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour / For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. It astonishes me how many of our religious opponents are so quick to forget their own Bible when they claim marriage is all about the kids.

Marriage does come with legal rights, but the rights we care most about the ones that help us live up to our responsibilities: the right to be in that hospital room, to provide medical care, to make decisions when your partner cannot, to ensure he can support himself if you are taken, to give your employer an honest reason when you take a personal day for his sake, to live in the same room, the same home, the same country without fearing discrimination or separation.

This is my new mantra: We only ask for the rights because we’ve already accepted the responsibilities. It’s not about equality per se, but about the fact that we’re all equally human. And this effectively demolishes the rest of Vogt’s argument, which is that it’s okay to treat opposite-sex and same-sex couples differently, because society’s only interest in marriage is about biological parenting — a statement that none of our opponents (not even Maggie Gallagher!) truly believe.

Tomorrow: Does everyone has the right to marry whomever he or she loves?

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