On Tuesday, the Senate, with an overwhelming majority of 84-15, voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, a bill that denies Federal benefits to homosexual married couples and allows states not to recognize same-sex marriages made in other states, a New York Times article reported. "Our urgent responsibility is to nurture and strengthen that institution, not undermine it with trendy moral relativism," Sen. Daniel R. Coats (R-Ind.) said.
In writing off same-sex marriage as "trendy moral relativism," Coats can easily justify denying certain citizens fundamental rights available to all other Americans. It is simple and safe to curtail a group's rights if that group is reduced to a bunch of flighty deviants who abide by a parallel and distinct version of morality. Such tactics have been used for centuries, to a far more extreme degree by slave-owners and Nazis. Both oppressor groups justified their persecution and slaughtering by reducing their respective objects of hatred to the sub-human.
While Coats and his colleagues' disdain for homosexuals is on a much, much smaller scale than genocide or slavery, its justification is similar. Homosexuals are a minority in this society, and as a result, their rights should be given extra protection and assurance. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 10 on the vice of faction: "There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same opinions, the same passions and the same interests." America was conceived with the idea that different belief systems are healthy. For the government to justify oppressing a class of people because of their beliefs goes against everything our forefathers imagined.
Sen. Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, justified his vote by saying that "the drive for same-sex marriage is, in effect, an effort to make a sneak attack on society by encoding this aberrant behavior in legal form before society itself has decided it should be legal," the Times reported. This kind of statement begs a few questions: What exactly is it about marriage that makes it an institution we want to protect? Is the union of two people considered worthy in and of itself because of the investment each person puts into the relationship, the commitment one person has to another? Or is marriage only worthwhile for its procreative possibilities?
There must be a reason why Coats believes marriage is an institution we should strengthen. If the reason is that having two people legally bound to each other and in a monogamous relationship is healthy, then it would not matter if the two people involved were of the same sex. Therefore Sens. Coats, Byrd and company must have another reason for wanting the institution of marriage to become stronger.
The only tangible difference between a gay couple and a heterosexual couple is that the heterosexual couple can have children. Therefore, the virtue of marriage must lie in its procreative ability. But what, then, is the point of letting a man and a woman marry if one of them is infertile? I suppose this imaginary couple could adopt, but what then of couples who do not want to have kids, who in fact both hate kids and would provide a terrible environment for a child to grow up in? Should marriages such as these be encouraged, too, simply because the couples are heterosexual? Not by the logic that justifies denying same-sex marriages. If it is the nuclear family that is threatened by a homosexual union, then there are many more marriages that the government should not hesitate to not recognize, such as marriages of the unemployed or the sterilized.
Why is that concept any more preposterous than denying homosexuals their right to join with someone they love? Through all the jargon, the only reason homosexual marriages will not be recognized is that America is intensely homophobic. The irony is that by turning an irrational homophobia into policy, set forth to "strengthen that institution," the government only succeeds in weakening the institution. For example, by discouraging homosexual men from marrying, the government is ipso facto discouraging monogamous, meaningful relationships. It is sending a message that what it has deemed "aberrant behavior" is of no value and thus homosexuals themselves have no worth. The problem with having a government that makes fundamental decisions about the rights otherwise ordinary citizens may have is that it becomes increasingly difficult to know when the government has overstepped its bounds. What's next, a limitation of voting rights? Segregated park benches?
Perhaps these concerns are extreme, but the other part of Tuesday's bill provides enough concern to make these scenarios pertinent.. Even though the vote was significantly closer (50-49), the second bill, which would have for the first time banned discrimination against homosexuals in the workplace, was defeated. The New York Times quoted Elizabeth Birch, the executive director of the gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign, as saying in an "elated" tone that gay-rights supporters came inches from victory and it boded well for the future.
Why is losing a fight to ensure such a basic right as equal opportunity a cause for elation? It seems more like a cause for indignation The fact that such a fundamental right should be up for grabs says something sad about America, or Americans. In an era in which "family values" becomes ever more of a buzzword, overwhelming support could be offered for such a blatantly discriminatory policy. The irony is that over 50 percent of heterosexual marriages fail and, as The New York Times pointed out, at least 20 of the voting senators have been divorced.
If such a bill were defeated concerning Blacks, Jews or Hispanics, elation would be hard to find among supporters. There are obviously plenty of racists remaining in America, but the reason the Defense of Marriage Act could not pass for another group is that it is far more publicly acceptable to insult gays and thus more acceptable to legally discriminate against them. Homosexuals are still the safe brunt of any joke.
Granted, the era of political correctness has gone too far, and many people have become too sensitive about semantics, but when a debate over word choice becomes a debate over civil rights, it is no longer a matter of political correctness, but instead one of fundamental liberty. To wonder about another's lifestyle and to live differently are both legitimate forms of difference; in the end, however, to accept is the most important element of diversity. To write off someone else as a "trendy moral relativis[t]" is far easier than understanding him or her, but in a society that is supposed to embrace difference, one where "all men were created equal," the consequences are far more dangerous.