Officials in San Francisco are engaged in an act of civil disobedience of stunning hubris. Buoyed by a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that ordered the legislature in that state to allow homosexuals to marry, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom last week ordered city officials to begin issuing marriage licenses to homosexual couples, in open contravention of state law. In the first four days, the city issued more than 2,000 such licenses.
But voters in California rejected gay marriage by nearly a two-to-one margin just four years ago, when 61 percent voted in favor of Proposition 22, a ballot initiative that said: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." If a handful of city officials can circumvent the will of the people -- as expressed in a state law passed by the majority of California voters -- can anarchy be far behind?
Gay rights activists claim that granting same-sex couples the right to marry is simply a matter of equity and fairness. They reject the notion that there is anything radical about their demand or that it would do harm to the institution of marriage itself. They frequently compare prohibitions on same-sex marriage to anti-miscegenation laws that prohibited interracial couples from marrying in some states until the U.S. Supreme Court struck them down as unconstitutional in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia.
But the comparisons are fatuous. Allowing men and women of different races to marry in no way threatens the institution itself, but same-sex unions require a fundamental redefinition of marriage. No society since the dawn of civilization had ever even contemplated institutionalizing same sex-unions until the late 20th Century (and to this date, only two countries recognize gay marriage: the Netherlands and Belgium).
If the courts uphold San Francisco's flagrant violation of the law, what possible rational basis will there be from denying all sorts of other unconventional -- and most would argue, immoral -- unions? If two men or two women may marry, what rational -- as opposed to normative or moral -- basis is there to reject the union of one man with several women, or several men, for that matter, or any other combination of multiple partners? Many societies and some religions -- most notably Islam -- allow a man to take more than one wife. If the "right" to marry can encompass two persons of the same sex, on what basis can that "right" be denied to multiple partners?
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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