Walter E. Williams

The Massachusetts high court ruled that people of the same sex have a right to be married. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and County Clerk Nancy Alfaro, in defiance of California law, have issued over 3,000 officially sanctioned marriage licenses to homosexual couples.

What are we to make of this? Same sex marriage advocates argue for a change in the legal definition of marriage so as to include marriage between male couples and female couples. Here's my question: Are homosexuals the only Americans permitted to change the definition of marriage, or do people with other sex orientations have that right as well?

Here's why I ask that question. Suppose a woman and a horse appeared before San Francisco County Clerk Nancy Alfaro applying for a marriage license, or it might be a man and a sheep. What argument might the County Clerk have for not issuing them a marriage license?

After all, the woman or man might say, "Our definition of marriage includes animals, plus my horse or my sheep will be eligible for my employee health care benefits and my inheritance at my death." It would appear that a denial of a marriage license would be sufficient grounds for a discrimination lawsuit. After all, animals have rights as well as humans.

But there are other possibilities. Some people might feel that the definition of marriage should be expanded so as to include group marriage. What argument would the San Francisco County Clerk have against the issuance of a marriage license to three, four or 10 men or the like number of women who wanted to marry?

You might say: "Williams, you're raising a red herring. Gay activists are only talking about same-sex marriage between one man and another, and one woman and another." That's the call for right now. There is a phenomenon known as the slippery slope, or the camel's nose in the tent strategy, whereby one's complete agenda is not revealed at first lest he not get any of it at all. Examples abound, but one of the most flagrant was the tobacco zealot's agenda whereby they started out demanding non-smoking sections on airplanes -- then no smoking altogether, then no smoking in airports, then no smoking in restaurants and so forth, until what we have today.

Had the anti-smoking zealots revealed their full agenda upfront, they might not have even been successful in getting no smoking sections on airplanes.

The argument that same-sex couples can't enjoy benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy is an issue that can be readily resolved. For example, if employers provide $200 worth of medical insurance a month, they can simply add $200 in cash to their employees' paychecks and let them decide how it's spent. Other rights same-sex couples claim they're denied can be achieved through contracts.

It's my personal preference that people be able to conduct their lives in any manner they please. Tolerance doesn't require approval, only non-interference. Tolerance also doesn't require recognition of what one might call himself. A man and a man might call themselves married, but I'm not obliged to recognize it as such anymore than my calling myself the King of Siam should require that you recognize me as such.

President Bush has asked Congress to enact a constitutional amendment making it national law that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. The perceived need for a constitutional amendment should be an embarrassment for all of us -- it's simply more evidence of our moral decline. If it were possible for previous generations of Americans to know about this marriage controversy, they'd probably be embarrassed and shocked, and might ask, "What in the hell has happened to America?"


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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