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Marriage Amendments and Intellectual Quicksand

Jim Campbell | Alliance Defense Fund | Monday, November 3, 2008

Marriage Amendments and Intellectual Quicksand

November 3, 2008

On Tuesday, voters in California, Arizona, and Florida will establish what “marriage” means in their state by voting on amendments to their constitutions. These amendments are hotly contested, imbued with impassioned rhetoric and even angry name-calling.  The name-calling is bad enough:  using words like “hatemonger,” “bigot,” and “homophobe” is not reasoned debate.  What is really wrong, however, is when people opposing marriage amendments claim that amendment supporters mindlessly cling to a “stupid,” intellectually unsupported position.  But is that true?  Which side actually rests its argument on intellectual quicksand?

The baseline issue is simple:  For what purpose does a state recognize marriage and grant benefits to its participants?  The supporters and opponents of marriage amendments diverge at this point, which, as we shall see, leads each camp to vastly different conclusions regarding the definition and scope of marital unions.

The amendments’ supporters argue that opposite-sex relationships are the only unions that naturally produce children and families, and thus, these relationships should be recognized and benefited because of the government’s interest in procreation and biological family stability.  The fruit of these opposite-sex unions is the basic building block of society.  This view of marriage is grounded in biology and sociology:  only opposite-sex couples engage in sexual activity that produces children; the couples and their children collectively form families; and stable families benefit society.

In contrast, the amendments’ opponents say that marriage exists whenever there are adults who join one another in “love” and with “commitment.”  Of course, the opponents limit such “love and commitment” relationships to couples who are not closely related.  But the opponents cannot identify an objective, neutral principle that limits their version of “marriage” to “two persons but no more” or to “those who are not closely related.”

Ask them this question, and you’ll hear politically popular buzzwords about “equality,” “civil rights,” and “discrimination.”  But you won’t get a substantive answer because there really isn’t any to give.  The logical, inevitable result of describing marriage as nothing more than “loving, committed relationships” is that the definition will eventually apply to all such relationships, no matter how many are involved or how closely related they are.  A “no” vote on the marriage amendments implicitly endorses this result.

Having carefully weighed the arguments, I’ve concluded as follows:  The amendments’ opponents might rightfully refer to some marriage supporters as “traditionalists” or even “devoted religious adherents,” but calling them “stupid” is, well ... not very smart.  After all, it’s the amendments’ opponents who tout an argument that, if followed to its logical conclusion, will require the states to recognize polygamous and incestuous “marriages.”

So voters ought not to listen to the name-calling naysayers.  When it comes time for voters to cast their ballots, they can rest assured that a “yes” vote on the marriage amendments is indeed a smart choice.

Jim Campbell is litigation counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund (www.telladf.org), a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.