As the debate over redefining marriage begins to heat up across the country, and with many “marriage equality” bills being voted on in state senates, many pro-gay rights activists have been using a very dangerous rhetoric for their arguments: civil rights. In American politics and culture, civil rights is a special term referring to the unalienable rights granted to each human being based upon natural law which no government can rightfully deny any of its citizens. Of course, the term is deeply interwoven with the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and whenever someone claims to advocate civil rights for one group, they most certainly are hoping to attach the imagery of that movement to their cause.
It is also useful to separate the movement to redefine marriage from gay rights as a whole. Many parts of the gay rights movement certainly fall under civil rights – for example, laws against discrimination based upon sexual orientation for things such as employment and housing opportunities. The fight to end homophobia and hate crimes are important parts of the general civil rights movement, as such practices take away from the sanctity of human life and are in clear violation of natural law. The problem arises when the term civil rights becomes part of the rhetoric to allow the state to condone marriage between couples of the same sex.
Civil rights, and in particular the fight for racial equality in the 1960s, was well grounded in natural law and was a fight against civil laws that instead represented only the interests of a select minority (Southern whites). The gay marriage movement, however, is neither. Gay marriage is not grounded in natural law. Marriage is itself an institution that is inherently sexual by its nature. Natural law dictates sex is heterosexual, since, by its nature, sex is aimed towards the procreation of the species, which can only be accomplished through heterosexual intercourse. This is not to say that people of the same sex cannot have intercourse, but they cannot fulfill nature’s full intention for sex: procreation. Since marriage is sexual, and sex by its full nature is inherently between man and woman, marriage is therefore – if dictated solely by biology and nature – naturally heterosexual. (For a complete discussion on marriage solely from the grounds of natural law, I encourage everyone to read Robert George’s article “What is Marriage?”) Furthermore, the traditional view of marriage is not a civil law meant to support the interests of a minority. On the contrary, gay marriage would be a civil law that would support the interests of a minority.
As is clear now, based upon the definition of civil rights and the merits of gay marriage, the movement for marriage equality does not qualify as civil rights. This does not mean that gay marriage should be illegal, and my intention was never to debate whether or not states should pass “marriage equality” laws. The point was to demonstrate the dangers of supporting something as civil rights when it certainly is not.
What are the pitfalls of claiming that redefining marriage is part of civil rights? Remember that the American political system has come to recognize civil rights as unalienable rights, grounded in natural law, which no government can deny its citizens. This is problematic, because imagine that gay marriage becomes part of a civil rights bill. Now Uncle Sam has a duty to make sure that in no way and in no part of the country are any of his citizens being denied these rights. That means it essentially becomes illegal to oppose gay marriage or even to deny marrying a couple based upon sexual orientation. This suddenly makes criminals out of the over 40,000 Catholic priests and numerous other Christian ministers who cannot in good conscience marry such a couple. By passing gay marriage off as a civil right, the gay movement has effectively isolated the entirety of the Catholic Church in America and made their beliefs a crime, along with those of many other Christian, Jewish and Muslim Americans. Can you imagine a U.S. president sending the National Guard to a parish in Little Rock, Ark., to coerce the priest to marry a same-sex couple?
Such an example may seem extreme and unlikely, but signs already point in that direction. In both Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts, after passing laws condoning gay marriage, government leaders wanted to force Catholic charities to allow gay couples to adopt children who resided within their adoption agencies. The Catholic Church was left with no choice but to openly go against their own teaching and faith or shut their doors and cease providing services for communities that they have long served. The Church chose the latter, and both Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts were more than happy to take away a great service to their own citizens for the sake of “civil rights.”
Even beyond the infringement upon religious freedom that gay rights supporters would cause by promoting gay marriage as civil rights, they should be cautious in using the term for only their benefit. Remember that in America, civil rights is so closely associated with the fight for racial equality that to many African-Americans, to whom the term refers to the iconic struggles of African-Americans in the deep South, using the term can seem like a shameless attempt at pathos. Recently in Maryland, an attempt to pass a marriage equality bill was shot down by the state legislature in large part because it could not draw support from African-American senators and congressmen who are often very religious and were turned off by the use of civil rights in the rhetoric of the bill’s supporters. Maryland Democratic legislator Emmett Burns said, “Show me your Selma, Alabama … Those who want to ride on our coattails are historically incorrect.”
It is clear that by claiming that gay marriage is a civil right, not only will such a claim infringe upon the rights of others, but it also isolates many of the same voters gay marriage supporters wish to receive empathy from, making the term a very poor form of rhetoric that supporters must immediately cease using.