By Greg Smith
“If God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him.” – Voltaire, 18th Century French philosophe
Over a century after it was banned by federal law, polygamy in Utah may well soon make a comeback in the Beehive State – ironically thanks to a federal judge’s belief he is more rational than the American voter.
U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby’s recent ruling in Kitchen v Herbert found the voter-approved amendment to that state’s constitution “demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason.” The nebulous nature of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in gay marriage makes defining what is “rational” a purely emotional opinion on both sides. Seems like many thousands of years of evolutionary social practice is more than can be wiped as irrational by a 43-year-old judge.
Laws against gay-marriage are obviously based at least in part on religious teaching, but to dismiss them as irrational dictates of pure faith is to ignore religious precepts were and are based on — through evolution or divine intervention it matters not – practices generally good for the individual and society. Of the Ten Commandments, the last six could easily be taken from a modern law code. One more, keeping holy the Sabbath, coincides with reforms Progressives in America correctly advocated over a hundred years as good for both employer and employee. How many people would argue avoiding sex before marriage is bad for an individual or society? Correlating modern American health and prosperity statistics to religious beliefs would show what a positive the latter are to society.
One of the most relevant quotes heard recently on moral issues comes from The Simpsons when Homer showed up at his son’s Catholic school and tells the priest “I’m Bart Simpson’s father and I’m sick of you teaching my son your time-tested values!” It is sad when a loutish, caricaturized cartoon character displays slightly more understanding of the relevant relationship between religious beliefs and secular life than a sitting federal judge.
Shelby’s decision ignores millennia of human social and physical development rendering us beings with exceptionally complex mental make-up. For him to pretend he truly understands how the human psyche and gay marriage could impact society is a sad folly. Anyone who pays attention to America’s economy constantly sees problems exacerbated by government action. The sphere of economics – especially the law of unintended consequences — is far more predictable and yet government action regularly causes the opposite of its intended result.
Advocates of gay marriage have pointed as precedent to the rare instances of homosexual unions recognized by societies over thousands of years, but that actually is at odds with Shelby’s ruling in Kitchen v Herbert because gay marriage has been tried many times. Why did it not become as normalized as heterosexual marriage if there is no rational reason for gay marriage to be excluded by societies? Surely social evolution would have, over thousands of years, rendered it a non-issue if there was no reason.
The meaning of Voltaire’s quote is still debated; to me it recognized the positive attributes religious beliefs provide to secular society. Put another way, even if one considers belief in God and related religious edicts irrational, the benefits to society and the individual are real.
Among the many reasons cited in favor of laws against gay marriage is the ever-present slippery slope, meaning “then, what’s next?” Shelby’s ruling unambiguously calls into question laws against polygamy. What rational basis is there to prohibit group marriages? All of the reasons Shelby gave in his ruling could apply to three persons, but does anyone aside from those who live in what television news would call “a compound” believe polygamy should be legal?
Shelby’s ruling cited previous laws which prohibited inter-racial marriage which were invalidated by the courts. To compare gay marriage to inter-racial marriage and the related societal effect is to compare apples and lawnmowers. The fact they are both marriages does not make them interchangeable. The differences between a white man being married to a black woman is considerably smaller than marriage of two men.
This is not an argument against gay marriage. There are powerful arguments for it, and maybe it should be legal. However, lacking a clear constitutional argument for a judge to overturn laws prohibiting gay marriage other than there is “no rational reason,” the decision is up to voters or elected legislators, and they have made their decision over and over all around the nation. This is a political question for which the system of government was set up to decide.
Those in Utah who oppose the federal court’s decision should immediately have three people go apply for a marriage license. Then, when the application is denied, sue and let a judge – hopefully Judge Shelby — either apply some tortured logic why government can stop two women and a man from marrying but not two women, or let him rule polygamy is protected by the constitution and voters can see exactly where the arrogance behind judicial activism leads. ©
Greg Smith is a freelance writer and political consultant who lives in Bantam, CT. His blog is found at http://www.betterfatthanfascist.com.