Calvin Freiburger

What Conservatism Tells Us About Gay Marriage, Part 1

Posted on August 12 2010 1:00 pm
Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.

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Several of NewsRealBlog‘s writers, including David Horowitz, have weighed in on the overturn of Proposition 8 in California, and as usual when it comes to issues other than economics and foreign policy, we can’t seem to agree. Perhaps it will be useful to frame the discussion this way: what do the first principles of American conservatism tell us about same-sex marriage? Today’s post will be limited to the constitutional/liberty angle; I’ll explore the social value of marriage next week.

Conservatives, seeking to conserve the classical liberal principles of the American Founding, understand that “rights” are freedoms that nature has already given individuals (not groups or relationships)—to life, liberty, and property—and may not be justly taken away. In other words, rights denote things that cannot be done to you, not things that you must be given. As believers in limited government and the rule of law, conservatives of every stripe are also bound to respect the plain meaning and original intent of the Constitution, which in the 14th Amendment prevents states from making laws abridging the “privileges or immunities of citizens” and guaranteeing to all Americans the “equal protection of the laws.”

Proposition 8 violated none of this. By merely stating that only man-woman unions would be considered “marriages” in California, gay Americans were in no way denied their rights to life, liberty, property, or any other right the Constitution guarantees. They weren’t denied the freedom to form relationships, to have sex, to live together, to share property, to visit one another in hospitals, or to make medical decisions for one another. They weren’t even prevented from holding marriage ceremonies. Under Proposition 8, gay and straight Californians were still treated as free and equal in every way the Constitution requires.

All claims otherwise rely upon misidentifying civil marriage as a “right.” It’s not. Throughout history, marriage has been recognized as an arrangement offered to procreative relationships, because society wishes to promote and strengthen stable, healthy environments for the upbringing of future citizens. Gay unions, obviously, are qualitatively different from straight ones: they don’t reproduce, so formalizing them serves no comparable public purpose. (As Robert Stacy McCain superbly explained last year, “equality” and “sameness” aren’t the same thing, and confusion of the two is a progressive notion. Along with the procreative element, this easily invalidates comparisons to interracial marriage.) As I noted on August 5, even if its correctness is disputable, its rationality shouldn’t be—a requirement the Constitution’s text doesn’t make anyway.

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