June 30, 2011
‘Marriage' equality: Not about equal rights
By Andrew Haines *

By Andrew Haines *

Contrary to popular belief, the debate over “marriage equality” — i.e., admitting that same-sex unions can be tantamount to marital unions — is not about securing equal rights for all. This language, after all, is so often thrown around, in houses of legislature as well as in our own living rooms. But it’s a misnomer; and it’s caused no small amount of confusion.

That people have a “right” to marry is, at bottom, a fuzzy notion. It’s fuzzy precisely because the term “right” is fuzzy. To many, rights are those claims we have on things that seem good to us: for example, shelter, food, and liberty — and even on more abstract things like the ability to vote. “I have a right to my opinion,” some say. “I have a right to do and say what makes me happy.”

Of course, at some point we’d all agree that rights to personal happiness fall apart. If what makes me happy is killing my neighbor, that’s not protected under my rights; and no one would disagree.

What sets apart right-protected actions from non-right-protected actions is often left out of the question. But it’s an important factor in determining where my rights end, and where someone else’s begin.

To think this way, we have to introduce a criterion for parsing the idea of “rights.” And that criterion is nothing other than goodness.

In the case of my wanting to kill my neighbor, there’s an obvious good that’s impeded in my carrying out the action: i.e., my neighbor loses his life. He’s got a right to that, no doubt. And when I infringe on his ability to secure that right, my action is no longer defensible by the same standard. In short — in a just society — two rights can’t contradict one another. Otherwise, justice is reduced merely to the will and desires of the stronger.

At bottom, then, in order to claim a right to some thing or action, that thing or action must be genuinely good, and must not contravene the goodness due to another member, or many other members of society.

When it comes to “marriage equality,” arguments from “equal protection under law” don’t hold water precisely because they presume that a right (i.e., to marriage) is being withheld when in fact it is not. Quite simply, there is nothing genuinely good about non-conjugal unions being named “marriages.” Marriage — historically — is a name reserved for a union between a man and a woman; and its character and meaning entails precisely that: the possibility for conjugal union. Calling a same-sex, non-conjugal union “marriage” is equivalent to naming a friendship between two young girls “parenthood.” Some similarities are present, sure — two people in relation to one another. But in each case, a critical, defining aspect is missing.

Nor do the rights of heterosexual couples to marry infringe or impede upon the rights of same-sex couples to marry, since the latter is impossible to begin with.

No doubt, advocates of same-sex marriage use “equal rights” language because it has a proven track record historically — for instance, in establishing the equality of black Americans with their white counterparts. In this case, a genuine good was being withheld from blacks that they had a claim on — namely, the goodness of enjoying, as human persons, the same treatment, evaluation, and liberties as other persons. “Equal protection under law” applied.

But in the case of gay marriage, no goodness is being denied the couples in question. And the actions of outsiders don’t infringe on any pre-possessed right. Same-sex couples simply aspire to an institution — and a type of relationship — that they cannot participate in (with one another). Arguments from “equal protection” are, on these grounds, baseless, since there is simply nothing equal about the romantic relationship between a man and a woman and the romantic relationship between two men or two women.

Andrew Haines is president of the Center for Morality in Public Life and a PhD student in Philosophy at The Catholic University of America. He lives in Virginia with his wife, Kathleen, and their son.
« Previous entry     Back to index     Next entry »
Ads by Google
(What's this?)
blog comments powered by Disqus


Ads by Google (What's this?)
Ads by Google (What's this?)

Featured Videos

Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass and announces site of next World Youth Day
Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass and announces site of next World Youth Day
Pope Francis visits poor neighborhood and meets with young people from Argentina
Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida
Denver rally draws hundreds in support of religious freedom
Pope Francis prays over a sick man in St Peter's Square
Denver women's clinic will offer natural, Catholic care
Interview Clips: Barbara Nicolosi speaks to CNA
US Cardinals press conference at North American College
Pope Benedict to retire to monastery inside Vatican City
Pope cites waning strength as reason for resignation
Hundreds convene in Denver to urge respect for life
New Orange bishop encourages Catholic unity in diversity
Chinese pro-life activist calls for reform, international attention
At Lincoln installation, Bishop Conley says holiness is success
Mother Cabrini shrine reopens in Chicago after a decade
Ordination of 33 deacons fills St. Peter's with joy
Cardinal says "Charity is the mother of all the virtues"
Augustine Institute expands evangelization effort with new campus
Bishops recall 'Way of St. James' as chance to trust in God
Los Angeles cathedral's newest chapel houses Guadalupe relic

Liturgical Calendar

April 19, 2014

Holy Saturday

All readings:
Today »
This year »

Catholic Daily

Gospel of the Day

Mt 28:1-10


Daily Readings

First Reading:: Gen 1:1-2:2
Gospel:: Mt 28:1-10

Saint of the Day

Blessed James Oldo »


Homily of the Day

Mt 28:1-10


Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com

Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com
Text only

Follow us: