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

Featured Videos

Cardinal Luis Tagle to Pope Francis
Cardinal Luis Tagle to Pope Francis
Pope Francis in the Philippines: Manila Welcomes the Pope
Pope Francis in Sri Lanka: Highlights
Pope Francis in Sri Lanka: Interview with Cardinal Ranjith
Pope Francis in SriLanka: Inter-religious Faith Meeting
Little Sisters of the Poor press conference in Denver
Family thrilled to see Pope Francis in Istanbul
Syrian Refugee, Sara, 14, Before Meeting Pope
Ebola orphans thousands of children in West Africa
One year after Haiyan: Philippines rebuilds homes, lives
An Indian contribution to the Vatican's Synod on the Family
Christ Cathedral CNA video Sept 2014
Alejandro Bermudez of CNA accepts ice bucket challenge
'The Real Albania,' remembering those who fled
Pope Francis in Albania, "one of the most important visits of the post-communist era in Albania"
Pope Francis greets paralyzed man who risked all to see him
Franciscans on the banks of the Tiber in Rome, working for the New Evangelization
Pilgrimage from Czech Republic to Assisi and Rome for intentions
Testimony of young Indian who met Pope in Korea
Preparations of the Closing Mass of 6th Asian Youth Day

Liturgical Calendar

January 29, 2015

Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

All readings:
Today »
This year »

Catholic Daily

Gospel of the Day

Mk 4:1-20


Daily Readings

Saint of the Day

St. Romuald »


Homily of the Day

Mk 4:1-20

Text only

Follow us: