Monday, November 3, 2008

The Matters of Rights, the Constitution, Discrimination, and Marriage

"May I humbly urge you to learn about the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and other basic documents of our great country so that you can sustain it and the free institutions set up under it...Before we can intelligently sustain the principles of this divinely inspired document, we need to understand it and the philosophy that underlies it. We will then be in a position to determine encroachments on our liberty when well-intentioned, but unenlightened politicians attempt to circumvent those principles. The greatest watchdog of our freedom is an informed electorate." Ezra Taft Benson

This election season, much is being said in support of rights. From the rights of animals, to the rights of the unborn, rights of teenage mothers, and the rights of same-gender relationships. I have decided to take up Benson's challenge and review the Constitution and ponder about the meaning of rights. Much of this blog will focus on the same gender marriage debate that is happening in California, Arizona, and Florida.

Point#1 Protection of Voting/Democratic/Republican Rights
The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government... Article IV, Section 4 Clause 1
In regards to California's Prop 8, regardless of marriage, it is the right of the citizens to have their government respect the voice of the majority. The Founding Fathers did not intend to have the states run by a monarchy or a mobocracy, but they sought to preserve republican values to maintain the stability and liberty of the states. One of the issues behind California's Proposition 8 , regardless of one's opinion on the definition of marriage, was the abuse of power of 4 judges who overturned the will of 61% of Californian voters to legalize gay marriage. While some people may support this action, what is there to stop these judges from overturning the state's decision on another matter in the future.

Point #2 Constitutional Amendments in Other States
The controversy over same sex marriage is not new. This is an important issue to all Americans, and Americans have made their voices heard on the matter. Currently, defense of marriage amendments have been adopted into the state constitutions of 27 different states. Of these, eight make only same-sex marriage unconstitutional, seventeen make both same-sex marriage and civil unions unconstitutional and two states have their own unique laws. Hawaii grants legislature authority to ban same-sex marriages and Virginia prevents the state from recognizing private contracts of unions that "approximate" marriage. These amendments passed in their states with an affirmative vote ranging between 52% (South Dakota) to 86% (Mississippi) with an average of the combined states being 69%. 16 other states prohibit same-sex marriage by statute. 2 states (New Mexico and Rhode Island) have marriage undefined. Have these 44 states suffered negative backlash, being labeled as "bigots," "intolerant," "inhumane," "homophobes," "unjust," and "unconstitutional"?

Point #3: "Fundamental" and Civil Rights
I have heard the word, "fundamental rights" used repeatedly in the argument of the definition of marriage. Looking up the word "fundamental" in Webster's dictionary, the definition includes the synonym, "essential". Is homosexual marriage essential? Does it fall under the same category of other essential rights (freedom to protect one's property, free speech (communication), freedom of religion?) There has been argument that some of these rights would be violated if same-gender marriage is legalized.

The roots of marriage as found in JudeoChristian beliefs point to spiritual and moral reasons (including upholding chastity), as well as the perpetuation of the human species and upholding parental responsibilities. Other ancient anthropologic reasons for establishment of the family unit include safety, providing of needs to offspring, and again, species propagation. Some years ago I visited a rural, Peruvian village along the banks of the Amazon river. I learned that while some of the moral vales regarding chastity were not given importance among this small society, marriage was deemed essential once a girl (usually a teenager) was determined to be pregnant. It was then she was put into a monogamous relationship under the title of marriage to secure the physical and social needs of the child. Such is an example of why marriage is essential, or "fundamental" to this village and the global society in general. Is same-gender, or any other alternative marriage arrangement, equally essential to society as traditional marriage?

The issue of civil rights has also been brought up in the argument. According to the Constitution, civil rights are those guaranteed to all individuals by the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments. The 14th Amendment was first intended to secure the rights of former slaves and has since helped different cases that are mostly racial-based . The Equal Protection Clause, which includes the text in the latter portion: nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, has had some debate with issues like afirmative action and proponents of same-gender marriage are claiming to fall under the protection of the Amendment. Many claim that their civil rights are violated because their domestic partner rights are not equal to those of married couples. Their argument is legitimate, but does that have to involve the changing of the definiton of marriage?
Often civil rights and natural rights are used interchangably. Thomas Jefferson wrote, "a free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate."

Point #4: "Promoting the General Welfare...To Ourselves and Our Posterity" and Discrimination
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..."
This is the preamble, or the Constitution's statement of purpose. This is to show the principles for its existance and why it needs to be upheld.
Are there times when rights of some may have to be denied or restricted for the welfare of others? Is "discrimination," as often used in this argument, ever justified? One random example is the issue of convicted sex offenders. Is it unjustified to have their names made publicly known or restrict them to where they can live (certain distances away from schools, etc...). In California, the California Teachers Association, ACLU, and Equality California opposed a bill, SB1105, that would withdraw the teaching credential of a teacher who pleads "no contest" in a sexual offense case. Why did they oppose? Because they considered it "discrimination" against teachers who may be homosexual. Has our obsession with being "politically correct," our fear of offending another, or the opinions of our peers crossed the line?
On the other hand, others have justified discrimination when it comes to the welfare of others is held at a greater level of importance. France banned same-sex unions because they believed that it was in the best interest of children. The Michigan state constitution states, "To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose." Is changing the definition of marriage, out of fear of being labeled "discriminators", justify the potential detrimental effects on society's views of marriage, family, and procreation? Will we have that same answer 10 year or 25 years from now?

There's more that could probably be said regarding this issue and the natural rights, democratic rights, and legal rights that encompass it. I hope all people, regardless of their politcal party or position on issues will look into the issues, become an informed electorate, and make decisions tomorrow that will uphold the prinicples of the Constitution.

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