You hear a lot from the religious right about how marriage is under attack and how Christians need to band together to defend marriage. And yet, nobody is really attacking people’s right to get married—except people like Jayman.
I don’t view marriage as a civil right (i.e., it is not like the right to life, the right to free speech, and the like).
Pardon me whilst I attach my own Defense of Marriage Amendment to that particular argument.
Jayman’s argument is one you sometimes hear from smug homophobes who know that their own right to marriage is not in any credible danger. All that alarmism and demagoguery about marriage being “at risk” is merely a useful fiction (aka “a lie”) designed to mask the homophobe’s true motives and agenda. Marriage as an institution is currently so secure that it costs them nothing at all to propose a philosophical attack on the fundamental right to marriage itself. They risk nothing by this attack, and gain the opportunity to express their contempt for the marriage rights of others. To a bigot, that’s a win-win strategy.
Jayman doesn’t specify whether he denies the existence of any right to marriage at all, or whether he’s merely stipulating that marriage is some other kind of right, like, say, a human right. The latter possibility is also reasonable, but I doubt that’s Jayman’s position. It’s a moot point, though, because whether you call marriage a civil right, a human right, a divine right, or no right at all, our society is still guilty of an inequitable and unjust apportionment of access to marriage. That’s prejudice. That’s discrimination. Pretty-sounding philosophy is just a smoke screen to hide the oppression of homosexuals by mealy-mouthed homophobes.
And, in fact, marriage is a civil right, in that it’s a specific instance of the more general civil right to free association. Denying gays the right to associate as spouses is every bit as much of a civil rights violation as it would be to deny Christians the right to associate as a church. There are countries that do deny Christians the freedom to associate together as a church, and Christians complain that this is a violation of the right to free association. The right to associate as spouses is no different.
Nor is that the only grounds on which marriage is a civil right. Society has the power to impose sanctions on its members, but it has the right to do so only as a response to individuals who are causing harm to others, or to prevent such harm, and then only in proportion to the harm that is being caused. All other rights are reserved to the individuals themselves. When you impose sanctions on certain people just because you don’t approve of what they are, then you’re guilty of violating their civil rights. You yourself become the one who is causing harm to others, and thus you make yourself deserving of sanctions.
Homosexuals are people who happen to fall in love differently than heterosexuals do. This is not an action that causes harm to others, it is merely a difference in their biological/psychological makeup. And even if it weren’t, even if it were a choice like religious or political affiliation, it’s still not an action that harms others. It is unjust and oppressive to impose sanctions like “you will never be allowed to marry the one you love” on someone just because they happen to be different in some harmless way. It is a violation of their civil rights.
So yes, marriage is a civil right (and also a human right, since our sexuality is part of our identity as human beings), and we need to defend it against the attacks of the religious right. It’s been a losing battle thus far, but there are indications that the tide may be turning at last, and we might be about to take one step closer to being a truly free and just society.