Folk wisdom solves gay marriage debate

Your rights end where mine begin.

It’s a simple enough idea—arguably the mantra of libertarians everywhere—and as rules of thumb go, it’s a pretty good one. After all, the argument says, in a free country I can swing my arms all I want, as long as I don’t hit your nose.

For me, it’s difficult not to apply this simple folk aphorism to the debate about gay marriage, which became turbocharged this week when President Obama waded in and (some would say finally) declared his support for the idea.

I have to dismiss many of what could be termed impact-on-society arguments here, because let’s be frank, most are ridiculous. Some people say allowing men to marry men will destroy the institution of marriage, as if a divorce rate somewhere north of 40 percent for first-time marriages hasn’t already done that. As one friend recently stated, “I believe that marriage is one of the most beautiful and sacred things to ever be offered as a prize on a game show.”

And some folks argue that women marrying women is a irrevocable break with tradition. That may be true, but traditional marriages occurred for such noble reasons as wealth, politics, or simply because two dumb kids scurried off behind the barn without a condom. Early books of the Bible contain evidence of polygyny—the dream of every man who hasn’t been required to satisfy two women at the same time, and many, many marriages throughout history have been arranged by the newlyweds’ parents, with little or no input from the blessed couple themselves.

So history isn’t much help. Most people reading the last paragraph would disagree with at least one or more of the items on that list. What many of us think of as “traditional marriage” is really an amalgamation of tradition, religion, emotion, and statute, glued together by whatever we’re comfortable in believing.

One significant claim against gay marriage is that allowing it would carve a path that culminates in people marrying animals, more than one person, or inanimate objects.

Really??? So if I wanted to marry—right now—a hen, that would be fine, but until gay marriage is accepted a rooster is totally off the table? And I guess the egg timer and I will have to wait a few years before we can get that honeymoon we always wanted.

In the United States there is a strong Christian influence on our society, and Leviticus 18:22 makes the following pretty clear: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” (NIV) Now if you are a person who follows every passage of the Bible to the letter, I support your right to brandish Leviticus as a weapon in your argument against gay marriage. But if you choose this path, I humbly suggest you scan the following list and make sure your own house is in order before you worry about what other people are up to:

  • Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. (Lev. 19:19)
  • Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. (Lev. 19:27)
  • Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. (Lev. 19:28)
  • Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you. (Lev. 11:12)

These are just a few rules to be found in the Bible. I’m guessing that lots of folks—including many have campaigned against gay marriage—don’t give them a thought when they’re getting their hair cut or cracking open a crab leg. I can’t state it any more clearly than this: there are people who just plain don’t like the idea of gay marriage, and they’re willing to pick and choose from whatever they can to give credence to their campaign against it. But…

Your rights end where mine begin.

Or to put it another way, my rights end where yours begin. So whose rights are being trampled? Those who can’t abide the thought of two guys who are probably already living together doing so with a government stamp that says it’s okay, or two human beings who wish to affirm a commitment to each other in the same manner their relatives and friends have for hundreds of years?

I have another pal whose argument against gay marriage goes something like, “They’re looking for my acceptance, and I don’t have to give it.” That’s true; he doesn’t. But they’re just swinging their arms, dude. No one is hitting your nose.

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