WHEN THE Supreme Court of the State of Vermont ruled that the state had to grant domestic partnership or marriage rights to homosexuals, they set a flash point for a firestorm of controversy. Politicians on both sides of the line almost immediately came out with impassioned rhetoric expressing their condemnation or congratulations.
Of course, the former was available in far greater supply than the latter. The conservative right wing made the loudest noise, with politicians like Gary Bauer going so far as to compare the Court's decision to a terrorist act. Still, the entire Republican presidential field voiced its displeasure.
All this hue and cry is futile, of course. The ruling in this instance cannot be appealed further, because it was based on an equal-rights clause in the Vermont constitution. Federal courts therefore cannot overturn the decision, unless they're willing to throw out the constitution. Ultimately, anything politicians say about this issue has little use except in allowing us to hear them talk. Sure, we get a feel for the carefully posed distaste Republican candidates have for the decision, and the just-as-carefully displayed neutrality of the Democrats. Their empty rhetoric, however, has no more meaning or force than Shakespeare's "tale told by an idiot."
Beyond the simple futility of these opinions, there's another reason to ignore them. The objections voiced by the candidates in opposition to the ruling only rarely make any sense. When they do, they betray an intolerance and mean-spiritedness that defies reason.
The objection most frequently voiced by conservatives who try to come across as "compassionate" is simply that they believe marriage should be between a man and a woman. This, of course, agrees with most Western religious views about marriage. It does not, however, coincide with all of them, as shown by the many ministers who have sanctioned same-sex unions in the past.
When there's a difference of opinion like this, it makes sense to seek the most rational resolution possible. In this case, that means turning to the courts. And under the standard of granting equal rights to everyone, allowing homosexuals to marry is the right decision.
Of course, there could be other factors that might influence the decision. After all, if allowing homosexual marriage harmed our society, then that might constitute a valid reason to oppose the change. Conservatives have a ready answer here: They always cry loudly that allowing gay marriage will destroy the family.
This can be taken in two ways. In one sense, they might be expecting that allowing gay people to marry will cause people in other marriages to separate, abandon their children, and disrespect their elders. Such a belief makes no sense. People are not going to run out and get divorces simply because of a semantic change in the meaning of marriage.
The more reasonable way to take this objection is that conservatives fear allowing gay marriages would cheapen the meaning of marriage for heterosexual couples. Such an objection hinges on the assumption that a homosexual marriage is somehow inferior to a heterosexual one. One of the more obvious differences that might lead to this supposed inferiority is that homosexuals cannot have their own children. But I don't hear conservatives attempting to ban marriages involving infertile partners. So that doesn't seem to be the linchpin.
More likely, conservatives believe that two men, or two women, who are devoted to each other in mind, body and soul, have a relationship that is somehow inferior to the one shared by a man and a woman who are devoted to each other on the same level. Given that most of the people who say this have not been in a same-sex relationship, it seems that they are arguing beyond their experience.
To allege that same-sex couples don't really love each other is simply mean-spirited, and entirely prejudiced. The shape of one's genitals does not determine one's ability to love someone else; the shapes of two peoples' genitals do not determine their ability to love each other.
The bottom line here is that gay couples do love each other in exactly the same emotional way that heterosexual couples do. To grant the latter group marriage rights while denying them to the former is unjust and cruel. Homosexuality may strike people as unnatural, or even disgusting. Aversion to or ignorance about those relationships, however, is not enough to justify denying marriage rights to gays.
(Sparky Clarkson's column appears Tuesdays in the The Cavalier Daily.)