Friday, February 25, 2011

Property Of

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.

The [Defense Of Marriage Act] simply makes more explicit the government's obligation to secure the Creator-endowed unalienable rights of the natural family. This obligation precludes government from fabricating other rights that impair them. In this respect, granting homosexuals the right to marry is like granting plantation owners the right to own slaves.
Alan Keyes
I'm afraid to ask on what grounds one compares the right to same-sex marriage with the right to own another human being and force them to perform labor for you. To a degree, I reject Keyes' idea of "Creator-endowed unalienable rights" as a fantasy. (And yes, I realize that this also means I'm thumbing my nose at the Declaration of Independence.) If the Creator wants to endow rights, the Creator needs to show up to defend them. If there is one thing that American history has taught us, it's that rights are only worth the amount of effort and/or pain that people are willing to put into protecting them, and sanctioning people who seek to abrogate them. The "peculiar institution" of slavery existed for so long in the face of Creator-endowed unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness precisely because government chose to create other rights that allowed for it, and the Creator apparently declined to object.

Snarking aside, if we take Keyes at his word, it's helpful to attempt to parse out what "Creator-endowed unalienable rights of the natural family" he might be referring to. I went to the source of the quote, and found that it is immediately preceded by this:
Government doesn't endow people with the ability to procreate the species. The Creator takes care of that. Like all unalienable rights, those associated with the natural family exist in consequence of this endowment. A couple that cannot, by nature, procreate has no claim to those rights. Nor can government grant them a semblance of it without impairing the claims of one or both of the parents biologically implicated in the physical conception of the child.
Note, that by this logic, government cannot countenance the granting of familial rights to ANY couple that cannot procreate. Hence, the infertile should be barred from marriage. Now, I know that it looks like I'm simply indulging in gotchas here, but I really don't think that Keyes has thought his argument through to its logical conclusion - which is that since the government sanctions marriage between heterosexual couples without first taking any steps to ascertain the fertility of said couples, and thus allows infertile couples to marry, the rights of biological parents are, by necessity, impaired, since the infertile cannot, by nature, procreate.

Okay. That doesn't tell us everything that we need to know, but it's a start. So far, the unalienable right of the natural family would appear to be an absolute freedom from competition from any other sort of family structure. This would be in keeping with one of the standard Conservative hobgoblins surrounding same-sex couples - that since being homosexual is so much more rewarding than being heterosexual, some indeterminate number of people who would have otherwise gone on to unhappily marry a member of the opposite sex and have 2.7 children out in the suburbs will instead decide to shack up with someone of the same sex. But this is difficult to tie into some rights of parents being trampled. From where I sit, childbearing couples are just as much the property of the natural family's unalienable rights as everyone else - they're simply more okay with that arrangement.

In other words, it seems difficult to understand how the rights of parents are impaired by the simple mechanism of letting people who cannot be both the biological mother and father of a child have access to the rights and responsibilities of marriage. Keyes' "Creator-endowed unalienable rights of the natural family" don't seem to apply to people at all - they seem to apply to the concept or construct of the nuclear family, which has the right to be the only form of family in existence - a right which is buttressed by an obligation of people to engage in monogamous heterosexual relationships or do without recognition of any sort of familial relationship.

And if we understand that the preservation of traditional marriage is invested solely in the obligation of all people to engage in a certain type of relationship, or none at all, I'd say that Mr. Keyes may have put slavery on the wrong side of the ledger.

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