In covering the debate over a state marriage amendment in North Carolina, I engaged in a back-and-forth with a liberal denizen of Twitter over whether civil marriage is a right. Somehow, it degenerated into her asking me whether I was married (the implication being that I had no right to speak on such matters if I wasn’t). I replied — quite charmingly and cheekily — by asking if she was in the market. To which she replied that she was, but only for a real man (defined, I guess, as one who thinks homosexual marriage is terrific).
Rejected again. But I digress.
A lot hinges on the question of whether marriage is “a right,” and how that’s understood. Lefties, typically, will cast the marriage debate as a conservative crusade to take away “rights.” I can see where they get that. The U.S. Supreme Court has declared traditional marriage between a man and a woman a right. When the court overturned a state ban on interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia (1967), the court held that marriage “is one of the basic civil rights of man.” Properly understood, I agree with that assessment. Misunderstood, however, it's disastrous.
Does a civil right to marriage entail that government must recognize whatever two (or more) consenting adults consider a “marriage”? In other words, each individual defines their own right? Naturally, no. We wouldn’t even apply that standard to rights specified in the U.S. Constitution, such as the right to vote. There are parameters around that right — U.S. citizenship and aged 18 or over, to name two. So the right to vote is not a blanket right. Residents have to meet certain requirements.
Marriage is the same way. It’s a right, yes, but there are parameters. A big one is that it must be a male-female relationship. In many states, younger teens have to get parental consent before getting married. There also are laws against marrying inside one's own family (certainly brothers and sisters, but also first cousins). So while it’s a right, it’s not whatever anyone decides it is, any more than the right to vote is self-defined on an individual basis.
What liberals want is the “right” to redefine marriage to be whatever they choose. But life — and our constitutional government — doesn’t work that way.
In the meantime, I’m rethinking my Twitter dating strategy.