The debate over homosexual marriage is simmering again in California. Opponents of Proposition 8 are making their case in the California Courts, arguing that California’s recent constitutional amendment violates the civil rights of those engaged in homosexual practices.
To gain clarity on this discussion, one can put it in a different context. Consider a sandwich shop on Crow Street, U.S.A. A white man walks into the sandwich shop, looks at the menu and orders a turkey on rye sandwich. An attendant prepares the sandwich and gives it to the white man. The white customer pays the attendant and walks out. Then, a black man comes to the same shop, orders the same sandwich but receives a very different response. The black man is told that this shop cannot serve him.
This is an example of what? If all else is equal, we clearly witnessed an example of a civil rights violation. Specifically, we are seeing Jim Crow racism in action. Why? Put simply, the white man could get something the black man could not simply because of his skin color.
Now, let us look at a modification of the previous scenario. A black man walks into a sandwich shop on Main Street, U.S.A. He walks to the counter without viewing the menu or glancing at the order board above the attendant’s head. Then, he asks for a Brontosaurus on Soylant Green sandwich. Dumfounded, the attendant replies, “Well, sir, that’s not on the menu.” He continues, “The brontosaurs went extinct millions of years ago and Solyant Green is just a mythical construct invented for a 1970s movie starring Charlton Heston.” The resigned though still hungry black man walks out, passing a white man on the way into the shop. The white man, astonishingly, asks for the same brontosaurus on Soylant Green sandwich. To this request, the attendant counters, “look, pal, I do not know what type of joke this is, but that’s just not on the menu.”
Now, this is an example of what? A civil rights violation? Racism? No. They received equal treatment. Both the white man and the black man asked for the same thing, and both were refused. The reason was simple; the request was not on the menu.
Moving closer to our targeted issue, imagine a justice of the peace’s office on Getto Street in Warsaw, Poland in 1940. A blond haired, blue eyed Methodist (a protestant Christian denomination) woman walks into the office arm in arm with the man who hopes to marry her. After explaining their intentions, the German appointed justice of the peace asks for their papers. He reviews them, abruptly stops and harshly says, “You, sir, are a Jew. A Jew will never marry an Aryan in Hitler’s Poland!” The couple withdraws in fear. A month later, the same woman returns with a Methodist male companion and requests a marriage license. The same justice of the peace reviews their papers and grants the happy couple a marriage license.
What is this? A civil rights violation has occurred. In this situation, we see religious discrimination. The Jewish fiancée was denied the right to marry his gal, but a protestant man was able to marry the woman without a problem.
Let’s return to Ghetto Street. As a way of compensating for losing his one love, the Jewish man finds three Jewish women willing to enter into a polygamous marriage with him. So, he braves the justice of the peace once more to ask for a marriage license. Without even looking at the papers of the four people before him, the justice exclaims, “You want to marry how many girls! This is, of course, entirely illegal, and I cannot do it.” Moments later, a Methodist man arrives with three blonds in tow. He says, “I can’t wait to marry these gals; let’s get the paperwork out of the way!” To this the justice responds, “This must be international polygamy day! However, the law remains; you cannot marry more than one woman, sir.”
In this scenario, we again see the difference between a civil rights violation and fair application of a rule. Neither man could marry his trio. The discriminatory religious preference of the justice of the peace did not affect his decision. The law stated that one person could have but one spouse at a time, and the justice applied the law fairly.
Connecting the two situations and four scenarios described, one can see that both highlight the difference between civil rights violations and fair applications of societal prohibitions. Civil rights violations occur when a particular group enjoys privileges fundamentally denied to others. When you strip the emotion and religious arguments away, it is fairly easy to see and understand this.
Let’s apply our newfound clarity to the homosexual marriage issue. We need to answer one fundamental question. Are homosexuals asking for a privilege given only to heterosexuals, or are they asking for something denied to both groups? In the former case, homosexuals would be the victims of a civil rights violation, but in the latter, they are simply asking for something “not on the menu.” Homosexuals are asking for the ability to marry people of the same sex. Heterosexuals have not asked for this ability, but under current laws, same sex marriage would be denied to heterosexuals as well. Neither group benefits from its sexual practices. Neither group enjoys a privilege denied to other. Therefore, homosexuals are not suffering a denial of rights. They are merely asking for a change in existing laws meant to benefit their group, a case of simple self-interest – not civil rights.