Gay marriage shouldn’t rely on consensus

Marley Seaman column

Forty years ago, thousands of National Guardsmen protected James Meredith when he became the first black student at the University of Mississippi. Meredith enrolled because the Supreme Court said he had the right.

“If we have to call out the National Guard for me to get married, so be it,” says Communication senior David Graddick, co-president of Northwestern’s Rainbow Alliance.

The recent quickie weddings of 6,000 gays and lesbians in San Francisco resemble Meredith’s stand. Like him, these couples know their rights.

Today President Bush — who himself took office after a Supreme Court ruling — complained in his State of the Union address that “activist judges” shouldn’t rule contrary to public opinion. He’s wrong, and a poor history student to boot. The gay marriage dispute is the type of case courts are supposed to settle: one concerning the rights of a minority.

Judges are appointed for life because they are expected to interpret the law objectively in the long term — instead of following popular opinion. It’s an important difference, as national politicians are not supporting the issue because they have too much to lose.

The Constitution should not be interpreted by popular fiat. The public doesn’t have the authority to give and take away civil rights. By Bush’s logic Meredith should have been admitted only when Mississippi’s voters approved.

“Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,'” said Chief Justice Earl Warren in his opinion on Loving v. Virginia (1967). That decision eliminated anti-miscegenation laws in 16 states because those laws violated the 14th Amendment. Two years prior a Gallup poll found almost three-quarters of Southern whites supported the laws.

When the “activist” Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws last year, Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum commented that bestiality, incest and pedophilia would be legalized next. This is the fallacy of the slippery slope, and Santorum conveniently ignored the fact that none of those scenarios involve two consenting adult humans.

Some claim homosexuality is evil because certain Biblical passages say so. But many religious groups support gay rights. They know the Bible was written by less tolerant people. America is a secular, not Christian, nation and marriage certificates are what counts legally. Otherwise atheists wouldn’t be able to get married. Churches can refuse to perform same-sex marriages, but the state cannot.

Furthermore, gay marriage does not threaten the sanctity of marriage. Preventing loving couples from marrying does. Last month in Las Vegas, Britney Spears got drunk, married a friend and annulled it two days later — something every heterosexual has the right to do. Meanwhile, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin had to wait 51 years to get married in San Francisco last week because they are lesbians.

“There will be a time in this country when (gays) can’t be ignored,” Graddick says.

That time has come, because citizens should not have to wait for the public to acknowledge them. Gays and lesbians deserve their rights now.

Marley Seaman is a Medill senior. He can be reached at [email protected]