“It’s Always Been That Way”
On April 28 oral arguments were held in the Supreme Court case “Obergefell v. Hodges”. The primary issue in the case is whether there exists a Constitutional right to marry a person of the same sex. (Another, somewhat secondary issue in the case is whether states that do not sanction same sex marriages are compelled to recognize such unions performed in states that do). As I was reading news reports about the case’s Supreme Court oral argument, I was struck by how many Justices fell back on what I consider to be a very insubstantial argument against gay marriage, which can be summed up in the words “It’s always been that way”. Justice Kennedy said “This definition (i.e. marriage being only between one man and one woman) has been with us for millennia. And it’s very difficult for the court to say ‘Oh well, we know better’”. Justice Roberts said “Every definition (of marriage) that I looked up, prior to about a dozen years ago, defined marriage as unity between a man and woman as husband and wife”. Even Justice Breyer stated “the opposite view (that marriage is between one man and one woman) has been the law everywhere for thousands of years”. Except that it hasn’t. Polygamy is legal, RIGHT NOW, in about 25% of the world’s countries. So when people, even Supreme Court Justices, say that throughout history marriage has always been defined, in every culture, as only being between one man and one woman, they are flat out wrong. Not that I’m urging the United States to legalize polygamy, but I am saying that if you rest your argument against marriage equality on the “fact” that marriage has always been defined everywhere as between one man and one woman, your argument rests on a fallacy.
But there’s a much better counter to the “historical” argument against marriage equality that can be summed up in two words: “So what?” Yes, it is true that the world has a long history of discrimination against, and persecution of, gay people. But is there any good reason for continuing that prejudice? Do opponents of marriage equality, including those who sit on the Supreme Court, really believe that a legitimate rationale for discriminating against homosexuals is “well, we’ve always done that”? That argument is not only specious, it also throws up a bulwark against human progress. Slavery was accepted in virtually every human culture until it wasn’t anymore. Humanity cannot move forward if it clings to outmoded and harmful ideas for no other reason than “It’s always been that way”.