Wise words on equality

From a recent short posting by Steve Smith of the USD Law School:

Everyone favors equality: Everyone thinks that like cases should be treated alike. Nobody argues, “These groups are alike in all relevant respects, but they should be treated differently.” So when people disagree about legal or political issues, they aren’t arguing for and against equality. Instead, they are disagreeing about whether two cases, or two classes of people, actually are alike for the purposes of whatever is being discussed.

So the real disagreement is not about equality, but rather about what marriage is, or what it should be thought to include. Among the vast spectrum of human relationships, many of them valuable or ennobling, which ones should be classified under the heading of “marriage”? On that question, there are various views. Some think marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman. Some think it can include relationships between two committed adults, regardless of sex. Some would not limit marriage to only two persons. Some would not limit it to adults.

Reasonable people can debate these views in good faith and in various vocabularies—cultural, psychological, political, theological. So there are important debates to be had, and important decisions to be made. But the debates will only be cluttered up, and the decisions confounded, if the issue is framed in the question-begging terms of “marriage equality.”

Well said.  And I would add that simplifying that which is not simple (human sexuality, for instance) does not make any group, in the long run, better off.



One thought on “Wise words on equality

  1. Underlying arguments about same sex marriage is the question of who can make a claim that civil rights are at stake. I am reading right now The Warmth of Other Suns about the black migration from south to north. It’s very instructive.

    Although I lived through the black struggle for civil rights, I’d forgotten how terrible the condition of blacks was in the American south (and elsewhere of course, but this book is about the south). When other groups try to claim the civil rights mantle, some questions need to be asked – are any other groups, including women, similarly situated to black Americans before laws were passed to rectify their status? I would say no.

    Blacks were enslaved. They were by law prohibited from sitting in certain areas on public transportation, being served in restaurants and staying in hotels, using swimming pools, etc. that were also used by whites. They were forced to attend separate and usually inferior schools and colleges, use the services of separate doctors, hospitals, and dentists, wash their clothes in separate laundromats, etc. They were forced to step off the sidewalk to let a white person pass. They were grossly underpaid compared to whites doing the same jobs. They were lynched for imagined and/or minor infractions. They risked their lives to reverse these policies. There was no hiding from discrimination by all but a few whose coloring was such that they might “pass” as white.

    In some states, blacks could not marry whites. Prohibiting interracial marriage was part of a much larger system of apartheid. Yet interracial marriages occurred in other states, among all races, including American Indians. The prohibition against black and white marriages was imposed in a few states and aimed specifically at marriages between blacks and whites to help maintain the separation between these two races only. Blacks intermarried with American Indians, for example, in these same states. So the practice of interracial marriage continued in most places probably for the millenia that different races encountered one another. Anti-miscegination laws were a historical anomaly, not analogous to the idea that marriage as it has been conceived of also for millenia, is between a man and a woman – in my opinion, for obvious reasons.

    Therefore, claims that denying same sex “marriage” is the same as denying interracial marriage makes no sense, except to demagogues. Homosexuals are NOT similarly situated to Mr. and Mrs. Loving when the historical context is examined.

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