FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
In search of equality equality
Last week, Rush Limbaugh said he thought the battle over marriage was lost as soon as rhetorical concessions such as “same-sex marriage” versus “traditional marriage” were made:
The language game, the left really excels at changing the language to benefit them politically, and they do it in such a way that a lot of people on our side have no idea what’s happened until it’s too late and the issue is already lost, which this issue is. This issue is lost. I don’t care what the Supreme Court does, this is now inevitable — and it’s inevitable because we lost the language on this. I mentioned the other day that I’ve heard people talk about “opposite-sex marriage,” or you might have had heard people say “traditional marriage.”
You might have heard people say “hetero-marriage.” I maintain to you that we lost the issue when we started allowing the word “marriage” to be bastardized and redefined by simply adding words to it, because marriage is one thing, and it was not established on the basis of discrimination. It wasn’t established on the basis of denying people anything. “Marriage” is not a tradition that a bunch of people concocted to be mean to other people with. But we allowed the left to have people believe that it was structured that way.
Objections have been raised that Limbaugh over-stated the importance of language control to winning this particular debate, but I don’t think anyone truly doubts it’s an important factor. In fact, it might now be impossible to win the debate over any issue – particularly social issues – without first controlling the language. Both the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” sides of the abortion debate have been contesting the language for decades.
One of the great rhetorical successes of the same-sex marriage crusade was the term “marriage equality,” which is extremely effective at putting opponents on the defensive. The core question of the marriage debate is whether the number and sex of the participants is essential. If marriage is, by definition, the union of a man and a woman, there is no “equality” issue to be debated. The reverse is therefore true: if we accept the debate is about “equality,” then we’ve already discarded “one man plus one woman” as a defining requirement of marriage.
And of course, Americans generally recoil from the notion of treating people unequally, don’t they?
Well, no, actually, they don’t. Our entire system of government is almost entirely predicated upon treating law-abiding people unequally. Strangely, most same-sex marriage advocates don’t seem terribly interested in following the crusade for “equality” any further towards its logical conclusion.
We’ll still have all sorts of “affirmative action” programs designed to treat people unequally based upon race, for example, even though today’s young people are generations removed from efforts to impose institutional racism. A great deal of discriminatory treatment is justified on the grounds that government must correct some sort of power or money imbalance between groups. Whatever else you might say about that philosophy, it is not a quest for “equality.” Imposing equality of outcome requires profoundly unequal treatment, on terms written by those who derive great political power from ensuring that final success is never achieved.
As soon as the government moves away from enforcing simple laws designed to prevent citizens from actively violating each others’ rights, “equality” is left behind. Those simple laws can be enforced universally – no one of any race, sex, income level, or creed is allowed to commit murder or theft with impunity. (How things proceed once lawyers and courtrooms enter the picture might be a different story, but at least as a matter of legislative principle, we can write laws that everyone is expected to obey.)
But today we routinely accept the exercise of coercive force, on a massive scale, against people who have committed no criminal transgression against fellow citizens. By definition, this approach is little concerned with “equality,” because it’s not responding to the violation of laws meant to apply equally to all. Everyone is familiar with the dreary process of haggling over what the “fair share” owed by different groups of people is supposed to be. Those who find themselves saddled with a large tax bill can find a thousand unequal ways to escape from it.
Some perfectly lawful enterprises are punished by the State, while others are supported and subsidized. Access to a vast panoply of benefits is granted unequally, at the discretion of government. And most of this treatment is justified with nebulous claims of social benefits far smaller than the benefits of stable marriage between men and women. I would challenge any apologist for the welfare state to name a single program or policy whose benefits approach those of marriage – revealed by decades of unfortunate experimentation to be the sharpest line between success and poverty, across every demographic group.
I’ve always thought gay couples had a fair complaint when they argued against preferential government treatment for married opposite-sex couples. The government penalizes, and subsidizes, far too many of us. But if I might play devil’s advocate against myself for a moment, none of the other cases for unequal treatment measures up to the benefits we would gain by using the financial power of our gigantic government to reduce illegitimacy by strongly encouraging men and women to get married and stay that way. President Obama talks endlessly of making “smart investments” with public money; restoring marriage to the prominence it held in American society, until only a few decades ago, would arguably be the smartest investment we could make.
That would, of course, involve moving in the opposite direction from “marriage equality,” because it would certainly be a value judgment in favor of married men and women raising children. It should be possible to elevate something without denigrating alternative arrangements, but that possibility has been foreclosed in the same-sex marriage debate. So I’d like to continue the crusade for “equality,” and ask that we treat all equality equally. One form of social and official discrimination, begun thousands of years before American independence and maintained for very good reasons, is going to bite the dust. Let’s keep going, until we have equality equality, and people of all sexual orientations can honestly say the government is treating them equally in every respect. Or is marriage the only relationship we’re going to redefine?