The other night I finished reading the book “Boundaries: When to Say Yes and How to Say No” by Doctors Henry Cloud and John Townsend. The book is about how to stand on your own, how to be separate and know what is your responsibility versus others’ responsibility. It is about owning your actions and feelings within relationships, while letting others own theirs. It was an enlightening book. As I read through, I couldn’t help but think about how everyone in this nation has a huge boundary issue right now. I’m not talking about geographical boundaries; this isn’t about immigration. I’m talking about the relational boundary between the people and the government. That boundary was crossed when the Supreme Court made their ruling on same-sex marriage; the decision whether to redefine marriage should have been left to the people. Many disagree with me on this, so let me explain. If you already agree, maybe this article can help you explain our view to others.
Let’s start by take a look at the relationship of marriage. Misunderstanding this relationship is where our boundary issue begins. We often think of marriage as a relationship between two people, but that’s incorrect. Marriage always includes at least three participants. A religious marriage is a relationship between a man, a woman, and God. A civil marriage is between two consenting adults and society. If the relationship is only between two adults, it is not marriage but rather cohabitation.
In a civil marriage relationship, the two adults each have an equal right to say whether or not they want to enter into marriage. Society’s part is to say whether or not they will actively support the union. In our culture, we as a society support and applaud the committed union of one man and one woman. We do not legally recognize polygamy, and we have not chosen to sanction same-sex marriage. When five supreme court justices ordered the people to recognize same-sex marriage as being the same institution as opposite-sex marriage, they violated each voter’s boundaries. They took away our right to say “No.”
Two unattached adults have their right to engage in homosexual relationships. That choice is well within their realm of responsibility. Two consenting same-sex adults can choose how to conduct their private relationship without violating the rest of our boundaries. When it came to redefining marriage, however, you and I and every other voter out there should have had our say, because we make up society, that third part of the civil marriage relationship. We should have been allowed to say whether or not we would actively approve or legally recognize a same-sex union.
Many people believe the Supreme Court made the right decision based on the Equal Rights clause in the 14th amendment. Most who agree with the ruling do so because there is evidence that homosexuality is biologically based. They believe that because there are biological determinants of sexual orientation, opposing same-sex marriage is like racism. I agree that there probably is a biological basis for our sexual orientation, and I believe that the feelings of those who are attracted to the same sex should be acknowledged. They should certainly be treated with compassion. At the same time, a biological basis for homosexuality doesn’t mean we have to promote same-sex marriage the same way we support opposite-sex marriage; the case is not comparable to a case of racial inequality.
Sexual orientation differs from race because it is an internal experience. It is a sense of attraction, a behavioral tendency. It is not a skin color. No one on the outside can tell someone they are homosexual. It is not determined predictably by family tree or by any other external measure. A heterosexual might behave like a homosexual, or a homosexual may choose to engage in a heterosexual lifestyle. The only way to really know someone else’s sexual orientation is for them to tell you honestly what it is.
This makes laws that discourage homosexual behavior more comparable to laws that discourage other natural tendencies — such as violence — than to laws based on racism. A person with violent tendencies is never punished for her internal feelings, or for any biological influence her brain or hormones might have on her desire to act violently. She is only treated differently by the law when she lacks self-control. Someone who does not have violent tendencies, but chooses to act out violently anyways, is subject to the very same laws as those with violent urges. The law must assume that there is always choice behind the behavior, or else laws against behavior could always be seen as targeting certain types of people based on the biological roots of behavior. Racist laws, in contrast, don’t target behaviors. They target simply being a certain race, no matter how the person of that race chooses to act.
As people mistakenly compare same-sex marriage with racial issues, they often conclude that the Obergefell V. Hodges case is equivalent to Loving V. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that overturned laws banning interracial marriage. Really, though, these cases aren’t accurately comparable, because the purpose and consequences of the laws examined in each case were quite different. Think of it this way: the two cases would only be really comparable if the laws in Obergefell barred homosexual individuals from marrying heterosexual individuals for the purpose of maintaining genetic purity of sexual-orientation. Laws defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman don’t do that. They don’t address the two individuals’ sexual orientation at all. They are meant to promote a specific ideal regarding family held by society. They do not inherently condemn any individuals to second-class status.
From another perspective, a law based on race would only be equivalent to the laws in the Obergefell case if it defines marriage as a union between one colored person and one white person, not two people of the same race. And even then we would be comparing race to gender, not to sexual orientation.
If a law requiring interracial marriage existed, or if a law requiring that every marriage involve one homosexual and one heterosexual were in the books, I’m sure many people would object on the basis that adults shouldn’t have to comply with such requirements. They could never argue, however, that these hypothetical statutes treat individuals unequally.
Of course, if the laws in Obergefell clearly promoted an agenda to treat certain individuals as inferior or unequal, based solely on biological traits, I would agree that the Supreme Court should overturn the laws based on the Equal Rights clause. As it stands, however, the ruling was a political move. It was not based on any solid analysis of the Constitution, nor on the principles behind equal rights.
Unfortunately, what is done is done. However, that doesn’t mean we’re powerless. The past is for learning and the future is for improving. With the Supreme Court decision already made, what can we do?
First, I invite everyone to research this issue for themselves. If you rely solely on mainstream media, you get an incredibly biased perspective. I recommend going as close to the actual sources as you possibly can. Read credible studies on sexual orientation as well as gender differences. Read about the Loving V. Virginia case. Listen to the audio recording of the oral arguments in the Supreme Court before the Obergefell ruling. Read the actual court ruling and dissents. I know that Justice Kennedy must be very talented to have made it all the way to the Supreme Court as a judge, but honestly, his explanation of the court decision is not very convincing — especially when compared to Chief Justice Roberts’ dissent.
After you’ve done some research, I recommend applying more of what is taught in Boundaries. The book teaches that we can establish our boundaries with words. We can clearly explain what we will and will not do. We can voice what responsibilities we are willing to take on and those that others need to take on for themselves. A lawyer I know said that overturning a Supreme Court ruling would take time and effort from a lot of people, but it is possible. He said we should write to our government representatives, send letters to our local newspapers, and vote for presidents who will appoint justices who properly honor the boundaries between the government and the people.
I have faith in the people. I believe that despite the ruling of the five judges, we can work to defend our rights in a compassionate but firm way. We can speak up. We can set our boundaries as voters and as concerned citizens. We can do this.