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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Sowell on Gay Marriage Rights

The Zebra Report recently alerted me to an article by Thomas Sowell, author of Applied Economics. I have not read the book, but I followed the link from the Zebra Report to read the article, Gay marriage 'rights', in which Sowell suggested that rather than understand marriage as an issue about individual rights, it ought to be seen as a restriction of rights.
If my wife buys an automobile with her own money, under California marriage laws I automatically own half of it, whether or not my name is on the title. Whether that law is good, bad, or indifferent, it is a limitation of our freedom to arrange such things as we ourselves might choose. This is just one of many decisions that marriage laws take out of our hands.
I find his reasoning unconvincing, particularly because laws such as the one he is citing are in fact a protection of property rights for both parties of the marriage contract. It is precisely such rights that are currently not available to same-sex couples.

According to Sowell, the issue with same-sex marriage is not an issue with individual rights, because "they can make their own contracts with their own provisions and hold whatever kinds of ceremony they want to celebrate it?" Unfortunately, these contracts just will not pass muster in the eyes of the law in many other areas - employment benefits and tax breaks, for examples.

Sowell suggests that same-sex "activists are seeking is official social approval of their lifestyle" which is "the antithesis of equal rights." I believe Sowell is wrong on two counts. First, I believe Sowell has conflated "legal recognition" with "social approval." Second, what Sowell calls "social approval" does not end up eroding equal rights for those who he portrays as forced into showing approval for something they do not agree with. Sowell says, "If you have a right to someone else's approval, then they do not have a right to their own opinions and values." By suggesting that legal recognition of equal rights amounts to social approval, Sowell tries to show that this will then limit those who, while in disagreement, are forced to give up the "right to their own opinions and values." This is not true at all. Equal rights means the recognition that every individual are equal under the law and have rights and privileges that are not to be deprived by virtue of the fact that they are different from the majority. It is quite different from social approval and may have nothing to do with social approval.

Speaking from a Christian point of view, and as I have already alluded to in my previous posts on this subject, we cannot just pick and choose which sins we decide to legislate against. If we legislate based on one sin, however we construe it, we have to also legislate on all kinds of sins and issues of morality. If we give grace to ourselves in one area of moral turpitude, then we ought to give grace to others in another area. At the end of the day, we are all sinners, and we ought to learn to be graceful and accept each others as equal in God's kingdom.

We like to say that while Jesus do not condemn the woman taken in adultery, He did say to "Go and sin no more." What we fail to recognize is that He did not say, "sin no more and I won't condemn you." He says, "Neither do I condemn you" before He says, "Go and sin no more." We have a lot to learn about the priority of grace and mercy.