When it comes to gay marriage and abortion rights, Laura Bush says she and former President George W. Bush have simply agreed to disagree. She’s for both, he’s against them.
The former first lady said on “Larry King Live” Tuesday she “totally” understands “what George thinks and what other people think about marriage being between a man and a woman. . . . But I also know that, you know when couples are committed to each other and love each other that they ought to have, I think, the same sort of rights that everyone has.” “You think [legalization of same sex marriage] is coming?” King asked.
Citing a “generational” shift in opinion on the issue, she replied, “Yeah, that will come, I think.”
The Republican Party reaps political benefits from its reputation as the political home for Americans who demand that government fulfill its obligation to secure unalienable rights, beginning with the right to life and including the rights of the natural family. Of course such Americans include a large number of women, found in the ranks of such organizations as Concerned Women for America and Eagle Forum. But as I noted in a recent post, Laura Bush’s remarks during an appearance on the Larry King show last week focused renewed attention on the fact that, starting with Pat Nixon, none of the recent Republican First Ladies has been among them.
This illustrates the great divide between the grassroots voters the GOP relies on for electoral success and a prominent element of the Party’s most influential elite. Beyond this, Mrs. Bush’s remarks are also a fairly representative expression of the logic many people rely on to justify their support for legalizing homosexual marriage.
At first blush, it sounds plausible enough. After all, isn’t love the foundation of marriage? Why should some loving couples enjoy legal recognition and privileges that are denied to others?
But the plausible conviction that loving homosexual couples “ought to have…the same sort of rights that everyone has” immediately runs afoul of the simple fact that homosexuals are not the only loving couples without the legal right to marry. Parents and their children don’t have it. Siblings don’t have it. Children not yet of legal age don’t have it; and so on. In principle, all such people are capable of forming loving, committed relationships. By the logic Mrs. Bush relies on, “they ought to have… the same sort of rights that everyone has.”
Why are parents and their children forbidden to marry one another? Cut to the chase and the answer is simple. The right to marry includes legal recognition (legitimization) of the married couple’s right to have sexual relations with one another. But it is wrong for parents to have sexual relations with their children. It’s wrong for siblings to have sexual relations with each other. It’s wrong for adults to have sexual relations with underage children. Obviously, unless Mrs. Bush means to argue that these restrictions are unjustified, a committed loving relationship is not enough to establish that people “ought to have” the right to marry.
Mrs. Bush’s use of the word “ought” deserves further attention. The difference between what people do and what people ought to do is a matter of moral judgment. The word “ought” implies the application of a moral standard, a rule or principle that distinguishes right from wrong. People ought to do what is right. They ought not to do what is wrong. When people do what is right, they have the right to act (i.e., have right on their side as they act.) But can the same be said of those who do what is wrong?
In everyday parlance these days, we use the term “right” as though it is synonymous with the freedom to act as we choose. But if the choice is wrong, it makes no sense to assert that the chooser has the right to act on it (i.e., has right on his side as he does so.) What someone can do (has the physical capacity or opportunity to do) differs from what they ought to do. This is in fact the rationale for all criminal laws. It’s what allows us to recognize that simply having the opportunity and power to take someone’s life or goods does not grant the right to do so, does not make it right.
Does this mean that it’s simply illogical to suggest, as Mrs. Bush does in her comments, that each individual “ought to have… the same sort of rights that everyone has?” Not necessarily. But to make sense of it we have to realize that every time we assert a right, we are making a statement about what is right. This is, in fact, the reason the homosexual lobby is pushing so hard for the right to marry. Implicit in the legalization of homosexual marriage is the legitimization of homosexual “sexual” relations; the public declaration that they are right. This is why the political campaign for legalization goes hand in hand with the effort to stigmatize and forbid the public expression of religious convictions that declare homosexual activity sinful and wrong.
But if there are certain actions that all human beings are obliged by lawful authority to undertake, then as all are under the same obligation all may invoke the authority of that obligation to justify their action, to prove that it is right. With all justly claiming the same authority to act, all have the right to do so. The “rights that everyone has” are therefore connected with the duties and obligations imposed upon them by the law to which they are all subjected.
But is there one lawful authority to which all human beings are subject? If there is, then it makes sense to say that there are certain rights all people “ought to have.” If there is not, then it makes no sense, except as an arbitrary assertion by one person or group. Such an assertion establishes no right beyond what their power can sustain, and therefore represents no standard but that of power. Might makes right.
Like Laura Bush, many Americans are used to talking about rights. But many also fail seriously to consider the logical prerequisites of what they say. Given well known history of the United States, however, this lack of reflection is easily remedied. The act by which the United States appeared in the world as a free and independent state was accompanied by a Declaration that succinctly summarized the understanding on which the idea of equal rights for all depends. Relying on the authority of the Creator God, it reasoned from the self-evident truths of human equality and unalienable rights, to the conclusion that lawful government comes not by power but by the righteous consent of the governed. (Their aim when they institute government is to secure their unalienable rights. In this regard their consent is guided by the standard of right, and is therefore righteous.)
Procreation is one of the natural obligations of humanity. Just as individuals cannot survive without doing what is necessary to eat, drink and protect themselves from hostile conditions, humanity as such cannot survive without procreation. In this respect, procreation is the paradigm of the natural obligation all individuals have to the human community. This natural obligation gives rise to the natural rights associated with family life, including the parental rights grounded in the parents’ obligation to care for their children. Like all natural rights, these natural family rights are antecedent to all civil government. They are among the unalienable rights governments are instituted to secure.
As a matter of civil law, marriage exists as the institutional expression of every government’s obligation to respect these rights. This also involves respecting the underlying natural obligation from which they arise. Everyone acting on the obligation ought to have the rights. But in what sense do the people involved in homosexual relations act from obligation? Even if one does not agree with the historically common view that such relations are contrary to nature, in what sense is their pursuit of mutual fulfillment and satisfaction connected in principle with the individual’s obligation to perpetuate the species as a whole? If everyone were to act as they do (which is the logical implication of an obligation imposed on all) would it contribute to or defeat the purpose?
Not all loving human relationships ought to be the subjects of legislation. Indeed, the purest expressions of human friendship have usually been regarded as matters best left free of the implicit coercion associated with every use of government power. From this perspective, the demand for so-called homosexual marriage does more to threaten than advance the human freedom of those it supposedly benefits. Moreover it encourages people like Laura Bush to speak of a “right to marry” that has no natural basis as if it is the same as the unalienable right rooted in natural obligation. This in turn prepares people to accept the pernicious notion that our claim to rights arises from the fiat of government rather than the will of the Creator God.
Not all of those who promote or accept legalized homosexual marriage realize that it involves this transformation in our concept of basic rights. But for those who do, the demand for homosexual marriage is but another aspect of their effort to transform America from a society based on unalienable right to one based on the alien concept of government domination. Is this the fate the good-hearted Former First Lady wants for her posterity? I seriously doubt it.