Liberty and justice for all

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

The City Council passed a domestic partnership registry on April 7.

Supporters and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community gathered at the meeting to show their gratitude and support.


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Others gathered in the comments section on the Missourian's Web site to voice their intolerance. They complained about the declining morals in American society and called for the council to stop pandering to what they viewed as an immoral minority.

These comments came from only a few people, and it would be a mistake to assume they are a representative sample of the population. But in a state where same-sex marriage was banned by constitutional amendment in 2004, maybe these ideas aren't that rare in Missouri.

While reading through these comments, I thought of 19th Century British philosopher John Stuart Mill and his most famous work, "On Liberty."

In "On Liberty," Mill wrote that, "The sole end for which mankind are warranted ... in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their numbers is self-protection."

Basically, Mill argued that if individuals' actions affect only themselves, then society has no right to intervene.

Mill's theory, which is known as "the harm principle," can become complicated. But, in its simplest form, it's a good idea. It appeals to America's core values, like freedom and self-determination.

Opponents of same-sex marriage trumpet our nation's traditional Christian values. But the America I remember learning about in high school government classes was founded more on principles of freedom of speech, freedom of religion and separation of church and state than on any one religious doctrine.

Another of Mill's ideas is what he calls the "tyranny of the majority," which is a real and present danger in a democratic system. Mill argued that just because something is supported by the majority, doesn't mean it is right.

"The people, consequently, may desire to oppress a part of their number; and precautions are as much needed against this, as against any other abuse of power," Mill wrote.

He also discussed what he calls social tyranny, the type practiced by those who voice hateful opinions on the Web.

"Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises (sic) a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself," Mill wrote.

In denying equal marriage rights to same-sex couples, 46 states are practicing tyranny of the majority. The arguments put forth for banning gay marriage fall far short of justifying the denial of liberty.

Opponents of same-sex marriage cling to their ideal of traditional marriage, an institution based on love between a man and a woman.

But in her 2005 book, "Marriage, A History," author Stephanie Coontz shows that the institution of marriage isn't static. Rather, marriage's history, especially its recent history, is marked by change.

According to Coontz, marriage was originally based on kinship alliances between prehistoric families. In paternalistic times, when estates passed from a father to his eldest son, aristocrats married off their children strategically to build wealth. For the first 5,000 years of marriage, up until the 1700s, love had little to do with it.

The cultural ideal of marrying young based on love to form a male breadwinner family didn't achieve widespread acceptance until the 1950s. And that model didn't succeed for long, with women's liberation and high divorce rates once again changing the institution.

What this history shows us is that the way cultures define marriage changes to match society. There is not one rigid traditional norm.

It is time for the definition of marriage to change once again to match a society dedicated to extending liberty to all.

William Powell is a senior journalism student at MU and a sports writer for the Missourian.

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Ray Shapiro April 15, 2009 | 3:31 p.m.

Personally, I would rather see the governmnent out of the "marriage business" entirely. However, in response to those who advocate for government legislation for "gay marriage," I'd like to share the following:
Majority Rule/Minority Rights
Majority rule is a means for organizing government and deciding public issues; it is not another road to oppression. Just as no self-appointed group has the right to oppress others, so no majority, even in a democracy, should take away the basic rights and freedoms of a minority group or individual.
• Minorities – whether as a result of ethnic background, religious belief, geographic location, income level, or simply as the losers in elections or political debate – enjoy guaranteed basic human rights that no government, and no majority, elected or not, should remove.
Read more:
The choice of using this phrase is important, “separation of church and state”. Jefferson doesn’t say separation of religion and state. He is talking about institutional separation.
However, the crowd pushing separation most vigorously also is the crowd that’s trying to regulate certain religious beliefs out of existence. Pharmacists aren’t allowed to express their religious sentiments about abortion and retain their jobs. The argument is that they shouldn’t take the job if they don’t follow a pre-defined ethical construct approved by the government. Catholic hospitals are consistently fighting attempts to force them to provide abortions despite their clear religious teaching. Catholic Charities in California was required to recognize “gay marriage” despite their own beliefs. School children (a.k.a. individual citizens not to be confused with government officials) are told that they aren’t allowed to pray or have bible studies on school property. In one case, school children were threatened with federal prison if they dared utter a prayer on their own volition during a graduation ceremony. The IRS has investigated churches for preaching against abortion. In short, the wall of separation is growing to enforce a certain religious orthodoxy and not protect the free expression of religion that was also mentioned in the First Amendment.

(Report Comment)
Anton Berkovich April 15, 2009 | 6:03 p.m.

"In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot ... they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer engine for their purpose." --- Thomas Jefferson, to Horatio Spafford, March 17, 1814

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro April 15, 2009 | 7:23 p.m.

Thomas Jefferson said a lot of things.
Why would he say such a thing about Jesus?
Who are "pro-gay marriage" priests in allegiance with?

(Report Comment)
King Diamond April 16, 2009 | 11:19 a.m.

It's been a week now, people aren't domestic partnered with their dogs yet are they? I keep hearing this will be happening soon, yet I haven't seen it.

(Report Comment)

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