DAVID ROSMAN: Decisions on same-sex marriage follow changes in American attitudes

Monday, July 1, 2013 | 5:16 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Many of us have been spending time this Fourth of July week discussing marriage equality and the arguments pro and con.

I have heard many faith-based arguments, but our laws are secular-based, and secular-based arguments against marriage equality are few. Rep. Vicky Hartzler provided one such argument during her interview on PBS’ "NewsHour."

“And, like I said, there's a vast majority of Americans who support marriage between one man and one woman because they know it's a special institution that sets up the best place to raise children in this society, and that's why government is in the marriage business.”

There are two parts to Hartzler’s statement and the first should not be misread.

Polls show increasing favor

Do the “majority of Americans” oppose marriage equality believing that the definition of marriage should remain as one man and one woman? It is important to note that this not the thinking of the majority of Americans in 2013.

Poll after poll shows an ever-increasing acceptance of marriage equality in the United States and worldwide. A June 2013 USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll showed that 58 percent of Californians supported same-sex marriage as compared to the 52 percent who voted for Proposition 8 in 2008.

It also tells us that 78 percent of Californians between 18 and 29 favor marriage equality today, also in keeping with the national trends.

National polling shows a similar inclination. An Washington Post-ABC NEWS poll and CBS News/New York Times poll independently found that the majority of Americans support gay marriage. Before you argue that these are all “liberal” polls, a Fox News’s poll, while showing a virtual tie between the factions, also shows a movement to marriage equality acceptance since 2008.

Attitudes change in Missouri, too

The movement is gaining even in our own crimson state of Missouri. A Public Policy poll taken in 2011 showed 59 percent of Show-Me voters opposed same-sex marriage; less than one year later that number had dropped to 52 percent. At that same time, only 32 percent were opposed to giving any type of same-sex legal rights. That is a significant change in our state’s moral compass.

As American attitudes change, so does the stance of a number of religious institutions, many now performing same-sex unions and marriages where permitted by statute. These are in line with changing attitudes about marriage that have been tracked since Loving v. Virginia (1967) invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

The second half of Hartzler’s statement is harder to justify. It is a repeated argument that appears to have no or little basis in fact.

Forbes’ Richard Epstein observed, “By what warrant does the state regulate marriage? Not to protect children, who need as much protection against single parents as against married couples. For that end, use laws prohibiting abuse or neglect that are tied to child custody, not marriage.”

State law remains confusing

Missouri’s statutes concerning marriage (RSMo §451.010, et al) contain confusing language as whether marriages are licensed or certified, for both terms are used and there is a big difference in their meanings.

A license is more restrictive than a certificate, for the former declares legality to act or do something otherwise illegal or forbidden.

If same-sex marriage is “forbidden” (§451.022), then for what reason? Where is the harm to the state or the citizens? Where is the harm to others who are married in the eyes of the state? Of their church?

A certificate is a statement of qualification to act. If such certifications of marriage are meant to protect the children, we have failed as a society.

The larger problem here is members of Congress who oppose marriage equality are also in opposition to the process of law as provided by Article III of the Constitution of the United States.

These same men and women who have sworn to protect the Constitution wish its demise because the court ruled not based on their political ideology or religious dogma, but on secular law.

Decisions follow attitudes

The Supreme Court has recognized the Constitution as a living document, and as the morality of the nation changed so has the interpretation of our supreme laws.

Laws concerning slavery, interracial marriage, the rights of minorities and women to vote and others had no secular compelling reason to exist. As our nation’s dispositions changed, so did the decisions of our courts.

Without a compelling secular reason to deny the right of homosexual couples to marry, laws preventing marriage equality must continue to change.

For is not “equal under the law” the basis of our Fourth of July celebration?

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. 

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