Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Marriage Equality Is a Civil Right
In an interview last year, Focus on the Family head Jim Daly seemed to concede that same-sex marriage would be legal sooner or later. As I wrote earlier this week, that’s because younger Americans largely support the idea. In his interview, Daly suggested that Christians should focus on what marriage meant within their churches. “The piece of paper that you get at the state to recognize your marriage is worthless,” he said. “It’s like registering your car.”
Daly and I agree on that. Not that a marriage license is worthless from a legal perspective, by any means, but rather that it’s worthless from a spiritual perspective. Whether two people are in a state of holy matrimony is a purely private, religious matter. A government-issued license can do nothing to confer sanctity on a relationship. If a church does not consider a marriage valid in the eyes of God, that’s its business. I don’t have to belong to that church. There’s no sense fighting over whether allowing same-sex couples to legally marry diminishes the sanctity of marriage. Legal statuses aren’t sacred.
But as long as the government is going to confer on willing couples the legal status of marriage—and it certainly makes some sense to treat formally committed couples differently in the law—then all couples should have the right to marry. Requiring same-sex couples to call their relationships “civil unions” does little more than symbolically discriminate against them by creating a special, “separate but equal” status for gay people. Consider how offensive it would be to pass a law saying that African-American couples weren’t allowed to marry, but could only enter into civil unions. It wouldn't be the same.
As I have argued, the case against allowing same-sex couples the same right to marry as heterosexual couples is weak. In a recent essay on Big Think, my colleague Peter Lawler put forward the two strongest arguments in favor of restricting marriage to heterosexual couples. The first is that a heterosexual union is simply what “marriage” has historically meant. The second is that the authors of our Constitution never intended to grant a right to same-sex marriage. Both points are more or less true. But neither really weakens the case for allowing everyone the same legal rights regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Peter is right to say that for much of history marriage has generally had something to do with heterosexual couples conceiving and raising children. But what does it matter if ancient Greeks or colonial Americans didn’t practice same-sex marriage? Like most human societies, both also allowed slavery and treated women as the political inferiors of men. These were not high-water marks of human morality. I don’t need tradition to tell me that slavery and gender discrimination are wrong.
Nor does the semantic question of the historical meaning of the word “marriage” bear at all on the question of what our rights are. In ancient Athens the function of the institution of marriage may have been to produce children to defend the city against Sparta, but that’s certainly not its role in our society. The fact that same-sex couples can’t biologically conceive children hardly explains opposition to same-sex marriage in our society in any case, since there’s little opposition to allowing elderly or infertile couples to marry. The idea that marriage must be about jointly conceiving children—same-sex couples obviously can and do raise children—is generally invoked only where same-sex marriage is concerned.
Peter is also right to say that the authors of our Constitution did not by and large intend to grant the specific right to marry people of the same gender. But the authors of the Constitution generally articulated broad principles rather than enumerating in detail what we can and cannot do. The principle that we are all entitled to “the equal protection of the laws” is no less important—and no less the law—if the authors of the phrase had not worked out all its implications.
An originalist interpretation of the Constitution makes sense to the extent that the laws should not change merely because we use words differently. But to read the laws as nothing more than the narrow intentions of their authors is to ignore what the laws actually say. By writing that no state “shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment required each generation to use its best judgment about what life, liberty, and property mean, and about what the equal protection of the laws entails. The law was not written to require that we live forever with the limited perspectives of past generations, but rather that we interpret it by our own lights as well as we can.
The idea that the loving relationship of a same-sex couple is in any way inferior strikes me as a profound moral blindness. Every person should have the legal right to marry whoever they want to marry. At the end of his essay, Peter suggests that if a majority decides marriage should be a certain way, we should not subject the institution of marriage “too rigorously to the abstract logic of rights.” But even if a majority favored forbidding same-sex marriage, it would be wrong to do so. My rights as a human being do not diminish no many how many people vote them away. This is the very essence of the idea of human rights. Not everyone will choose to marry or even welcome the opportunity. But everyone should have the choice.
Gay couple image from Arrow Studio / Shutterstock
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.