Marriage has been on the national consciousness, inciting spirited debate among Princetonians on campus and on the bench. The Supreme Court has recently taken up two cases challenging the constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages. Meanwhile, the marriage advice of Susan Patton ’77 has focused media attention onto Princeton. These discussions of marriage will certainly continue on campus in the succeeding days as alumni return for Princeton’s first LBGT Conference, “Every Voice,” April 11-13, where panels on marriage equality will be held.
Because there are many Princetonian and national voices speaking in the public eye on marriage, the Editorial Board believes that now is an appropriate time to discuss same-sex marriage. Specifically, we write in support of same-sex marriage and consequently recommend that the Supreme Court begin to extend the right to marry to same-sex couples by overturning California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.
The Board supports same-sex marriage because we believe that under the Equal Protection Clause, an individual’s right to marriage is protected. Laws such as Proposition 8 and DOMA that threaten that right by discriminating against persons on the basis of gender or sexual orientation undermine not just the freedoms of the LGBT community, but compromise the legitimacy of marriage as a whole. The longstanding anti-miscegenation laws in this country, until their overturning by the Supreme Court in 1967 with Loving v. Virginia, demonstrate that any legal prohibition on marriage based purely on discriminatory factors is a law that impairs equality, and Proposition 8 and DOMA embed such discriminatory aspects into the law.
Marriage, as a civil institution, should protect and maintain the freedom of individuals to choose their partners and to have that partnership recognized and protected by the state. Legal and social dialogues on marriage among our alumni demonstrate that marriage, but more specifically the tenet underlying it — partnership — is a value not isolated to any minority, but a value shared by those who are male and female, straight and gay, bisexual and transsexual. Aspects such as gender, sexuality or sexual orientation alone do not change the nature of this value or the desire to share one’s life with a committed partner. Because people of all sexual persuasions share this value, we believe that the institution which facilitates this value most — legally recognized marriage — should not be restricted to heterosexual unions, but extended to all consenting adults who wish to enter into a bi-contractual union.
At Princeton we currently live on a campus that has made positive strides in supporting the LBGT community by creating an active LBGT Center, extending healthcare benefits to same-sex partners and dependents, admitting students in accordance with Title IX anti-discrimination laws and by welcoming LBGT alumni to campus through this week’s conference. While recognizing that there remains room for improvement in this field, we commend these efforts to create an LBGT-friendly campus that stands in stark contrast to a campus culture that historically enveloped LBGT students and faculty in stigma and silence.
Beyond FitzRandolph Gate, however, efforts to improve the lives of LGBT individuals, such as legalizing same-sex marriage, have frequently encountered resistance. Despite marriage’s central importance in our society, not all Americans have equal access to this institution. In light of such unequal treatment, the Board writes in support of same-sex marriage. It is an institution too important to remain closed to a segment of the American citizenry.
We also believe that an individual’s right to marriage is protected. However, despite the Board’s deceptive emphasis on civil rights rhetoric, the issue hinges not on equal protection but on what marriage is. The Board redefines marriage as “partnership” between any “consenting adults.” Yet partnerships can be temporary and non-exclusive. This view of marriage has no rational basis for permanence or exclusivity. Consent as the binding principle cannot exclude groups of people from entering into a marriage “partnership.” Evidently something is missing.
Marriage is the comprehensive union between one man and one woman whose mutually conforming wills and bodily complementarity justify exclusivity and monogamy. It is ordered toward procreation and family life. Because the family is the foundation of society, the government has an interest in supporting marriage. Marriage merits legal benefits because it is the kind of relationship that naturally leads to and nurtures children, not because the government is in the business of doling out rewards for sexual attraction.
Rhetorical appeals to justice, love and equality are emotionally compelling but distract from the real issue. Princeton absolutely should foster a welcoming environment for all, including LGBT students. However, this does not necessitate redefining the most long-standing social institution. At the core of this debate are the questions of what marriage is and why the state cares. After all, everybody has the right to love and share their life with whomever they choose. But nobody has the right to redefine marriage for everyone.
Zach Horton and Zeit Cai
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2013/04/08/32765/