Culhane: How DADT repeal will help gay marriage
Depending on whom you read and rely on, the DADT ban is or is not about to be history. Many stories have been written on the proposed law, but not much has been said about this point: If the repeal does go through, the case for marriage equality becomes rhetorically stronger. Why?
First, unlike many of the laws that seek equality for the LGBT community, DADT and the ban on same-sex marriages are instances where the government itself is doing the discriminating.
Thus, the rhetoric that’s used in one case applies to the other: Government should treat all of its citizens equally. Even an unreconstructed libertarian like Rand Paul – currently in boiling water because of his statements that the government shouldn’t tell private businesses whom they can and can’t deal with (including, say, African-Americans) – should support a principle of basic fairness and equality for all citizens. (He doesn’t, of course, so his libertarianism is born of convenience, not principle.)
Second, the most-often heard argument against allowing gay and lesbian soldiers into the military is that they will disrupt “unit cohesion.” But if this argument is ultimately rejected in the one area in which it at least sounds plausible (if only because of a homophobic atmosphere that has too often come from higher-ranking military), that rejection weakens a similar argument that’s advanced by many of those who oppose marriage equality: Allowing gays, lesbians, and transgendered people to marry will weaken heterosexual marriages – disrupt their “unit cohesion,” if you will.
But if folks in the military can somehow learn to deal with gay and lesbian troops who live and fight alongside them every day, then surely straight couples can absorb the blow inflicted by living in the same society as same-sex couples.
Sometimes the argument is pitched at a slightly more sophisticated level: While marriage equality won’t immediately affect heterosexual couples, in the long run it will change the message of marriage by suggesting that the biological connection between parents and children isn’t important.
Maggie Gallagher is perhaps the anti-equality spokesperson most associated with this argument, but I’ve also heard it made during litigation. For example, during oral argument before the Iowa Supreme Court, the state’s dramatically unsuccessful effort (7-zip) to block equality leaned almost exclusively on a version of that argument.
Courts, though, are rarely impressed by such abstract arguments – especially when they carry more than a whiff of desperation. You’ll notice that the anti-equality forces haven’t been especially vocal about opposing adoption, surrogacy, or no-fault divorce laws, all of which of course sever the biological connections between parents and their children.
Nor do they acknowledge that marriage sends a bunch of other messages, too – including that one about commitment and the raising of children, together.
Against these arguments stand the obvious and debilitating discrimination against all of us – those who’d marry if we could, and those who wouldn’t but who are constantly reminded of our second-class citizenship. Faced with the balancing of that ledger, any self-respecting court should require sounder arguments for the continued exclusion of LGBT couples from the institution of marriage.
And recently, they have: Supreme Courts in California (pre-Prop 8), Massachusetts, Iowa and Connecticut have all read their state constitutional guarantees of equality to require the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Are there other arguments against marriage equality?
Not good ones.
Even Justice Scalia admitted, in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, that the marriage-procreation link isn’t a reason (we don’t require proof of reproductive capacity), and the related arguments that opposite-sex couples “need” marriage because only they can procreate “accidentally” (Oops! I Procreated Again!) is just plain dumb (even though it was accepted by the highest courts in both Washington and New York).
Religious arguments, of course, have no place in a public debate (for one thing: whose religion controls?)
So we’re left with this kind of discomfort with marriage equality – that somehow it will affect straight marriages, however indirectly and over time. Once this “unit cohesion” argument falls in the military setting, its demise in civilian life should be briskly achieved. Let’s begin to press this argument.
John Culhane is Professor of Law and Director of the Health Law Institute at Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. He blogs about the role of law in everyday life, and about a bunch of other things (LGBT rights, public health, science, certain sports, pop culture, music, philosophy and lots of personal stuff) at: http://wordinedgewise.org. A fuller bio can be found here. He can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.Culhane: Why do gays and lesbians care about marriage?
Survey: DADT repeal growing on military
Gay Military Ban Architects Admit Deception
Study: Military gays don’t hurt morale
AMA votes to seek repeal of gay military ban