Same-sex marriage and our better selves

The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations:

Last week the United States Supreme Court received arguments in two cases regarding same-sex marriage. The Proposition 8 case out of California concerns the constitutionality of a state constitutional amendment and the other case, the Defense of Marriage Act, concerns prohibitions on the federal government recognizing the same-sex relations of its federal employees.

There are many political and legal angles to these cases. The decisions basically rest in the hands of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who represents the court’s swing vote in such matters. In 2002, Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion for a case out of Texas that overturned that state’s sodomy laws and seemingly set a precedent that the court is looking for a way to support homosexuality under the law, including same-sex marriage.

However these two cases are ultimately decided, I have to wonder aloud if the average American today even understands the requirements of a free society. I’ll remind you of what I have stated repeatedly: A free society requires us to become our better selves.

In other words, a free society cannot long endure an aggregate of bad behavior. If the people decide one day that stealing is actually fine, we would eventually lose our freedom. If the people decide one day that lying is okay, we would eventually lose our freedom. Or, if the people decide one day that infidelity in our most personal relationships is normal, we would eventually lose our freedom.

Bad behavior is the enemy of freedom. Yes, a free society is very patient and very forgiving. Individually, each of us has great liberties to work out our lives for the better. We stumble and we fail, but as long as we keep trying to better ourselves, in character and virtue, freedom remains undisturbed. It’s only when we give up on becoming our better selves, only when a majority of people argue that character and virtue don’t matter, only when a nation decides to redefine the best within us to mean anything we need it to mean in justifying bad behavior that our freedom is in jeopardy.

Here’s a personal test for you to determine whether or not you’re part of the problem – to determine whether you’re a friend of freedom or freedom’s enemy: When I say “a free society requires us to become our better selves,” what comes to your mind? Do you think, “That makes perfect sense,” or do you think, “Who is he to say that?” or “That’s exactly the kind of thinking that leads to big government.” Or do you think, “Of course that makes perfect sense but it’s not the role of government to help us become our better selves – that road only leads to slavery.”

There’s a lot we could talk about there but the idea itself raises another question regarding “gay rights”: How does homosexuality help us to become our better selves? What benefit to society is derived from two men being able to marry?

Again, a free society is very tolerant by nature. Everyone has wide latitude in working out their personal lives – and every one of us behaves badly to one degree or another. That’s a given. It’s part of life. But what a free society can ill afford is when the people decide to codify bad behavior in the law. Our laws increasingly reflect our dysfunctional selves, not our better selves. The argument over “gay rights” and same-sex marriage is ultimately an argument over whether or not we enshrine bad behavior in our laws. Being “gay” might be about personal feelings and sexual attractions for some. But our laws only know human behavior – and a free society requires that our laws sustain and encourage the best within us, not our selfish worst.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.