Voice of Love, Hand of Repression Print
By Hadley Arkes   
Monday, 09 November 2009

Election night: a good night for the conservative party, with the voters in Virginia and New Jersey evidently registering a rejection of the Obama Administration and its works. But one could watch even FOX News all night, as I did, without learning that something momentous was taking place in Maine. By a margin of 53-47 percent, the voters in this now most liberal of states, would overturn a law passed by the legislature to authorize same-sex marriage. Homoerotic marriage has been imposed now in several states through the judgments handed down by courts. Only in three states – Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine – have legislatures voted to make same-sex marriage legal. This was the first time that a decision of that kind could be submitted to the voters, and once again the people at large weighed in to preserve the institution of marriage.

And once again, the comments of despair in the aftermath of the vote revealed the depths of incomprehension. One woman, barred now from marrying her companion, expressed her anger mixed with puzzlement: It hurts. It hurts personally, she said. It's a personal rejection of us and our relationship, and I don't understand what the fear is. The theme was sounded once again that this was a matter of love, of fairness, of “equality.” But no, it was not so simply a matter of love or equality. It was not a matter of love because no one doubts the love that men may have for men or women for women. Nor can one doubt the genuine love that subsists between parents and children or brothers and sisters. But in the very nature of things nothing in those loves can be diminished as loves because they are not attended by penetration or expressed in marriage.

Fathers and daughters are not demeaned, their equality is not rejected, their love not denied, when they are barred from marrying one another. And it is telling – is it not? – that we never hear Rep. Barney Frank asking, “How does it threaten anyone’s marriage that a mother and son who love one another may live as husband and wife?” Apparently, when people regard the marriage as simply wrong in principle, they stop asking the question of just how it would hurt anyone else if the law permitted a mother and son to marry.

The irony here is that the people who have argued for years that we should not legislate morality now make the most strenuous use of the law, when the “logic of morals” is attached to their own policy. Lincoln, grasping that logic, conceded that “if slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away.”And in that case, he could grant the demand that the abolitionist literature be barred from the mails. If, that is, slavery were right, and opposition to it then were wrong. With this very logic in hand, various authorities in Massachusetts have pointed out that same-sex marriage is legitimate now under the laws of the state. And therefore: Justices of the Peace who refuse to perform the marriage may lose their license. Catholic adoption services, which will not place children for adoption with gay or lesbian couples, will now be compelled to cease their operation. In other states, photographers and caterers who do not wish to offer their services for same-sex marriages have been hit with penalties, newly legislated. And most recently, in Massachusetts, Peter Vadala, working for Brookstone, the retailer, lost his job when he would not chirp up his celebration when told by a woman from another store that she was about to marry a woman.

The woman, eager to announce that news, detected the discomfort in his silence. She kept pressing him. Finally, he told her that his Christian convictions could not really accept same-sex marriage. With that admission she filed a complaint, and two days later he was fired. Responding to her prodding, he was accused of “harassment.” Pleading, in effect, for his right to a discreet silence, he was accused of “imposing” his religious views on someone not under his authority. Where, in all of this, is the love, the equality, the respect for persons and their ways of life?

It is a fable drugging the mind to suggest that the activists are seeking simply to be left alone in their “personal” relations. When they seek the levers of the law, they are moving beyond things merely “personal.”

They are seeking the public and moral approval that the law bestows, along with the moral condemnation of those who will not share their views. The purpose now is to use the law to withdraw that freedom of others to object; to punish people who would dare speak or act in ways that honor a moral understanding at odds with same-sex marriage or the homosexual life; and to make it finally unrespectable, even legally perilous, to express certain moral sentiments, in settings public or private. For the media, the story line is of people in love, now hurt and bewildered. But serenely unnoticed are the accounts of the repression, in things large and small, all offered in the cause of “love.” Surely it is 1984 once more with the inversion of words: Under the banner of love there is loosed a barrage of hatred, and in the name of freedom, repression.

 

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College.
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