On September 15, “StandForMarriageMaine.com” released a television ad. In it, Scott Fitzgibbon, a professor at Boston College Law School (a Catholic institution), argued for the traditional understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman and in favor of an upcoming referendum to overturn a law passed by the Maine legislature legalizing same-sex marriage. The ad unleashed a fire storm, directed at the courageous professor.
This is a highly instructive event that invites comment.
Clearly what is going on here is an effort to “shame” Professor Fitzgibbon (and those who agree with him) into silence. The assumption by the angry members of the BC Law “community” is that his views are so far outside the “mainstream” that all right-thinking persons must reject them. They are so poisonous, on this view, that they make civic life impossible; anyone who holds them should be ashamed; they are intolerable.
Advocates of “gay rights,” such as those meeting at the White House last weekend, see themselves – with some encouragement for our president – as the legitimate moral heirs the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and 70s. (Some of us might put the defense of unborn life on and equal or even higher level.) Many Americans agree with them.
Americans came to see the injustice of the thing. It was wrong to judge a man by the color of skin, not by the content of his character, as Martin Luther King, Jr., put it, because there was no reasonable reason for doing so. Eventually, courts (who had once legitimized the segregationist Jim Crow laws) put this in legal lingo that, nonetheless, makes sense to the common man – such racial discrimination is “irrational;” hence, laws establishing it offend our constitution which guarantees the equality of all citizens; such laws are “invidious” discrimination.
This is the (true and good) story of the civil rights movement in America. Sadly, however, Americans learned the wrong lesson from it. Americans, by and large, appear to have learned that all discrimination is wrong. But that misses the point. What is morally wrong is irrational discrimination, not every instance of discrimination.
There is nothing morally wrong with denying drivers’ licenses to blind people, individually and as a group. The right to a driver’s license depends upon satisfying tests that society has reasonably decided are necessary for being a safe driver. Obviously, blind people cannot do so. Consequently, “discriminating” against them in granting drivers licenses is totally different from discriminating against black persons in granting such licenses.
It seems obvious on its face that it is not. Sexual complementarity, procreative ability, and the natural link to child-rearing are among the things that make it reasonable to define marriage as between one man and one woman. The Supreme Court case most often cited by same-sex marriage proponents – Loving v. Virginia – in which the Court struck down state laws against interracial marriage, is actually an argument against same-sex marriage. What is necessary for two persons to become a one flesh unity, or a single reproducing organism, (you may choose the Biblical or scientific metaphor you prefer) – that is, to consummate a marriage – is something that two same- sex persons simply cannot do. They cannot engage in that kind of sexual intercourse – while two opposite-sex persons of different races obviously can.
Now you can see why Professor Fitzgibbon is “courageous.” In a nation that has lost the ability to tell the rational from the irrational, and hence calls all discrimination wrong, it takes courage – unusual courage – to be reasonable, even at a Catholic law school.