Letter: Marriage is what we say it is

Ron Rickerfor’s letter of April 11 seems to be trying to make two main points. First, marriage can only exist between one man and one woman because that is the traditional definition. Second, the law can only recognize discrimination against gay people if they are in a special “class.”

“That’s the way it has always been” is hardly ever a good argument. Folks tried that one back when white people couldn’t marry black people. It didn’t work then and it probably won’t work now. The main reason it doesn’t fly is that it is illogical. Everything is the way it is — until we change it. Then it is different.

The problem with our discussions about gay marriage is that we actually recognize two very different institutions as “marriage.” One is sanctioned by some religious group and the other is a civil contract that can be sealed by a judge, justice of the peace or ship’s captain. Many churches don’t formally recognize the latter and the former must meet certain civil requirements in order to have any legal effect.

Civil marriage is whatever the Legislature says that it is. In Louisiana, it is illegal to marry your first cousin. This is not true in some other states. It used to be illegal in Louisiana for a black person to marry a white person. This is no longer true.

If it is the will of the people that our law recognizes gay marriage, then it will. The pendulum of public opinion seems to be swinging in that direction.

Even if civil marriage for gays is legalized, no law can force any church to perform such ceremonies or recognize such marriages. The nature and definition of religious marriage is totally up to each individual church/religion/sect. As long as this definition does not conflict with existing laws (see above), it will be recognized by the state. Even if a church sanctions a particular type of marriage that is contrary to civil law, that church is free to recognize it. The marriage simply won’t have any legally enforceable effects.

Regarding discrimination, the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution have been used by courts to protect all sorts of rights for various individuals, groups and organizations. Some groups (such as racial minorities) have been deemed “suspect classes.” This means that they are entitled to a higher level of judicial scrutiny when they claim that a law invidiously discriminates against them.

The courts have not recognized a suspect class based upon sexual preference, but that is probably coming too. Welcome to the 21st century.

Michael Hale

IT consultant

Baton Rouge