President Obama seems to have reiterated his support for redefining marriage in his inauguration speech earlier this week. Riffing on the Declaration of Independence, Obama declared that “[o]ur journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” But if this appeal to equality was meant as support for redefining marriage, it both gets marriage wrong and the Declaration’s pledge of equality wrong, too.
All Americans stand equally before the law and have their civil rights equally protected—all have equal protection for their rights to free speech, religious liberty, free association, and every other traditional civil liberty. The question is whether a new “civil right”—the right to have the government and private citizens recognize your same-sex sexual partnership as a marriage—ought to be created, redefining marriage in the process.
“The love we commit to one another,” just as such, is none of the government’s business. The government isn’t in the business of affirming our loves. Rather it leaves consenting adults free to live and love as they choose.
What’s at issue is whether the government will recognize such relationships as marriages—and then force every citizen and business to do so as well. At issue is whether policy will coerce and compel others to recognize and affirm same-sex relationships as marriages.
Being created equal doesn’t entail or require redefining marriage. Every marriage policy draws lines, leaving out some types of relationships. But equality forbids arbitrary line-drawing. Determining which lines are arbitrary requires us to answer two questions:
1) What is marriage?
2) Why does it matter for policy?