John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
How I get myself in trouble
So I wrote: “It's plainly a civil rights issue, and lining up with the precedent of the states that refused to recognize interracial marriages would not be something to look back on with pride.”
A little later someone else posted this response: “Marriage is Biblically defined as between one man and one woman. Gay marriage should not be compared to interracial marriage for many reasons. Homosexuality is a crime and should be punishable. It is not a civil right. One clearly cannot control his ethnicity unless one chooses to surgically alter his skin like the late pervert Michael Jackon. Homosexuality is learned behavior and it is not genetic.”
So I said further, along these lines:
The kind of marriage under discussion is civil marriage — secular, not religious. No church is compelled to recognize gay unions, though some do. Marriage has always been about more than the sexual activity of the participants. It is, for one, about property (read Jane Austen), and it is about the state’s concern with property and insurance and the protection of minor children and other matters.
The point at issue is whether one state should honor what is legal in other states, which is why the Constitution has a “full faith and credit clause,” so that we don’t wind up a bunch of minor duchies and princedoms with conflicting laws, like Germany before unification.
The other issues the commenter raises ignore what you might call facts. Homosexuality is not illegal. It is not, psychiatry has formally determined, a mental illness. Specific behavior, yes, is learned, but there is an increasing body of scientific research that indicates that homosexuality is an inborn trait.
Moreover, it should be obvious to everyone by now that arguing from Leviticus makes more problems than it solves. Both the Old Testament and the New condone slavery — as Maryland once did. The Old Testament permits divorce, but the New Testament forbids it; how should our lawmakers be guided? Should the General Assembly ban the harvesting of crabs because the dietary code of the Old Testament forbids shellfish?
I mentioned the interracial marriage issue because at one time, in living memory, states that denied black people full civil rights were allowed to refuse to recognize marriages between black and white people performed in other states. It was not something of which to be proud today, and to allow an analogous prejudice to copy that pattern will not be something to boast about to our descendants.