Chicken, Marriage, and Civil Rights or “How Marriage Equality Advocates Could Win The Debate”

I got sucked into a Facebook debate about Chik Fil A president Dan Cathy the other day. I probably should have just stayed out of it, but it’s been on my mind since then. Dan Cathy was called a bigot, a hate-monger, and intolerant. It also was suggested that the “one issue that separates the ‘good guys’ from the ‘bad guys’ is their opinion on marriage equality.”

I’m not thrilled about being called a “bad guy” and I don’t really agree that I am an intolerant, bigoted, hate-monger. I was even told that I was “hurting people I care about” because of my beliefs and opinions. So I had to think about why this issue has become so huge in recent years and what we can do about it. I think it is necessary to divide the issues and discuss them individually.

First (because it’s easiest) – Dan Cathy, Chicken and The First Amendment…

Reasonable people agree that Dan Cathy has the right to say what he wants and to support causes he chooses with his money. People may choose to not patron his restaurants because they disagree with him. Fine. No one has said that any of this violates his rights or their rights in any way. The First Amendment comes into play only when government officials threaten to limit his ability to do business in their districts because they disagree with his moral views. This is a clearly bigoted and intolerant position on their part… not on Dan Cathy’s part.

This leads to a second issue – terms and definitions…

Bigotry is behavior. Intolerance is behavior. Hate is an attitude. Some have claimed that Dan Cathy (and others) are all three of these because of their beliefs and that the only reason he treats customers and employees the way he does is because it is required by law. This is a ridiculous argument. It is possible to make a conclusion based on someone’s behavior, but it is unreasonable to make a conclusion about their thoughts that is contrary to their behavior. Tolerance is, in fact, the very acceptance of those with whom we disagree. I would concede that Cathy may have been insensitive in the way he answered the question, but it is, at least unfair, to label him in the way that he has been.

Enough about Dan Cathy… he really is not that important to this debate and does nothing to further the discussion, other than perhaps shedding national spotlight on it.

The problem is that some have redefined bigotry and intolerance as anyone who disagrees with their opinion and if one should voice that opposing opinion that is labeled “hate.”

One more clarifying definition… Marriage is NOT a civil right. Marriage is a ceremony, originating with religion, in which a man and woman are joined according to their religious beliefs. This is the definition of the term. Marriage has been recognized by most governments as giving these couples certain rights and responsibilities, but it is not, in and of itself, a right.

This leads us to the question of civil rights. What rights should all people have? What rights are afforded to married couples that others should have and do not?

Finally, then, how can those who are currently arguing for “marriage equality” secure the actual rights they seek for those who are currently denied them. The question to ask is, “Why are these rights given only to married people?” Shouldn’t non-married people, regardless of sexual preference, be allowed to choose their beneficiary? Shouldn’t everyone be allowed to determine who can visit them in the hospital? Shouldn’t any person be able to assign any other person of their choosing to have power of attorney or any other rights of survivorship they choose?

Truth be told, I would never deny any rights to any one and I will fight for and support those who are denied rights for any reason. However, comparing gay marriage to slavery and women’s right to vote is an insult to those who fought so hard for so long for those rights. I don’t believe that opinion makes me bigoted or intolerant. It’s OK with me if you disagree and I don’t hate you if you do so. According to the definition, marriage is not a right. Let’s fight for the actual rights and stop all the name calling and the intolerance on both sides.

9 thoughts on “Chicken, Marriage, and Civil Rights or “How Marriage Equality Advocates Could Win The Debate”

  1. I say, at least over the course of the history of this country, marriage has always been identified by the government as primarily a social and/or civil contract, without any necessary religious affiliation. At least as a married atheist, this has always been my understanding.

    Because that social and/or civil contract bestows certain advantages both tangible and intangible, depriving others of the ability to enter into this contract, with no discernible Constitutional argument for which to do so, is discrimination and deprives citizens of equal rights.

    Now that that’s out of the way though, is there a secular public policy reason why the government should allow Americans to deny equal rights to a specific category of people? Every single argument that I’ve ever heard has been based on religion or tradition, neither of which are considered legitimate, Constitutional criteria for denying people rights in this country. Your religion and religious philosophies should affect your behavior and impact your day-to-day business, not mine.

    FWIW, personally, I would not compare the fight for marriage equality to abolition or sufferage, but, truth be told, wrong is still wrong.

  2. This is the single best worded argument I have heard for the opposing point of view. I still hold that marriage is not, in and of itself, a right and that the actual rights should, in fact, be afforded to all regardless of martial status. I do not believe that this changes the definition of marriage, nor can I accept that the definition of marriage is discriminatory, but denying people rights most certainly is.

  3. Thanks. I totally appreciate it.

    Incidentally, it sounds like you’re still suggesting an argument based on tradition and not a public policy one.

    From a secular, constitutional, public policy standpoint, have you identified any forseeable negative social consequences that would come from the American government allowing homosexuals the right (opportunity, if you prefer) to marry?

    As I’d indicated, I have yet to hear one.

    Perhaps that’s why this particular issue is so clearly black and white to me.

    It is not true that I, or anyone I know “have redefined bigotry and intolerance as anyone who disagrees with their opinion and if one should voice that opposing opinion that is labeled “hate.”

    As I’d indicated explicitly in my initial Facebook post, I understand and appreciate disagreement on almost all political topics. This is the one issue that I know of that very clearly divides people into the good guy/bad guy camp.

    If there is a “good guy” version of the argument to withold these rights (again, or opportunities if you prefer) from American citizens, I’d love to hear it.

  4. To answer the first question, no. The argument against redefining marriage does not come from a secular viewpoint. It can’t because, to those of us who believe marriage to be a sacred, religious ceremony ordained by the God we worship, it is offensive to make it something other than what it is.

    The “good guy/bad guy” question should be answered by whether or not actual rights are denied any individual rather than a willingness, or lack thereof, to change something we hold sacred to that which defies what we call holy.

    You, and many others, have referred to Dan Cathy and, by extension, all who hold the same opinion as bigoted, intolerant hate-mongers. My point is that disagreeing does not make them any of those things, but their actions towards those people with whom they disagree would. The very fact that we can disagree so adamantly and still treat people with whom we disagree with dignity and respect is the very definition of tolerance and, therefore, neither bigoted, nor hateful.

    The entire crux of my post is that, by changing the debate from focusing on the term ‘marriage’ to the actual rights that are currently not afforded those couples who are not married would clearly define your “good guy/bad guy” camps and identify those who are, in fact, bigoted and intolerant. Moreover, we would find common ground and quickly see that the debate would be over because those rights would, and should, be given to all.

  5. Don’t be offended. From a governmental standpoint, marriage is a secular institution. Period.

    Religious people do NOT own marriage or its definition, at least not legally (which ultimately is the point of this social/public policy debate).

    Especially considering the fact that, I repeat, from a secular, constitutional, public policy standpoint, I have never heard anyone identify any forseeable negative social consequences that would come from the American government allowing homosexuals the right (opportunity, if you prefer) to marry, I can’t help but wonder why someone would cling so semantically and precariously to a word whose definition has been so fluid historically.

    Ultimately though, my point remains: in America, tradition is not the criteria by which our laws are determined to be just.

    Until I hear an argument otherwise (which I’ve not), I can not imagine argument comes from anywhere but a place of fundamental intolerance.

  6. I understand your argument. I simply do not accept your premise and, therefore, neither your conclusion. I do not claim that religious people own the term, but I simply acknowledge its definition. Since it is a ceremony and not a right, it shouldn’t need to be argued. But it is significant to me and others with my belief system.

    What I wish, is that you could understand my argument (even if you disagree) without labeling me intolerant or bigoted. None of my behavior has been such.

  7. My point remains that the federal government has a legitimate role in determining how marriage is defined with regard to civil law. If “marriage,” as it is statutorily defined now, is in fact discriminatory, as it would clearly appear to be so, then those statutes need to be changed.

    You are welcome to have any kind of ceremony you wish. No one is going to take that away from you. We are talking about the manner in which the government and society chooses to recognize and legitimize loving, monogamous couples. Your pastor can talk about Jesus and my officiant need not mention a god. Our legal status is the same in all other ways as it should be for all Americans.

    I understand your argument to be something along the lines of “we just want to keep it to ourselves.” If there is more to it, by all means, enlighten me.

    As I’ve now indicated several times now, that sentiment is not one that jives with the criteria by which we determine our laws in this country. Iran, perhaps. . .

    Ultimately, what I should say though is that Dan Cathy (and anyone else for that matter) can donate all that they would like to organizations attempting to fight the cause of marriage equality. They should also be very vocal about it.

    Heck, they might even win some ballot propositions over the course of the next decade. However, over the long term, they will lose in the courts and, pehaps more painfully, they will lose in the eyes of human moral history.

    In the end, that fact will probably trouble Cathy considerably more than my opinion that he is a bigot.

  8. It is clear that we will never agree on this issue.. and that is OK.

    My point remains that the fight should be for equal rights under the law and that redefining marriage does not necessarily resolve that. It may be true that the government has a role in defining marriage. I am not convinced that is the role of government, but even if they did, changing the definition of marriage does not guarantee equal rights or equal treatment because marriage is a ceremony, not a right. The true issue is not “marriage equality” but rather equal rights in relationships for those whose relationships fit the definition of marriage and those whose do not.

    If those working for this marriage equality would work, instead, for actual rights, you would find many new allies (including myself) and we would be able to work together.

    The biggest problem we have is that, while I am searching for common ground to start from together, you insist on name-calling and labeling. In your efforts to redefine marriage, you have also redefined (or at least misused) hate, intolerance and bigotry. The irony of it is that you employ the very tactics you accuse others of in an attempt to force through your perspective. It only serves to further drive people apart and damage or destroy relationships in the process.

    We can never resolve anything without resolving that first.

  9. It would appear that our common ground is that marriage is a social good and homosexual and heterosexual relationships should be valued equally.

    I also agree that the primary goal is equal rights for all Americans. The reason I choose “marriage equality” over your idea of changing the rules to all other civil agreements throughout the country is simply because the easiest path to any goal is always a straight line. All other equity arguments would be solved if all loving, monogamous relationships could be crystallized and legitimized through the same civil process. That would absolutely resolve all legal issues regarding equality.

    Rest assured though, if I were given a choice between the status quo and your scenario, I would definitely go with yours. Marriage equality would just be so much simpler.

    I believe our uncommon ground stems from the fact that the argument that I am making is a legal argument. As I’ve indicated many times so far, I have yet to read a legal argument from you (or anyone) about why we should treat a specific class of American citizens differently, at least not one that would hold up in any court of law.

    Marriage is considerably more than a ceremony. As long as the government is in the business of issuing and/or rejecting marriage licences, defining marriage is explicitly the responsibility of the government.

    For my part, I perceive a value judgment in all of the arguments that I’ve heard thusfar about this issue from people who believe that gays should not be allowed to marry. Perhaps there are other arguments that I’ve not heard.

    However, I am sorry that I have also indicated that there is a moral component to this issue(which, admittedly, I do believe to be true). That has clearly offended you and complicated matters. Fair enough.

    Btw though, I’ve not redefined hate, intolerance, or bigotry. In all of my experience, I’ve never heard anyone suggest that you need to act on hate, intolerance, or bigotry for it to be present. Again, it’s alright if your definition is different though.

    Feel free to respond or not. I’m comfortable letting it lie at this point. I have to get back in to school mode. 🙂

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