Guest commentary: The marriage amendment's real effect
By: Greg Hull, Silver Creek Township , Lake County News Chronicle
“How many Legs does a horse have, If you call a Tail a Leg?”
President Abe Lincoln, it is said, loved to ask that question of school children. Most, after thinking it over, would answer “Five”. But there were always a brave few who would stubbornly answer “Four”.
Four, of course, is the correct answer. Honest Abe was making a point – you can’t change a tail into a leg by simply calling it a leg. You can’t change what something actually is by altering the name.
It’s a point we need to consider when it comes to voting on the marriage amendment in a few weeks. Can we change what marriage is by calling something else “marriage”?
Consider another issue that faced Minnesota voters in the early 1980s. It was the question of gambling. Were we going to allow charitable gaming in Minnesota? The proponents of legalized gambling said there was only one type of gaming that was going to be permitted: pull-tabs by non-profit organizations. Opponents pointed out that once gambling in principle was permitted, all types of gambling would come. You can’t say gambling with cards is acceptable while gambling with dice is verboten. If gambling in principle is acceptable, then the form it takes is irrelevant.
Who was right? Look around – now after about 30 years, we have gone from merely having pull-tabs in bars owned by fraternal groups, to a state lottery, two horse tracks, and at least 19 casinos. The point is clear –move the line once and there is no reason it can’t be moved again.
The issue that is now being put to the voters is a simple one: Should we move the line when it comes to marriage? Should we move it out one step, away from one man and one woman, to include two people of any gender? A yes vote for the amendment has the effect of saying: “We can’t move the line –we can’t change a tail into a leg by calling it a leg.” A no vote says : “Move the line to be more ‘inclusive.’” Not voting has the same effect as voting no.
Lots of issues and factors get thrown into the debate: “I should be able to love anyone I want,” “We shouldn’t judge each other,” “ I should be able to have anyone in the hospital with me when my final moments arrive,” or “I should be able to share my material goods with anyone I want.” Advocates for gay marriage bring up these points. They want to address injustices (real and perceived) by moving the line on what constitutes marriage.
Proponents of the amendment are those who want to make sure that all future legislation within our state keeps the definition of marriage where it is. They don’t want to worry that the lines will be moved piecemeal, a little at a time.
What will the effect of the failure of the proposed amendment be? I don’t think the effect will be to address the injustices claimed by gay marriage advocates. It will instead be that marriage, as an institution, will be eliminated. In the parallel case of gambling, if we move the line once, what will keep us from moving the line again? If we can say that marriage is a specific legal and moral relationship between two people, why can’t we later say it is between three or four people? Certainly there is more historical precedent for polygamous marriage than for gay marriage. Why do we need to restrict it to people? There is no shortage of examples of people who are so fond of their pets, that they leave (in some cases) millions of dollars to their pets after the owners demise.
There are ways and methods that the financial and legal concerns of gays can and ought to be protected. Doing so by changing the definition of marriage makes no more sense than telling a three-legged horse to run, because we have decreed his tail to be a leg.
Greg Hull is a sawyer and philosopher-at-large. He has never owned a horse. His email is email@example.com