There are countless grounds upon which I support marriage equality – philosophical, legal, economic, religious, ethical and personal. From each rise dozens of unique arcs all leading to the same conclusion: complete, unqualified and equal marriage for lesbian and gay citizens is the only just result possible from the Perry and Windsor Supreme Court cases.
Some have spent years making diverse and nuanced justifications for marriage. We are now at the pinnacle of that complex discussion with varied arguments in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, like equal protection and substantive due process. With that in mind, it may be helpful for us to sit back and think about some of the more basic reasons to support marriage: nothing fancy, nothing technical, and quite honestly, nothing all too controversial. To that end, I want to offer four principles that I live by every day, propose to college students across the country nearly every week, and keep close at hand whenever marriage equality (or any form of equality) comes up.
1. Treat others as they want to be treated.
What’s better than the Golden Rule? The Platinum Rule. Nothing is easier to appreciate than the idea that every person on Earth deserves the dignity to be treated as he or she wishes to be treated. This tenant also provides moral guidance that accounts for relativism and individuality. It’s a crowd pleaser among liberals and conservatives alike. A universal and obvious idea.
2. In everything we do, we should seek to maximize happiness and minimize suffering.
At what point does the pain and burden that discrimination inflicts upon same-sex couples render marriage inequity unacceptable? And why would a society choose to inflict pain when an answer for happiness is known and easy? Could it be that straight couples enjoy marriage discrimination so much that it makes up for the suffering of gay couples? I facetiously ask this as a rhetorical question in the same way that many trending memes and pro-marriage videos ask with comedic sarcasm: "how does their gay marriage, hurt my straight marriage." The joke – of course – is that it doesn’t. Perhaps, the memes and videos should instead ask why do we hurt people when we don't have to.
3. We should always act so long as the burdens of that action do not outweigh the benefits of that action.
This third principle is a natural corollary to the second, maybe even a variation thereof. The burdens of equal rights to those who oppose it pale in comparison to the benefits available to gay couples. These benefits aren’t just "happiness" or some other warm and cuddly feeling (not to minimize the reference to happiness in the Declaration of Independence). They are concrete and material benefits; they are access to and opportunities within so many layers of the American dream. They mean time and money and not just for gay people. Wall Street went as far as to submit an amicus brief for marriage just to emphasize the insane financial liability that companies face spending money on tax equalization and helping to overcome the effects of legal and financial oppression on a critical contingent of their work force and talent pool. Even if marriage provided couples with only an iota of happiness, it still seems that the benefit of marriage equality for society at large would outweigh the burden to those who oppose it.
4. You are responsible for whatever history of which you are a part.
A few years ago, my wife asked her grandfather (a World War II veteran and humanist) what was going through his mind every second of every day between 1939 and 1945. How could he sleep, eat, or enjoy a moment of his life knowing that the world was burning across the ocean and that whole communities were being violated and exterminated by the minute. Where was he? What was he doing? And more importantly, what could he have done, if anything?
As Shakespeare’s Henry V said, we are the makers of manners. We are culture; we are now. We have the ability to change minds and influence conduct for the better. To do anything but to stand up against inequality, to raise awareness, to mobilize, to articulate what’s stake, to lend our social, economic, and intellectual capital to this cause, is to be complacent with the injustices before us. We are responsible for this moment and will carry it with us to posterity.
I dedicate this post to The White Rose and to the moral imperative it continues to stand for.
Weigh in: Join the discussion! Share your thoughts to Hudson or ask him a follow-up question below. He will respond to the most mic'd comment.