Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Treading on Snow

My pal Nate is where I usually go for questions of jurisprudence. I wander into his territory, uninvited, without regret.

Cynthia Nixon on marriage equality:
When women got the vote, they did not redefine voting. When African-Americans got the right to sit at a lunch counter alongside white people, they did not redefine eating out. They were simply invited to the table. That is all we want to do; we have no desire to change marriage. We want to be entitled to not only the same privileges but the same responsibilities as straight people.
 Equality before the law implies a non-discrimination standard under the law. The law is an ass, suited to the mulish task of bulk imposition of clearly understood rules. The inelegant artlessness of parsing complexion, social status, sexuality, or belief is a chore unfit for a legislature distant in cognition and void of meaningful accountability.

Seek not dominion, for surely it shall find you first.

Nota bene, friends: this longsword cuts on the backstroke too. If you object to statutes that restrain folks from contracting (or not) based on sexual identity, it's consistent to object to statutes that restrain folks from contracting (or not) based on which side of the counter they stand on. The lunch counter example is particularly noteworthy in Nixon's choice of words. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did more than just repeal the ass of Jim Crow, it inserted its own ass into every space, both public and private.

Sidebar: in case you weren't aware, the "ass" in "the law is an ass" is "ass" qua donkey. The law is a stubborn, single-minded entity. And like the common ass, is quite useful for certain tasks, though you wouldn't ask ius or lex to pen a sonnet.

Substituting one form of dominion for another invites spiteful retribution under the petticoats of Lady Justice. Equality under the law, a fine principle, demands that any two fit people have access to the marriage contract in the eyes of the state. The principle here is not that gay people are great and deserve special protection, it's that under the US Constitutional order, all constituents are equal before the law. If it seems as if I'm repeating myself, it may be because this fairly obvious little slice of jurisprudence seems utterly lost in these discussions. This is a founding principle carried over from the Enlightenment that appears to be buried in the din of bristly moralizing on both sides.

But people, while severing the tether that forces that ass to discriminate is consistent with good statesmanship, it's an error of the same type that pinions this dumb creature to the task of discriminating along new dimensions. It was an act of justice to lift the statutes that imposed segregation. But consider the cost of yoking business owners to the common will: some people obtain the obligation to enter into contracts they would have not otherwise entertained. This is perverse. The antidote to oppression is liberty, not coercion.

So yes, it's obvious on its face that consenting people should have the right to voluntarily enter into mutually agreeable contracts. That's just as blatantly, obviously true for marriage as it is for cake decoration services and renting out the privately-owned grounds of a bed and breakfast.

Everyone deserves the right to say "no", even ifno, especially ifthe answer may be frustrating for others. The alternative is illiberal and unjust.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?