Today, President Obama became the first President ever to mention the word “gay” in an inaugural speech (watch below). Given everything that has happened over the last year, this is not surprising. Nevertheless, his remarks do deserve some scrutiny because their implications are morally devastating for the definition of marriage. In a section of the speech devoted to equal rights for all, he said this:
Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.
It is significant in itself that the President even mentioned gay rights and that he linked them to the women’s and civil rights movements before it. But his remarks go further than that. He actually presents in miniature a moral case for gay marriage based on the Declaration of Independence. The “journey” of equal rights for all isn’t complete until gay people can marry each other “under the law.” He reasons that because we are “created equal,” the love we commit to one another must be equal too.
The president only means for this statement to apply to gay marriage, but his words have implications beyond the unions of gay people. If equality relies on legal recognition of any union between people who love one another, why must that only apply to homosexual couples? What about a 35-year old woman and a 15-year old boy who commit their love to one another? Should they have the right to marry? What about a brother and a sister who commit their love to one another? Should they also have the right to marry? Why limit the issue to pairs? A man and two women may also commit their love to one another. On the president’s logic, shouldn’t we offer legal marriage to polygamists as well?
I know that President Obama doesn’t support polygamy, incest, or statutory rape. But that is only because he’s inconsistent. The moral basis that he cites for same-sex marriage necessarily applies to those other arrangements as well. The polygamists et al. are “truly created equal” too, and they have committed love. On what basis would the president deny them the legal right to marry?
The truth is that the president has no moral basis for excluding polygamists et al. from marriage. Once the conjugal view of marriage is set aside, the sky is the limit, and any number of arrangements becomes possible. The president may not acknowledge the implications of his own position, but we should.