Civil rights are those rights granted to you by the state, almost always by written statute, so that you may fully participate in our democracy. The right to vote, the right to petition for redress, the right to assembly peacefully – these are some of the civil rights we enjoy in this country.
Human rights are given by virtue of your being born and entitle you to what is needed to survive. The right to clean food and water, the right to life, the right to be secure in your person and belongings – these are human rights.
Constitutional rights are those that are not strictly necessary to survive individually or as a democracy, but have been judged to be so important that society has written them into its highest and most basic governing document. The right to bear arms, the right to a jury trial and the protection from unreasonable searches are all examples.
You don’t need to be able marry to fully participate in our democracy and you don’t need to be able to marry in order to continue living. Gay or straight, you do not have the right to a marriage license. A license to marry and (for example) a license to operate a motor vehicle are both issued by the state not because your inherent worth as a human being – or as a citizen – dictates that you have a God given – or fundamental – right to one.
They are issued because society has deemed them to be worthwhile and useful. Society has also deemed them to needing regulation. We don’t issue driver’s or marriage licenses to everyone who wants one. They are two of the many things the state has wisely decided to limit only to certain individuals.
Marriage is, however, mentioned in the Constitution (In Part the Second, Chapter III, Section IV, Article V), though it does not provide a right to it. The sole mention of marriage is in the chapter on the judiciary, however, it very clearly leaves those in robes out of the decision making process about who can and can not get married. To wit:
All causes of marriage, divorce, and alimony, and all appeals from the judges of probate shall be heard and determined by the governor and council, until the legislature shall, by law, make other provision.
Well, guess what? The legislature had made other provision a couple hundred years ago. They decided that you couldn’t marry your sister. They decided there would be a waiting period to make sure you were serious about the very solemn covenant you were entering into. They made a whole host of provisions, and then the SJC ignored that and made “other provision” with Goodridge.
If the General Court wanted to give gay couples the ability to marry that would have been entirely their prerogative. They did not, however; the SJC did. Now a record number of citizens, more than 170,000, have exercised their (true) civil rights and petitioned their government for a redress of grievances in the form of a Constitutional amendment.
It was intentionally derailed once before, knowing full well that it would come back up again, dragging the process out even longer. Now, those same opponents that are the cause of the delay are arguing that it is time to move on. The issue could have been settled once and for all yesterday but by the cowardly act of adjourning the ConCon before taking a vote last time around they caused what they now complain about.
You can support gay marriage, but oppose the way we got it and the tactics its defenders use and have used. Let us all agree that marriage is not a right and that there are clearly many more important issues facing our Commonwealth than this. If the SJC had not intervened in an area where they had no Constitutional role then we would not be wasting our time debating it now.
In the meantime, the General Court should truly be Great and not violate the civil rights of one group defending what they perceive to be the rights of another group. Our legislators should pick a side, take the tough vote and do the jobs they not only wanted to have, but fought to get and retain. If the amendment progresses to a plebiscite then they can work to defeat it. If it fails in the ConCon they can claim victory.
If, however, they employ tactics to even avoid the vote then they should all hang their heads in shame. They will have done a service to none, and brought dishonor on all. Further, they will themselves be violating our own Declaration of Rights, written by John Adams and enshrined in our Constitution:
Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men: Therefore the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity and happiness require it.