Tuesday, February 7, 2012

No Rational Basis for Banning Same-Sex Marriage

A US Appeals Court has upheld the verdict of federal judge Vaughn Walker that California's Proposition 8, which limited marriage to a man and a woman, violates the constitution's guarantee of equal protection.

The 3-judge panel accepted Judge Walker's reasoning that there was no rational basis for the law. U.S. courts have long held that the government must have a reason for limiting anyone's rights, or for treating different groups of people differently; at minimum, they must be able to show a "rational basis" for denying anyone a right as important as marriage. Judge Walker ruled that the attempts made by the defenders of Proposition 8 to supply a rational basis for the law were not, in fact, rational, but only attempts to rationalize prejudice against homosexuals. The law, he wrote, "fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license."

In California, same sex couples have many other rights -- for example, they are allowed to adopt children -- which this law did not address. It only dealt with marriage. Therefore the courts did not allow any other arguments about the status or acceptance of homosexuality to be discussed, for example, what children are taught about homosexuality in school. Argument focused solely on whether anything was achieved by forbidding gay couples to wed. Since nobody has been able to articulate a good reason for such a ban -- at least, a reason that might not apply to any social change -- Judge Walker and the Appeals Court held that no rational basis for denying this right to gay people had been demonstrated.

I am not generally a fan of achieving social change in the lawcourts, but I find this argument compelling. Many laws on the books are there, not to achieve anything rational, but just to express our disgust or anger or some other emotion. We should sweep them all away and limit ourselves to laws that will actually be enforced, and actually do some good.

I also find it fascinating that in America, a broad range of people do not think that "because we've always done it that way" is a "rational basis" for anything.

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