Marriage is a right, or more specifically, a privilege. According to the Hohfeldian system for describing the form of rights, to say that one has a privilege-right to do something is to say that one has no duty not to do it. Do gay couples have the right to marry? No – not in this country, or at least not yet. While there is nothing in our Constitution that prohibits same-sex marriage, our Family Code requires that the contracting parties must be a man and a woman.
And this is why same-sex marriage advocates would be wasting their time if they try to convince the bishops of their so-called rights. Aside from the fact that the Church hierarchy could never go against its own doctrine, the fight should be brought where it belongs – in congress – to lobby our legislators into amending the Family Code by giving same-sex couples the right to marry.
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Rights dominate modern understandings of what actions are permissible and which institutions are just. Rights structure the form of governments, the content of laws, and the shape of morality as it is currently perceived. To accept a set of rights is to approve a distribution of freedom and authority, and so to endorse a certain view of what may, must, and must not be done.”
By giving gay couples the right to marry, we would be dramatically reshaping our country’s morality, and this is why the Church is vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage because it goes against its moral teachings. At this point it is important to note that the bishops and priests are not violating the separation of Church and State by speaking out against what they believe to be a grave wrong; they are merely asserting their right to freely exercise their religion as guaranteed by the same constitutional provision that commands the State not to respect an establishment of religion by passing “laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.”
While the non-establishment clause commands our lawmakers not to listen to the Catholic Church or any religion for that matter, the more important issue to be resolved is, why should we grant gay couples the right to marry in the first place? The moral philosopher Warren Quinn gives a very compelling argument:
“A person is constituted by his body and his mind. They are parts or aspects of him. For that very reason, it is fitting that he have primary say over what may be done to them—not because such an arrangement best promotes overall human welfare, but because any arrangement that denied him that say would be a grave indignity. In giving him this authority, morality recognizes his existence as an individual with ends of his own—an independent being. Since that is what he is, he deserves this recognition.”
It is high time our society truly recognize that lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders are individuals with ends of their own, and if we look deeper we will find that beneath the differences in sexual orientation, their ends are not really unlike our own, and that is to find happiness in love and companionship. Giving them the right to marry accords them the much-needed legal recognition and protection of their partnerships, including property rights, successional rights, pension benefits, presumed insurable interest on the lives of their partners, and especially next-of-kin rights in hospitals. Is that too much to ask?