CAL THOMAS, WED TO BIGOTRY A favorite political science professor once told us that one cannot consider himself fully informed about an issue unless he knows what opposing camps believe. This dictum is the only thing that keeps me reading the right wing rantings of Cal Thomas. Anyone familiar with his column cannot have been surprised at his support for a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage, claiming that “the majority of us . . .want to keep marriage for heterosexuals only.” Thomas’ moral majority gets its authority via a Christian deity from whom all moral standards emanate, including the concept of “fair.” His god, having proclaimed homosexuality sinful, makes it impossible to believe that extending the rights and rites of marriage to homosexuals is “fair” because fair is a moral standard, all standards come from the hand of God, and all God’s standards are immutable. The Cartesian Circle has nothing on Thomas’ merry-go-round logic. In his usual Chicken Little rhetoric, the word marriage even appears in quotes, making sure his readers understand that a connubial contract between those of the same sex is patent nonsense. But as is often the case with those who are in sole possession of “the truth” there is no attempt to subject their dogma to objective thought or even historical reality. So long as the Bible can be trotted out in support of The World According to Zealots, no examination of man’s tortuous and unevenly paved path toward civil society has even to be conducted. As a matter of historical signficance, marriage was first and foremost a social and economic union. In an essay about the absence of male-headed black families more than a decade ago, William Raspberry stated rather handily the calculus of the connubial contract: for millennia, men exchanged love for sex; women exchanged sex for love, and that without such an understanding, men do not hang around to provide for their offspring. Despite Thomas’ fervent wish to ascribe religious design to this compact, it is more likely that the agreement between the sexes appeared over time as a practical response to the very different biological drives of the sexes. It certainly makes for better mythology that marriage arose in the flash of a Biblical revelation handed down from a mountain, but literary fancies should not drive the legal code. Whatever one believes about the religious origins of marriage, there is little question that the institution was designed to protect the offspring that were necessary for the propagation and prosperity of the species. The Bible was neither the first nor the only effort to codify human behavior. In Babylon some 4,000 years ago, The Code of Hammurabi very clearly set out the rights and responsibilities of marriage, among other contracts. Centuries later, Plato dissected politics and civil society in The Republic and Gorgias to name but two of his works. All laws, including those that govern marriage, are merely man’s attempt to insure that the interests of competing parties are fairly decided. Marriage is but one way to assure domestic tranquility and performs the same function as traffic lights--to keep the rights of one person from colliding with another. To imbue it with ethereal significance is not only presumptuous on the part of religious zealots, but is their attempt to violate that portion of the First Amendment that proscribes governmental establishment of religion. Interestingly, marriage as a well established legal institution has a rather rocky past. Once upon a time, common law “marriages” between men and women were in fact, quite common, there not being a widely available judicial infrastructure in places where the closest neighbor was miles away. In much of Colonial America, it is estimated that over half of brides were with child by the time the law recognized their unions, if ever. In time, common law marriages were abolished because they were too easily dissolved without protection for women and children, who, until very recently, had few legal rights. It was only in the last century, the one in which Cal Thomas and I were both born, that women were allowed to vote and children enjoyed widespread protection from exploitation. So if Biblical standards are indeed “immutable” what is one to make of the fact that women, children and blacks were once thought to be the property of other men? The constancy of Biblical law was invoked then, too, to sustain institutions of abject unfairness and to counter any argument that society must recognize a change in legal status over time. Did these injustices come from the same god whose “truth” never changes? Days after Thomas spewed his vitriol at advocates of marriage equality, he lambasted Spain for wanting to withdraw their troops from Iraq. The war on terror he said, is a world war to protect “personal freedom, religious pluralism and individual conscience.” Apparently “personal” and “individual” are the sole province of fundamentalist Christians who embrace religious pluralism as long as it comes in only one version--theirs. That he does not see the parallels between the theocratic justifications of the terrorists and his own desire to impose his religious ideals on his fellow Americans is a case straight out of the book of Matthew, chapter 7, verse 3: “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” Since I do not pretend to know the will of God, I cannot say what laws are immutable, but one thing never changes--mankind’s use of religion to impose his will on others.

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