Vice Squad
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Definition of a Bigot

In his op-ed piece in Monday's Chicago Tribune (registration required), columnist Dennis Byrne draws on his experiences as a parent and a heterosexual married person to argue that children are better off being raised by two people of different sexes than by two people of the same sex, and that there should be a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage. He asserts that the intent of such an amendment is to strengthen "traditional" marriage, not to bash gays. He concludes his article by indignantly scolding the reader, "a person defending traditional marriage no longer should be called a bigot."

I'd like to deconstruct Byrne's little opinion piece here if I may. First of all, let's start with the definition of a bigot. According to Webster's Dictionary, a bigot is one who "regards his own faith and unquestionably right, and any belief or opinion opposed to or differing from them as obstinately and blindly devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion." I think Byrne is correct in that someone who merely defends "traditional marriage" should not be considered a bigot. However, Byrne not only constructs a narrow definition of "traditional marriage", but his call for banning gay marriage with a constitutional amendment goes well beyond merely defending the institution.

Byrne states unequivocally that "varied civilizations independently came to the same conclusion about the need for marriage and that's why it developed much the same across cultures (emphasis added). Bryne refers to the justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Court (who recently ruled a ban on gay marriage unconstitutional under the laws of their state) as "authoritarian." His proof - they cited "an evolving paradigm" of marriage as Byrne puts it, "as justification for fundamentally changing one of society's oldest building blocks."

Is Byrne asserting that marriage has essentially remained unchanged throughout the course of human history? Is he unaware of the fact that until 1967, citizens of the United States were being arrested - that's right - subjected to criminal penalties - for marrying someone of a different race? (See Loving v. Virginia, 1967). I wonder if Mr. Byrne finds the Supreme Court justices who ruled that these laws were unconstitutional "authoritarian"?

There are many other examples of ways in which marriage has changed over the course of human evolution. For instance:

--Polygamy was common for many men featured in the Bible. In fact, King Solomon had seven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines (1 Kings 11:3).
--According to the Koran the number of legitimate wives is limited to four.
--In ancient Egypt, in order to keep the power of the throne, the royal princes and pharaohs sometimes married their own sisters or daughters.
--In early medieval times in Europe, marriage was not available to all people, only to those who could set up a household and transmit property.
--In 16th Century Austria, servants and day laborers were not allowed to marry unless they had the permission of local political authorities.
--In Ancient Persia Couples announced their marriage intentions in public by dramatically cutting their arms and drinking each other's blood.
--In Ancient Greece, men celebrated homosexuality, ideally as elder-to-younger lovers. Marriage, however, was a business deal; men married women to run their household, rarely for love.
--Today in India, dowries are the norm.
--Same-sex marriage is legal today in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Canada

...just to name a few.

So, Byrne ignores the history of marriage throughout humanity to assert his belief that the modern US-style marriage between a woman and a man is the unquestionable definition of this institution. Further, Byrne ignores the fact that in November 2003, polls showed that Massachusetts voters approved of the High Court's decision. Apparently, he also thinks it's fine to ignore the opinions of the citizens of a state in order to impose his own beliefs on them.

Finally, Bryne discusses "some studies" that conclude there is no difference between children raised in same-sex or traditional marriages. However, he states that these studies have undergone "analysis" and that the "analysis" indicates the studies may be flawed. Although Byrne does not bother to provide any actual citations for the primary studies he's discussing, he readily gives readers the source of the analyses casting doubt on these reports: the Web site of "Marriage Watch". Marriage Watch is a service of the Marriage Law Project of the Catholic University of America.

Marriage Watch has apparently provided analyses calling into question the validity of studies showing that children benefited from being in loving households, regardless of whether or not there were two parents of different sexes. The stated purpose of Marriage Watch by the way, is to "is to reaffirm the legal definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman." I'm sure their "analyses" are free from bias.

We've established then that Dennis Byrne regards his own faith and views as unquestionably right, and he feels that any belief or opinion opposed to or differing from them is unreasonable. Hence, even though the voters of Massachusetts support their high court's decision, there is no room in Byrne's world for their belief. It must by stifled by a federal amendment. Even though many cultures have celebrated marriage in many different forms, Byrne only recongizes one permutation of the institution that supports his beliefs. Further, Byrne has shown that he is obstinately and blindly devoted to his own belief by citing the biased rhetoric of a special interest group as proof of the validity of his opinion.

I guess I don't need to call Mr. Byrne a bigot. It seems his name is synonymous with the definition of the word.

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