Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The inevitability doctrine

State Rep. Mike Lawlor, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee since 1995, a proponent of marriage for gays, has said that the movement in that direction is “inevitable.”

Lawlor and others conceive of marriage as a civil right, and Lawlor has noticed that in the past century civil rights have been expanding. The right to vote once was denied to women, but with a little persistence, women were eventually – Lawlor would say “inevitably” – enfranchised. African Americans, once treated as chattel, first won their emancipation in a brutal Civil War and later, during the Civil Rights decade of Martin Luther King, won a victory over Jim Crow. The “enfranchisement” of gays – specifically endowing them with the “right” to marry – is next on the Civil Rights docket, and it is "inevitable" that the case should be decided in favor of gays.

The Lawlor theory runs aground on the perception that in politics only death, an unfortunate by-product of the human condition and apparently the only practical means of purging the body politic of calcified incumbents, and taxes are inevitable. Lawlor, serving his eleventh term as a member of the House of Representatives, has worked diligently to assure that taxes in Connecticut continue to defy the law of gravity; they always go up and never come down.

There are some important differences between marriage and voting. Marriage is principally a religious institution and, unlike voting based on citizenship, is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Some people think that constitutional rights are infinitely elastic, but this theory runs aground on the notion, common in constitutional interpretation, that you cannot extend a right infinitely in one direction because the right will collide with an equally valuable constitutional right.

Gay rights already have collided with religious rights; the rights, privileges and immunities of both must, when necessary, be accommodated.
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