Consent, not coercionNovember 20, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
Commenting on yesterday’s post, Erik writes:
If homosexuals can legally marry, then I should be able to marry two women, and my dog. No one should be able to take that right from me, if homosexuals are guaranteed the same right. Prove me wrong.
I think he meant “if homosexuals have the same right to marry as everyone else, then he should be able to marry two wives and a dog,” since legalizing gay marriage would not (and has not) legalized polygamy nor inter-species unions. But he raises an interesting topic, and I think it’s worth having a look at why respect for human rights requires a genuine democracy to base marriage on the concept of consent rather than on coercion.
The difference between a genuine democracy and a mere mob ganging up on various minorities is that a genuine democracy is founded on a binding respect for human rights, and seeks to maximize the liberty, opportunity, and benefit of all. By basing marriage on consent, rather than on coercion, we achieve these goals and make marriage a truly democratic and beneficial union.
Marriage based on consent gives both maximum liberty and maximum protection to the individual. No one wants to be forced into a marriage against his or her will, and no couple who want to marry want some third party interfering with the wedding, especially when it’s none of their business. By basing marriage on consent, we protect the individual from forced marriage (by respecting their right to choose not to give their consent), and we protect the couple from persecution and harassment (by not allowing third parties to interfere in a consensual relationship).
Marriage based on coercion, by contrast, never protects the individual or the couple, and always violates the human rights of one or both parties, without providing any legitimate benefit to any third party or to society as a whole. Marriage based on coercion thwarts the individual rights and liberties of its victims, and denies them the opportunity to achieve not only their own inalienable right to “the pursuit of happiness,” but also to make a positive contribution to society as a couple and as a family.
Whether the coercion is aggressive (forced marriage) or prohibitive (denied marriage), the result is the same: a devaluation of human rights and a denial of the benefits that come from impartially protecting both the rights and the liberties of all citizens. If marriage is what makes a democracy strong, a proper respect for human rights is what makes marriage strong. It is therefore not merely appropriate, but necessary, that marriage be ruled by the consent of the parties involved, and not by the coercion of some third party, even if the oppressors outnumber the victim. When human rights are denied for some, they are denied for all, and become a mere expedient subject to the whim of fashion.
Now, as for marrying your dog, I’d say no, because the dog is not capable of giving its consent. I’d also recommend some of the writings of Solomon if you’re really serious about wanting multiple wives. It may be biblical, and it may have a looooonnnnnnng history, but there’s a reason monogamy has become the dominant form in Western society. Couples work best, and if we could out-grow our superstitious and bigoted fears enough to establish a genuinely democratic institution of consent-based marriage, our society would be better off.