It should have come as no surprise when ground zero of the gay marriage debate shifted from Massachusetts to San Francisco. For there, in open defiance of California state law, Mayor Gavin Newsom lifted a ban on same-sex marriages on the grounds that homosexuals have the right to wed under the state’s equal protection clause. Thus, long lines formed as gays and lesbians waited for their marriage licenses. Some marriages were even performed on the spot. (No waiting!)
Of course, the phrase “equal protection” conjures up the 14th amendment (1868), that was drafted primarily to ensure that the newly freed slaves would not have their rights denied by any state government. But, if this was the first good intention, the proverbial road to Hell was soon to be paved.
However noble a cause manumission and the granting of full citizenship to the former slaves and their descendants may have been, (the slaves were actually freed by 1865’s 13th amendment) from this point on, the notion that the all-powerful Federal government was the grantor of rights (as opposed to, say, God) was forever enshrined in the American consciousness.
Please take a moment to reflect on this sea change: Previous constitutional provisions were all about protecting the people from the government taking away their rights. But with the 13th and especially the 14th amendments, the focus would change for all time. We can speculate on what might have happened if the South had been allowed to secede, and Lincoln’s mad Federal power grab had never occurred. With a continuing philosophy of limited Federal government, perhaps there would have been no income tax, and possibly some costly wars could have been avoided. Instead, we are now—all of us—slaves to the Federal leviathan.
With expansion of federally-granted rights, such as women’s right to vote (1920), came the first of many misguided efforts by the Feds to make us better people. The 18th amendment (1919) was to save us all from demon rum, but instead catalyzed organized crime. And what baby boomer can forget the Department of Agriculture’s campaigns in the 1950’s and early 1960’s that urged us to eat gobs of meat, along with four glasses a day of whole milk, to improve our health?
All was quiet on the rights scene until the early 1960’s. The 1964 Civil Rights Act undoubtedly corrected some wrongs, but soon morphed into clearly discriminatory affirmative action policies. This was exactly the time when the legislators could have and should have stepped up. But they didn’t. Thus, the floodgates were opened all the way. At this point, nearly everyone (except White, heterosexual Christian males) could pursue their claim as a victim. And pursue them they did, giving birth to that most pernicious concept—political correctness, whereby everyone now has to walk on eggs to avoid giving offense.
Along the way, of course, a strangely flexible right to privacy was discovered, that is so profound that it somehow allows an inalienable right to abortion, but is simultaneously so weak that it has no provision to allow a citizen to opt out of the avalanche of junk mail he receives.
How odd that in the endless pursuit of “rights” we have forfeited free speech and the very right to life itself. By comparison, the expansion of gay rights is really small potatoes.
But, here’s the best part: There’s no turning back! After our country’s basic philosophy was redefined following the Civil War, with the exception of the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, rights of otherwise innocent Americans have never been taken away.
It seems as if we are all the victims of the faux Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”