Devlin argued in these ominous words that
"if men and women try to create a society in which there is no
fundamental agreement about good and evil they will fail; if having
based it upon a common set of core values, they surrender those values,
it will disintegrate. For society is not something that can be
kept together physically; it is held by the invisible but fragile
bonds of common beliefs and values. ... A common morality is part of the
bondage of a good society, and that bondage is part of the price
of society which mankind must pay."
In many cases, society agrees to a common
morality and the weapon of law in that it accepts the validity of laws
barring polygamy, adults seducing young boys, marriage of children, a
father marrying his son's wife, a woman marrying her stepfather, or
consanguinity marriages, say, between brother and sister. The issue
today is, based on Devlin's questions, what or whose standard to adopt
on social issues.
President Bush was surely reflecting
majority public opinion when he declared in words Devlin would have
approved: "Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and
a woman. Today's decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
violates this important principle. I will work with congressional
leaders and others to do what is legally necessary to defend the
sanctity of marriage."
Or should the decisive standard be public
opinion as measured by polls?
Last month's Fox News Channel/Opinion
Dynamics poll on same-sex marriage produced these results:
Opposed — 66 percent. In favor — 25
A Pew Research Center poll reported these
Opposed — 53 percent. In favor — 38
Since a large minority favors a change in
the marriage laws should governments adopt the "civil union"
formula as expressed by Gen. Wesley Clark and so reported in The
"People who want same-sex
relationships should have exactly the same rights as people who are in
conventional marriages. I'm talking about joint domicile rights of
survivorship, insurance coverage and all those rights. I think that's
essential in America today."
If we answer Devlin's questions to the
satisfaction of the overwhelming majority, what then of the
dissatisfied and disobedient minority?
The debate continues.
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