Founding father worship and gay marriage

Today I read this Romney quote on Blag Hag:

“At the time the Constitution was written marriage was between a man and a woman and I don’t believe the Supreme Court has changed that.”

Ah, the whole original intent argument. I grew up on that. Any constitutional question should be referred to the “original intent” of the founding fathers, who wrote it in the first place. I mean, that kind of makes sense, right? Well, not really, actually.

Sure the founding fathers never intended for there to be gay marriage. They held that marriage between a man and a woman in which the woman legally ceases to exist and becomes the literal property of her husband. Funny how people like Romney never complete that statement, huh?

Side note: I get annoyed anytime anyone uses the term “traditional marriage” for just this reason. Traditional marriage has essentially always meant that the husband essentially owns his wife, and that daughters are transferred from fathers to husbands. Furthermore, traditional marriage has always been based on economic necessity and social times between families. This thing we have today, where two people marry for love and companionship, this is new. This is not traditional. At all. And to add to that, traditional marriage has often included husbands taking multiple wives and husbands sleeping with prostitutes or women captured in war. So enough of this whole “traditional marriage” bit!

Back on topic, here’s the thing: Just because the founding fathers thought something does not make it right or true. The founding fathers were just men, sure, smart men, but not magically infallible men.

Exhibit A: The founding fathers were, by and large, perfectly fine with slavery. Many of them owned slaves. I don’t know of anyone today defending slavery, but if you’re going to hold the founding fathers and their intent up as infallible, you sort of have to.

I wonder sometimes about the relationship between believing in the importance of the original intent of the Constitution and believing that the Bible is inerrant and literal. After all, if you view the Bible as an unchanging document and any attempt to say anything was cultural as spitting upon God’s Word, it shouldn’t be that hard to transfer that sort of thinking to the Constitution. It’s an interesting thought, anyway.

So please, Romney, and every other politician, stop trying to defeat gay marriage because at the time the Constitution was written marriage was between a man and a woman. It’s a good think that kind of logic didn’t win out when the civil rights movement and second wave feminism were taking place, or this country would be a very different place. Can we stop caring what a bunch of old dead white guys thought and instead start talking about basic human rights and social justice?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Joy

    Yes, but the Constitution mentions marriage so many times

  • Naomi

    Preach it! We don't hear enough about the philosophical and material implications of the law of coverture. Most Americans have no idea just how relevant the bumper sticker saying "Feminism is the radical idea that women are human" is.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    I think you're on to something when you compare the conservative Christian view of the Constitution and the founders to the whole "the Bible is inerrant" view. What they have in common is that they interpret these two documents in a way that completely ignores the social context in which they were written. Also, they act as if it's even possible to take a lot of the language at face value. Unlike many of these lightweights blowing hot air, I've actually read the Constitution and a lot of the language demands interpretation because it's subjective and non-literal. What exactly is "due process" or "equal protection" for example? These are abstract concepts that need to be practically applied to real-life situations to form actual functional law, including situations that never existed when the founders were writing the Constitution. But the way the cons talk about it, you'd think Constitutional scholarship were as simple as reading the directions on a packet of soup. It doesn't work that way. If it did, why would anyone go to law school?What's funny to me is that the founders themselves, whatever their many flaws, certainly did view THEMSELVES as infallible. Their entire purpose was to create a system of government other than one in which what some guy (or a few guys) says goes, period. Because that's not a republic that's a monarchy–you know, what they fought a war to get rid of. That's why they wanted representative government. That's why they put a process by which later people could amend the constitution in place–because they knew that no person is infallible.Which brings me to another point: amendments. Conservatives forget that the entire Constitution was not written by the founders. There are 27 amendments to the Constitution and the founders were responsible for 10 of them. A lot of what we take for granted about the Constitution–the abolition of slavery, citizenship by birth, non-discrimination on the basis of race or sex in voting, direct election of senators–are parts of amendments that were put in place long after the founders died. Because apparently some meddling bozos decided that the founders' work was not done and that there were a few important things they left out and even a few important things they were really wrong about so they (gasp!) changed the Constitution. Because that's what an amendment is, a change. The Constitution was always meant to be a work in progress, and it is.

  • Jason Dick

    There's also the point to be made that the founding fathers wrote an amendment process into the constitution, and nearly all of the rights we now take for granted were not there originally but were written in as amendments.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, Romney isn't being nearly specific enough. Marriage was not JUST between a man and a woman, it was between a WHITE man and a WHITE woman. Slaves could not legally get married, even with their owner's consent. Freed blacks could marry other free blacks, but like all their other rights, their marriages may not be legally respected. Interracial marriage was downright illegal (I sometimes wonder if on that note whether the Botkin's marriage to Nadia would have even been allowed by 1776 standards). You could even go further and say it was only established, urban whites, since rural, poor whites did not often obtain the correct legal documentation either due to logistics or cost prohibitions. Point is, we've come a long way from when courts would deny marriage based on skin color or economic standing. If you want to go back to the days of 1776, you go back to 1776. But you can't cherry pick. And sorry, Botkin boy, I think in 1776 your marriage would have been refused. Guess that, according to the Founding Fathers, you've been living in sin.

  • Rosa

    The other side of this is that anti-gay marriage people are perfectly willing to alter the state constitutions in service of this "unalterable" national Constitution.(Anon, I'm pretty sure in the 18th century Egyptians were not considered subject to miscegenation laws, which were pretty specifically Black/white and might have still been about slave status instead of color in 1776. By the 19th century they would have been – at one point Egyptians in the US had to sue to get their ethnicity set in US law, because of 19th and early 20th century immigration caps.)

  • Cynthia

    Did you know that Thomas Jefferson suggested rewriting the Constitution every twenty years to assure that it continued to reflect the will of the people?I just heard this on NPR. Christopher Phillips has a project called Constitution Cafe where he is encouraging people to really think about the Constitution and how they would change it.'s a quote from that site: Jefferson’s visionary antidote for societal stasis in American democracy, as he told the historian Sam Kercheval, was to take periodically “as a tally, every provision of our constitution, and see if it hangs directly on the will of the people.” Those provisions that turn out not to reflect the people’s will, he believed, should be entirely redone. “Let us then go on perfecting [the Constitution],” he urged, by supplanting “those powers which time and trial show are still wanting.”

  • Katy-Anne

    I know some Christians that actually put the constitution on a level higher than the Bible and I'm like "huh"? Every time I point out that Jesus said to do good to our enemies etc and state reasons why I'm a pacifist, and also in favor of gun control, I get told: "but the constitution gives us the right to bear arms so it doesn't matter what you think the Bible says". These are the same people that will bash you with the Bible if it proves their point. I keep trying to tell them that the constitution isn't infallible or perfect, but nobody listens lol.Not that I'm here to argue any of those points but I do think a lot of conservative Christians tend to worship the constitution a little too much. Oh, and if they would just read non-revisionist history they'd find out that the founding fathers weren't Christians either. There is just so much misinformation out there.

  • be

    Two reactions: (1) There has been marriage between equals in other civilizations historically but not in the traditions that Romney cares about. (2) It took me a while to realize that a lot of people may be more or less okay with the founding fathers' position on slavery. They don't particularly care and they're not trying to re-institute it, but hey, "slavery is Biblical," right? And weren't the slaves "better off than" their descendants are now? I've heard things like this. :|

  • BlueDuck

    As has been pointed out – the founders themselves did not view themselves as infallible, they set up a process of representative gov't and a process to amend the consitution itself.And indeed, there is a remarkable lack of any mention of marriage and marriage laws in the constitution. Go figure!! And, until the late 19th century, married women has no independent property rights from their husbands – they were in effect property. You know, they extremists in the RR Patriarchy movements would just love to go back to those days – wives as property with no legal rights. They are just cautious in how they talk about that around the rest of us.I am not an expert on Mormon religion, but I seem to recall that Mormons are taught that the US Constitution is a divinely inspired document. A teaching that goes back to ol' Joe, or maybe his successor Brigham Young. I can't recall. So, that probably impacts Romneys views.

  • lucrezaborgia

    Hah…my fiance had this to say earlier:"Have you ever noticed how people who think it's everyone's right to own assault weapons and 30-round handgun magazines because "The second amendment has to change with the times" are also those who are against gay marriage because "at the time the Constitution was written marriage was between a man and a woman and I don’t believe the Supreme Court has changed that."?"

  • saraquill

    Do any of those "Founding Fathers were super infallible Christians" believers even know that Jefferson rewrote his Bible so it was completely secular?