Affirmative Action and Gay Marriage

By Dr. Thomas Sowell

November 3, 2008 5 min read

The politically clever way to get special privileges is to call them "rights"— especially "equal rights."

Some local election campaigns in various states are using that tactic this year, trying to get special privileges through affirmative action quotas or through demands that the definition of marriage be changed to suit homosexuals.

Equality of rights does not mean equality of results. I can have all the equal treatment in the world on a golf course and I will not finish within shouting distance of Tiger Woods.

When arbitrary numerical "goals" or "quotas" under affirmative action are not met, the burden of proof is put on the employer to prove that he did not discriminate against minorities or women. No burden of proof whatever is put on the advocates of "goals" or "quotas" to show that people would be equally represented in jobs, colleges or anywhere else in the absence of discrimination.

Tons of evidence from countries around the world, and over centuries of history, show that statistical disparities are the rule, not the exception— even in situations where discrimination is virtually impossible.

Anonymously graded tests do not show the same results from one group to another. In many countries there are minorities who completely outperform members of the majority population, whether in education, in the economy or in sports, even when there is no way that they can discriminate against the majority.

Putting the burden of proof on everybody except yourself is a slick political ploy. The time is long overdue for the voting public to see through it.

Another fraud on the ballot this year is gay "marriage."

Marriage has existed for centuries and, until recent times, it has always meant a union between a man and a woman. Over those centuries, a vast array of laws has grown up, all based on circumstances that arise in unions between a man and a woman.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that law has not been based on logic but on experience. To apply a mountain of laws based specifically on experience with relations between a man and a woman to a different relationship where sex differences are not involved would be like applying the rules of baseball to football.

The argument that current marriage laws "discriminate" against homosexuals confuses discrimination against people with making distinctions among different kinds of behavior.

All laws distinguish among different kinds of behavior. What other purpose does law have?

While people may be treated the same, all their behaviors are not. Laws that forbid bicycles from being ridden on freeways obviously have a different effect on people who have bicycles but no cars.

But this is not discrimination against a person. The cyclist who gets into a car is just as free to drive on the freeway as anybody else.

The question is not whether gays should be permitted to marry. Many gays have already married people of the opposite sex. Conversely, heterosexuals who might want to marry someone of the same sex in order to make some point will be forbidden to do so, just as gays are.

The real issue is whether marriage should be redefined— and, if for gays, why not for polygamists? Why not for pedophiles?

Despite heavy television advertising in California for "gay marriage," showing blacks being set upon by police dogs during civil right marches, and implying that homosexuals face the same discrimination today, the analogy is completely false.

Blacks had to sit in the back of the bus because they were black. They were doing exactly what white people were doing— riding a bus. That is what made it racial discrimination.

Marriage is not a right but a set of legal obligations imposed because the government has a vested interest in unions that, among other things, have the potential to produce children, which is to say, the future population of the nation.

Gays were on their strongest ground when they said that what they did was nobody else's business. Now they are asserting a right to other people's approval, which is wholly different.

None of us has a right to other people's approval.

To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His Web site is

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