As the U.S. Supreme Court considers the latest dispute over "same-sex marriage," another less bitter controversy has re-emerged: Pluto.
Vanderbilt University astronomer David Weintraub claims Pluto was wrongly removed as a planet in 2006. He predicts a planned NASA-craft flyby July 14 will inspire public opinion.
The fight about same-sex marriage is like Pluto's controversy.CartoonDavies' latest cartoon: HUD or huh?CommentSubmit your letterReader essaysGet published in Newsday
"Why I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming" was Cal Tech astronomer Mike Brown's case for "de-planetizing" Pluto. He made the case for demoting Pluto because it is smaller than originally thought and newly discovered celestial bodies, some larger than Pluto, belie its claim to uniqueness.
Because of sentimental desire, some astronomers attempted to maintain Pluto's status by increasing the number of planets to 10 to include Pluto. Others called for declaring more than 200 other celestial objects -- mostly rocks and ice -- to be planets. The International Astronomical Union opted for the most logical definition of a planet -- a celestial body that orbits the Sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces, and has cleared the area around its orbit -- accepting only eight of the traditional planets.
So what does Pluto have to do with same-sex marriage?
For millennia, marriage in Western civilization was a union between a woman and a man. Society opted for ordered commitment, fidelity, permanence and stability for rearing children. This definition predates the existence of state and organized religion.
The Supreme Court in 1878, when considering anti-polygamy laws, ruled that the long-standing reality of marriage between one woman and one man came long before the Constitution. So even acting out of religious liberty conviction could not subvert common law.
In the 1970s, there was a push for the Equal Rights Amendment. It stated: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." ERA opponents warned it would dictate outlandish possibilities such as "homosexual marriage." ERA supporters dismissed the claims as homophobia.
The ERA never passed, but lower courts in the past decade have ruled that traditional marriage somehow violates the Constitution -- even though marriage came first.
Voters in a majority of states have rejected redefining marriage. Yet judges say in effect: "Forget you voters. You don't decide. We do."
Calling same-sex union a marriage is important to some. Same-sex couples, who deserve our respect, may feel excluded. Many know same-sex couples as good citizens and family people. Their advocacy arises from noble sentiments.
Still, like keeping Pluto a planet, it is a sentiment. Opponents of redefining marriage are dismissed as illogical. Yet advocates of traditional marriage have centuries of experience and awareness of adverse, societally erosive possibilities.
If you redefine marriage -- like lobbying for Pluto -- you need a reason to ensure the integrity of an underlying marital institution thereafter. If same-sex marriage is allowed, why not polygamy?
How can federal immigration officials investigate so-called "immigration marriages" if marriage is whatever two -- or more -- people want it to be?
Everything has its nature. You can't order a cafe latte black. If marriage is whatever someone wants it to be, its very meaning and value are tenuous.
It may be too late to stop it. My modest proposal is for the courts to stay out of it, allow states to make reasonable laws, see what happens where same-sex marriage is legal, and then make intelligent judgments.
If redefining marriage is a natural evolution, let it evolve naturally. Don't force it.
Otherwise, we risk consequences further out than Pluto.
Pete Sheehan, a former senior reporter for The Long Island Catholic, is a journalist and freelance writer in Ohio.