Writing in the letters column of Monday's Los Angeles Times, Mr. Dave Hoen makes the point that the Declaration of Independence is at stake in the vote on California's Proposition 22. This proposition defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Mr. Hoen is right about the connection between the ballot initiative and the Declaration. At the same time, he has it backwards.
Mr. Hoen despairs that the measure will pass because the American people have not "embraced the vision of our founding fathers when they proclaimed 'all men are created equal.'" That depends upon what the Declaration means.
Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration, wrote an amendment to the Virginia criminal code that diminished the penalty for sodomy. Still, he classed it with rape, polygamy, and incest as an offense. In Jefferson's view, the human being is equal in his rights, and these rights come from his nature. "Nature" — which comes from the Latin word meaning "to grow" — denotes both the essence of a thing and its manner of coming to be. And so the nature of a man includes both his freedom and the family into which he is born. Freedom of speech and the morality of the family are equally parts of human nature. In the view of Jefferson and all his colleagues (and almost all their descendants until about 25 years ago) the one could not be discarded without the other.
Mr. Hoen will probably respond to this point that Jefferson was an owner of slaves. But Jefferson was at the same time one of the most eloquent in his condemnation of slavery. The conflict between his principles and his ownership of slaves caused him agony. He and all Americans inherited the institution of slavery, and it cost several hundred thousand of their descendants much blood finally to be rid of it. Slavery is distinguished from homosexuality in that skin color has nothing to do with the nature of the human being. Sex has everything to do with it. Jefferson could therefore consistently be an opponent in principle of slavery and an opponent in principle of sodomy.
Rights are good for the human being. The family, established in the same nature as those rights, is also good for the human being. Indeed both are essential. Both depend upon the recognition of a morality outside the human will and not conditioned upon the age in which one lives.
Mr. Hoen should himself "embrace the vision of the Declaration."