I’m going to wade into the issue of same sex marriage for the same reason I wade into other ones: because it’s therapeutic. It’s also timely, and presents some interesting problems. The process is fraught, however, when the issue is complicated and controversial. Moreover, I’m not sure if I’ve thought about it enough. That’s another reason to write, though: it gives you a chance to think about difficult subjects.
Let’s set out a few basics in this area:
- Marriage is partly a civil and partly a religious institution.
- Gay people enjoy equal protection of the laws, including equal rights.
- Nothing in our Constitution, or in our state constitutions, prohibits same sex marriage.
- The gay rights movement has pushed for the right to marry. Civil unions are not at issue.
Now let me ask a few questions:
- Why does government – through the courts or otherwise – have anything to say about marriage in the first place?
- Why does the gay rights movement insist that gay marriage be legal?
- Why have courts not considered gay marriage an issue of religious freedom, as well as an issue of equal rights?
Government need not make any pronouncements about marriage at all. It only needs to count households, for taxation and other purposes. Any couple can declare itself a household. Government’s need to collect taxes from households is blind to gender.
The gay rights movement has not indicated why civil unions are insufficient. One can guess the reason: full membership in society comes with marriage, not with a civil union. Marriage entails recognition, legitimacy, and membership in a way that civil union does not. Marriage entails acceptance.
Religious organizations and individuals have been the main sources of resistance to same sex marriage. The traditional definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman has its roots in the church. Objections to same sex marriage are based on this definition, not arguments about rights. The gay rights movement and government ignore the traditional definition. They cannot argue the issue on definitional grounds because they would lose. The most direct way to win the argument is to change the traditional definition under law.
The movement to change our conception of marriage via court rulings plainly implies to churches: you don’t get to define the institution of marriage any more. In protest, churches could say, “Alright, if that’s how you define marriage, we won’t perform weddings any more.” Couples might go to church to have their unions blessed by God and his pastor, but they wouldn’t care to call it a marriage anymore.
Another strategy, somewhat akin to the first one, would be to say: “You can define marriage as you like. If you want to live together and call it married, that’s great. In fact, though, you’re married only because you say are. Your saying it doesn’t make it true.” That response is a little risky, though, given that government still seems to carry so much weight. If the government says it’s a marriage, it must be one, correct?
When Caligula planned to promote his horse to the position of consul, the idea said a great deal about Caligula’s mode of governance, and nothing at all about the poor animal. We will see whether the union of a man to a man, or a woman to a woman, counts as a marriage. Some predict that in a generation or two, we’ll regard same sex marriage the same way we regard racial equality now. Others might look at our society and its court decisions centuries from now and say, what were they thinking?
No matter how much Caligula admired his horse, it was still a horse. Of course, many historians now think the ruler proposed a bad joke for his courtiers and Roman citizens, to test whether they would recognize or support his outrageous pronouncement. After all, if I can make my horse a consul, I can do anything. Will judges who rule on the question of same sex marriage write opinions that, centuries from now, similarly appear as symptoms of unfathomable moral confusion? Government stipulations about religious freedom generally don’t age well.
I like that you always put a lot of thought into your writings and try to look at things from more than one point of view.
One thing I felt was missing here is the multiple roles marriage plays in our government and society. You only referenced taxes. What about benefits, like health benefits or social security? What about the right to make emergency medical decisions for your spouse when they are not able to? Or even the right to see your spouse in the hospital? Or the right to inherit yours spouse’s possessions upon death? Or a right to a portion of your spouse’s possessions upon divorce?
Many of these rights can be possible with additional paperwork and legal fees, but marriage is the institution that encapsulates all these rights and more.
I was wondering if you might be able to continue your thoughts on marriage equality with these things in mind.
Steven Greffenius said:
Hi Jason, Thank you for your comment, and good to hear from you! You are correct: the questions you ask are missing from the post. I mentioned taxes because it’s a clear case, and a fundamental one. One can extend the idea that the government should deal with households rather than married couples to all the other areas. Any couple or group should be able to declare itself a household, and be treated under the law as such. I know when I say, “or group,” that opens a lot of questions about size. You might have to talk about the kinds of physical structures a household could occupy. An anarchist might say that the government should not even try to define households, and deal only with individuals. Let individuals regulate their own affairs.
Similar questions about marriage and households arise in the case of polygamy. Why should same sex couples receive the state’s recognition as married under law, but not polygamous households? Yet Americans murdered Mormons for their beliefs, and no one talks about recognizing polygamous unions now. If gay groups insist on a fundamental right to get married, I don’t see why that right would be denied to any individuals who want to marry. Why would polygamy be outlawed when same sex marriages are not? One woman could have fifty husbands, or one man could have fifty wives. Or five women could be married to five men. With this understanding, the government could place no limit on the size of a household.
Thanks again for your interest!
To me there seems to be the perpetual struggle within the gay community of legal acceptance of civil unions. I see no reconciliation with fundamental religious groups on the matter but not all states allow insurance benefits for domestic partners and HIPPA issues when a partner gets sick has been hard for them. Oddly enough, the two worst run states in the union, California and Illinois are right on top of these issues but Iowa beats ’em all by providing marriages. Mostlikely the Defense of Marriage Act has them a little on edge too.
I do see conservatives turning on their axis on this and allowing gay marriage to be put into play based on the lackluster support they got from fundamental christians in the last election. Romney’s religion kept alot of them from the polls and to me it looks like party leaders have decided evangelicals are too erratic to be counted on as a base for the Republican Party and its time to appeal to a broader population.
It is no coincidence that Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Steve Greffenius have addressed the issue this week and defined the argument in a way that government could / should excuse itself from the whole matter and besides does allowing marriage rights to gays really destruct the value of marriage to heterosexual couples? There is something in the air on this subject right now, that hasnt been present before.
To me the feigned support out of the black community for same sex anything is curious. I see MLKjr’s daughter was recently quoted as saying her father didn’t take a bullet for same sex marriage. Tying gay rights to the black struggle for equality is a propaganda ploy Joseph Goebbels would be proud of.
Well thats probably enough and stated broadly enough to offend about everyone. I do enjoy the Libertarian view of the issues you comment on.
gas ranges with double ovens said:
Statistically, gas ranges perform so much more efficiently than electric ones.
Up to 78% of the original energy is wasted in these extra
steps. Several of quite a number of companies also usine range hoods to allow them to counterbalance
the friendliness produced by the ranges.