Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Does pro-Marriage = anti-Gay? 

Throughout all recent discussions of marriage rights for gays, I have been troubled by otherwise sound thinking and clearly expressed people who seem to dogmatically cling to assumptions that are not demonstrably true but, rather, tend to end discussion. For example, I enjoy the writings of Andrew Sullivan and respect his well reasoned thoughts and style. While he has many valid points on the subject, though, his writings frequently echo the titled assumption. I feel using such an assumption as the basis for a position to be markedly similar to those who brand all opposed to specific implementations of affirmative action as racist or those opposed to Judge Moore’s Ten Commandments monument as anti-Christian. They all devalue the opposing discussion by ascribing a negative motivation to the speaker while doing nothing to judge the merits of the position itself. In fairness, I must say that Andrew is certainly not the most strident in making such assumptions prime in his arguments nor is he particularly nasty in his response to opposed opinions. He is, however, one of the most eloquent and visible supporters of gay marriage rights and, by virtue of his profile and position, has been chosen as an example.

Lest there be any confusion, I can not find myself wholly in support of “gay marriage.” This is not religious in origin, but rather societal and comes from what I feel to be a clear, non-cultural specific age-old societal definition of marriage. Throughout recorded history, and most probably before, that which has defined marriage has not been “love”, but, rather, the formation of a new and distinct family unit. Any who argue that there is no difference between a heterosexual and homosexual marriage ignore the very real and biologically mandated fact that most heterosexual couple will eventually produce children while no homosexual couple will ever produce children. Yes, there are exceptions on both side, either through infertility or contraception in the case of the heterosexual couple, or by artificial means or adoption in the case of the homosexual couple, but the mere fact that these exceptions must be noted does nothing but accent that this is a primary and fundamental difference between the two institutions. It would seem to follow, then, that the real question is if it is right for these two to be legally distinct.

It would be beneficial in the discussion of legal rights of marriage to have a summary of what exactly these rights are, but they seem broadly to fall into the areas of medical rights (visitation, consent, insurance benefits), inheritance (including Social Security survivor benefits) and protections against dissolution (divorce, alimony, custody). I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but at the risk of sounding incurably naïve let us assume that most laws serve society in one or more of the following four ways: to protect the weak or innocent from the strong and malicious; to protect the proprietary interests of the government; to discourage actions that are “bad” for society, and; to encourage actions that are “good” for society. (If there are any real lawyers out there with issue on my conceptual purpose of law in society, please write). It is an interesting side note that often the same civil laws (specifically divorce, alimony and custody in the case of marriage) can serve as both incentive and disincentive, depending upon the role in which one is cast. I think it is generally observable that most laws specific to marriage are designed, in a small way, to encourage people to have children within the context of a marriage, but in much greater manner to ensure the protection of one member of the marriage. It seems logical to assume that the perceived need for legal protection so prevalent in laws related to marriage is based upon the assumption that one member of the marriage provides financial support while the other fulfills greater familial and child raising responsibilities. Very convincing arguments can be made concerning the utility and validity of the assumptions inherent in current marriage statutes in today’s society, but I will save those for another time. Overall, though, legal benefits derived from marriage can be conferred by other means, except for Social Security survivorship, a problem equally shared among all Americans in that these benefits are not willable, and dissolution protection (though these could be individually stipulated through specific contract, I do not feel these are as easily and commonly conferred through standard legal mechanisms such as wills or powers of attorney and so treat them as non-conferred).

If, however, the basis of marriage is to be love, as some seem to contend, why should others’ love not be an equally valid basis for marriage based purely upon the absence of sexual relations? Why could not, for example, two widowed sisters who live together not get married in order to secure their medical and property rights with regard to each other? Or is an arranged marriage with children to be of lesser legal standing because of the lack of love at the outset? In this regard, it has always seemed oddly ironic to me that some who would fight so strongly to keep the government “out of their bedroom” would fight equally hard to bring it into formal recognition of their love.

Society has a reasonable expectation that a man and woman who get married will have children. Just as there are people with concealed carry permits who do not arm themselves, there are married couples that never have children, but as a basis for conferring marriage rights this seems a reasonable basis, assuming the societal benefit of marriage rights is in protecting children and fostering a positive child rearing environment. Long before we had trained sociologists to spend millions on lengthy studies, the collective human conscious discovered that children are best raised in the context of a mother and father committed to each other in marriage. Contrary to the claims of some, this is not a uniquely Christian (or Jewish or Moslem) phenomenon, but is generally universal throughout human civilization. When the utility and purposefulness of marriage as it relates to children is de-emphasized it is to the general detriment of both children and society. Rather than continuing the trend to dilute the importance of children to the concept of marriage, I think steps should rather be made to strengthen marriage as it has traditionally been. Removing marriage-like rights that have been conferred to non-married individuals (i.e. common law marriages) and limiting no-fault divorce seem like good starting points. Opening the definition of marriage to include situations and configurations that arguably have little to do with the raising of the next generation, however, do not seem constructive.

This is just a quick brush of a matter that is much larger, and I am sure there are nuances in both my feelings and the ways I have expressed them that are either missing or not completely clear. I will most likely address these further at another time or attempt to clarify as possible. As I initially stated, though, it just sticks in my craw when others seem to paint me with assumed motivations based upon the barest of evidence, and, right or wrong, I have often felt myself almost under attack for “daring” to not agree with the “enlightened”.

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