The government (or those who want to run it) has been doing so many stupid things lately it’s hard to focus on just one thing. On the one hand, we’ve got Bush’s idiotic marriage amendment proposal, while on the other we’ve got Democrats failing over themselves to proudly proclaim they intend to do nothing to prevent Social Security entitlements from crippling the economy. Oh, and then we’ve got the whole Howard Stern suspension thing, which while not directly related to the government, was undoubtedly prompted by the FCC’s recent heavy breathing over Janet Jackson’s exposed nipple.
It truly staggers the mind. But since my normally apolitical wife Sue mentioned the marriage thing the other night, I’ll go with that.
President George W. Bush has said he’d like to see a constitutional amendment specifically defining “marriage” as being between a man and a woman, but leaving it to the states whether or not they decide to allow “civil unions” and what protections/rights those civil unions offer.
Now I’ve read a heck of a lot of science fiction over the years, as well as more than a bit of fantasy, and I’ve seen marriage handled in many different ways. In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Heinlein’s proposees “line marriages”, which are essentially extended families in which the adults have all married one another. So you end up with four or five husbands and an equal number of wives and about a gazillion kids running around.
In Arthur C. Clarke’s 2061 (well, I think it’s 2061 — it’s been a while), there’s a married gay couple, which I admit took the high-school-aged me aback the first time I read it, but then thought “why not?” In another book, set on Venus (and the name escapes me) marriage was a contract deal, where you specified the terms (and duration) of the contract when you pronounced your values. Alimony? Child care? All that stuff was covered in the contact.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation we had Tasha Yar and the android Data engaging in a secret affair but that was cut short before they could be declared android and wife. In Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series the hero Rand not only has three wives, but he’s psychically bound to all of them! And Ursla Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness has a unisex offshoot of humanity that gradually gains and loses male and female sex organs over time.
After being exposed to all that, I think it’s safe to say I’m a little more willing to question the nature of marriage than your average religious conservative I also bring a fair amount of experience with marriage to the table, seeing as how I’ve been happily married for the last 8 years.
So here’s my take on the marriage. From a governmental standpoint — and its important to make this distinction, because we are talking about a government law — marriage is a contract between individuals. The government’s only job when it comes to marriage should be to uphold the terms of that contract, and oversee its dissolution. Our government is a secular one, so the question of the religious significance of marriage (and preserving that significance) is entirely outside of its prevue. I’ll also say that the government should not be taking a stance on whether marriage itself is a good or bad thing; government money should not be spent on “promoting” marriage. Yes, I do realize that marriage is a key component of breaking individuals out of poverty, but pro-marriage initiatives should be handled by private, non-governmental organizations.
Similarly, the personal and spiritual significance of marriage is also a private affair. When it comes to consenting adults, the government should have no say on whom you enter this contract with. It’s simply not their responsibility.
Now at this point I’m sure that some individuals are having conniptions about the sanctity of marriage, and I’m willing to bet that 99% of their objections to same-sex marriage is based on religious doctrine. And you know what — that’s ok. As private individuals, you can say whatever you like, and within the confines of your church, you’re free to make up whatever rules you like about marriage, and to attach whatever religious significance is appropriate (well, you should be free to do that, but whether or not you really are depends on who’s presently on the Supreme Court). But the fact that many people object to same-sex marriage (or civil unions, or whatever) on religious grounds is exactly the reason why an amendment defining marriage should not be passed, or even considered.
Same-sex marriages do bring up the question of what to do about things like health benefits and whether or not the federal government should force companies to extend them to same-sex couples. Being a libertarian-minded kind of guy, I’ve got to say no — the government shouldn’t. I know that some folks might not like hearing that, but introducing the government into such things will cause more problems than it solves. Moreover, we’re once again talking about a contract between two individuals (or in this case, between an individual and a corporation). If you don’t like the terms of that contract, then work somewhere else … or find sympathetic individuals to aid in changing the corporation’s rules.
And what of those even more extreme forms of marriage, like Robert Heinlein’s lunar line marriages? Well, to that I’ll just say this: in a free society, how people choose to associate with one another, and what contracts they agree to, would be entirely up to them. Could this lead to some very strange marital situations? Yep, but that’s really the call of the individuals engaged in those relationship.
Of course, that’s them. Me? I’ll stick with the traditional set-up. I love my wife, love my marriage, and have absolutely no desire to change either.