Thursday, February 05, 2004

On Marriage...

Ed at Dispatches from the Culture Wars has a post regarding gay marriage titled, The logical leaps of anti-gay marriage arguments. He makes a few statements that I’d like to comment on.
The issue is not the definition of marriage, but who gets to participate in it… …[it] is wrong to imply that there has been anything like a consistent conception of marriage over… millenia and across cultural lines. The definition and limitations of marriage have varied dramatically over the centuries, both within and between different cultures. Some cultures have been polygamous (some still are, for that matter), and in fact the bible seems to assume that polygamy is the nature of marriage - for men, of course, not for women. The Quran allows polygamy as well - for men, of course, not for women. Different cultures come to different conclusions concerning where the line is drawn between incestuous and non-incestuous marriages (first cousins? second cousins? immediate family only?), and in fact the same culture may well have had different definitions at different times. In some cultures, marriages are arranged; in other cultures, the notion of arranged marriages is considered barbaric. Some cultures allow you to marry outside the culture, or ethnic group, or race, and some do not. All of the variations I mentioned in the history of marriage, and more, have been matters of law, hence of government. Like it or not, government DOES define marriage, and it always has, whether that definition is motivated by religious belief or not.
I would argue that it is the definition of marriage that is the issue. The pro-gay lobby would like to have us believe that the issue has to do with tolerance or rights, but one is hard pressed to provide convincing evidence for that case. Our society is extremely tolerant of gay couples – one was featured on the reality show Amazing Race recently (and they were described as “married”). Every day I walk by a non-discrimination notice at my place of employment that states that it is against the law to discriminate based on a variety of factors – sexual orientation being one of them. With the prevalence of domestic partner benefits there is virtually no tangible benefit that a gay couple could have by being officially “married.” What it is they’re after is respectability… and that, they believe, hinges on the definition of marriage. What is interesting about comparisons to other cultures, or even our own culture from just a few years back, is that the idea of marriage, whether it involved polygamy or cousins or arrangements, was always understood to be between a man and a woman. Even if there was polygamy it was between a man and a woman (in multiple measure). Even if there were cousins that married it was a male cousin and a female cousin. Even if the marriage was arranged it was arranged between a male and a female. The guidepost for all of humanity has been that marriage is between a man and a woman. Some would even consider that to be something that we can’t not know – but we’ll hit that on another post. One must understand that, in the manner that C. S. Lewis would have said, societies have held to the same basic tenets throughout history. To be sure, there have been different attitudes about valor, but where was cowardice revered? There have been varying degrees of how marriage was viewed, but where was adultery elevated to be honorable? The point is that simply because history has shown cultures to view marriage in different light does not diminish from the fact of how they viewed marriage fundamentally. Yet this brings us back to the definition of marriage and whether or not it matters. It does. The government has no more right to define marriage than it has the right to define murder. What happens when we turn the definition of marriage from a man – woman definition into a man – woman / man – man / woman – woman idea is that we have effectively dissolved the idea of marriage altogether. We do this because we undermine the complimentary aspect of what marriage truly is. The man was made for the woman and the woman for the man – this is evident in physiology as well as reproduction. The family was meant to be run by a man and a woman – this is evident in psychological studies comparing two parent families with single parent families and the differences associated between a man and a woman. I am not saying that a man and another man are not capable of entering into what they consider a loving relationship (albeit sinful); what I am saying is that such a relationship does not qualify as marriage. Call it whatever you want, but do not call it marriage. As Richard John Neuhaus wrote, "We know what marriage is. People are free to choose something else, but they are not free to require the rest of us to call that something else marriage." The most troubling aspect of re-defining marriage, though, is that it leads us down a road in which the logical consequences demand that we let any relationship be defined into marriage. If two men can commit to a loving relationship and become “married,” then why not two men and one woman?, or just one woman?, or one man and a child?, or three men, two women and, one chimpanzee? There is no reason this cannot happen because if it’s all about who gets to participate, then the static definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman will have been destroyed and replaced with whatever one wants it to mean. And the result will be a cheapened, valueless meaning to the institution of marriage – and that will affect us all.

No comments: