The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Marriage Round-up Blogging

I was in meetings at work, most of yesterday today. Which means I have a lot to catch up on, so it’s hard to say whether I’ll be able to blog much at all today. In the meantime, there’s other stuff out there I highly recommend.

Probably the best place to start is Jonathan Rouch’s post — also published in the Wall Street Journal, “Gay Marriage is Good for America.” I don’t necessarily agree with Rauch about everything. (He leans libertarian. I don’t.) But I think if more people took his invitation to “imagine your life without marriage,” we’d be a bit closer to marriage equality.

Re-enter your childhood, but imagine your first crush, first kiss, first date and first sexual encounter, all bereft of any hope of marriage as a destination for your feelings. Re-enter your first serious relationship, but think about it knowing that marrying the person is out of the question.

Imagine that in the law’s eyes you and your soul mate will never be more than acquaintances. And now add even more strangeness. Imagine coming of age into a whole community, a whole culture, without marriage and the bonds of mutuality and kinship that go with it.

What is this weird world like? It has more sex and less commitment than a world with marriage. It is a world of fragile families living on the shadowy outskirts of the law; a world marked by heightened fear of loneliness or abandonment in crisis or old age; a world in some respects not even civilized, because marriage is the foundation of civilization.

This was the world I grew up in. The AIDS quilt is its monument.

Few heterosexuals can imagine living in such an upside-down world, where love separates you from marriage instead of connecting you with it. Many don’t bother to try. Instead, they say same-sex couples can get the equivalent of a marriage by going to a lawyer and drawing up paperwork – as if heterosexual couples would settle for anything of the sort.

Even a moment’s reflection shows the fatuousness of “Let them eat contracts.” No private transaction excuses you from testifying in court against your partner, or entitles you to Social Security survivor benefits, or authorizes joint tax filing, or secures U.S. residency for your partner if he or she is a foreigner. I could go on and on.

I don’t know how old Rauch is. Maybe he’s older than me, but I grew up and came of age as a gay man in post-AIDS world. I missed the 70s by being born the year before they began, and by the time I came out at 12 the first AIDS cases were being reported. By the time I became sexually active, the HIV virus had been identified, and the push for prevention in the gay community had begun. (I, in fact, spent most of my time in college as a peer sexuality educator specializing in HIV/AIDS prevention.)

I know some gay activists would disagree with Rauch that marriage is, or should be, “the foundation of civilization,” and that it’s a good thing for queers to pursue — because queers should be focused on sexual freedom and sexual revolution. I probably come down somewhere between the two camps. I say, to each his/her own. If sexual revolution is your thing, then storm the barricades. I’ll cheer you on. If marriage is your thing, then walk down the aisle. I’ll throw rose petals.

Rauch is right, though. There’s no contract that can open the door to all the benefits and protections of marriage. There never will be. (There will also never be a legal status that secures the same for our families. More on that later, if I get the chance to write it at all.)

I tend to disagree with him that a state-by-state solution is the best route, only because it still leaves our families vulnerable in ways that other families are not. Just last week a co-worker asked me if the hubby and I were “buying tickets to California.” I had to explain to him the reality that we could do that, but as soon as we got on a plane and left California airspace we would not be married. We’d just be a coupla guys hanging out, with a coupla kids. And when we landed back in Maryland, our marriage license wouldn’t be any more meaningful than any other piece of paper in our house. The chinese restaurant menu tucked between our door knob and doorframe would actually have more value. Where as he could get married in Maryland and be just as married in Missouri. Or he could get married on the other side of the world and still be married in an one of the 50 states. We can’t.

Charlie Reese has a column worth reading at LewRockwell.Com, about same-sex marriage.

Let’s assume there are two lesbians living in Santa Monica, Calif. We don’t know them. We’ve never seen them. For all practical purposes, they don’t exist for us.

Now let’s assume that they decide to get married, and they tie the knot in California. We still don’t know them. We still have never seen them. So far as we know, they still don’t even exist. Whether they just live together or get married, neither their existence nor their marital status affects us.

That being the case, what the heck business is it of ours what they do? It is a confounded mystery to me why some people get all excited about homosexuals and lesbians getting married. As I’ve said before, if you are against gay marriage, then don’t marry a gay person. That strikes me as a simple solution to the problem some people seem to have.

You would think to hear some people complain about gay marriage that heterosexual couples would start dropping dead or become impotent as soon as some state approved a gay-marriage law. Whether gays get married or not, it has no effect on the rest of the population. Except for gays, it’s meaningless. It’s a non-issue.

But remember what happened to Massachusetts.

Ed’s post alerted me to another one that took on the “procreative imperative” I’ve addressed before. And then turns it on its head.

With that in mind, let us look at marriage. In Kmiec’s view, marriage is primarily about procreation. Another view—a view I hold to be more consistent with the worldview of the Declaration of Independence—is that marriage is about the union and conversation of souls. It is about shared values, ideas, memories, and identities. It is about mental and spiritual unity, and not about biology. This, indeed, is why marriage between infertile couples (like George and Martha Washington), or couples far beyond the age where they can have children, is not only accepted but applauded in the United States. This is why childlessness, while often regrettable, is hardly a veto on a marriage. This view of marriage is consonant with respecting individuals because of their common humanity. By contrast, seeing marriage as primarily centered around reproduction would validate marriages entered into only for that reason; marriages without mutual respect between the spouses. If we see marriage as primarily a mechanism for breeding, then love is largely superfluous. Yet would this not be the very barbarism of which Kmiec would disapprove? Indeed, if the “survival of humanity” should be the governing principle in matters of laws regarding sexuality, then why shouldn’t polygamy be encouraged? Or rape? Why should the law not require divorce for infertile couples? Or forbid prophylactics?

The legal structure that surrounds marriage has for centuries been based not on procreation primarily, but on the recognition that marriage is an institution based on shared considerations of values and advantages among couples capable of thinking for themselves. And that is not something limited to same-sex couples. Obviously childrearing is an important part marriage for many people, but it is not the essential component of it.

Kip, now settled into his digs at his own domain, points to another fallacious argument from marriage equality foe Maggie Gallagher, hwo declared “the state didn’t create marriages, and doesn’t create marriages.” Kip, of course has his say.

Put aside Gallagher’s unethical and anti-intellectual regurgitation of the malicious “kid’s do best” lie. Note instead the precedent lie, the deliberate (and laughable) suggestion that it was the church that invented “marriage” in the first place. That marriage was originally and always conceived strictly as a religious sacrament. And that it was only after the “social” benefits (including, apparently, coverture and spousal rape) of church-crafted “traditional” marriage were realized that the government then decided — “for the children” — to get in on the act.

A facially absurd thesis contradicted by both ancient and modern history. A purported model that is the exact opposite of current practice. All neatly packaged and peddled to redneck illiterates for the sake of rationalizing their backward beliefs.

I bet all the couples who got married in front of a justice o’ the peace at their city hall would be shocked to know that, accordign to La’ Gallagher, they aren’t really married. After all, “the state didn’t create marriages and doesn’t create marriages,” which implies that only the church can really marry anybody.

I guess Gallagher intends to suggest that the church created marriage. But that’s only true if you leave out an awful lot of history which makes clear the church wasn’t to keen on marriage to begin with.

In some societies, traditional marriage meant one woman wedded to several men. In others, a woman could take another woman as a “female husband.” In China and the Sudan, when two sets of parents wanted to forge closer family ties and no live spouse was available, one set sometimes married off a child to the “ghost” of a dead son or daughter of the other family. Among the Bella Coola and Kwakiutl native societies of the Pacific Northwest, two families who wished to become in-laws but didn’t have two sets of marriageable children available for a match might even draw up a marriage contract between a son or daughter and a dog belonging to the desired in-laws. Most traditional marriages were concerned with property and wealth, not love or sex.

But what about the sanctity of marriage in the Christian tradition? It is true that Jesus, contradicting Moses, forbade his followers to divorce. But Jesus was not very keen on having them marry in the first place, holding that it was better to abandon worldly ties and dedicate oneself to building the faith. “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke, 14). The Apostle Paul thought that getting married was better than burning in hell for unmarried fornication, but that the truly good thing was to remain a virgin and devote oneself to spreading God’s word.

For the first 16 centuries of its existence, the Catholic Church held that marriage was inherently tainted by what Pope Gregory the Great deemed the degrading “carnal pleasure” that took place under its auspices. In the church’s hierarchy of worthy females, the virgin ranked highest, the widow second and the wife a distant third.

Nor did the early church establish elaborate rules about what made a marriage legitimate. One pope proposed that a marriage ought to take place in church to be valid. But his bishops pointed out that such a change would immediately render most of Europe’s children illegitimate. So the church decided that a man and woman were married if they had exchanged “words of consent,” even if they had done so out by the haystack, without any witnesses or involvement by a priest.

Not until 1215 did the Catholic Church make marriage a sacrament, and not until 1563 did it begin to enforce rules mandating that certain ceremonies had to be performed to make a marriage legitimate.

The author of the above, Stephanie Coontz, has much more to say on the subject in her book Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, which I highly recommend to anyone who wants read up on the history of the institution. (I’d also recommend What is Marriage For?: The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institutionm by E.J. Graff.) But I doubt Gallagher would be interested in a book pointing out that the history of marriage is bigger than western culture and the Christian church.

Of course Gallagher probably wasnt’t addressing non-Western cultures and their history in the first place, because they don’t really “count,” if you know what I mean. As she’s made clear before, one of the reasons for the urgent need to “preserve” the procreative imperative of marriage is because far too many fo the “wrong” people are reproducing right now.

What will happen to American civilization then? Marriage is a universal human institution. We do not know of any culture that has survived without a reasonably functional marriage system. Perhaps stray reproduction by single moms plus immigration can sustain America over the long haul. A look at Europe, however, does not make one sanguine. The attempt to substitute the state for the family leads not only to gargantuan government, but to miniscule families: If marriage and children are just one of many private lifestyle choices, people stop getting married and they stop having children in numbers large enough to replace the population. (One child is enough to make you a mother. When marriage is unreliable, just how foolhardy do you expect women to be?). The U.N. is now issuing urgent warnings about European depopulation.

The future belongs to people who do the hard things necessary to reproduce not only themselves, but their civilization. Marriage is not an option, it is a precondition for social survival. Not everyone lives up to the marriage ideal in this or any civilization. But when a society abandons the marriage idea altogether as a shared public norm, do not expect private individuals to be able to sustain marriage.

But back to church for a minute. It makes sense that Gallagher would say that only the church creates and can create marriages. It wasn’t until I read Box Turle Bulletin, which linked to the same article Kip had commented on, that I read the rest of what Gallagher had to say.

“A real alternative would be for government to recognize and enforce religiously distinctive marriage contracts so long as they serve the government’s interest—say, permanent ones for Catholics,” she continued. “But what people who talk about ‘separating marriage and state’ really propose to do is simply to refuse to recognize religious marriage contracts at all. This is not neutrality; it is a powerful intervention by the government into the lives of religious people.”

Of course, where this leaves non-religious people is unclear. (If marriage is the purview of religion and not the state, do non-religious people even have the right to marry? Would a couple of atheists who wanted to marry each other be S.O.L. in Gallagher’s perfect world?) It doesn’t matter, because they probably count as much as non-westerners and non-Christians count. It’s not that Gallagher means that the state should extablish civil marriages and that churches should have authority over religious marriages. She means all marriages should be religious marriages, created by the authority of the church.

“A real alternative would be for government to recognize and enforce religiously distinctive marriage contracts so long as they serve the government’s interest—say, permanent ones for Catholics,” she continued. “But what people who talk about ‘separating marriage and state’ really propose to do is simply to refuse to recognize religious marriage contracts at all. This is not neutrality; it is a powerful intervention by the government into the lives of religious people.”

It takes Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State to point out how bizarre Gallagher’s argument is.

Lynn said he found that argument “bizarre,” from a church-state perspective.

“Everybody recognizes that you don’t have to have a religious marriage. State legislatures write out the rules of marriage, the rights and responsibilities of this civil institution,” he said.

“If people have to sign documents or register before an official, it in no way impugns the integrity of the religious promises that are made during a sectarian or religious ceremony. … The state, of course, has some right to set the rules for the responsibilities and rights of marriage. If that were done for some couples, in no way does it impinge on the rights of a church to explain marriage in its own way.”

Lynn’s recommendation was a familiar one: that the government solemnize civil marriages or civil unions, that would have the legal rights and protections of marriage, and that churches solemnize marriages in religious ceremonies. Gallagher seems to think that wouldn’t work. Nevermind the fact that even religious couples have to get marriage licenses from the state.

I tend to agree with Gallagher on one thing, believe it or not. I don’t think “getting the government out of the marriage business,” is a workable solution either. But that’s something I’ll have to get to in another post.

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