Monday, July 7, 2008

On Marriage

Though I try my best to avoid political discussions, at least with people outside of my politically inclined circle of friends, sometimes they prove themselves inescapable. I was at a barbecue with my best friend's family, which I know well and love very much, on July Fourth to mark both Independence Day and the fact that my friend’s cousin was married the previous day. There was much merriment, good people, good food, good fun, and good conversation about wholesome, pleasant topics. It was the last scene that I wanted to see sullied with such unsavory muck as modern political discourse. But, to my chagrin, the topics of abortion and, soon thereafter, gay marriage were brought up right in front of my face while I was innocently enjoying a nice merlot and a conversation about childhood.

At first, I felt the familiar stirrings of impatience as someone elaborated on a comment about gay marriage to which I not only disagreed but to which I already had a long, comprehensive response practically memorized because it was the sort of trite comment heard every five minutes at college and which I used to find myself refuting on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. But, after more than a year out of the "think clink", so to speak, I have learned to take a deep breath and just let it go. And so I did. But, the next day, as I shared breakfast with my friend, the topic arose again, and I could not contain myself. The poor guy found himself on the business end of a ten minute soliloquy of my ideas, and as anyone who knows me will tell you, that can be rough, especially if all you want to do is enjoy some eggs and have a pleasant conversation about the Yankees’ series against the Red Sox. (Which I myself initially set out to do that morning.)

In any event, it occurred to me that I have yet to discuss this conviction of mine on The Mench Times. So, here it is:

Marriage is probably the only major issue in which I am firmly in the libertarian camp to the exclusion of a position in the conservative camp. I say "marriage", and not "gay marriage", because to restrict the discussion to homosexual marriage is to miss the point. The problem is that we have made the government the arbiter of marriage in the first place.

Both conservatives and liberals make sense with their main arguments on the topic. Conservatives are correct when they say that the traditional definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman is what is best for society. After all, for obvious and naturally occurring reasons that go back to biology, differences between the sexes, and other such factors, heterosexual relationships are best suited to produce families, which are the most basic, most fundamental, and most important social unit in society. The liberals might say, in response, that the government should still allow gay marriage, because the above sentence is just one opinion, and it is not right for any members of government to decide that sort of thing for everyone else. That would make perfect sense, except that to call it "just one opinion" is not quite on the mark. It has been the overwhelming consensus for millennia, in a large variety of cultures and civilizations including ours, largely because it makes plain sense. Furthermore, it is the overwhelming consensus among Americans today. When the government accepts the above-described conservative conception of family, it is not deciding anything for everyone else; it is reflecting the opinion that most everyone else already formed on their own. And, as I once said in a Primary Source article and still believe, "If ancient tradition and the public definition of the basic building block of society are going to be suddenly overturned in order that a small minority may get what it wants for itself, then it ought to be with the support of at least half of the affected society." That support simply does not exist, and is not likely come about any time soon.

But that is not the end of the story. Liberals, for their part, are correct that the government does not have a right to deny rights and privileges to one group of civilians just because of their sexual orientation. Of course, one can make the slippery argument that equal rights are maintained because, after all, any homosexual may marry an individual of the opposite sex, and no heterosexual may marry an individual of the same sex. But, the obvious response to that is a reminder of the fact that sexual orientation is not a choice, but a consequence of upbringing and, possibly, genetic predisposition. Therefore homosexuals, through no choice or fault (if fault is even relevant) of their own, necessarily can only love and cherish members of their own sex, and not those of the opposite sex. Furthermore, homosexuality and homosexual relationships, in and of themselves, are harmless. Many people think that they create problems for society by promoting lewdness, indecency, and other such things, but those phenomena exist among heterosexuals as well, and they are equally problematic in all cases. Thus, the conclusion is that it is irrational for the government to have an institution whereby individuals of only one sexual orientation may make legally official their mutual commitment to love and cherish each other, and possibly reap certain legal benefits by that, while individuals of another sexual orientation will never have that opportunity. That is not a legitimate form of discrimination.

So here we have a seemingly irreconcilable conflict between the family and the individual, two paramount institutions, in the realm of public policy. One might reasonably expect conservatives’ heads to explode over the matter. Of course, conservatives can spare their heads here if only they would stop thinking like liberals. You see the problem, as usual, is the government. It is being asked to play a major role in people's private lives, and unsurprisingly, the outlook of the situation does not appear terribly pleasant whichever side gets its way. The liberals are doing what they always do: they start by unduly taking something for granted (usually wealth and progress, in this case the standing of marriage in society) and then they seek to improve society by making the government just give it away to anyone and everyone. The conservatives are seeking to use government influence to unfairly deny a minority equal rights and privileges. Despite liberal caricatures, this is terribly out of character for the conservatives. The consistency is in the conservatives' reliance on the teachings of religion and their insistence, which is not entirely unfounded, that it can and shall play as much of a role in voters' decision processes as they darn well please.

Anyhow, I have learned to expect this sort of thing from the liberals, but I am terribly surprised, and disappointed, that my fellow conservatives – people who on almost every other issue known to man believe in small, limited government – are asking for the government to maintain socialization of the most important existing private institution, structure it in a narrow way, and then decide whether or not to consent to validating every individual instance of it. Does it make sense that people who believe in the sanctity of religion, the sanctity of marriage, and the untrustworthiness of government would push hard for government to make its own rules about who can and cannot get married, require marriage licenses before a wedding can take place, and replace "by the power vested in me by G-d" with "by the power vested in me by the State of New York"? I can only hope that conservatives come around and adopt my solution to the issue, as its principles, if not its following, are not exclusively libertarian.

The solution, which is quite simple, is as follows: Keep the government's grubby, dirty tentacles away from holy matrimony. (I hate to keep harping on this, but why on Earth does this concept seem to continually escape conservatives? That makes no sense!) Here, let us make an important distinction between traditional marriage and legal union, taken from the Source article:

Marriage is more than a private arrangement between two individuals to live together under certain legal conditions. That is a civil union. A marriage is the joining of a man and a woman in holy matrimony, thereby creating a family.
If you want to get married, go to church, or synagogue, or any other private institution of your choosing. If you want to enter into a certain legal standing with someone else, draw up a contract. If you want both, as most couples will, then wonderful; get both. Accepting the distinction between the concepts of holy matrimony and a legal relationship does not make them mutually exclusive at all.

Meanwhile, the government should recognize as binding any civil union between any people, regardless of marital status. After all, as I said in my Source article, a civil union is "a legal agreement and falls under the right to contract and associate with whomever one pleases". What the government should not do is have the slightest interest in marriage between anyone, at all. A marriage is, by all rights, a personal, private affair. A civil union, as with any contract, is a matter of civil law which remains independent of any personal affiliations or religious standings unless the parties agree to a clause stating otherwise in the contract itself.

This way, the government does not discriminate against any individual based on sexual orientation, everyone can enjoy the legal benefits that we currently associate with marriage, and such things as love, commitment, and matrimony are not subject to government jurisdiction. As for the standing of the family in society, it will not really change; homosexual couples will still not be able to conceive children on their own, and the adoption issue (both the reality and the terms of the debate) will not really change much at all.

Basically, everyone wins. That makes sense now, does it not? We conservatives should not be pushing for the government to stick its right hand into marriage instead of its left – we should be pushing for it to take its hands off of the issue in the first place.

1 comment:

Alex said...

Hey Dan, interesting post. I responded to it over at my newish blog.