Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Gay Marriage v. Civil Unions

I happen to side with those who believe that, in battleground states such as Ohio, the presence of an anti-Gay marriage initiative on the balance helped bring extra Bush voters to the polls. I've been thinking a lot about the Gay marriage issue since the Massachusetts Supreme Court and Gavin Newsom stepped in to make changes to the historic view of marriage. What I've been thinking about is, what is marriage? (The following discussion is based on my internal, brain-driven knowledge base. You can find a nice summary of the history marriage here, though.) Historically, marriage had to do with power and money. Women were chattel, and they brought with them to a marriage their father's/family's money and power. One doesn't have to look much beyond the royal marriages in Europe in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to realize that marriage often had little to do with God and sacraments and had everything to do with the balance of power and the shifting of wealth. A subset of the money/power imperatives, of course, was that marriage had to do with children. In a patriarchal world, no patriarch wanted to think that his money and power were going to go outside his bloodline. Marriage was an effort to ensure that a man's children would be the recipients of the benefits he gained through warfare and marriage. So far so good. There are two other definitive strands to marriage, though, one of which arises from the above facts, and one of which has a unique basis unrelated to power and money. First, because the power/money nexus means that children are an integral part of the traditional view of marriage, a marriage must carry with it the possibility of children. In other words, this world view mandates that a marriage take place between a man and a woman because they are the basic parental units. The other definitive strand is religion. Wiggle out of it as much as you want, but the fact is that the Judeo-Christian tradition has God's imprimatur on the man/woman marital relationship. Even polygamist traditions, such as Islam or, say, Mormonism, are predicated on male/female relationships -- they've just increased the number of available females for every male. The above are the boundaries. The question is, why are they blurred? Simple answer in the Western tradition: up until recent times, God & State were intertwined. The King was a Christian monarch, the State a Christian entity. The civil side of marriage (power and money) were inextricably intertwined with the religious side. American, even though it ostensibly separated Church and State (mainly to protect religion from the coercive power of the State, and not the other way around), did not separate the mixed civil/religious implications of marriage. It has never been questioned in America that the State has the power to regulate marriage -- hence, its attack on Mormom polygamy in the 19th century, and the fact that it grants multiple legal benefits to the married (recognition of children, access to the ill, etc.). Merged, they may be, but separate they still remain -- marriage still has a religious element, as evidenced by the fact that people routinely marry in houses of worship; and a secular element, in that a marriage does not obtain civil benefits absent a secular marriage license. I think that, while America has always labeled the intertwined elements under the single heading of "marriage," Americans have always been aware of the separate civil and religious aspects to marriage. That's why the majority of Americans favor civil unions. They recognize that it is unfair to deny purely civil benefits -- such as the right to visit a sick loved one, the right to inherit jointly earned property, and the right to work-based benefits -- to people who have made a life-long commitment to each other. Equally, though, religious Americans continue to recognize that, to the extent marriage has a purely religious element, marriage can recognize only the union of a man and a woman. It is the latter recognition that causes revulsion in even non-homophobic people when they are told that marriage cannot be limited to one man and one woman. I therefore think it was a huge mistake for Gays to try to press for "Gay Marriages." Civil unions are a civic idea, and gays ought to be accorded full civil rights. However, marriage is a religious concept, and I would argue that gays, by pushing for "gay marriage" through civil media (such as courts and legislatures) are improperly attempting to influence religion. If individual religious organizations want to recognize gay marriage, that is their prerogative. However, to force religions through the medium of the State to recognize gay marriage, as opposed to civil unions (with attendant civil rights), violates the 1st Amendment's separation of church and state.