The purpose of marriage

This weekend, I was off attending a wedding just outside of Yosemite Park in California. It was a lovely trip – mainly because we left our children with the in-laws – my first time away from the kids since they were born. I slept. I read an entire newspaper without interruption. I ate dinner without regard to my companions’ drinks or to the amount they consumed.

I also attended a wedding ceremony. The words spoken by the officiator were tremendous and moving. At one point she quoted from the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage in the state, and it was sublime. Naturally, then and there, I resolved to blog about it.

What struck me about Justice Marshall’s majority opinion was its beauty:

Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. “It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects.” Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 486 (1965). Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

Indeed.

That’s the interesting thing about this issue. It centers around what our society considers to be the purpose of marriage. If the purpose of marriage centers around a societal function that doesn’t rely on the conjunction of a man and a woman, then it should follow that gay marriage should be legal.

That’s why the majority opinions I quoted from the Washington and New York court decisions upholding the ban of gay marriage sound so convoluted. They attempt to define marriage primarily as a biological function necessary to the production of children.

But not only do gay couples have the ability to father or mother a child without breaking the traditional sexual vows of wedlock (thanks to science and adoption), but this interpretation implies that childless married couples, or married couples who aren’t interested in having children (like the couple whose marriage I witnessed this weekend), are somehow violating the institution of marriage.

In fact, the New York decision affirms this, but explains the reason childless couples aren’t denied marriage is because of, well, the administrative difficulties involved:

…plaintiffs point out that many opposite-sex couples cannot have or do not want to have children. How can it be rational, they ask, to permit these couples, but not same-sex couples, to marry? The question is not a difficult one to answer. While same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples are easily distinguished, limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples likely to have children would require grossly intrusive inquiries, and arbitrary and unreliable line-drawing.

The danger to straight couples in this line of reasoning is clear. Because marriage is for procreation, then any marriage where the couple isn’t active trying to procreate is..well…unethical. Not only that, but so is any childbirth outside of wedlock. Or divorce involving children.

It’s not a leap from this idea to a legal basis to, say, outlaw contraception. Even for married couples. Or place more bureaucratic hurdles to divorce. Or make adultery illegal. The state is threatening to intrude into our private lives.

I reject the logic behind these arguments. Marriage is not a utilitarian agreement to become biological baby factories.

No, the definition of marriage offered by Justice Marshall clearly benefits from the weight of truth. You know it’s true when you read it. Marriage is a “personal commitment to another human being” and a “celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family.” Marriage does “fulfil yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity” and this is why it’s an “esteemed institution.”

And these are the reasons that I am married.

Can I – or anyone — deny the institution to a couple based solely on their sexual orientation? I think the Washington and New York courts violated their duty to their states by failing to protect individual liberty from the prejudice of the mob.

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  1. Wow. Well done sir.

  2. Why, thanks. But really Massachusetts Justice Marshall deserves the accolades. That opinion was poetry.

  3. *claps vigorously*

    Nicely written. I have often sat down to blog about this subject but end up being so violent and ranty that I generally delete it before it sees the light of day.

  4. Well done. I would have to say that was the absolute most eloquent post on this topic that I have ever read. You did the topic true and honest justice.

  5. Steven Lohrenz

    The argument for biological procreation is simply the latest reason for denying same sex marriages from people who have mistaken the symbol for the thing.

    The thing being a loving relationship and marriage is just a way that you display that relationship to the world. The most important part is the loving relationship that underpins the marriage, not marriage itself. Which seems to me makes the whole argument (from both sides) as seeming trivial.

    To me, the best argument (and one that makes it non-trivial) for same sex marriage is that marriage is guaranteed to all by the 1st Amendment – since marriage is just an announcement to the world that you are in a loving relationship.

    Probably one of the best articles I’ve ever read on the confusion of the symbol with the thing is found here: http://www.arachnoid.com/lutusp/symbols.html . It includes, government, commerce, marriage, education, and science. It is a must read.

  1. 1 4&20 blackbirds » Blog Archive » Links…

    […] The Montana Democratic party votes down a party platform plank to overturn Montana’s ban on same-sex marriage. You know where I stand on this issue. Still…I agree with the Democratic leadership on this one. If we want to overturn the ban, it should be a grassroots movement that convinces everyday Montanans of the issue with the force and justness of the argument. It shouldn’t come top-down from the Democratic party. […]

  2. 2 Some last (?) thoughts on gay marriage « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] The other day I wrote a post about marriage, explaining that the only way a court could legitimately ban gay marriage was to show that the institution of marriage relies on the “conjunction of a man and a woman.” Otherwise, how can the courts justify banning gays from marrying? […]

  3. 3 New Jersey, Gay Marriage, and Southern social conservatism « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Longtime readers of the site know where I stand on the issue of gay marriage: I’m all for it, and largely for the same reasons that Massachusetts Chief Justice Marshall outlined in the court decision there that legalized it: […]




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