July 02, 2013

A Restatement of My Unorthodox Views on Marriage Equality

My good friend can consider this a kind of response to his question posed by email.

To restate my position (to revise and extend my previous comments, as the pompous Solons of the Potomac would say), I think the problem that we have with "marriage equality" is that we insist on investing an emotional "bond" (often quite temporary, as we know) with legal ramifications.  That is the essence of the confusion.  We have perpetuated the faulty assumption that there must be some sort of "married state," sanctioned and adorned by the majesty of the law, or society as we know it will simply come crashing down.

Where did such a crazy idea come from?  Now, mind you, I am not saying that two people, of whatever combination of sexes, cannot make some sort of permanent commitment to one another. But what do Social Security rights, hospital visits, alimony, divorce lawyers, and all the rest necessarily have to do with that? (Just putting the entire divorce lawyer bar out of business would be a major victory all on its own.)

So to answer my friend, who views things from a religious perspective: the origin of the problem is that we took an essentially religious concept, the "sanctity" of marriage, and we connected it to legal complications.  This is the essence of the the First Amendment problem.  We have institutionalized a religious practice in civil law.  This is why a devout Catholic like Antonin Scalia goes into paroxysms of outrage at the prospect that "sodomites" can now marry, just like his beloved Opus Dei friends.

Critics of gay marriage often attempt various reductio ad absurdum arguments to illustrate their argument that gay marriage "undermines" traditional marriage.  Rick Santorum was famous for this.  People would want to marry their gerbils or parakeets next, he would warn. 

That's stupid.  There are abuses that are more practical and closer to home. For example, once you say that any two people, hetero, gay, whatever, can marry, then in order to respect their rights of privacy which are already established, you cannot inquire too deeply into their sexual proclivities.  It's none of your business why they choose to get married.

Maybe you already see where I'm going with this.  In the same way that we unconsciously associate marriage with religion, we unconsciously associate marriage with sex.  Yet there is nothing in the recent Supreme Court decisions which compels this.  Thus, why shouldn't two straight people get married, especially if they have no actual interest in marriage in a conventional sense?  It's more or less like the "Seinfeld" episode where Jerry's dentist, a Gentile, converts to Judaism and begins telling Jewish jokes all the time.  Jerry goes to the dentist's priest and complains that Dr. Whatley has converted "just for the jokes."  ("Priest: And this offends you as a Jewish person? Jerry:  No, it offends me as a comedian.")

I think I can almost guarantee that this will become a fairly routine practice as society's thinking about such things becomes looser and more liberated. As it evolves.  If any two people can say they are "married" and succeed to a whole series of legal benefits; and they don't want to get married to a member of the opposite sex anyway; and society doesn't give a damn anymore about gender or sexual issues (we're rapidly approaching that point), then what's the difference?  Two straight people of the same sex can certainly carry on a sexless marriage as well as two straight people of opposite sexes who have been married too long, and without the bitterness and resentment that the latter situation so often engenders.  And while preserving their heterosexual options in the outside world, and taking advantage of the full $500,000 exemption on sale of a principal residence.  Win/win, I believe this is called.

So, in a sense, the religious argument that gay marriage poses a "threat" to traditional marriage is correct, but not quite for the reason that is usually advanced. Throwing the doors wide open will have the unintended effect of exposing marriage as a travesty, as a mockery of a sham, of two mockeries of a sham.  The concept of the "sanctity" of marriage has always been a joke, albeit a subtle one.  It can't really be "holy matrimony" if you can file a document in court for no reason, wait six months, and escape the "sanctity."  So society came that far: it recognized that the idea of "till death do us part" usually only applied if one of the spouses died unexpectedly.  Disposable marriage made a virtue out of inevitability. 

Allowing marriage for any reason, between any two kinds of people, will now toll the death knell for the whole religious-legal nexus represented by the marital convention.  Humans are masters at abusing privileges, and this will be no exception.

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