Letting the Law Reflect the Reality of Legal Marriage
The following article does not necessarily represent the views and/or opinions of the magazine. This is purely an opinion piece written by our contributor, Kaetan Mazza. We hope you enjoy.
The nation has seen a surge in support for gay marriage rights in the run up to the Supreme Court cases involving the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. While there are still virulent opponents, most Americans have concluded that same sex couples deserve guaranteed constitutional rights and equal protection under the law.
It represents a cosmic shift in our societal consciousness: the fact that minority sexual persuasions are becoming openly welcomed into mainstream culture should be celebrated. It proves we are evolving into an enlightened and inclusive society that can respect the differences of all its members. But with this tidal wave of support for equal marriage rights, those fighting for them must be careful to make the right case, lest their arguments unwittingly become tools of oppression.
To understand what I mean by this, we should begin by examining what a marriage “is” and “is not” in the unblinking eyes of the law, and not the philosophies espoused by either side of the argument. Marriage has little to do with tradition (today it’s typically frowned upon for a father to sell his underage daughter to an older man in the “traditional” fashion) or religion anymore.
Marriage has nothing to do with sex (as many married couples can attest to) or procreation. Marriage does not imply lifelong dedication; divorces and annulments are easily accessible (and widely accessed) in every jurisdiction in the country. And other than in fairy tales, marriage has never even assumed love as a prerequisite. Legally, marriage is simply a collaboration of assets, a tax designation and the assignment of an agent to handle the affairs of an incapacitated spouse.
Why is this an important distinction? As the gay rights movement has proven, not all families fit the conventional nuclear model, but these families are no less legitimate or deserving of legal protection than their “traditional” counterparts. In that same vein, non-sexual domestic partnerships deserve the same rights as sexual couples.
Imagine for a second, that two single dads who are close friends decide to raise their children together in a platonic manner, because they enjoy each other’s support. Why should the law prevent one of these men from sharing medical benefits with his friend and the children they raise together or preclude his partner from tax — exempt inheritance? Is their family any less valid then one in which the parents have sex or say “I love you”? If Chuck and Larry taught us anything, it is how tragically (and hilariously) absurd it is to force friends to feign gay love because they want to protect their children and assets.
Some would argue that loosening the definition of family and marriage to include non-romantic domestic partnerships would weaken the institution — as if the institution should define a group rather than vice versa. Others contend that marriage should involve the pursuit of a romantic love. Those theories may have validity in a philosophical exchange, but they have no place in determining the law. While the debate engages, real families and partners are being disenfranchised, not some abstract concept of an institution.
The intent of my argument is not to disparage romantic marriages. Many couples find deep happiness in a lifetime of loving commitment to another, a union which should be respected. I am also not suggesting that people should deprive their marriages of spiritual or romantic significance — those dimensions a relationship can bring people a deep sense of joy. But “protecting the sanctity of a happy romantic marriage concept” is not the responsibility of the government.
The law has no business in determining if relationships conform to tradition or if couples are in love or committed, but it does have a responsibility to be fair and inclusive. When a homosexual person proudly declares that their love for their partner is just as real and legitimate as the love between straight couples, they are absolutely right, but it is an irrelevant assertion. The ontological mistake is compounded when that declaration is extended as justification for the right to wed.
Take the sex, gender and other societal trappings out of the legal definition marriage. Heterosexuals, homosexuals and non-sexual partners deserve marriage and the associated benefits merely because they are human beings imbued with rights.