Friday, May 16, 2008

Why do I think about gay marriage so much? Am I.... married?

SO now gay people can get married in California. They used to be not able to get married, then they could, and then they couldn't, now they can again. It's confusing. It's also a weird issue, because it sort of tests a lot of assumptions we have about marriage in general aside from sexual orientation.

A lot of the back and forth in the debate in the issue operates under the assumption that sexual love is the primary reality of marriage. Let me tell, it aint. I'm married, and funny thing, it's not a butt bongo fiesta romp in the sack every night. I'm sure there are some sexual athletes out there with the swings and the whatnot doing their thang on their silver wedding anniversary. And I say god bless.

There are many, many loving partnerships -- many MANY MANY -- where sex isn't even a factor.

If, as some say, marriage is merely a husbandry institution dedicated to the creation and raising of kids, then we have a lot of non-marriages in our country.

If, as some say, marriage is an institution that exists to put social control on the sexual impulses of the polyamorous human animal, it doesn't do a very job, otherwise adultry wouldn't be an issue.

The legal fact is, marriage is a contract. Marriage as a legal doctrine, with specific rights and obligations attached to it beyond being a contract, didn't exist in Anglo-American law until the 1770s. Marriage was a religious institution, though there were informal common law practices that were called "marriage."

The law in general doesn't have the mechanism to judge marriage as anything beyond a contract. The law can't comment on the quality of of the affection in a marriage, the sexual lives of the married partners, the way they raise their children or even if they decide to have children, beyond
the particulars of the contract and whatever generals laws apply to the individuals.

Social engineers on both the left and the right throw out a lot of half-assed specious pop sociology about the institution to define it as such and such a thing, something beyond a contract. But when you do that, you getting the outer limits of our legal tradition. Up until recently, social standards would have put the brakes on the conversation before it got even close to legal challenge. But now, we're touching the walls on this. Social standards change, and institutions change to reflect that. To be sure, they don't change seamlessly, and it's next to impossible to predict how institutions will change and what new ones will arise (unless you're a Marxist, of course. Then you are a DIALECTICAL WIZARD!).

I don't think marriage as a legal concept is terribly useful anymore. The spiritual institution is fine, and religious communities should be able to decide what works for them (as long as it doesn't involve coercion) within their beliefs. (As a priest, I'd be all for this, because it means I'm not put in the awkward position of acting as an agent of the state.) And I do enjoy my marriage.

But I think there could be some sort of general partnership, independent of relationship -- two sisters, husband and wife, mother and child, best friends, wife and wife, etc. -- where two people living together can name each other as domestic partners and be assigned any contractual rights that marriage has now. Like I said above, marriage as primarily a sexual union is a hugely narrow definition of what marriage is vs. marriage as it's practiced. Laws against sexually predatory practices would apply as appropriate, and the parties would have to be competent agents.

That's all the thinking I have on the subject right now. You should go have some ice cream.

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Blogger Stephanie said...

Wow. I used to think that my views on marriage simply stemmed from me being a bitter single woman in her 30s whose parents divorced after over 20 years of marriage. ;)

Nice to know that even happily married people might share similar views (even if such people express them far more eloquently than I ever could).

PS Do you know Dungen? They're very good. :)

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nicely said.

10:59 AM  

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