“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Gay Marriage: What Does Marriage Mean?

Back on August 6th, the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial in Friday's Weekend section entitled Now What for Marriage? The piece discussed California Ninth Circuit District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker's verdict rejecting the state's 2008 Proposition 8, which defined marriage in the state as exclusively between a man and a woman.

A friend and I discussed the case the next week, during a long drive. He informed me, to my surprise, that a long time conservative advocate had joined David Boies in arguing against the Proposition, and, in effect, for gay marriage.

The editorial discussed the various contentions made by defense witness David Blankenhorn on the instability of gay marriages. It also highlighted Boies' contention that a marriage is a private contract, not a community event.

What I found particularly interesting, however, were the latter passages of the editorial.

Dana Mack, the author of the piece, and a defender of parenthood and, thus, conventional concepts of marriage, wrote,

"If marriage today is little more than a declaration of emotional commitment with tax and inheritance benefits, why not settle for the alternative of civil union- which ideally would grant the same legal and economic privileges to domestic partnerships as marriage does, and without the messy burden of history?

Fact is, the gay-marriage movement derives less of its animus from the material benefits society at large accords marriage than from the social and cultural dignities granted by its long history. In lobbying for marriage, gay men and women clearly care much less about legal advantages than they do about weddings, rings, and the spiritual trappings of married life.

The care about marriage precisely because in a culture searching for meaningful symbols, marriage is the veritable symbol of culture. Jonathan Rauch, a leader in the gay-marriage movement, puts it succinctly enough: Gay people want to marry because "marriage is the foundation of civilization." "

Mack finishes by asking,

"The question, however, is whether giving them license to piece together remnants of so decayed an institution as marriage will not aggravate all the more the fraying of its fabric."

Just so. Isn't that the real irony of the gay-marriage movement? Having muscled their way into being allowed to "marry," they empty the term of its meaning.

Marriage has been, historically, the institution by which society repopulated itself. But gay people, in a natural state, without highly-advanced technology or radical changes in other social institutions, i.e., adoption by same-gender couples, can't reproduce themselves.

Marriage is, at its base, about having children. Gay people can't have children naturally. Ergo, allowing gays to marry renders the term and concept of marriage meaningless.

What we have here is simply word games. You can use the law to try to reinterpret and redefine what marriage is, and who can marry. But deep down, people's common sense informs them that when marriage includes types of couples who can't biologically ever have children together, then marriage no longer has much meaning.

It's not about discrimination against gays. It's about removing the last vestige of the historically unique meaning of marriage.

And that's sad.

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