Saturday, March 29, 2014

Isn’t That Your House On Fire?

According to an editorial in Thursday’s Detroit News, “[g]ay marriage is coming to Michigan” whether we like it or not. (“Michigan gay marriage landscape is changing”).   The writer credits this to a swelling “national tide for extending marital rights,”  a metaphor suggesting that social progress is arriving by angelaway of a natural catastrophe.   I suspect this editorial was written by Nolan Finley, who dislikes moral absolutes, and thinks the Republicans would be much better off abandoning the social issues.

Whoever wrote it, it includes this particularly irritating passage:

Those who protest that marriage as properly defined is between one man and one woman are correct — in the eyes of most religious faiths.

But for the interests of the state, marriage is not a religious institution. It is a civil contract. Denying the right of two people of the same sex to enter such a contract is difficult to legally defend without identifying a specific harm to the state.

To start with, this wildly overstates the distinctions between religious marriage and civil marriage,  suggesting they’re all but mutually exclusive, which they hardly are.  The truth is that in our society both religious and civil marriages have existed side-by-side for generations, and both forms of marriage have been universally understood to be binding agreements between two persons qualified to marry and of the opposite sex. For most folks the only real difference between a religious marriage and a civil one is that one couple has a “church wedding” and the other couple ties the knot at city hall. Both religious and nonreligious have taken for granted the validity of one another’s marriages all along – at least for the purpose raised here – that of being a binding contract between a man and a woman, and establishing the founding partnership of a family. Never, until about five minutes ago, (historically speaking) has civil marriage connoted the two persons being joined might be just as likely to both show up with campy veils and penises.

By trivializing the preference for traditional marriage as merely a credulous religious opinion, the News begs the question that there’s no more basis for limiting marriage to heterosexual couples than some arbitrary rule handed down by a capricious – and almost certainly non-existent – god. Because your belief in marriage as a union of a man and a woman is merely an article of your creed, you’ve no better chance of proving it empirically than you do the existence of the Archangel Gabriel or of the great fish that swallowed Jonah.   Looked at in that way, what right have you got to force your religion on the rest of us?

The same sorry reasoning is used by abortion advocates to deny the natural fact that life begins at conception as merely a religious opinion: the implication is that without all that religious mumbo-jumbo, modern scientific humanity is securely agnostic about when life begins – at least as long as we don’t consult biology, embryology, obstetrics, and a raft of other life sciences, not to mention every woman who ever came home from her doctor and told her husband, “We’re going to have a baby.”

What ought to be more obvious is that if the only impediment to same-sex marriage were religious scruples, then the practice would have been adopted long before now. Secular, and even atheist states are well known in our recent history. Yet none of them, even after either neutralizing religion or driving it underground, ever reverted back to the (we’re now told) perfectly obvious idea of starting families with couples of the same sex.

As the Detroit News sees it,

Denying the right of two people of the same sex to enter such a contract is difficult to legally defend without identifying a specific harm to the state. That harm has been elusive to identify.

The harm, which has been identified over and over again, is that it will destroy marriage, in which the state has always had an interest.  As for the harm being elusive to identify, you may as well say it would be elusive to identify what I will miss most if my house were to burn down. 

This is for certain: changing the definition of marriage means changing marriage; re-defining marriage by eliminating its central opposite-sex component means undefining it. Discarding the limiting terms of marriage with the idea of “opening it up”  is no more going to lead to a stronger and happier institution of marriage than having its walls fall down flat resulted in a stronger and happier Jericho.

When the editorialist talks about the unquestioned “right of two people of the same sex to enter such a contract,” he envisions a civil contract with no limiting principles whatever – not just those of sex.   All you need are two people (or more) and an agreement – no predetermined definitions of the nature of the contract permitted. 

When I say this is crazy I’m not making a slippery-slope argument – I’m making a bottom-of-the slope argument. On this logic, alone, there is no defense against agreements by any two “people” to make a contract and call it marriage.

Even mothers and sons?

Even the Koch brothers?

And just why not?


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