While walking a precinct with a candidate yesterday evening a couple of gentlemen saw the candidate’s flyer on their door and rode out on their scooters to find him and discuss various topics. The discussion eventually turned to Civil Unions. Since precinct walking is the candidate’s forum and not mine I kept my thoughts to myself. However this blog is my forum and now I get to empty my head on this issue.
So dear reader, I ask you:
- What constitutes a marriage?
- What constitutes a union?
- What historical precedents are there for alternative marriages and unions?
- Is history and/or religion important in defining marriage?
- Should national or state values be set and rigid or moveable and flexible?
- If we redefine marriage from traditional to non-traditional where should the new line be drawn?
I’ll look into these questions using our logical and economic tools and provide my thoughts and analysis.
Marriage in America is traditionally defined as the legal union of one man and one woman not closely related. Our version of marriage comes from the Judeo-Christian traditions of Western Civilization. Therefor our version of marriage has a religious component as well as a legal component.
This religious component can be thought of as sanctification, that is, set aside as holy. Marriage was ritualized by the church and ceremonies had to include one priest and two witnesses to be sanctified. Marriages were often arranged by parents with no input from the children. Romantic marriage was not common until the medieval period. Both arranged and romantic marriages were sanctified by the church.
Marriage in America can still be sanctified by a church but is not mandated. Couples can be married by non-religious officials (judges, ship captains, etc.) and even a couple living together for a certain amount of time are automatically declared to have joined in a Common Law marriage.
Unions are relationships that are not sanctified by a church but are legally binding like a contract. The rights and obligations of couples may or may not vary from those of actual married relationships. These relationships are defined by the State and can vary from state-to-state.
Alternative Marriage in History
The dominant alternative definition of marriage in history is polygamy – or multiple partners of the opposite sex. A woman having multiple husbands is quite rare. Men having multiple wives was quite common among ancient cultures and is still practiced today in Muslim societies. Mormons only recently gave up the practice officially to align their beliefs with state laws.
Though much rarer than polygamy, incestuous marriages were common with siblings and close relatives allowed to marry in ancient Egypt. These marriages were often consummated between members of the royal family but they were also somewhat common among other strata of society. Royal families of Europe also intermarried with marriages between first cousins being common.
Less common still was group marriages, or marriages involving multiple partners of both sexes, with only isolated instances throughout history.
Also quite rare was homosexual marriage, or the marriage between two members of the same sex. There is some evidence that ancient Roman and Greek cultures recognized same sex unions.
Both of these cultures found homosexual relationships acceptable. Having young boys be available for sexual relations with wealthy and politically powerful men was considered a source of pride by the boy and his family. Most of these men were bisexual and were married to women but enjoyed dalliances with other men and boys. Homosexual relations between women are less prominent in the history of these cultures. There was no particular stigma or taboo attached to homosexual relationships.
Despite widespread acceptance and practice of homosexual acts there were still very few instances of recognized homosexual unions and the record is not clear if they enjoyed all the benefits of heterosexual marriages.
Bestial marriage is a relationship between a human (with some form of institutionally eligible insanity) and a less willing (I presume) animal. Other than Wyoming sheep ranchers this practice is exceedingly rare. (Just a little joke at the expense of our neighbors to the north)
Religion’s Role in Marriage
All major religions have set guidelines regarding marriage. They define:
- Eligible partners
- Number of partners possible
- Marriage ceremonies
- Who is eligible to perform the ritual ceremony (priest, etc.)
- Rights and obligations of the married couple to each other
- Societal acceptance of the union
- Sanctification of the union
Without religion we would not have a clear definition of what the union of married people would be like. Because of the differences of major religions there are differences between the institution of marriage. The institution of marriage in the Middle East is based on Islamic beliefs. India’s is based largely on Hindu beliefs and many Asian cultures is based on Buddhism. America bases its definition of marriage on Judeo-Christian beliefs. Secular countries base their marriage institutions on moral relativism, that is, not based on religious guidelines but on a morality that has no set boundaries and is shifting as the attitudes of the general society shift.
National and State Values
Our Constitution set up a supervisory form of government. Our national government’s role is to limit itself and give more power to the states and the people. In order to do this affectively it must have a set and consistent value system to be effective. Much of our country’s national problems have occurred when our Constitutional controls have been abused by legislators and/or the courts. The Constitution gives great latitude to the states to define values for their citizens.
States have long enjoyed the ability to make laws that best serve their citizens and attract other citizens to their states to live or recreate. Nevada stands out as a state that has gone against the grain of most other states by allowing widespread gambling, easy weddings and divorces, and legal prostitution. Clearly states have more flexibility than the national government.
America has two options: marriage can be defined at the National level or the State level. My personal belief is that marriage should be defined at the National level and Civil Unions defined at the State level. The National government should limit itself to the basics (marriage) and not get entangled in an issue that is relatively new (civil unions).
Consider that 60 years ago there was virtually no lobby for redefining marriage. Also conisder that 100 years ago the science of eugenics (in which the indiscriminate breeding of the poor and minorities was considered a problem that should be corrected) had wide support and if national laws had been enacted to enforce this there would have been few differences between us and Nazi Germany. Some states and localities did pass eugenic laws much to their future embarrassment as the Holocaust showed to the world what the final logic of eugenics looked like. The National government should not let passion for a law that upholds rights for relatively new values for small groups be included in its role.
Now we arrive at the crux of the matter! Should States redefine marriage to allow for non-traditional couples?
Until recently States have prohibited these non-traditional marriages: polygamy, incestuous, homosexual, group, and bestial. A few states now allow homosexual marriage either through legislation or judicial declaration but still disallow the other non-traditional marriages listed above.
Now we will don our Logic caps. The argument for homosexual marriage (or same sex marriage) is based on individual rights. Also included are references to past practices not being right just because they were historically acceptable. Wife beating and bans on interracial marriage are two examples of historically accepted practices that are no longer condoned.
Therefor the argument for homosexual marriage goes like this:
- Homosexuals should enjoy all the same individual rights as heterosexuals.
- In an enlightened society many historically accepted practices have been abandoned and what was once thought of as acceptable is now considered morally reprehensible.
- The most important determinant of marriage is love.
- Therefor homosexuals should receive the same societal benefits as heterosexuals including marriage.
The problem with this argument is that any number of variants can be substituted for the word homosexual: polygamists, loving family members, groups, and even animal “lovers”. The argument for homosexual marriage is not distinctive enough to preclude redefining marriage to include these other non-traditional marriages.
Homosexual advocates insist that society will never change to the point where it would allow those other non-traditional marriages. Heterosexuals said much the same thing 60 years ago. In 2 or 3 years Mormons and Muslims may well be advocating for polygamist marriages to be recognized. How do you tell them that although marriage was redefined to include homosexual marriages it cannot be redefined again to include a marriage practice that has had far more widespread historical and religious acceptance?
In the pecking order of non-traditional marriages, homosexual marriage ranks third or fourth. It is certainly behind polygamy and incestuous marriage in terms of historical widespread acceptability. That is why the argument against homosexual marriage is not a False Logical “Slippery Slope” argument. It is not an if one, then two; if two, then three argument. The case against homosexual marriage is that of, if one then all. This is proved valid as European countries that recognize homosexual marriage have had challenges to also recognize polygamist, incestuous, and even bestial marriages.
Finally, no major religion recognizes homosexual marriage which would strip legal homosexual marriages of sanctification.
I firmly believe that redefining marriage to include homosexual marriage creates a logical and moral dilemma because the arguments in favor of it also favors inclusion of all other non-traditional forms of marriage. There simply is no validating uniqueness to lift it above other forms of non-traditional marriage.
That being said, I know many happy, committed, homosexual couples. They are warm loving people and I genuinely enjoy their company. They are as committed in their relationships as many heterosexual couples who were married in churches, in court, on ships, or through common law.
Because of their commitment they deserve some form of recognition of their status as a couple. I support Civil Unions as a means of giving some basic couple’s rights to committed homosexual couples. They should receive many of the legal benefits of marriage without the sanctification. I also believe that Common Law Marriages should be redefined as Common Law Unions. Heterosexual couples that fail to show up in front of a legally recognized entity and profess their commitment should receive most of the benefits but not the sanctification of marriage.
States should be the place where the differences, if any, between marriages and civil unions are defined and there is no reason why they should all be the same or have to necessarily recognize each other’s definitions.
The lone fly in the ointment with this line of reasoning is that there is little to prevent civil unions from including multiple partners, incestuous partners, or bestial partners. Mormons and Muslims may say that they are married to only one wife but want the recognition of multiple civil unions. States – brace yourselves.
PS: Why did homosexual marriage proponents level attacks against Mormons for their support of a California state amendment to ban same sex marriage? California has long had a ban against polygamist marriage which forced those Mormons to alter their marriage traditions. It certainly wasn’t a case of the Mormons having an acceptable non-traditional marriage and the homosexuals not having one. The homosexual activists came off looking like mean spirited hypocrites on that one.