The first hurdle anyone faces when discussing gay marriage is the messy state that straight marriage is in. And not just messy in the sense that so many fail to live-up to their potential — not to mention fail altogether… but in the sense that when we talk about marriage, we’re talking about a few different things cohabiting in an inelegant arrangement.
… Marriage as Love
… Marriage as Institution
Which breaks-down nicely into:
… Marriage as Religious Ceremony
… Marriage as Social Contract
And then there’s the whole issue of what a “traditional” marriage really is… is it a man and a woman until death parts them, is it a man and 27 women, or is it something altogether different.
Marriage as Love
Let me make my contention, here, as simple as possible… I believe that marriage/coupling is a natural reflection of our biological and spiritual constructs, and as such, it’s viewed in its most elemental form as the natural expression of love (whatever love is).
Marriage as love, then, is the “natural” state of marriage… it’s what people think of when the dream of being married, and it’s the state of affairs found in the world’s literary and musical traditions.
Now this does not mean that there aren’t other forces at-play: societal norms have an enormous impact, as do other biological drives and plain, old-fashioned temptation (I don’t believe that temptation and the natural man are a 1:1 fit). I believe that the strong biological and spiritual drives to couple are found universally, and regardless of the structure of a marriage, and manifest themselves in terms of “first wives” and our general distaste for group sex…
Competing drives aside, I believe that life-long pair-bonding is the best option for the raising of children and our own emotional and physical well-being (an argument I’ll make at-length in my next post), and others seem to agree — devising their own incentive delivery mechanisms to support life-long pair-bonding.
Marriage as Institution
Community leaders from both secular and religious backgrounds have vested interests in legislating marriage. There are the issues of power-brokering that come to play whenever a body successfully inserts itself into the distribution of rights to natural resources (and, as I said before, the drive to couple is strong, and having a recognized/solemnized/lawful/whathaveyou marriage would be a powerful desire on the parts of large portions of any community). Beyond issues of power, there are the benefits of social engineering: observant community leaders will note that life runs better when all the adults have life-long mates, and all the children have parents (preferably biological ones) looking after them. And as leaders in their community, they will want to encourage such a situation with the tools at their disposal: rule-making, norms-setting, enforcement, and the like.
A Word about Religion
My fellow Mormons will probably argue that marriage is an institution that dates back to Adam and Eve (or Lilith, if you’re of that mind), and I agree. But whether that line is an un-broken one for each and every faith community is unclear… So regardless of a specific dispensation from God, established religious communities continue use some form of marriage as a part (more fundamental in some than in others) of their belief system — enshrining it in tradition and in the language of propriety and piety.
A Word about the Social Contract
Modern, secular communities, by-and-large, inherited their views of marriage from the religious traditions of their founders… but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to winnow-out compelling secular reasons for continued state involvement in regulating marriage. In fact, inasmuch as the United States is an experiment in deliberate society building, our nation is a perfect place to ask (and answer) questions about how and whether the state _should_ be involved.
But that’s the subject of another post.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: Part II: Marriage in the Social Contract…