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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Looking Toward Egypt: Why Government Endorsement Cannot Save “Marriage” » Looking Toward Egypt: Why Government Endorsement Cannot Save “Marriage”

Looking Toward Egypt: Why Government Endorsement Cannot Save “Marriage”

Seth - July 13, 2008

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s opposition to same-sex marriage has been the subject of a lot of news recently, especially in California. While I sympathize with the LDS leadership’s desire to “draw a line in the sand” on the slow loss of ground in America’s relentless culture wars, I think the writing is on the wall, and it’s time to face reality.

The LDS Church is going to lose this fight.

Oh, we might get some short term gains. Maybe even a victory in California. Who knows? But in the overall war over marriage, the final result is pretty clear to me. America wants gay couples to have the same rights as other couples. The foundational notions of fairness inherent in the controversy are too compelling, and too… American to ignore forever. It’s going to happen. The only two questions are when, and what form.

Think I’m full of it? Remove any value judgments about the morality of homosexuality and just look at it from a basic fairness angle. Is it really fair that the law grants special rights to a female spouse visiting her male spouse in the hospital, but not to a female spouse visiting a female spouse in that same hospital? Is it fair that a man and a woman can get tax breaks for having a lifelong commitment, but not a man and a man?

“But wait” you say. “Why not just give them generic ‘civil unions’ with tax breaks, visitation, and all that stuff – just not marriage?”

True, that placates the fair-minded for a little while. But it too ultimately fails. The label of “marriage” currently has cachet. It bestows a certain sense of respectability and legitimacy to a union that is not gained by simply signing an agreement to start a new limited liability corporation or partnership. And currently, the government is handing out these “honors” only to those who meet a traditional Protestant version of union. Is that ultimately fair?

It really isn’t. Once people wise-up to this fact, we’ll be having this fight all over again. And since we Americans are generally a fair-minded people, and happen to have a Constitution that prohibits government from playing religious favorites, the end result will be that the federal and state governments will be forced to bestow upon gay unions all the same benefits currently given to heterosexual unions – including the purely symbolic ones. Given how well “Separate-But-Equal” worked out for the African American question, I doubt it’s going to work much better for the homosexual question.

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

Denying this reality is going to have some really ugly consequences. At the risk of “steadying the ark,” a warning to the LDS leadership, and to all of us:

The political course of action we are currently pursuing is going to harm the sacred principle of Mormon marriage more than it helps it. We are chasing after Babylon for an endorsement of something that belongs to God alone. This reliance on the “arm of the flesh” is simply going to hasten the day of government-endorsed homosexual marriages.

Why? Because our current campaign buys into the notion that “marriage” is something that government can bestow in the first place. It isn’t. Government does not now, and never did, have any business handing out marriage licenses.

When I married my wife, it was in the temple. It happened when I faced her across the altar, and made sacred covenants. At that point, she and I were married. Sure, we went through the motions of getting a marriage license from the local County Courthouse. But I’ll be honest with you, on that blessed day, I didn’t give two straws whether some judge in downtown Provo thought we were married or not. If the judge had refused to give the license, I still would have considered her my wife. “What God hath joined, let not man part asunder.” The marriage license was a worthless scrap of paper. As I look back on it now, I find it offensive that I even needed the government’s permission to have a “marriage” in the first place. Really, who made them god?

A modest proposal:

If we really want to save marriage… If we are serious about helping the sacred institution of marriage, and not just interested in showy moral posturing…. Get the US government OUT of marriage. Immediately and completely.

Marriage is a personal religious term, and should be the sole province of people’s religious beliefs. Government has no business here. If government wants to promote childbirth, or stable families, it can do so without the blessed office of marriage-dispenser. Give “civil unions” to everyone – homosexual, heterosexual, polygamist, whoever. Create a working and comprehensive civil union law and make that the default option for everyone. A conservative Jewish couple, a young Mormon man and woman in the temple, a gay couple in Seattle, a pair of drunk college kids in Vegas, a pair of hippies in the woods… all of them get the same treatment and the same law. The government has no right, and no business determining which of them is “married” and which of them isn’t.

If I want to call my temple sealing a “marriage,” that is between me and the LDS Church. If a gay couple wants to seek out a “progressive” Unitarian pastor to join them and call it “marriage,” that is their business as well.

“Render unto Caesar, those things that are Caesar’s, and to God, those things which are God’s.”

If we make our “marriages” dependent on government approval, we will be blown about by every false wind of political doctrine that government is subject to. If we do not act quickly to free marriage from government, it too will “go down with the ship.” The core impulses behind LDS support of Proposition 8 are admirable, but the practical result will only enslave our sacred temple covenants to the whims and prejudices of government bureaucrats. It is time for Zion to stop looking to Egypt for its deliverance.

40 Comments »

  1. Seth, I’m sort of overloaded on this topic right now, but I want to say that your take (specifically, comparing this to “looking to Egypt”) is very interesting. I wish I had more to say….

    Comment by BrianJ — July 13, 2008 @ 3:37 pm

  2. Overall, I think you’re right about getting government out of the marriage business. Two nagging problems, though:

    1) Without some kind of lowest-common-denominator form of marriage, how do we determine whether an investigating family is “living the law of chastity” and, thus, ready for baptism?

    2) I’m troubled by this reasoning:

    It bestows a certain sense of respectability and legitimacy to a union that is not gained by simply signing an agreement to start a new limited liability corporation or partnership. And currently, the government is handing out these “honors” only to those who meet a traditional Protestant version of union. Is that ultimately fair?

    What it basically seems to say is that if a hypothetical individual (let’s call him “Joseph”) comes up with an institution (let’s call it an “endowment”), and so many people like that institution that it becomes seen as respectable–legitimate–”honorable”, even–why then, they have a right to unfettered access to that institution, irrespective of the preconditions thereto which “Joseph” originally laid down. Anything less would be “unfair”, right?

    Comment by JimD — July 13, 2008 @ 4:13 pm

  3. “Without some kind of lowest-common-denominator form of marriage, how do we determine whether an investigating family is “living the law of chastity” and, thus, ready for baptism?”

    We try to put a bit more thought into it, and leave it up to the family in question. I see this as a good thing.

    As for your other concern… I don’t see this as a problem of people having a right of access to a privately conceived ceremony. It’s a problem of whether the government has any business promoting and pushing that ceremony.

    Let’s say that some of “Joseph’s” followers become embittered and contemptuous of Joseph’s “endowment.” Let’s say they get a kick out of ridiculing the stuff he came up with. Let’s say they invent a “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” and create their own “endowment” mocking the one Joseph came up with. Is that OK?

    Well, maybe it’s rude and juvenile. But it’s still their right to do so.

    But this misses the point. The question was never whether homosexuals have a legitimate claim to marriage (I don’t think they do), but rather whether the government has a legitimate claim to set the parameters of marriage. I don’t think it does.

    Comment by Seth R. — July 13, 2008 @ 5:06 pm

  4. Hi Seth–

    We try to put a bit more thought into it, and leave it up to the family in question. I see this as a good thing.

    I wasn’t being facetious, or trying to use it as an argument against getting government out of marriage. I’m genuinely curious as to how we can–and how you would–resolve the question.

    The question was never whether homosexuals have a legitimate claim to marriage (I don’t think they do), but rather whether the government has a legitimate claim to set the parameters of marriage. I don’t think it does.

    True. On further reflection, I realize that my hypo only strengthens your point–the problem would arise only if government co-opted the endowment and insisted on its right to administer it to all and sundry.

    It would be interesting to track the recorded history of marriage “ceremonies”. Did they start out as civil, or religious, affairs? Exactly who co-opted what from whom?

    One other observation: Having a requirement for government-solemnized (and recorded) marriages has immeasurably simplified the work of family histoory. I’m not sure we have a “duty” to enforce questionable public policies in order to facilitate the efforts of future genealogists, but perhaps the question is at least worth discussing?

    Comment by JimD — July 13, 2008 @ 5:55 pm

  5. So, Seth, it is done then. We have to surrender to Babylon?

    You modest proposal have an interesting unintended consequence for Gay couples who are really only looking for validation. They want the HONOR of being called married.

    You proposal pulls the rug out from under them. State sanctioned marriage would have no value and religious people could still say homosexual relations are an abomination.

    Brilliant…

    Move along folks, nothing of value here…

    Comment by Beesh Nabathli — July 13, 2008 @ 8:25 pm

  6. Beesh,

    I don’t get any particular jollies out of calling homosexual relations “an abomination.” I’ve got too many of my own weaknesses and issues to spend a lot of time worrying about those of others. But neither do I think my Church should accept such unions as “marriages.”

    And yes, it does pull the rug out from under them. That’s part of the point.

    Comment by Seth R. — July 13, 2008 @ 8:52 pm

  7. I should mention that Focus on the Family’s own James Dobson was promoting a civil union law here in Colorado for precisely the reasons that Beesh brings up. It would take the wind out the sails of gay marriage movement if they could no longer claim they were losing out on government benefits by not having marriage.

    But I think that’s only a stopgap measure and merely prolongs the problem. I don’t think it ultimately solves the controversy, for reasons I laid out in my original post.

    Comment by Seth R. — July 13, 2008 @ 8:57 pm

  8. Seth,

    Though I agree with your suggestion for getting government out of marriage for completely different reasons than you, I still agree with you.

    You modest proposal have an interesting unintended consequence for Gay couples who are really only looking for validation. They want the HONOR of being called married.

    Whether it’s the government or the LDS Church or the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster calling the shots, it’s not a question of honor for this gay man. I don’t need anyone’s approval or validation for my relationship to know that it is good and right. But as long as the government is handing out a whole boat load of benefits for people who make the marriage commitment, it’s a simple matter of fairness. So I think Seth’s analysis is spot on in this regard. And it’s why, eventually, gay couples will be able to marry in this country, no matter how hard the LDS Church and other religious institutions fight it.

    Comment by Chris Williams — July 13, 2008 @ 9:00 pm

  9. Seth R. — I agree with your position and have said so elsewhere. But I do think that going to such a system could be less straightforward than it might seem.

    That’s because it seems to me that the government does have some legitimate interest in stabilizing family relationships, making sure children are provided for, providing some financial protection for non-earning spouses and that sort of thing. Marriage laws do those things to some extent — not perfectly by any means, but better than if there weren’t some legal structures in place to provide those sort of things in an easily accessible manner.

    I also tend to think that any such radical change of what you’re talking about would have to be done on a federal level (which might require a constitutional amendment). I could things getting legally messy in a hurry otherwise.

    Comment by Eric — July 13, 2008 @ 11:15 pm

  10. I feel that perhaps the point is not to win a battle that we will eventually lose, one way or another, but to fight it. Sometimes the point is to make a stand, not to win a battle.

    Additionally, the LDS Church has always had a history of bowing to governmental authority. It is part of the basic tenets of our faith. This is not a bad thing. Since we have always upheld the law, it is our duty to exercise our rights within it to resist changes to it.

    I firmly believe that the legalization of gay marriage and, more specifically, the raising of sexual orientation to protected status, will infringe upon the rights of religious institutions. I think the Church is right to fight such a potential path every step of the way. As with any other group of people, we are within our rights to fight for what we believe.

    As somewhat of a fence sitter in this debate, the more I see, the more convinced I am that those who hate gays and condemn them are wrong and those who seek to impose their previously atypical world views on others are wrong. I don’t see any pretty solution coming to this because it is a direct conflict between those who follow sacrifice and those who follow self. It is a thrown-down gauntlet, an open declaration to war. The only thing that could end it (for the LDS Church) is a dictate from Heaven.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 14, 2008 @ 3:51 am

  11. Are you proposing that the government (and private employers) no longer make any benefits based on marital status? Are you saying that you are willing to give up all such benefits? Or are you saying that the government should continue to give those benefits but based solely on a claim that someone is “married”? And if so, how do you propose to fund the increased benefits? After all, what’s to stop me from using your now, non-governmental form of “marriage” to bring my cancer-ridden friend under my employer’s health insurance?

    Comment by JrL — July 14, 2008 @ 7:00 am

  12. Seth,

    Your position is that SCOTUS will eventually rule in favor of SSm Correct?

    The reason I say this is that more then 50% of the US states have const amendments/laws in place banning SSM. So SCOTUS would have to overrule all the state laws.

    Comment by bbell — July 14, 2008 @ 7:04 am

  13. You’re thinking too short-term bbell. In the long term, assuming a continuation of our present course, this fight is over with gay marriage coming out on top.

    But in any case, even if most of America were united behind “traditional marriage,” I would still assert that it’s none of government’s business.

    JrL,

    My proposal is that all of that stuff be covered by generic civil union laws instead of marriage laws. Yes, that would be a massive legislative hassle. But it’s either that, or continue to accept government edicts on our sacred religious ordinances (whatever the result).

    Comment by Seth R. — July 14, 2008 @ 7:22 am

  14. Seth,

    Your timeline is what 50-75 years? We have no idea what the political environment will be like in 2060.

    Here in TX the state constitution forbids SSM. So it would take a SCOTUS decision to force it on us.

    Maybe 2-3 Dem admins in a row could speed up a SCOTUS decision though with their SCOTUS nominees.

    Comment by bbell — July 14, 2008 @ 9:42 am

  15. Also,

    Its pretty radical seperate marriage from the state. Has there ever been a time in the US when the state did not regulate marriage?

    Comment by bbell — July 14, 2008 @ 9:46 am

  16. Seth,

    Amen. Thank you for be a voice of reason.

    Comment by Chad Too — July 14, 2008 @ 10:19 am

  17. Holmes was right when he said “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” No great lawmaker sat down centuries ago to create all the civil laws relating to marriage and family relationships–those laws have developed over the centuries as courts and legislatures have wrestled with experience.

    There is something about marriage that is fundamentally different from other human relationships (partnerships, political associations, friendships, same-sex relations). The fundamental difference is the potential that the marital relationship has to produce children. And, having children puts particular burdens on women, who, frankly, are the only sex that, thus far, has been known to bear children. Many of the laws relating to marriage have the direct effect of protecting women who bear those particular burdens, and of protecting children who are essentially helpless for the first several years of their lives.

    Laws forbidding consanguinous marriages incorporate ancient taboos against incest, and they also protect society against the costs of caring for the offspring of such marriages who might suffer from the genetic harms incident to such marriages.

    Same-sex relationships cannot produce offspring (although who knows? Lincoln did once make an interesting and persuasive argument for why men have nipples–and if the conditions he posited ever did come to pass . . .) and they therefore do not require or deserve the protection of the state the way that marriage does.

    You may be right, Seth, that the battle about marriage is lost already. And nobody will argue about the fairness of hospital visitation priveleges. (Is this a practical problem anymore? Do hospitals really bar patients from receiving visits? Or is this just a shibboleth like the same-sex bathrooms in the anti-ERA fight?) But I will argue about the fairness of tax rules that privelege marriages over other relationships–they are fundamentally fair. It goes back to children, and the burdens that parents undertake in bearing and rearing children.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 14, 2008 @ 10:28 am

  18. Seth, I take it that neither your parents nor any of your grandparents married at the courthouse, or that if they did, that action of theirs is all the same to you as if they simply started living together? And that you are similarly indifferent to the marriages of all your neighbors you haven’t been sealed in the temples?

    I don’t know if Prop. 8 will fail or not, but these things don’t flow in only one direction. After a third of a century of more and more public consciousness of homosexuality, the topic will drop from fashionableness, fatigue will set in, and some new issue will bedevil us.

    Comment by John Mansfield — July 14, 2008 @ 11:49 am

  19. “Is this a practical problem anymore? Do hospitals really bar patients from receiving visits?”

    Usually happens when the hostile family members prohibit access to the patient.

    John,

    My impression is that very few people bother with courthouse marriages anymore. Increasingly, they just live together and act like husband and wife, but never formalize it. Which is another reason for having a comprehensive civil union law. It catches these people.

    Comment by Seth R. — July 14, 2008 @ 12:41 pm

  20. Alaska was the state with the highest percentage of coupled households formed by unmarried opposite-sex partners, but even there married couples outnumbered cohabiting couples 116,318 to 15,388. So, I don’t think it is accurate to say that no one bothers to get married anymore. And for those who can’t be bothered to get married, what is going to induce them to form a civil union?

    Comment by John Mansfield — July 14, 2008 @ 1:53 pm

  21. Seth,

    While I agree with your reasoning, I also agree with SilverRain about fighting even if we know we’re going to lose.

    And speaking of battles we know we’re going to lose, isn’t that true of trying to get government out of the marraige argument?

    Comment by Bret — July 14, 2008 @ 3:39 pm

  22. When you would like to know how to save your marriage or how to keep a failing marriage from leading you to divorce, then you must be ready for changes. Obviously, whatever you are doing right now is not working, so there are going to have to be changes. Once you understand that you do need changes, you can move onto the next step.

    Comment by chris — July 15, 2008 @ 7:23 am

  23. Well said Seth. Stop having the government legitimize marriage. Get it back to religions to legitimize it. This would solve many problems. For one, it won’t put any force on any religion to adhere to a standard they do not wish, and it gives those who wish gay marriage a way to create their own religion with their own set of rules.

    Comment by Dan — July 15, 2008 @ 7:55 am

  24. Really simplistic solution. It doesn’t begin to address issues of protection for spouses who have abandoned careers to care for children, and then are abandoned by their bread-winner spouses. (If government is out of the marriage business, what constitutes a “family” for purposes of deciding when to intervene–or do we simply accept any relationship as entitled to that intervention because the parties involved claim that their “religion” sanctions the relationship?)

    Nor does your “solution” address issues of support for children in families that break up. Or what kind of “families” social service providers must give certain types of assistance to (does Catholic Charities or LDSSS have to place adoptive children with same-sex couples?)–or would you simply “governmentalize” all the social services currently performed by those organizations?

    Comment by Mark B. — July 15, 2008 @ 8:59 am

  25. You’re missing the point Mark B,

    The point of a civil union law would be to create a fair and comprehensive law that governs personal relationships where one person has entrusted another with his or her well being. It would address inequities, such as where one partner gives up career to raise children. It would divide assets between those who have become estranged, yet need the law’s protections to ensure fair treatment.

    Whether a couple claims that “my religion sanctions it” would be utterly irrelevant to whether they qualify for this or that degree of civil union status. The civil union would be premised on hard facts alone. A person’s beliefs would be utterly irrelevant to the government’s analysis.

    Comment by Seth R. — July 15, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

  26. As far as the government goes, just replace the word “marriage” with “civil union”. Everything the government gives to “married” people would then be given to those with “civil unions”. There would still be the same tax breaks, child support, licenses, laws, as were already present. The title “marriage” would then be left to the church to bestow as they saw fit.

    Comment by Misty — July 15, 2008 @ 6:10 pm

  27. For those interested…

    http://mormonsformarriage.com

    Comment by Mormons for Marriage — July 16, 2008 @ 5:57 am

  28. Please forgive the long-ish post. I’ve wanted to write a few of
    these thoughts down for a while.

    It’s not about “rights” or “fairness.” Those words are so vague it’s
    almost meaningless to take them as a starting point. For me, it’s a
    question of incentives, definitions and axioms, and I think that
    traditional marriage can and should be defended on those terms.

    I think the most troublesome aspect of your post is the framing of the
    issue — you assert that the fundamental issue is “fairness.” But I
    think that’s exactly wrong, and that by beginning with that you will
    inevitably come to the wrong conclusion. I think what we need is
    strong voices articulating why traditional marriage needs to be
    defended, and actively reshaping public perception of the issues — a
    post like this is *exactly* the wrong way to do that, because it
    reinforces the wrong set of talking points.

    So here’s my shot at it.

    Your post presupposes that the government has a stake in the
    institutional definition itself. It doesn’t. The government is only
    interested in marriage to the extent that it promotes a stable,
    peaceful and self-sufficient society. Government policy vis-a-vis
    marriage must be — and, I think, *has* been — dictated by the
    benefits the institution brings to society at large.

    Family should be the core of society. This leads to my axioms
    regarding government and family:

    – Stable families are the best environment for education and
    child-rearing. A parent’s concern for and intimate knowledge of
    their children is unmatched by any other institution. A family’s
    student-to-teacher ratio is unparalleled and cannot be reproduced
    by any other institution.

    – Children should be raised by one father and one mother. None of
    our best psychological and social evidence indicates that two male
    parents or two female parents generate the same mentally and
    emotionally balanced children as a traditional family — but even
    an appeal to science is a modern notion. History and experience
    admirably testifies to the same thing. The fact that not every
    marriage succeeds perfectly well is not a reason to discard the
    ideal.

    – Children need long-term commitments from parents. Society ought
    to incentivize parents to stay together: formal commitment (ie,
    marriage) ought to be required and divorce ought to be hard.
    Society has an interest in creating pressure binding families
    together, and *labels* with their attendant honor or shame go a
    long way towards accomplishing that.

    – Mothers need long-term commitments from husbands. Rearing
    children is a full-time job which is virtually impossible to do
    well if you also have to work. Society ought to incentivize a
    relationship which allows a father to work and share his resources
    completely with a spouse that is dedicated to the children.

    – Society does not extend incident legal benefits to other sorts of
    relationships. For example, two brothers living together
    long-term cannot share health insurance any more than a homosexual
    couple, simply because there’s no incentive to do so.

    – Government has a direct, persuasive interest in helping people be
    less selfish. This is not a moral or religious statement. By
    labeling and promoting marriage, the government implicitly
    promotes selflessness and service to others, and dedication to
    larger ideals.

    Society does not have a good reason to incentivize non-traditional
    marriage equally with traditional marriage. Society should *prefer*
    traditional marriage to other unions because there are more benefits
    to everyone.

    Getting the government out of marriage with vague unions of any type
    and duration obfuscates all of those issues.

    On the contrary, I think that government ought to promote these ideals
    loudly and clearly, and give them a single, semantically powerful
    label. The word and institution of “marriage” has always been and
    done that.

    Random thought I’ve always wanted to float: to me, the debate is (very
    roughly) analogous to the idea of tax breaks for an apartment owner
    versus a homeowner. The government has decided to incentivize home
    owners but not renters because of perceived benefits to society at
    large. No one would argue that one group or the other has a “right”
    to tax breaks, nor would they, I think, argue that it’s a fairness
    issue — the issue is simply that the government wants to incentivize
    different types of behavior. It’s a question of definitions, not
    rights.

    Comment by David W. — July 16, 2008 @ 7:59 am

  29. OK, David…

    “Stable families are the best environment for education and child-rearing.”

    Which can be promoted via civil unions.

    “Children need long-term commitments from parents. Society ought to incentivize parents to stay together: formal commitment (ie, marriage) ought to be required and divorce ought to be hard.”

    Which can be done via civil unions. You can have civil unions that are formal in commitment, and hard to dissolve if you wish.

    “Mothers need long-term commitments from husbands.”

    Which can be done via civil unions.

    “Society does not extend incident legal benefits to other sorts of relationships.”

    And this is a good thing, why? So change society to offer protection to other relationships. I happen to think it’s needed.

    “Government has a direct, persuasive interest in helping people be less selfish. This is not a moral or religious statement.”

    So, do this with civil unions.

    “The word and institution of “marriage” has always been and done that.”

    So basically, it’s convenient and we’ve always done it this way?

    Not exactly a convincing position.

    Next time, before cutting-and-pasting standardized talking-points from an advocacy website, you may want to consider how they apply to the argument I’m actually making.

    Comment by Seth R. — July 16, 2008 @ 8:11 am

  30. “Stable families are the best environment for education and child-rearing.”

    Which can be promoted via civil unions.

    What kind of civil unions? I’m arguing that traditional marriage accomplishes this better than any other arrangement, and that it should be incentivized at a higher level. I’d be fine with a generic “civil union” if it accomplishes that multi-tier incentivization — but in a sense, that’s what we already have. You seem to want a
    generic institution that doesn’t account for the tangible differences between different classes of unions. If it *does* account for them, it sounds like the current system.

    “Children need long-term commitments from parents. Society ought to incentivize parents to stay together: formal commitment (ie, marriage) ought to be required and divorce ought to be hard.”

    Which can be done via civil unions. You can have civil unions that are formal in commitment, and hard to dissolve if you wish.

    Only in theory. In practice, it seems like weakening the definition also weakens commitment because it weakens the clarity of the goals and purposes of the institution.

    “Mothers need long-term commitments from husbands.”

    Which can be done via civil unions.

    Which is already done via marriages.

    “Society does not extend incident legal benefits to other sorts of relationships.”

    And this is a good thing, why? So change society to offer protection to other relationships. I happen to think it’s needed.

    The point is that if you want to offer uniform benefits to these sorts of relationships — great! But then it’s no longer a marriage issue per se — it’s a question of defining who needs the benefits, why they need them, and how we draw the lines. Nobody talks about that, because that’s not their point: they want access to *marriage*.

    In my opinion, the boundaries quickly become too fuzzy. Ending incident benefits at the line drawn by marriage happens to give a
    clear, unambiguous standard *and* correlates nicely with larger goals.

    “Government has a direct, persuasive interest in helping people be less selfish. This is not a moral or religious statement.”

    So, do this with civil unions.

    Unless your civil union emphasizes children and high ideals in the same way that traditional marriage does, it doesn’t have the same effect, and shouldn’t be incentivized at the same level. We’re back to multi-tiered civil unions.

    “The word and institution of “marriage” has always been and done that.”

    So basically, it’s convenient and we’ve always done it this way?

    It’s necessary and important. We need the semantically powerful label and concept, and we need to talk about why that is. Generic appeals to fairness obscure what I think are the nuanced but important issues. We’ve always done it this way because it works.

    Next time, before cutting-and-pasting standardized talking-points from an advocacy website, you may want to consider how they apply to the
    argument I’m actually making.

    My point was that your framing of the debate leads to the wrong conclusion — I’m disputing the premise, not your reasoning given your premise. I think if you put the debate back in a larger context, your predictions become less certain because there’s more room to define why we’re talking about this at all — and that in turn strengthens the notion that we ought to fight
    the battle *and* try to make a lasting definition.

    (Incidentally, I’m not trying to pick a fight. I’m genuinely interested in sharpening my thinking on this issue…)

    Comment by David W. — July 16, 2008 @ 9:48 am

  31. The point is that if you want to offer uniform benefits to these sorts of relationships — great! But then it’s no longer a marriage issue per se — it’s a question of defining who needs the benefits, why they need them, and how we draw the lines. Nobody talks about that, because that’s not their point: they want access to *marriage*.

    That’s my whole point. This shouldn’t be a marriage issue in the first place.

    My main point in response was that all of your concerns can be addressed by simply writing the civil union code correctly. The arguments of promoting stability, family, children, etc., just aren’t relevant because they can all be promoted just fine without a formal “marriage” licensing process.

    I’m unclear on your other objections.

    Comment by Seth R. — July 16, 2008 @ 12:03 pm

  32. My main point in response was that all of your concerns can be addressed by simply writing the civil union code correctly. The arguments of promoting stability, family, children, etc., just aren’t relevant because they can all be promoted just fine without a formal “marriage” licensing process.

    I thought that your modest proposal was to get the government out of the marriage business entirely. Perhaps we’re in agreement — the marriage / civil union code needs to be written correctly, but I’m arguing that the only way to accomplish that is by looking at the issues I’ve been raising. That’s why I think they’re at the heart of the discussion.

    Comment by David W. — July 16, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

  33. Out of the “marriage licensing” business David.

    Comment by Seth R. — July 16, 2008 @ 2:31 pm

  34. Maybe two late, but…

    On the point of marriage licences and the law of chastity: I think it would be simple – we simply trust people to be honest about whether or not they are married. Her in Taiwan people are married if and when they announce to at least two witnesses that they are married. While you can register it, and most do fill out a form for the witness to chop (sign with their stamp), it is not required. They are legal married the moment they say they are. Generally speaking, if were going to trust people on all the other interview questions, I don’t see why we can’t trust them on this. After all, it not like I ever asked to see their license.

    While I agree with the poster who said that actually getting the government out of the “marriage business” is even less likely than winning the anti-same-sex fight, I’ve long agrees with Seth’s point. And frankly, all the arguments supporting the importance of “traditional marriage” are, to me, the exact reason why supporters of marriage generally should be supportive of same-sex marriage too.

    While not traditional, it is profoundly “conservative”, in the sense that it reinforces that marriage (and its theoretical long-term, commited, monogamous nature) are a good thing.

    I mean, some people are gay. Most of them are going to accept that and be in homosexual relationships. Many of them are going to have children (in a variety of way; previous hetero marriage, adoption, etc.)

    Which should we try to promote? Long-term, commited relationship, with stability and protection for both partner and children? Or should we promote short-term promiscuity with instabilty for partners and children even if they choose commitment and stabilty?

    Beyond that, it becomes morality (in the religious sense) and emotion over the word “marriage”, which is why I support separating the civil from the religious.

    Finally (I tend to be long-winded) on the religious moral point, I’d rather try and promote fidelity and commitment for homosexual (as with heterosexual). Barring conversion to my faith, they’re not likely to go for celibacy (and even then…). But it would be much easier to promote those “goods” (fidelity and commitment) if we supported it rather than fight against it.

    Comment by Leonard (aka The Ignorant Sage) — July 24, 2008 @ 2:56 am

  35. Actually, one question, in case anyone looks back at this post.

    Could someone who supports civil unions (with all the same benefits as marriage), but opposes same-sex marriage, explain to me why?

    This seems increasingly common (esp. among us Mormons), and for the life of me, I really don’t get it.

    I just don’t get the logic of saying its vitally important to oppose the one, but the other is no biggy.

    Comment by Leonard (aka The Ignorant Sage) — July 24, 2008 @ 3:03 am

  36. Leonard,

    I think the main aim of those people, is to prevent the societal appropriation of the word “marriage” for uses that they feel are at odds with its sacred nature and character.

    Such people may be sympathetic to the injustice homosexuals are facing. But they don’t like the term “marriage” being re-defined with society’s blessing.

    Comment by Seth R. — July 24, 2008 @ 7:18 am

  37. That’s the part I’ve assumed.

    I just wonder if there is anything more.

    If not, this seems like much ado about nothing.(Or at least not very much.)

    Comment by Leonard (aka The Ignorant Sage) — July 24, 2008 @ 5:19 pm

  38. Hello Seth.

    This was an excellent write up. I prepared a response but it turned out to be quite lengthy, so I posted it at Opine.

    Just a few quick thoughts (having said quite a bit there), I agree on many points.

    Leonard,

    The LDS commentary on Prop 8 I think answers your question, I believe. It states that the church is not against CU’s,

    “The focus of the Church’s involvement is specifically same-sex marriage and its consequences. The Church does not object to rights (already established in California) regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the family or the constitutional rights of churches and their adherents to administer and practice their religion free from government interference.”

    It also outlines the reasons for this particular move.

    Again, I’ve taken quite the liking to that document and have made a series of it at Opine also. But to sum up, I think the compelling point of marriage is its ability to point people to the lifestyle and commitment that will best fulfill their own capacity and responsibility to children. Its not about oppression, implicit or even unintentional, as the questions of rights have so many possible solutions. Its just that marriage means something, and those that know what it means are more likely to be successful with it.

    Comment by On Lawn — August 21, 2008 @ 7:41 am

  39. Hi Seth,

    Forgive me for not truly commenting on your post. I came over here to just “find” you and let you know that I miss having you as part of our conversation.

    It’s hard to talk about the things we’re talking about without hurting feelings and offending sometimes. I’m trying to make my points as clearly and un-emotionally as possible…but what can I say? I’m not always successful. It seems I lost you when I wrote a post that came from frustration…full of generalizations that I didn’t back up. Please forgive?

    I hope you’ll come back over and participate again. Your input was always fair and kind and well thought out.

    Daiquiri

    Comment by Daiquiri — September 20, 2008 @ 3:03 pm

  40. Seth, the argument about gay marriage is benign. The constant rhetoric of rights for gays does not resonate any reasoning whatsoever for those of us who didn’t abandoned enlightenment philosophy like most Reps and almost all Dems have. The simple fact is, during the late 19th century the two opposing sides today, fiscal liberals and social liberals, had it’s roots take hold. Both embraced paternalism. There is no progress past the enilghtenment philosophy. It is the pinnacle of human civilization, the best man can ever achieve. Returning to old paternalisms of Authoritarian Govts, whether it is of from Massive Beuracracies or Religions, is the same. We see no difference in the two. Adam’s Smiths invisible hand is ignored from both the Dems and the Reps..Forget your arguments on “rights” with Gay marriage. They are shrouded in the horrors of authoritarian government and do no recognize the individual who MUST decide what value he or she thinks is right for them.

    Comment by Kevin — October 15, 2008 @ 11:04 am

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