Maybe the gay marriage debate isn’t the “problem”

I was catching up on the latest crazy anti-gay thing, and I had a thought about the issue of gay marriage. Maybe we’ve been going about it the wrong way.

Advocates for gay marriage say they deserve the same rights as hetero couples. That’s true. Those against the idea say marriage is a sacred, religious union and not open to homosexual couples. That’s also technically true. The pro groups counters by talking about civil unions that are recognized by the state. This is a good compromise but most on the other side don’t see it that way. They don’t want a compromise, they want to be right. They want the state, and by extension our society, to validate their world-view of what a spiritual union is. Unfortunately we are a very religious nation, so the separation of church and state is more of an ideal than a hard rule.

Well I started thinking, why don’t we come at this from the other direction? Why should married couples receive any special recognition under state law at all?

My understanding of history is that married couples started receiving things like tax breaks and such as an incentive. Getting people together had many benefits. They could pool resources and put more of their combined income into the economy. They could have children and be more likely to pay for their higher education as a couple. They could purchase a home. Also good for the economy, but important to establish a sense of normalcy after WWII and create the idea of “The American Dream”. Someone school me if I’m getting any of this wrong. I suck at history.

But aren’t we a different society now? Isn’t our economy different? Isn’t the idea of “family” different? Do we still need the state to incentivize people to get married? Perhaps we should be incentivizing different things that don’t polarize people based on their values. Do we even still want a society where coupling up confers upon you special status and privileges under the law? What if we eliminated most of the legislation around civil unions? What if “marriage” returned to being a private matter that means whatever private citizens define it as? Then nobody would even be able to try and “ban” other people from doing whatever they wanted. And no one group would be able to use the power of government to push their personal value system.

I made a point to say we can only eliminate “most” of the legislation around civil union. There are some very practical definitions of “family”. Like those that allow you visitation rights in hospitals. I don’t think even the anti-gay zealots care if gay people visit their sick loved ones (if I’m wrong, I’d be really sad). There’s parental guardianship. That’s a big one. The question of whether gay couples should be “allowed” to raise kids is a big part of this issue. The state should have no say in that either. If one unmarried adult can adopt a child, then 2 same-sex adults can adopt a child. There’s also in vitro and other methods by which one (or both) women in a union bear a child. The only question is the process by which the other person can become a legal guardian. You want to be able to pick them up from school, and bail them out of juve when they do something really stupid. You know, like family.

I don’t know what the legal precedent for these things are. And I know for a fact that the anti-gay crowd will still want to argue about this as well. But this is one instance where less government could actually solve problems and quell some controversy. What do people think? I’m sure there’s lots I’m missing here. Particularly around what it means to be “family” in the eyes of the state when you get “married”.

Would prefer people to comment on Google+.

2 thoughts on “Maybe the gay marriage debate isn’t the “problem”

  1. I’m with you on most everything here and I’ve had similar thoughts. The fact that the state is at all involved in marriage seems left over from a different era of population engineering. After all, in most urbanized modern countries the birth rate is declining; incentivizing marriage no longer results directly in a larger labor base. On the other hand, we have conservatives doing everything they can to abolish birth control access, so maybe their real agenda is something bigger. Maybe they want to be sure the next generation is large enough to pay their social security (even as they call for its dismantling). I don’t have any clue, really.

    The only piece glaringly missing from your list of reasons for state involvement is child support: it’s probably important to protect people from deadbeat partners in child-rearing situations.

    I do feel the word “marriage” should not appear in any law. Government deals with civil society, and so it should deal with civil unions, and nothing more. I’m with you 100% about leaving the spiritual unions out of the legal system.

  2. Careful not to fall into the false correlation between child welfare and the value system of the parents. Child welfare can work exactly the same independent of the gender and sexual preference of the parents. It’s about who’s most fit to provide the best rearing environment for the child. But this part of the legal system has always been very murky and very broken. People with religious values want the definition of “fit” to include their definition of spiritual health. It’s a problem that parallels that of gay marriage to be sure. Again, in my opinion, the state should have no say there.

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