The issues of marriage are very complex, especially when dealing with issues of who should and should not be married, and what being married really means. In this article I am going to attempt to cover the issue of marriage from a wide perspective and try to makes sense out of it. I think that a lot of confusion and polarization on the issue of gay, lesbian and same sex marriage has come from not looking at the big picture. In this article on marriage and who should be married, I try to take into account all factors including the evolution of marriage, the history of marriage, legal issues, civil rights, human biology and reproduction, children, religion, love, relationships, heterosexual and homosexual issues, what is normal and where normal matters. The idea is that when people look at the entire scope of issues surrounding marriage that a different perspective is created. I contend that no matter what side of the issue you are on with regards to same sex marriage, that the arguments contained herein will give you something to think about. That even if you don't agree with me, it will change your perspective on the subject and cause you to look at your own views in a different light.
My conclusions in this article represent my opinion and are not to be considered to be any kind of strong statement of position. This is an area where there is really no position I can take that I'm entirely comfortable with and I will point out obvious flaws in my own arguments that undermine my position. I'm sure that there is something here to offend everyone on the planet, so if you're offended, so be it.
Biology, Sex, Reproduction, Evolution
Three billion years ago life on this planet began to reproduce by sexual reproduction. Males and females of species mated and combined their DNA to produce new individuals that combined traits from both parents. This way of reproducing produced genetic diversity and created new traits in which the fittest survived to pass on their advantages to future generations.
Genetic superiority is just one of the factors in survival. An individual needed not only to be born, but also to survive to reproductive age and reproduce before dying. Various creatures evolved social strategies to protect themselves and hunt for food and to defend against predators. These social groupings ranged form hives of bees to solitary individuals who survived on their own except to mate. Humans adopted a number of social strategies in order to survive. The basic unit of survival historically has been that the parents have been the core providers of their offspring, and that these families have associated with other families into tribes who looked out for each other. Modern governments are the evolutionary extensions of those early tribes.
With the exceptions of new technology, humans still reproduce from the mating of a male and a female. This is where we all come from. Our biological parents are not two men or two women, or three people for that matter. We still recognize that our biological parents are usually the ones who raise the children and are primarily responsible for their upbringing. Thus there is a basis in reality to distinguish heterosexual families with children as being directly part of the process of reproduction and the continuing the human species. The reproductive process and biological parents and families do create a logical distinction that is not an arbitrary line. If this line could be compared to the lines that separate states on a map, this line would be like a river in that there is a natural separation.
Having said that, I'm not going to rely on that as my only reason and say that heterosexuality is good and homosexuality is bad. All I'm doing is saying that there are real distinctions that need to be recognized, and that this distinction needs to be considered in any honest discussion about the reality of marriage. I contend that this is a significant difference and should not be ignored.
The History of Marriage
Marriage was born from primitive cultures that recognized that males and females mated and as a result produced children that needed to be cared for. The biological parents were considered to be the primary caregivers, with other relatives and friends taking a secondary role, and the tribe or state being there on a third level. The families needed each other to survive. Women without males were often at a disadvantage and required more resources from the tribe. It was in the interest of the tribe to require the fathers to take responsibility for the children they created and force couples to marry based on pregnancy. When the shotgun was invented, the shotgun wedding soon followed. This was a way to preserve the family unit in cultures where surviving was a chore.
Thus marriage was a logical extension of human reproduction and that society organized around the family to survive and for society to survive. It created a recognition of the idea of couples committing for life and raising children together and sharing the struggles of survival. In general, these social rules had more benefits to society and helped our cultures and species survive.
The definition of marriage has a long tradition of being between one man and one woman and this has been supported across virtually all cultures and has an accepted definition. This is not a concept that has had a variety of meanings and is not undefined and ambiguous. Again, I don't hold this out as the "final argument" but as a factor to be considered in an overall discussion of the "big picture".
That was then, this is now.
On the other side of the argument is the fact that in the last 100 years, the human race has dramatically changed. No longer are we tribes of hunter-gatherers or agriculturally based communities. We are a society of high technology. Before the telephone, a person could verbally communicate only with people within hearing distance. We didn't have telephones, radio, TV, airplanes, trains, cars, advanced medicine, genetic engineering, the Internet, birth control, abortion, cloning, test tube babies, and other things that affect society in general. We live twice as long as people did 200 years ago. In many significant ways, we are not really the same species of human as we were then. Yes, genetically we are almost identical compared to 200 years ago, but with our new technologies, and the resulting cultural changes, there are a lot of significant differences. And those differences have made changes that directly affect marriage. Changes that have to be taken into consideration.
For example, "till death do us part" is a lot longer commitment than it used to be. Not many couples lived to be 45 years old. Now we're looking at 80 as a normal life span. Because of transportation and communication, our society is much larger than it was in the past. We can associate with more people and are not limited to our own geographic area. Governments provide for the welfare of people so that their survival is not the same as it used to be. We have birth control allowing women to mate with a variety of men without creating children. Our entire culture is so different and technology has changed things to such an extent that we are required to rethink our option of what kind of relationships we can have and to retest our views of marriage as to what it is now, and what it means. Marriage is not the same as it used to be and it is both legitimate and necessary, in lieu of the changes in mankind, to examine if marriage, which existed unchanged for thousands of years, means the same thing these days.
Marriage in modern times. What does it mean?
I look at marriage as having meaning in three separate contexts. What is a marriage to the State? What is a marriage to the Church? And finally, what is marriage between individuals? I think we are really talking about three separate issues here and in our public discourse as to "What is Marriage?" it often ends up in an argument where these different contexts are mixed up. If we separate these issues and deal with them individually, we can get a better perspective on the big picture and argue about it on the same level.
There is nothing that restricts individuals from committing to each other and deciding between themselves, and perhaps their friends, that they are a couple, and that they intend to share their lives together. This includes people of the same sex as well as marriages between more than two people. Mormons do it all the time where they redefine marriage for themselves allowing men to marry multiple women. These personal commitments are between individuals and are not recognized by the government. But this is America, and we have freedom to choose whom we live with and whom we commit to without the State interfering in our personal lives.
As to the Church, different churches have different beliefs as to what marriage means as well as what divorce means. My feeling is that a church does not have to change to meet the needs of individuals who have different beliefs. If a relationship is important to you and you are morally comfortable with it, but the church isn't, change churches. The battle there is over belief systems that are arbitrary and have little or nothing to do with reality. If you are a gay catholic, you are going to have conflict, and no laws are going to solve your problem. My opinion is that all religions are wrong and are more or less equal in that none of them are right, except my religion of course. I am the founder of the Church of Reality. "If it's real, we believe in it." We take no position on marriage and view it as a personal commitment.
Then finally there's the government or state marriage. This is the one that is recognized by the courts. In the mind of most people it constitutes an official marriage and therefore has a reality implied. The State refuses to grant a government marriage to just anyone. You have to be a heterosexual couple, of two and only two people. You have to be of age that varies based on lines on a map. These same lines on a map determine what marital rights you have and the law is applied based on your current location, not the state you were married in. Government marriage gives you rights to property, inheritance, and the power of attorney to act in behalf of the spouse in certain circumstances. There are also tax laws and health care benefits associated with state marriages and being a couple in the eyes of society. This is where the controversy lies. Who should be allowed to marry in the eyes of the State?
Before I get into that, I want to first talk about what a state marriage is and how it has changed over the years. In that past, societies and tribes recognized marriage as a lifelong commitment to be together between to people of the opposite sex. Most religions still officially view it that way. The words "till death do us part" or "as long as we both shall live" is still part of the wedding ceremony. However, in the United States and many other countries, laws have changed allowing for "no fault divorce".
What this means is that either party, without the need for justification, can break the marriage contract and get a divorce. If one party merely changes their mind, they can petition the State for a divorce and end the lifelong commitment. And here in the United States, most of them do. Before 1970 this was not the case. In order to get a divorce there had to be grounds to break the lifelong contract. Some states required proof of adultery to grant a divorce. In those days the state and society recognized a marriage as being a lifelong commitment, and the other rights associated with the marriage was based on the idea of a lifelong commitment.
But all that has changed. By allowing for no fault divorce the State has changed the definition of a marriage as far as the government and society is concerned. The provision of a lifelong commitment is no longer something that is part of the law. For all practical purposes, the "traditional marriage" is a concept that is already dead as far as the government is concerned. The United States no longer recognizes the concept of marriage as a life commitment in law. Therefore, I contend that there is no difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals in that no one can really get married in the traditional sense anymore. What we think of as marriage no longer has an official place in society as far as support in the law. What we think of as marriage is gone. What we are fighting over is what's left of it.
In the eyes of the State and the Courts, marriage has nothing to do with a lifelong commitment, love, sex, or family beyond child support. Marriage as been reduced to a really bastardized and bizarre property contract that also includes a package of rights forming an economic relationship between two people. If your marriage should fail and either party file for divorce, the State takes control of all your assets and divides everything between two lawyers who slowly destroy your live over a period of years. The government has given the institution of marriage over to the lawyers so that they can profit off the misery of the public and break up families for profit. The reality is that the State has become the enemy of families and the traditional marriage and has already effectively destroyed it. Lawyers control marriage, and families are only lawyer food to the lawyers controlled courts.
In that context, I contend, that a marriage by the State is a bad deal for everyone and that what society thinks of as a marriage no longer exists. State marriages are a fraud by the government against the people and are a bad deal for everyone. No one in his or her right mind, who understands what a state marriage really is, would ever do it. The reality of it is that although homosexuals think they are being discriminated against by being denied a state marriage, in fact it is not something they would want if they really knew what it really was. As a heterosexual I think we should be equal in eliminating the concept of the state marriage entirely or restore it to a system that recognizes the lifelong commitment aspect of it. If commitment isn't recognized by the State, then there really is no marriage and it's a fraud for the State to pretend that marriage isn't already a dead concept in the eyes of the law.
Domestic Partnerships and other Legal Agreements
A domestic partnership is another level of commitment where people live together and are presumably have some sort of love/sexual bond or spiritual bond sharing aspects of family. I think it would be a good idea to break down the legal rights package that comes with marriage and have people, including married people, contract with each other these marital rights specifically in contract form. Much of this could be done on the web with or without lawyers. Thus the couples can decide what property to share communally, write a will setting out whom inherits what, naming people to be in charge in case of medical emergencies, who has hospital visitation right, guardian of children, and other things that should not be presumed to be the rights of the spouse. You may love your domestic partner, but your old girlfriend is a doctor and you want her to make those life and death medical decisions for you. This should be spelled out and not presumed.
In this modern world I think that the definition of marriage has changed and that the old definition, as modified by no fault divorce laws, should be replaced by a new system where the rights of marriages and domestic partners are contracted for individually and specifically as part of the legal joining process. There would be the requirement for the terms of terminating the relationship as well as to who would get what in death or divorce. That way the couple doesn't fall victim to a legal system that allows the courts to give everything you own to lawyers should the relationship fail. Thus, in order to get state recognition of the relationship, the relationship should be defined and that the same set of rights to contract as domestic partners should be available to everyone.
What about Children
One of the differences between heterosexual marriages and homosexual marriages is that heterosexuals can produce new children that are born of the marriage. And, as we all know, marriage isn't required to produce children. And, homosexuals do often adopt children and adopted children are the same, more or less, as biological children in the eyes of the State. Although it is more the norm for children to be born in the context of marriage, marriage and being parents, in these days of high divorce, are two separate things. One can not divorce their children and the relationship as parent continues whether the marriage or domestic partnership continues or not.
Thus I see the issue of parental responsibilities as being a separate issue. However, as to commitment in the eyes of the state and with regard to property and rights, a marriage with children should be looked at by the courts differently than one without children. When people create children together, they are legally responsible to that child and to each other as partners in raising that child and should be held to a different legal standard, with regard to mutual property and income, than families with no children, or grown children involved.
In any breakup of any relationship there will be aspects that have to be assumed or determined by the courts. I contend that the basis for assumed mutual property or responsibilities are different if children are born of the relationship or children have been adopted. Thus the state should not treat relationships with children and without children living at home in the same manner.
Having said all this, my personal belief is that the title of marriage, and the word marriage, refers to the union of one man and one woman and that the word properly belongs to the heterosexual community. I base this on the biological fact of sexual reproduction and thousands of years of tradition and the biological family as the basis for my opinion. I also include non-reproducing heterosexuals as being "grandfathered" into this group through tradition.
If we open up the definition of marriage to include same sex marriage then why limit it to two people? Why not three, four, or five people. Why not let people marry thier pets? After all, you cat is much more likely to make a life long commitment to you than a human will and can be trusted to be more loyal and respectful of the relationship. Since I have explained a system of allowing the same rights, I feel that the trem marriage belongs to the heterosexual community and is defined to recognize our biological roots.
In my definition I resist the state definition of no fault divorce and I contend that a person who wants out of a marriage through no fault should do so through annulment and forfeit some property rights based on breach of contract. I think that if a person merely changes their mind then they never really committed for life and "for better or worse" and are not entitled to the property benefits that the other spouse gave as part of that commitment. If one spouse doesn't uphold the commitment for life part, then they other spouse should be entitled to property compensation.
I also believe that the individual rights should be contracted for up front so both parties know specifically what they are agreeing to, and that these rights be available to domestic partnerships of all sexual combinations. Thus a homosexual couple could decide to share all the rights of a heterosexual couple in marriage by contract, and that marriage would also requires rights be contracted so as to avoid assumptions and misunderstandings.