Things To Act
Friday, March 12, 2004
More Musings on Marriage
A correspondent emails: “For centuries (millenia) the definition of marriage has always presupposed "one man and one woman" (adjusted, appropriately, for societies which practiced plural marriage). The 2 gender definition was always a given. A large body of law has developed based on that 2 gender definition. The body of law affects many aspects of common and statutory law, including immigration, family law, property law, inheritance and estate, medical, privacy, child protection, tax, welfare/"safety net", retirement, and so forth. Whether we like it or not, there are hundreds or thousands of provisions which assume (because until now, perhaps no one had ever considered it) that the definition would never be otherwise. There may be compelling reasons to adjust some of the provisions of these statutes. However, simply redefining the term "marriage" is not the appropriate way to address the issue. The matters are far to complex for such a simple fix. The simple fix is likely to have wide-ranging, unanticipated consequences which could not begin to be foreseen.”

I tend to agree, though long and complicated arguments about what family law ought to be don’t fit neatly on protest signs, and probably strike everyone from media to legislators and voters as being too complicated. However, it seems to me that at this point, every state should take a long hard look at its family law, and decide what it really wants to do. I suspect many states will have few objections to overhauling laws dealing with inheritance, medical, and other issues which are now linking mainly to marriage, particularly if so doing allows them to decide what it is about marriage that the state sees as most integral.

Following up on the point I made below, I think that the nonscriptural roles of family law may be fairly malleable, from our perspective. Whatever we think of the morality of same-sex relationships, I see no compelling reason not to overhaul laws to make it easier for such couples to structure some legal issues (such as inheritance or medical issues) in ways that they want. One need not call such arrangements ‘civil unions,’ because they would merely be recognizing that any individuals ought to have certain rights to make some legal arrangements with others in ways that they find desirable.

However, the state probably should decide what it wants out of legal recognition of marriage, if anything. One view of marriage seems to be based on societal acknowledgement of love and commitment between any two people. Another view might focus less on the romantic drama of being madly in love and more on the responsibilities (including rearing children) of entering into marriage. A third view would hold that marriage is primarily religious, and the state should not have a significant role in it at all. I will admit to not seeing much public policy value in having the state involved in the first definition of marriage, but I’m not convinced we should abandon the second.

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