Sunday, July 24, 2011

Marriage Rites and Rights . . .

Today is the big day for a number of same-sex couples across the state to finally become legally married now that the "Marriage Equality Act" has been signed into law ... Everyone should be happy for them. Why not celebrate love when there is so much hate in the world?

But what about those who feel the whole concept of same-sex marriage is wrong? Town officials in Granby, Barker, and Guilderland have resigned from their positions over this issue rather than perform duties which conflict with their religious beliefs.  Why should people lose their jobs over this?

The name "Marriage Equality Act" implies that marriage to date has somehow been "unequal." The debate over the law was couched in terms of "civil rights" and "individual rights" vs inequality. But is that accurate?

My, how times have changed!

There was a time not that long ago when marriage was not the choice of the participants. Marriages were arranged by parents or by tribal chiefs to ensure perpetuation of a family or a tribe. Religion regulated marriage for the same reason -- to ensure perpetuation of certain beliefs. Marriage outside one's religion or ethnic group carried serious social consequences. Governments became involved to regulate marriage practices because of their repercussions to society, eg. to control the spread of diseases or to ensure that children are cared for. That is why one has to get a "license," a permission to marry in New York.

But if marriage is a civil right or an individual right, why is permission from the government even necessary?

As noted above, marriage did not necessarily start out as a civil or individual right, but, rather, as a right of society: a highly regulated practice for society to perpetuate itself. Over the years, however, our society has become narcissistic. People have become oriented more toward fulfilling their own desires rather than fulfilling responsibilities to others. In that milieu, the concept of marriage changed.  Activities reserved for married couples became allowed for singles. Marriage became easy to get into and get out of compared to times past. Single parenting became common and socially acceptable. Perhaps marriage has evolved into an individual right, but with that evolution, the beneficial structure that marriage once provided to society is barely there.

And if the benefits of marriage to society are barely there, why should the government continue to be involved with it at all?

Perhaps the time has come to end government involvement in marriage altogether -- leaving marriage as a religious rite, or a personal rite. Let people define their own relationships to each other. With no marriage under the law, there will be no divorce under the law.  Think of the court time that would save!   

This would have been a more fruitful debate for our legislators to have had. Ending government-sanctioned marriage would provide a means to avoid pitting one group's beliefs against another.

In the meantime, while we raise a toast to the happiness of the newlyweds, we should ponder what the ultimate implications will be to society's structure.


RPP said...

Strike's last sentence is perceptive. One problem with over turning centuries of societal and cultural instituitions is the unintended consequence. A recently published book, "What's Wrong With Benevolence", cites some telling examples of good intentions leading to absolute disaster.

Anonymous said...

Now that gays and lesbians can legally enjoy the right to marry I think a problem that many will face is how to marry, which is a public act of consent, and keep what they have done secret so as to avoid the discrimination that will always be amoung certain people. I applaud this right that the gay and lesbian community have received but I also wonder what the ultimate implications will be for them to enjoy this right.

Dave said...

There is no longer any solid reason why government should be involved in marriage, if there ever was. The Church didn't even have a sacrament of marriage until the 13th century. Marriage was an institution suitable for the higher classes in regard to the shaping of family ties and inheritance. Most of us were married in rented suits, for gosh sakes. That should tell us something.