People have been celebrating the recent marriage equality victory in the Supreme Court. While I think this ruling is long overdue, I believe the majority of us have been glancing over a more primary question: why must we ask the government for permission to marry in the first place? Isn’t anyone else a little unnerved by the idea of a complete stranger sitting in an office somewhere, with the power to tell you who you may and may not share your property and liability with?
It’s the government’s job to uphold the contracts we enter into – not tell us what kinds of contracts we are and are not allowed to enter into. It’s our property and our life; who we choose to share our property and liability with is our own business. Sure – if the church wishes to deny recognition of same-sex marriage as a sacrament, it’s entitled to do so. However, I don’t hear many gay rights activists clamoring for Christian leaders to amend their religious traditions; the concern seems to hover almost exclusively around the legal recognition of gay marriage. There are several arguments made against marriage equality.
First – and the weakest argument in my opinion – surrounds that of the “moral” implications of marriage equality: that somehow allowing people to marry outside of the conventional heterosexual union between a man and a woman will destroy the fabric of our society. My response to that line of argument is best illustrated by Fred’s expression in the final frame of the above cartoon (Fred – for those of you who didn’t know – is the mouse playing the role of the judge in this cartoon). If gay marriage and polygamy were the greatest threat to our society, we’d be in pretty good shape. If the ‘moral argument’ is one for which you’re sympathetic, I’ll make you a deal: you leave me and my fellow heathens to our mindless Hedonism, and I’ll leave you to finding a more legitimate argument for denying all people the freedom to share their property with whomever they choose.
The second argument for denying equal marriage rights usually surrounds the economic implications. Once again, if it’s my property and my liability, I have the right to share it with whomever is willing to agree to share it with me; the government’s only role is to uphold whatever contract I enter into. The stickier part of this argument usually centers around the special privileges afforded to married couples: tax breaks, medical benefits, employment benefits, social security benefits, etc. For example, I’ve heard it argued that “allowing anyone to marry anyone” would have rather perilous financial implications; that the extension of such tax breaks and social security benefits to gay couples would hit the economy hard financially, and wouldn’t be tenable.
My response is rather simple: the problem here isn’t deciding who to grant these special privileges to, the problem is that special privilege is being granted at all. It’s not the job of single, gay or polyamorous people to subsidize the existence of married heterosexual couples. Married people shouldn’t be granted special privilege. Just because these special privileges are granted in the name of “love” doesn’t change the fact that discrimination is taking place; that certain portions of the population are being required to carry a heavier burden than others. In an environment of government-granted special privilege you get all sorts of absurd outcomes. If an American intends to marry a foreigner, the two will typically have to submit to an interview by a government agent to ensure the marriage is legitimate – are matters of the heart really the business of a government agency? Or how about this rather curious scenario: my spouse can’t be compelled to testify against me in a trial, but my darling, loving mother can? Isn’t there a bit of a cognitive disconnect here?
See this article from a few years back on the high cost of being single. Of course, in this case, “single” people should be taken to mean all “non-legally-married” people. Again, granting special privilege to a select few is discrimination no matter what the reasons are for doing it. Discrimination in the name of “love” is still discrimination.
Oh – there is one more really “fun” objection to gay marriage: extending equal marriage rights to gay couples opens the door for men to legally marry a goat or their dog. Let’s just forget that you’d first have to get all animals recognized as full, legal citizens (I’d love to see that march on D.C.). Let’s also glance over the way in which an animal might legally sign a contract (last time I checked, dogs still lack opposable thumbs). Instead, I’d refer all those sympathetic to the “goat argument” to a modern philosopher, Louis CK. (He addresses the ‘animal marrying’ bit at :54, but I figured I’d leave you the whole video) Enjoy.