I received a thoughtful comment today in response to my post yesterday about the decision of the California Supreme Court to redefine marriage.
This one was actually thought-out and contained a fair amount of logic, even if the author's logic was based on some flawed assumptions.
A substantive reply required more space than seemed appropriate in the comments section, so I've transcribed Lawrence and Ernest's comments here with my response to each of his/their points.
1. If eliminating marriage as a legal institution would obliterate civilization itself, then our civilization is really a very fragile thing, isn't it? I think this assertion is hyperbolic, and smacks of fear mongering.
Civilization really is a fragile thing, especially when its foundation is attacked. A skyscraper may seem pretty strong, but if you smash the foundation, it's going to come crashing down. Likewise, if you take a perfectly strong house off of a solid foundation and set it down on top of a sand dune, it won't be long before the walls are crumbling and the whole structure breaks apart.
2. " Even homosexuals have the same freedom as anyone else to marry someone of the same sex. What they do not have the right to do is to have sex with someone of the same sex and call it "marriage." " These two sentences seem to contradict themselves. However, I'll address the second one. No, having sex with someone does not constitute a marriage. Shockingly, homosexuals too participate in long term, committed relationships with non-sexual aspects. Same sex marriages in religions that do recognize them seem to be, de facto, marriages, unless we are to take the tenets of one religion as determinative of the rules for all other religions. However, there is religious freedom in this country, which means that Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, and Pentecostalists can all recognize whatever rules they want. But what we are talking about here is the government's definition of marriage. This is a legal, not a religious, institution. That is clear. The First Amendment guarantees a separation between church and state. Thus the legal institution of marriage is an aspect of government, and is subject to secular law, not determined by God's law(s).
What I meant to say was this: Even homosexuals have the same freedom as anyone else to marry someone of the opposite sex. What they do not have the right to do is to have sex with someone of the same sex and call it "marriage."
Moving on with the rest of point #2, I know of no religion which recognizes homosexual relationships as "marriage." There are heretical elements in some religions which do, and sadly there are such elements from the Christian religion. But they do so in defiance of the clear teachings of the Bible.
While it is true that some homosexuals maintain longstanding relationships, only a small percentage last longer than 10 years, and of those only a small fraction remain monogamous. According to a study published in the Journal of Sex Research, only 2.7% of homosexuals say they have had sex with only one partner; the most common number of lifetime partners was 100-500. Even if the number of monogamous homosexuals was doubled and the number of lifetime partners was halved, the sexual chaos is staggering.
In countries where homosexual "marriage" has been legalized, only a small fraction of the homosexual population has availed themselves of the opportunity. In one country where it's legal, the Netherlands, the average length of these "marriages" is 1.5 years, and there are an average of 8 sex partners outside the relationship during this time. Heterosexuals aren't doing well enough at marriage to crow about it, but they're definitely doing better than this.
I think the reason homosexuals don't take advantage of legalization more often, and don't do more with it, is that it's not so much about the institution or even the financial benefits as it is the normalization of homosexuality.
Marriage is a religious institution first; secondarily, the state has a compelling interest in protecting it because of the aforementioned stability and civilizing effect. And I won't even get into the widely misunderstood "separation of church and state" except to say that it doesn't apply here (as it seldom does apply to anything) because there is no attempt to establish a religious institution involved.
3. Actually, many cultures have recognized marriages between men and men and women and women in the past. (CF Native American bedraches, Rome in general). There are many examples that prove your statement that marriage has always been between men and women historically inaccurate. Your assertion that marriage is a product of God is based upon your own religious views, not mine, and ought not to be determinative of the laws which govern both of us.
These "two-spirit" Native American Berdaches to which you refer were simply homosexuals within the larger Native American community; they were not a culture unto themselves.
As for the Romans, while the Roman Empire did experience a relatively high incidence of homosexual behavior as societal decay set in, I'm fairly well studied on Roman history and I don't know of a single instance where Rome recognized or embraced the concept of homosexual "marriage."
Though there has been an element of homosexual behavior in almost every civilization throughout history, and in some cases was tolerated by those civilizations, it has never been accepted on the same plane as heterosexuality, and the concept of homosexual "marriage" has never been embraced.
That marriage was instituted by God is a contention held by every major religion, and whether you like it or not, the American governmental and legal system is based on a Christian worldview. Someones values have to win out, and since the majority of Americans still claim allegiance to Christianity, and a Christian worldview has produced the greatest nation in human history, I think it makes sense to stick with the plan and not muck things up.
4. Money is issued by governments. Marriages are as well. When the government issues a new note, it is not counterfeit, it is valid. So too when the government recognizes a new marriage. We aren't demanding that the government recognize private religious ceremonies as valid. We are asking that the procedure by which a relationship is validated by the government be open to all relationships, not just a restricted class of relationships. Your analogy fails to persuade, and I think really works to my point.
Again, marriage is first a religious institution and second a state interest. And to the illustration of counterfeit money, you cannot simply by fiat call something which by nature it is not; even if the government declared that tree leaves were $20 bills, it wouldn't make it so...and it would undermine the value of the $20 bill because there would no longer be anything unique and "valuable" about the $20 bill. Our government does a lot of stupid and counterproductive things, but even they aren't stupid enough to devalue its own currency by saying something different is the same as.
You can call an apple an orange all day long, but it's never ever going to taste like an orange or look like one. That is what is being perpetrated with the concept of homosexual "marriage": it's pasting a label on something that can never be what the label proclaims. Marriage is the union of a man and a woman; by nature it cannot be anything else.
5. Marriage is important for many reasons. Homosexuals have families as well. You are, in effect, trying to deny their children a safe, nurturing and stable environment on account of their parent's sexual orientation. This does not seem right to me.
Homosexuals do indeed have families, and they owe those families to the norm for human sexuality: heterosexuality. They were born to families through heterosexuality, and if they have children, they owe them to heterosexuality.
As I stated before, homosexual relationships are predominately of short duration and unstable, and come with tremendous health risks (72% of male AIDS cases come from homosexual behavior; homosexuals also have much higher rates of almost every other STD that exists; higher rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide; and they have much higher rates of domestic abuse in cases where a longstanding relationship actually does exist). The institution of marriage definitely has its problems (far too much divorce, abuse, etc. going on among heterosexuals), but opening the door to put children in homosexual homes is throwing children out of the frying pan and into the fire.
6. I'm not really advocating for the abolition of marriage. I support gay marriage, ultimately, because I think that it serves a social function. Gay marriages already exist, but they are rarely recognized as such by the government. My point is this: either the benefits of marriage (including the social status that comes from governmental recognition of the validity of a marriage) be open to all married persons, or those benefits should be available to no married persons. I don't think marriage is a byproduct of God, but you do. If you want to keep the government from interfering with a religious institution, then keep the institution out of the law. I think that marriage is a social institution with a legal structure. To the extent that it is, access to it cannot and should not be denied to anyone. The government ought not to be in the business of ranking the validity and significance of a relationship between two individuals. In California and Massachusetts, this is no longer the case. Hopefully this trend will continue.
Homosexual "marriages" do not exist because they cannot exist, anymore than an apple tree bearing oranges exists, or dry water exists, or red crayons that are white. You can call a homosexual relationship a "marriage" or a white crayon a red one, but that no more means it's true than pigs flying.
Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, with the sacred and natural purpose of creating a new family (something homosexuals are biologically incapable of doing), involving commitment and union on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual (for those equipped to sense it) level; nothing else can ever or will ever be that, regardless of whether we slap the label on it or not.
Even in the heterosexual community, a man and a woman shacking up isn't a marriage. The guy and gal may be joining their sex organs together on a regular basis, and maybe even their emotions, but they haven't made the required commitment in order to make it "marriage." In lacking that commitment, they are also not mentally and spiritually united either; oh, there may be some connection, but it isn't UNITED. If labels are convenient to describe this state of noncommittal, you can call it "common law marriage", a "domestic partnership" or a "civil union" or a plain old shackup, but it's never going to have the same spiritual and commitment characteristic that marriage does--and that's even having the prerequisite sexual parts to produce new life together. That's why we don't recognize two heterosexuals shacking up as "marriage."
It takes several elements to comprise a marriage: a man, a woman, love, cooperation, commitment, emotional union, physical union and the ability to procreate under normal circumstances. If you lack any of these, you don't really have a marriage. Just like it takes several key parts to have "a car": body, engine, wheels, drive train. If a car dealer tried to sell you a car without a drive train, he wouldn't really be selling you a car, would he? It might look like a car on the outside, and the dealer might even call it one, but it wouldn't really be a car, would it? Because it couldn't perform the function of a car, could it? And you wouldn't buy this "car," would you? Like I'm not buying homosexual "marriage."
But you do bring up an interesting point in paragraph #6, perhaps one of the most pertinent secular points of this debate: social function and value.
The "shackup" situations/relationships I described above, both homosexual and heterosexual, do not provide the same value to society that marriage (i.e. between a man and a woman, since apparently the obvious must be spelled out) does. To say that it has the same value is essentially like saying that tree leaves have the same value as $20 bills. They're both green, they're both thin, and they'll both fit in your hand...but they simply do not have the same value.
Marriage is uniquely able to provide a number of important things to the state and society, which is why it is prized and valued above every other relationship (an uncle-nephew relationship is positive, but it doesn't have the same value as the marriage relationship), and this is why the state has a compelling interest in preserving the integrity of marriage.
For one thing, marriage provides to the state the population growth necessary for the strength and stability of the nation. A nation that isn't growing in number will be one that is in decline. If numbers drop or fall behind other nations, that nation will not have the manpower it needs for defense, to maintain its industries, and to create new economic growth.
Marriage also provides an environment of stability for child development. A key characteristic which provides this stability is commitment; not just an agreement or a contract, but a down-to-the-bone commitment--it's why we have those "for better/worse...till death do us part" pledges in our marriage ceremonies.
This commitment is essential to provide a place where children can grow from infancy while being provided with food, shelter, clothing, and the essentials. Provision of these necessities suffers even in the heterosexual community when marriage breaks down (single-parent homes are something like 7-8 times more likely to experience poverty than 2-parent homes). As the child grows older, this stability also contributes to their mental and emotional health; kids can quickly become basket cases when they never know whether the family is going to remain intact, and whether those necessities are going to be provided because the family is split, and they wonder if mom and dad still love them, etc. We also see the benefit of this stability in academics; children in 2-parent homes perform much better in school...which enables them to get better jobs and avoid poverty and stay out of trouble with the law--all benefits to society.
And speaking of trouble with the law, this is yet another benefit marriage provides to the state/society. The stable environment provided for the children also serves to CIVILIZE the children--vital for them at any age, and especially when they reach adulthood. Children from broken, chaotic homes are tremendously more likely to experience anger issues, lash out, become rebellious, do dangerous things, and get in all kinds of trouble with the law. I know--I was a cop for several years in the 80s and 90s, and we seemed to have more trouble out of the kids from broken homes than adult crime...but in saying that, juvenile crime was just a crop waiting to come in upon adulthood.
Marriage also provides a balanced environment where children can learn how they are supposed to relate to the opposite sex. Men and women are different in many ways, and those differences are complimentary. By having a mother and father in the home, committed to the marriage and the family and the home, children see how men and women work together in a complimentary fashion, and how men and women are supposed to treat one another. Enough children are robbed of this in broken homes; why in the world would we inflict even more confusion on them by sticking them in a home where one sex is not only absent, but isn't even WANTED or VALUED?
There are rights, roles and responsibilities in any healthy society. We can't simply do whatever we want without regard to convention, law, and the welfare of others.
For instance, the average citizen can't run around with a gun on their belt, pull people over and/or arrest people. That is a role entrusted by society to the police. If anyone could do the things police are empowered by the state to do, there would be utter chaos. Some people would abuse such power. Even well-meaning people would do a lousy job of law enforcement because they weren't properly equipped for it, and people would get hurt because of this. People would become inherently distrustful of the police and of each other. There would be no clear lines of authority, responsibility and accountability.
A similar scenario would result if everyone ran around trying to put out fires when they wanted to. If average joes usurped the role entrusted by society to firemen, you'd have people getting themselves killed trying to fight a fire they were ill-equipped for, more property and lives would be lost because those properly trained and equipped weren't doing the job, and the usurpers would actually get in the way of those who should be doing the firefighting.
Likewise, marriage has been entrusted (by God and society) to a man and a woman because they--and only they--are equipped to provide the things I mentioned that are necessary to the health of a society: produce new life, provide essentials, provide stability, civilize developing children, and model proper sex/gender roles.
As I've said before, the right to marry isn't being denied to ANYONE, not a single solitary person. Everyone has the right to marry someone of the opposite sex--even homosexuals. They have the same right as everyone else; there is no inequality.
Just as I do not have the right to give a banana to a cashier and demand she recognize it as a real $20 bill, no one has the right to call a relationship which does not meet the criteria of a real marriage "marriage." I don't have the right to take my family of four and declare us a "fire department" or declare ourselves a sovereign nation--we just don't meet the requisite criteria.
To open the door and allow any combination of people to attempt to perform the vital role of the married couple is like inviting bankers to be cops, stock-brokers to be firemen, and cashiers to fly airliners. It results in a breakdown of order, of the efficient operation of a culture and economy, and is downright dangerous to people's health and welfare--especially children, who are the least able among us to defend themselves and overcome adversity.
When you start calling sexual relationships that don't consist of the essential elements "marriage", the institution of marriage as the family structure and the stabilizing force for society is undermined, devalued, and essentially becomes meaningless.
That's no good for people, for children, or for our society.