While I was growing up I was in the habit of getting into fights with my siblings, especially my younger brother. Many of those fights were over who would get to play with some much coveted toy. I am reasonably certain that at least once, my parents resolved the situation by confiscating the toy and informing us that if we couldn't play nicely with it then we wouldn't get to play with it at all. If that didn't actually happen to me then it did happen to so many friends and TV characters that I have adopted it into my own experience. Before anyone throws my parents (or some now-nameless TV parents) under the bus for this atrocity, let me suggest that it worked pretty well. I have very clear memories of making efforts to resolve fights over various toys before they escalated to the point that my parents would take a hand.
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I want to suggest that we take the same approach with marriage in this country. For quite a few years now, we have been fighting over who has the right to get married. The conservative crowd wants the government to define the word in such a way as to exclude certain times of lifetime monogamous commitment and the liberal crowd wants the government to step in and guarantee everyone the right to call their relationship marriage (and thereby receive the important social and legal benefits that married couples enjoy). So as a starting point I want to suggest that the kids have been fighting over this too long and it is time for us to take marriage away from the conservative and liberal politicians.
But that is really just a starting point. As I reflected on it, I realized that I don't think the politicians have any real right to claim power over the term in the first place. Historically it looks as though marriage first became an important legal term to the government (state governments I believe) when they decided to write bigamy laws. After that the federal government got involved with the income tax. Various child welfare and adoption laws joined the mix at some point as well. But all of this, with the interesting exception of bigamy which I am not going to touch, worked without any technical definition. A marriage was what everyone knew a marriage to be. No point in defining it.
Now we have various political interest groups trying to get their representatives to define a word in one way or another. Which is really silly. Can you imagine a campaign to define a chair as a "tool for sitting involving no more or less than four legs and a back"? The stool lobby would be up in arms. Why should the government have the right to define a marriage? The only answer I can come up with is that it is an important term in several tax and legal codes. But surely those codes would work just as well with the phrase "committed-cohabiting couple" substituted for marriage.
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And on further reflection, doesn't the idea that the government has the right to define marriage violate the free exercise clause of the first amendment? Historically, marriage is a religious concept. At least in western civilization, we hold that God makes or at least recognizes a marriage between two people (possibly more if you are an old school Muslim but again - not going there). And if that's the case then aren't my fellow religious people out there a little offended that our government has even thought about giving itself the power to define one of the sacraments - even if they want to define it in a way you like? After all, if they get to claim that power today what assurance do you have that they will use it well tomorrow. Today they define marriage as only between a man and a woman, tomorrow they define the Eucharist as the ceremonial partaking of cotton candy and soda pop.
Now it certainly is the government's job to protect contracts (see my earlier two posts on capitalism) and if Uncle Sam wants to give tax breaks and extend insurance benefits to people who commit to act as one unit for the rest of their lives, I say let him (I am generally in favor of tax breaks and insurance benefits for people who care about each other and are willing to make life-long commitments to one another, in addition to visitation rights and other basic rights of attorney and so forth). So my "solution" is to replace the legal concept of marriage with a number of standard domestic partnership agreements. Then those people who are legal domestic partners can go to the religious (or non-religious) institution of their choice and take part in whatever ceremony they think will create a spiritual union between them, and call their union whatever it is that they want to call it - probably marriage.
Update: Same sex marriage is now legal throughout the United States, a situation I thoroughly support (though I would not be sad to see the implementation of my recommendations above). You can read my series in support of LGB folks within the church starting HERE.