I got a lot of good comments on yesterday’s post about the definition of marriage, but not everybody was happy with my description. In particular, Jayman777 wants to take me to task.
It makes sense, therefore, to define marriage in terms of what the relationship between those individuals is and/or should be.
Which is it? What marriage is or what marriage should be?
I think he’s missing an important point here. There are many definitions of marriage, some good and some bad, and some of those definitions describe what marriage is, and some describe what marriage ought to be. By what definition of “marriage” has Newt Gingrich had 3 wives? By the definition of what marriage is, or the definition of what marriage should be? By what definition of marriage did King Solomon have 300 wives (and 600 concubines)? Is marriage a union of one man and up to 900 women? Should it be? Well, we could talk, but the point is, if you have a definition of what marriage is, that does not preclude you from having a different definition of what marriage should be.
That’s why it’s silly to talk about anyone “changing THE definition of marriage.” There is no one, single, exclusive definition that covers all the cases. Even in purely heterosexual relationships there’s frequently (if not inevitably) a gap between what it is and what people think/want/expect it to be.
Jayman next tries to deny that the homophobic definition is about dividing society. Well, no, he can’t actually deny that, because clearly this is precisely what the homophobic definition does. But he tries to make it sound like that’s just an accident, and anyway, it’s ok.
That’s not necessarily the intent. Plus, all laws divide society in some sense. Any marriage law will divide society along those who are married and those who are not married (that doesn’t mean the not married are oppressed).
If you find that you are unintentionally violating the civil rights of an unpopular minority, and decide not to stop violating those rights, and instead proceed to step up efforts to put those rights permanently out of reach for members of that minority, you don’t get to use the “Oops, it was an accident” excuse. Pretending that it’s unintentional while continuing to deliberately do it just makes you dishonest.
The argument that “all laws divide society” is hypocritical as well. If we amended the Constitution to legally define marriage as the union of two non-Christians, with provisions that no other marriage could be legally obtained, I think it would be pretty clear even to Jayman that there’s a difference between the kind of voluntary distinction that happens when some freely choose to marry or not marry, versus the oppressive discrimination that happens when the law mandates that only certain social groups have that opportunity available to them. The latter divides society into one group with full civil rights and another group without, which the former does not do. And homophobic marriage amendments are of the latter type.
You need to make a legal or moral argument as to what marriage should be (for, at least in many places, what marriage currently is is not what you want it to be).
In other words, civil liberties are not something anyone has any inherent right to. You deserve to be denied equal rights unless and until you can make a legal or moral argument sufficient to overcome the majority’s default privilege of treating you like shit just for being different than they are. Otherwise it would be up to the homophobes to try and come up with a legal or moral justification for continuing to persecute people just because they happen to fall in love differently than heteros do. And God knows there’s really no way they could ever meet that burden of proof.
If I define marriage as a legal institution that tries to foster the ideal environment to raise children in (i.e., an environment where a child is raised by his biological father and biological mother) then same-sex marriage is incompatible with this definition.
This would be one of the bad definitions of marriage. In the first place, unless adoption or premarital sex is involved, there’s going to be at least some portion of the marriage in which there are no children present to be raised. And then they grow up and leave home, so they’re not part of the child-rearing environment anyway. So does the couple still have a marriage? How does a childless environment constitute “the ideal environment in which to raise children”? Again, you’ve got a definition of marriage that tries to divert attention away from the relationship between the people getting married, and onto some contrived and disingenuous criterion intended to deny equal rights to a certain segment of society. Bad definition.
Secondly, it’s pure bigotry to insist that gay couples cannot try to foster an ideal environment for raising children (assuming they don’t follow the example of many hetero couples by not having kids at all). Nobody ever succeeds in creating the ideal environment anyway, which is why the word “try” can’t be deleted without invalidating a large number of hetero marriages as well. But gay couples can try same as heteros can, and they typically do as well or better than a lot of hetero couples in achieving that goal. Plus some of those children are going to be gay, whether their parents are homo or hetero. No amount of institutionalized homophobia is going to be a “ideal” environment for raising them.
By the way, wasn’t this originally a racist argument? That children raised by mixed-race couples would face greater obstacles in society, and therefore marriage ought to be defined as being a union of two members of the same race? It’s just as valid—or should I say, just as bigoted—as the argument in favor of denying marriage to same-sex couples. That lie doesn’t fool people any more. If you’re really concerned about the welfare of children, pass a strong national health care plan so that families don’t have to choose between taking care of their sick kids or feeding their healthy ones. Otherwise, stop trying to use kids as pawns. It’s callous.
Same-sex marriage is at least as compatible with “trying to foster an ideal environment” as hetero marriage is, at least once you purge homophobic bigotry out of your definition of what an ideal child-rearing environment is. And did you notice? Changing the definition of marriage so that it refers primarily to child-rearing is, ta-da, changing the definition of marriage. People do it all the time, and that’s a good thing, because there’s some really bad definitions of marriage out there.