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Austin Cline

Why Does Marriage Exist?

By November 13, 2010

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In debates over gay marriage, most attention is paid to "gay" and too little to "marriage." Granted, opponents of gay marriage are loud and vociferous in their insistence that they are defending "marriage," but ultimately little attention is paid to what marriage really is and why it exists.

Bill Ware describes what he sees as the compelling state interests behind marriage:

1. To promote a stable, lifelong, monogamous sexual relation between two people.

2. To provide protections for each member of the couple and their children.

I'm not sure whether the state has much of a compelling interest to promote monogamy over polygamy; aside from that, I think that there is a broader issue that this particular formulation completely misses: the state has an interest in promoting the creation, stability, protection, and welfare of families. That, I think, covers in broader terms just about everything that Ware is driving at while still remaining flexible. It isn't just about sex, it isn't just about monogamy, and it isn't even just about children -- although all of that can be brought into the mix depending upon how one looks at it.

What's so important about families? They are the most fundamental unit of society. They may be the nuclear family of parents and children, an extended family with three generations living under one room, a childless couple, a single parent who is also caring for their own parent, a gay couple raising an adopted child, or even a brother and sister living together and sharing expenses. These are all families and they all constitute the building blocks of our social experience.

Strong, stable families are necessary for a strong, stable society. The rhetoric of the Christian Right about the importance of families is largely correct; their problem lies in their narrow definition of "family" and in their deliberate dismissal of so many things that are important to having strong families in favor of largely irrelevant matters involving sexual purity.

Gay marriage is important because families are important. Legalized gay marriage will lead to the legal recognition of gay families, thus allowing society to support and protect them in ways that benefit everyone. Granted, many religious conservatives view such families as fundamentally sinful -- but the same could be said for many other families, for example interracial couples or people who have divorced and remarried. The state no longer bans such families for the sake of religious preferences and they shouldn't continue to do so for gay marriages, either.

Read More:

  • Gay Rights, Gay Marriage
  • Evangelical Christianity & Homosexuality
  • Catholicism & HomosexualityWhy Does Marriage Exist?

    In debates over gay marriage, most attention is paid to "gay" and too little to "marriage." Granted, opponents of gay marriage are loud and vociferous in their insistence that they are defending "marriage," but ultimately little attention is paid to what marriage really is and why it exists. Depending upon how we define "marriage," the concept of "gay marriage" might be rendered incoherent or unremarkable.

    Bill Ware wrote a couple of years ago about what he saw as the "compelling state interests" behind marriage:

    1. To promote a stable, lifelong, monogamous sexual relation between two people.

    2. To provide protections for each member of the couple and their children.

    I'm not sure whether the state has much of a compelling interest to promote monogamy over polygamy; aside from that, I think that there is a broader issue which this particular formulation completely misses: the state has an interest in promoting the creation, stability, protection, and welfare of families.

    That, I think, covers in broader terms just about everything that Ware is driving at while still remaining flexible. It isn't just about sex, it isn't just about monogamy, and it isn't even just about children -- although all of that can be brought into the mix depending upon how one looks at it.

    What's so important about families? They are the most fundamental unit of society. They may be the nuclear family of parents and children, an extended family with three generations living under one room, a childless couple, a single parent who is also caring for their own parent, a gay couple raising an adopted child, or even a brother and sister living together and sharing expenses. These are all families and they all constitute the building blocks of our social experience.

    Strong, stable families are necessary for a strong, stable society. The rhetoric of the Christian Right about the importance of families is correct in many ways; their problem lies in their narrow definition of "family" and in their deliberate dismissal of so many things that are important to having strong families in favor of largely irrelevant matters involving sexual purity.

    Gay marriage is important because families are important. Legalized gay marriage will lead to the legal recognition of gay families, thus allowing society to support and protect them in ways that benefit everyone. Granted, many religious conservatives view such families as fundamentally sinful -- but the same could be said for many other families, for example interracial couples or people who have divorced and remarried. The state no longer bans such families for the sake of religious preferences and they shouldn't continue to do so for gay marriages, either.

Comments
June 27, 2010 at 6:35 pm
(1) Sean says:

The question is why gay people need marriage? They deserve all other rights as heterosexuals do, but they simply don’t need marriage.

June 27, 2010 at 9:28 pm
(2) Austin Cline says:

The question is why gay people need marriage? They deserve all other rights as heterosexuals do, but they simply donít need marriage.

Why don’t they?

July 6, 2010 at 4:44 pm
(3) Todd says:

For the same reason non-gays “need” it.

My girlfriend and i lived together (in sin!) for several years before marrying. We could have gone the rest of our lives like that. But there were certain things denied us by being NOT married. She wouldn’t have the right to visit me in the hospital, or to speak for me if i was unconscious. We didn’t have various tax and credit related benefits. Then there is the whole social aspect of it. “When are you two gonna get married?”, “Why aren’t you married?” and so on.

New Rule – Until gays can marry, straights can’t divorce!

That sounds fair. What part of “Until death do you part” don’t you understand?

Marriage wasn’t invented by God or gods, it was invented by MEN. It was to form alliances and secure transfer of land and title from father to son. THAT’S IT! The religious aspect of it was tacked on later to make people feel bad about divorce or cheating. The aspect of love is purely modern.

No one needs marriage or anything else for that matter. It’s not about need (a bogus word), it’s about justice and rights.

July 6, 2010 at 4:50 pm
(4) John Hanks says:

Marriage makes a clear statement about a relationship so others won’t mess with it. It also has many legal ramifications in terms of a couple’s’ benefits. So gays need it and we need it.

July 6, 2010 at 5:26 pm
(5) katvilani says:

The question is why do christians need free speech? They deserve all other rights as the rest of us do, but they simply don’t need free speech. There now doesn’t that make you christians feel equal? Maybe you can even feel the love that kind of thinking represents?

November 13, 2010 at 3:12 pm
(6) Demand Equality says:

An 81-year-old woman whose wife died recently (they were married in Canada) can explain it since she now has to pay $350,000 inheritance tax on her deceased wife’s estate. That is one of the 1138 federal and state rights of marriage that is the reason why gay and lesbian Americans – being American citizens – must have the same rights as every other Americans. Instead we are forced to support the heterosexist married lifestyle while being denied these rights ourselves. Anyone who thinks that only heterosexuals should have constitutional rights in this country needs to check the constitution and you will see the word heterosexual does not appear there at all. Those who incorrectly think that marriage is about religion (like President Obama thinks) should know that in every marriage inequality challenge, where the couples have had religious wedding ceremonies, the courts have ruled that a religious wedding ceremony does not confer any of the 1138 federal or state rights of marriage. Only the state-issued signed, witnessed and filed marriage license confers those 1138 currently special heterosexist rights.

November 19, 2010 at 8:16 pm
(7) Tom Edgar says:

The thing that I find peculiar about the demand for homosexual marriage rights is that it coincides with the decline in heterosexuals using this ritual.

My neighbours with late teenage children, and been together for twenty years, is one such example. Across the road are two “Gay” men with a similar situation. Oh yes, children from one of them who was, previously, heterosexually married.
Of course here “Down Under” “Cohabiting” for a number of years, for legal reasons including inheritance, is recognised as being “Married” and we DON’T have inheritance taxes on surviving spouses. Once again where Australia is light years ahead of the U S A. Free access to health care. Our country’s present leader is an unmarried, cohabiting, atheist female. One of her cabinet Ministers is a cohabiting Lesbian. doesn’t change much, they are still Politicians.

We do still have more than a small amount of bigots, religious, social, and others. For the record I was married for 46years to a Quaker. heterosexual, and an atheist.

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