Thursday, April 06, 2006

Fundamentals of the Gay Marriage debate

This illustrates the fundamental argument in the gay marriage debate:
Jenn Steinfeld, co-chair of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, told committee members that marriage is essential. She said there are 435 state laws that relate to marriage -- covering everything from transferring a fishing license upon death to being able to sue for wrongful death.

'Nothing else -- not wills and powers-of-attorney, not private contracts, not even civil unions -- measures up,' Steinfeld said. 'Marriage discrimination hurts families. It hurts those of us who ache to celebrate our commitment to our partners by legally entwining our lives.'

Steinfeld's partner, Lauren S. Nocera, talked about growing up in East Providence and dreaming of being married at the Crescent Park carousel.

But instead of conjuring up 'images of wedding cake smeared on Jenn's face with the Wurlitzer playing in the background' Nocera decided to tell the committee how it feels to testify before them.

'It feels degrading. It feels like begging,' Nocera said. 'It's a burden. It is exhausting. I am tired of it. I am tired of coming here year after year, full of compelling stories, politeness and patience.'

'After 10 years, it's time for the democratic process to move forward,' Nocera said. 'This is a bill that should be voted on its merits. Both sides of this issue deserve it.'

The Rev. Bernard A. Healey, lobbyist for the Diocese of Providence, said 'the Catholic vision' of marriage is simple.

'Marriage is a partnership of one man and one woman who are joined together for their own mutual good and for the procreation and education of children,' Healey said. 'The institution of marriage, as the union of one man and one woman, must be preserved, protected and promoted in private and public realms.'

'Often those who call same-sex unions marriage suggest that such laws are needed for the protection of social benefits,' Healey added. 'Such a view reduces marriage to a mere bundle of state benefits and loses sight of the deeper meaning of marriage.
I've said before that I think a lot of the debate is about semantics. Jonathan Turley at least partially agrees. Though looking at the gay marriage debate through the political lens, his solution is:
For state purposes, couples would simply sign a civil union agreement that confirms their legal obligations to each other and any progeny. Whether they are married in religious ceremonies would be left entirely to them and their faith. The government's interest and role would be confined to enforcing the civil contract, as it would any other civil agreement.

Consenting adults should be able to assume the obligations of a civil union regardless of how their neighbors view their morality. As in other areas, adults should be able to follow the dictates of their own faith so long as they do not endanger or harm others, particularly minors.
On the face of it, I can agree to the "Turley plan," but the problem remains: what or who defines that which can "endanger or harm others, particularly minors"? Tradition and biology have pretty much established that the ideal family is composed of Mom, Dad and kids. Obviously, we don't live in an ideal world, but we should still be reluctant to put civil union on equal footing with "traditional" marriage when it comes to raising kids (adoption, for example). My argument is just about gay adoption. It also encompasses those single women (or men) who seek to have kids on their own. Insofar as it is possible, I would prefer that we as a society prioritize the old fashioned family structure. However, I also recognize that there aren't enough of what I would define as an ideal family around to take care of all of the children out there.

In "The Liberal Case Against Gay Marriage," Susan Shell wrote:
As for the having and raising of children--this, too, can be provided for and supported short of marriage. If two siblings need not "marry" in order to adopt a child together, neither need two friends, whether or not they are sexually intimate. Civil unions might be formed in ways that especially address the needs of such children. The cases of gay men who inseminate a willing surrogate mother, or lesbians who naturally conceive and wish to designate their partner as the child's other parent, can also be legally accommodated short of marriage, strictly understood, on the analogy of adoption by step-parents and/or other relatives. As in all cases of adoption (as opposed to natural parenthood, where the fitness of the parent is assumed until proven otherwise), the primary question is the welfare of the child, not the psychic needs and wants of its would-be parents. [Emphasis mine.-MAC]
There is a difference between regular marriage and civil unions. As Shell also explained:
Restriction of marriage to heterosexual couples gives reasonable recognition to the peculiar importance and solemnity of generation and a related complex of human experiences. It does not, in itself, constitute unjust discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The liberal case against gay marriage becomes even stronger if the category of civil union is expanded to permit gay couples and others to enjoy certain privileges from which they may in the past have been needlessly excluded. Unlike some more radical proposals, however, it would do so without doing needless violence to the peculiar character of marriage as it has heretofore been understood and practiced with good reason. That such privileges can be provided for outside of marriage is both a potential boon to gay couples and a sign that marriage in a strict sense is not in most cases what is essentially being sought.

1 comment:

michael vocino said...

I don't understand about prioritizing the traditional family structure. With a divorce rate as high as it is, what 50% or more...why would you claim that structure as stable or at least more stable than a gay marriage would be? Come on, you're just unable to admit that you have unfounded bias against people who love and want to marry people of the same gender. It's ok to claim you don't like people of difference and don't want them to have equal's wrong however to put that discrimination into laws....don't like gays, don't mix with them (difficult to do these days---we are in fact everywhere) but just out of plain fairness if nothing else, get out of the way and let people who love one another get married, even if you don't like that they are of the same sex. It's going to happen anyway. History always has moved to widening the circle of civil rights....let's hope it continues, and if we look at the younger generation and their ability to accept difference, it will continue.