Monday, April 11, 2011

Societal acceptance of same-sex marriage will take time

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 7/8/2006

The debate over same-sex marriage is again burning brightly but I suspect with little duration. Just one of a range of issues designed mostly as fodder for the mid-term elections this fall, none of which are pressing issues, especially in war time when our elected officials should be focused on that, nevertheless are put front and center because of their importance to a key political base. Hence, an orgy of political pornography is before us.

The debate over same sex marriage does, however, raise interesting questions and is an opportunity to reflect upon our values, traditions, and beliefs.

Consider this: Is marriage a private or public matter? Matters of the heart are usually considered the most private of matters. But love as the basis for marriage is extremely modern and the institution of marriage is much, much older. Indeed, arranged marriages are still, and have been, the most common worldwide for most of human history. That is because marriage was (and arguably still is) about more than just the happiness of the couple involved.

What is the state’s interest in who marries who? Notice I wrote the “state’s interest”? Religious groups have interests in who marries who. I believe it was Paul, in II Corinthians, who wrote, “be not yoked with unbelievers” referring to who should be marrying who. (Notice the use of a yoke to refer to marriage.)

Does the state have an interest in who marries who? What does the state do in relation to marriage? Marriage is a contract. The ceremony that so many follow today has its roots in antiquity where a public declaration in front of one’s community was the initiation of the contract and others in the community effectively enforced it. Today, the state backs up the contract. Marriage is far easier to get into than to get out of. Myself, I think marriage should be harder to enter into (and the divorce rate would fall as a result). The state’s interest in who marries who can be seen at times of dissolution — divorce and death. The state’s interest is not in the quality of the marriage or how people treat one another, mostly the state is interested in the orderly transmission of property. So, in that sense, what difference does it make if the property holders are of the same-sex or not?

Of course, the state is also interested in regulating sexual behavior. Yup, that most private area of our life, sex, the state has an interest in regulating. Of course, in today’s modern American society, there are relatively few trials for sodomy, adultery is not a crime but can be costly when it is the basis for the dissolution of a state recognized marriage. The state frowns on sex between anyone but married folks and then sets conditions under which one can be married. Recently we saw an attempt in the Indiana legislature to define “unauthorized parentage.” It didn’t get far, but the impetus to equate the state’s interests with moral/religious interests may be increasing.

In the not too distant past, some states forbade the marriage of blacks and whites (that didn’t stop kids from being born but effectively did stop the transmission of property from white fathers to their mixed race children).

Before DNA testing, children born out of wedlock had a tenuous, if any, claim to the property of their fathers. Again, the regulation of one man — one wife, assured the generational transfer of property only to the legally recognized children of the couple, even if father was a prolific progenitor.

Mainstream Judeo-Christian religions are not likely to embrace same-sex marriages any time soon. No one follows the rules of both the New and Old Testament fully. Strike that, perhaps the Amish are our best examples, but most of us gave up on the plain and simple life long ago. Divorce is prohibited in the New Testament, but even the Catholic Church has found a way around that with annulments.

But prejudice against homosexuality is long and deeply seated in the Judeo-Christian world. It is encoded in religious text and it will take a long time, a generation or so, before same-sex marriages are accepted in mainstream Christianity.

So similar to the situation with Catholics; divorced Catholics must settle for a non-Catholic or civil ceremony. The state could recognize same-sex marriages while mainstream religions do not. Doing so, would, however, demonstrate a further loss of political power for organized religion in our secular democracy.

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