Defining My Marriage

National debates are usually a good thing, and in a way the debate over gay marriage is also. To think that a few decades ago we could not and would not have had such a debate. To think that people just were not comfortable or open enough to talk about it. Thus, open discussion on such a subject is surely a good thing.

But at the same time how we define the term "marriage" is an intensely personal thing. Having a culture-wide national debate over the definition of marriage is like having a national debate over how to define religion. It might be interesting, and beneficial to get our ideas out there and to hear the ideas of others on such a subject. It is certainly a good sign that we are not reluctant to do so, but in the end religion is something we must all define for ourselves, and so is marriage. I am not gay personally, I am bisexual, and perhaps it is ironic that although this debate is certainly significant to me, it is utterly meaningless.

Picture the most personal, intimate, and meaningful relationship you have ever had. Picture your relationship to your parent, grandparent, sister, or brother. Think of the most personally significant relationship you've ever had, romantic or otherwise.

Now imagine that there is a national debate about how to define the "nature" of your relationship. That's what this is - a debate about the most personal aspect of human relationships. Conservatives have tried so hard to separate this issue from the personal relationships of those involved, and in fact the gay communities have also done this to some degree as well. It is about rights and privileges right? It is about equal protection and equal status under the law. It is about joint checking accounts, health insurance, common property, and tax exemptions.

Yet the polls keep coming out about how people feel about gay marriage. A majority is opposed to it, but not opposed to homosexual couples having the same rights as traditional married couples. What people are opposed to is calling that union "marriage." That's right - a majority, though a small one, has no problem with gays having the same rights and privileges of married couples as long as we call it a "civil union" or something of that sort. Why? If it is legally and effectively the same thing what difference does it make what we call it?

It matters because the underpinning controversy is not about what rights and privileges are enjoyed by whom. Rather, it is primarily a debate about defining an idea: what is, and what is not, marriage.

We already know what is and is not a marriage under the law. If the legislatures could answer the larger underlying conceptual question for us, this would not be an issue at all. But they cannot, precisely because might does not make right, whether it comes from a majority of votes or from the barrel of a gun. The purpose of a legislature is not to define and dictate reality, nor our personal relationships, but to protect us from those who would do so by force.

A name is an identifier. It can be a potent reflection of how we define something. In this case we already have a widely held definition for marriage. The trouble is that if we use that term to describe unions between same-sex couples, then that widely held definition should be (and likely will be) changed as well. So this issue is very much about defining marriage and therefore the personal relationships that underpin them. But in the end what I call marriage and what you call marriage need not match, any more than what I call religion and what you call religion needs to match. The problem is that too many of us have been relying for too long on the state to define these things for us, but the government is neither meant to be, nor equipped to be, an arbiter of meaning.

Government has a specific function, and though it tends to exceed those functions quite often, composing lexicons and filling our words with conceptual meaning is not something it can nor should do. Anyone who has read 1984 will see the dangers of attempting to define, and limit reality by edict from above.

For me, marriage is about commitment, partnership, and love, but it is not that for everyone. Marriage is a personal issue, and ultimately such issues can only be determined for oneself. For the government to even presume to determine this for others is an act of fraud.

So I cannot complain that this debate is taking place, though I lament that it is necessary. For it makes no more sense to determine by poll the nature of my relationship to my fianc? than to determine by poll whether or not I exist.

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The reason that "a few

The reason that "a few decades ago we could not and would not have had such a debate" was that at that time, there was near universal agreement that homosexuality was 1) wrong, and 2) very, very bad for you. If had nothing to do with "comfort" or "openness."

Compare this to abortion.

As for the meaning of marriage, that's been a settled matter for many centuries. The attempt to unsettle it has nothing to do with love or commitment. It's one tactic in a campaign to normalize a deviancy.

>>It had nothing to do with

>>It had nothing to do with ?comfort? or ?openness.?

Actually it did, of course there was more to it than that. I had not meant to imply otherwise. There was not a "near universal agreement" on the morality of homosexuality rather it was perceived that there was a "near universal agreement." This is for a couple reasons. First of all those whom disagreed were rarely willing to talk about it openly. Why? Because there have historically been violent public backlashes against known social "deviants," homosexuals in particular. (Those coercive backlashes still happen today against homosexuals especially in less developed countries.) Second there were many people who accepted the prevailing opinions of the time without thinking about them themselves. Today there are less and less people willing to unquestioningly accept an opinion especially in regards to personal morality, simply because it is held by a perceived majority of the population.

>>As for the meaning of marriage, that?s been a settled matter for many centuries. The attempt to unsettle it has nothing to do with love or commitment. It?s one tactic in a campaign to normalize a deviancy.

You see the term "deviancy" holds the connotations of being immoral or dirty. Yet all that "deviant" means is that someone or something deviates or is an outlier of the statistical norm. For this term to mean immoral or dirty would imply that the majority of society represents the epitome of cleanliness and moral superiorty. I don't see any evidence for this even from the perspective of christian morality. If by "normalize" you mean that I am trying to get more people to accept, and a majority of people to tolerate those that practice lifestyles dramatically different from their own, then my goal is absolutely to "normalize a deviancy."

This is not only because I qualify as a "social deviant" (and I do), but also because I believe that being intolerant of those that are different from you (whom are not hurting anyone) is immoral. I also firmly believe that accepting a set of social mores and beliefs without questioning and analyzing them for yourself is immoral. I believe that by accepting those that are different from ourselves and challenging our ideas and beliefs about the world we will be creating a better, stronger, and more moral society than has ever existed.

As for the marriage issue I realize it was settled long ago by people whom are now long dead. But I don't see any reason why we should accept and repeat the mistakes of the past. If marriage once had nothing to do with love, and was infact about the protection of pregnant women. Then let's untable marriage from the shelves of history. Let's find a definition that is relevant and consistent with the needs and ideals of our time. Let's make marriage about love again. Let's make it about commitment, family, and building a better future. That's what most of us want out of marriage isn't it?

Ah yes, those good ol' days

Ah yes, those good ol' days when "everyone" agreed that homosexuality was "wrong" and "very, very bad for you". That comforting self-righteousness that made assaulting, killing, jailing, or institutionalizing gays so very, very easy. That arrogance that led to things like human experimentation with ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy), aversion therapy (A much nicer term than torture, don't you think?), monstrous surgeries, and hormonal dinking around just for the fun of it. Ah yes, those were fun times, weren't they? It's really too bad we've moved beyond those good ol' days, consensual behavior that I don't like really needs to be controlled. Why? Well... Because it's wrong, dammit! Wrong, I say, and very, very bad for you! Why is it bad for you? Well... I dunno, 'cause it is, dammit! "Everyone" agrees, dontchaknow. It's very important that a majority be able to persecute a minority just because they're different. If they couldn't, well where would we be? Can't be havin' too much of that freedom stuff...

As for marriage, yep, that question was settled centuries ago. Unlike every other human institution, marriage hasn't evolved one lick since God said to Moses, "Let there be no-fault divorce!". It was on that other set of tablets, actually, but we all know it was there. If you let gays marry, what'll be next? Prenuptial agreements? Mixed-race marriages? Women expecting equal say in marital decisions? Dogs and cats, living together? Mass hysteria!

Damn deviants, always demanding their rights 'n stuff. Why can't they just go back in the closet and shut the hell up so we can get back to those comfortable good ol' days?

Myria

bq. _It?s one tactic in a

bq. _It?s one tactic in a campaign to normalize a deviancy._

It's seems that it's awfully easy for people to forget that many human societies throughout history have not had the same attitude towards homosexuality, bisexuality, and polyamory that our particular society does.

Francis, I really don't know why you think people should be constrained by the "meaning" of marriage in the past, when, as you exhaustively outline in the article you linked, most of the conditions and constraints that made marriage what it was in the past have been overcome by events.

I think the problem here

I think the problem here goes deeper than either side is willing to admit. Marriage is an undefinable and arbitrary thing, and any attempt to understand, define, or debate its meaning is in fact an attempt to destroy it. The right accuses the left of trying to corrupt and destroy marraige; they are right. The left accuses the right of trying to corrupt and destroy marraige; they are right. Anyone who wants to define marraige objectively aims at its destruction.

The problems are fairly intrinsic. Any definition of marriage you can provide, I can provide a counterexample that will sway a lot of people. The definitions put forth by prelates and politicos are incoherant and obviously mendacious. Nor could they be any other way: There is no definition of marriage that will meet the tests that a "national debate" will set for it. If we want to have an idea of an equitable and proper definition of marriage, we must give up looking for one: It doesn't exist, and the only way to believe in it is collective self-delusion (or social custom, which amounts to the same thing). To talk about the meaning of marriage is to undermine and destroy marriage.

Although I am married, I'm afraid I'm one of those awful youth who regards it as a legal convenience. The vows, apart from not being required by the state anyway, were things we had said years before anyway. We deliberately went to a common-law state so as not to have to humiliate ourselves asking the state for permission. And since we did it on the cheap (eloped, really), the tax savings paid for the price of the wedding in one year.

So I for one would greet the destruction of the institution of marriage with utter apathy. People can make their vows without help. Decent folks will make their own arrangements for one another, because they're decent folks. We don't need definitions of marriage and little boxes in which to file our relationships: each of us knows more about our relationships and about what is right and proper in them than any sort of norm or custom does. A national debate on any institution, marriage included, can only serve to blur the lines and ultimately reveal the incoherence of that institution. And why should we need either the institution or the debate? People can work these things out for themselves, if they care enough about them and about one another.

And as for the people who don't care enough, well, ought we really to care?
--G

As an amusing or intriguing

As an amusing or intriguing side-note, marriage is an example of what one might call "anarchist bureaucracy." Consider what is required to be "married" in the eyes of society or of the state: Nothing.

If you assert that you are married, people and governments will believe you. They will never ask for proof of marriage, which is sensible since half a dozen states let you get married without even a single piece of paper or state official (at least for the moment -- the FMA may change that if it ever happens, one of its many strange unintended consequences along with revitalizing anti-miscengenation laws). As far as bureaucracy is concerned, you are married when you say you are married.

The entire licensing bureaucracy around marriage is in fact completely superfluous. If you marry without a license, you are just as married as if you married with one, provided that people are willing to believe you when you say that you are married. Marriage is in truth not merely privatized but entirely anarchized. And oddly enough, this works.

Of all the facets of government that I have seen, this is the one that gives me the greatest hope for an anarchic future.
--G

The definition of marriage

The definition of marriage only becomes a government issue because married couples have a special tax and citizenship status. I claim that government should not pass any law with regard to people's marital status, but they may create a goverment status of civil union, in which any number of parties may engage for whatever reason.

If you look at "marriage" being a determinant of citizenship, the whole issue becomes more ludicrous; goverment officials regularly check whether people got married for love or just for citizenship. Imagine goverment officials asking what type of panties your spouse wears and other personal questions used to establish intent.

Obviously, the religious right hopes that married couples as they define it receive special priviledges. This increases the power of those religious institutions.

One government intervention begets another.

The worst thing to happen to

The worst thing to happen to marriage was having it OK'd at city hall.

Welcome aboard.

"Anyone who wants to define

"Anyone who wants to define marriage objectively aims at its destruction."

I see no reason why marriage would be destroyed if it were defined objectively. Furthermore I don't see why it would be destroyed by a national debate. My marriage as I define it, and as it is meaningful to me can only be destroyed by the words and definitions of others if I choose to let it.

The debate doesn't hurt my definition of marriage, and even if marriage were defined by most people as something entirely unlike what I considered marriage it would make no difference to my conceptualization of it. Perhaps not everyone can be so resilent, but in the end we accept and believe what we choose to.

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