Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn had a great piece
in today's paper about gay marriage. In it he basically echoes what I've been saying about this issue for a long time. His proposal?
How about instead of granting government recognition to gay marriages, we deny government recognition to straight marriages?
How about, in other words, we get government out of the sacrament business altogether?
Let the various churches, denominations and other belief groups decide who gets to perform the marriage ritual with whom, and leave the blessing and the consecrating to religious institutions.
And let the government handle the contract end of things. That's government's job—outlining the binding nitty-gritty of mutual obligations and privileges in legally sanctioned relationships.
I'm all for this. Why should we as Christians give the State the right to define what we mean by "marriage" in the first place? If we really view it as sacred, and instituted by God, then why would we want it sullied by the involvement of a secular nation-state? I say let each church or other religious, ideological, or ethnic group define marriage their own way and administer their own ceremonies, and keep the government out of it altogether. Let the State administer "civil unions" and the like, and have those open to any consenting adults who want to enter into them, but let's disconnect this from marriage altogether.
posted by Mike Clawson at 3:50 PM | Permalink
At 5/22/2008 04:30:00 PM,
I agree the church has more to say about the sacramental nature of a given union than the state does. But I'm not sure this proposed solution avoids a public debate about the issue though, Mike. The state still has to decide which "civil unions" it will grant legal sanction - which living arrangements are (a) legal and entitle their participants to full civil union benefits, (b) legal, but don't entitle their participants to full civil union benefits, and (c) illegal altogether (currently: polygamy, children under the age of consent who don't have their parents' consent, etc.).
I don't think you can say any arrangement consenting adults want to commit themselves to should be legal and should entitle the participants to full federal civil union benefits, unless you're ok with extending that legality and those benefits to polygamy and other multiparty committed long term sexual relationships - which some progressive legal theorists are now arguing for via articles published in respected law journals. When you make it a strictly contractual analysis, limiting the number to 2 seems just as arbitrary as limiting the 2 to male and female.
At 5/22/2008 05:02:00 PM, D
First, I completely agree Mike. While I am very much in favor of equal rights and gay marriage, this seems like the most expedient and common sense solution. My college ethics professor suggested it and it was so simple that it blew me away.
Comparing polygamy to monogamous relationships of any time isn't a coherent argument. For tax purposes alone, multiparty relationships provide so many complications that those grounds alone would warrant it being untenable. Plus, while some legal theorists may be arguing this, what you are arguing strikes at the heart of this issue. You are essentially saying being gay is a matter of choice, rather than identity. Much of science and many theologians strongly disagree.
Polygamy is not even the argument. And I don't think that is what Mike is arguing either. The argument is based on fundamental identity, not choice.
Then again, the state, being the state, can define a union any way it likes.
At 5/23/2008 12:15:00 AM, Mike Clawson
I agree with D that polygamy is really an entirely different category and doesn't really affect my argument about getting the State out of the marriage-defining business.
That said, I'm not entirely opposed to "legalizing" polygamy as long as it's not done in a way that is exploitative to one or more of the partners. Let's face it, it's not illegal now to live in an essentially polygamous arrangement. It's called polyamory and it's not as uncommon as you might think (some friends of ours here in the Chicago suburbs have an arrangement like this). If a bunch of adults want to live together and have sex together and commit themselves to one another, they are free to do that. The only thing they can't do is be officially married in the eyes of the state.
At 5/23/2008 08:50:00 AM,
D and Mike, you're in disagreement with a lot of the cutting-edge LGBT and other progressive legal theorists if you see polygamy and polyamory as a whole different conversation from monogamous gay unions, rather than just a different subcategory under the same umbrella of sexual repression/suppression/expression. I'm talking about family law professors at places such as the University of Michigan, SUNY, University of Chicago - not some little known fringe corner of academia.
Mike I'm aware of polyamory - that's why I referred to "other multiparty" relationships besides polygamy. I know such arrangements exist and aren't per se illegal. When considering civil union laws, the question for any such living arrangement isn't just whether it exists or whether it should be legal to make such choices, it's whether such a living arrangement is entitled to special state recognition, protection, benefits, legal and contractual status, etc.
Who are we to say that someone can't love and be committed to more than one person at a time? On what (if any) basis can we say that it's wrong for them to express that love and commitment sexually? If civil unions are defined or redefined along contractual terms only, removing the one man, one woman definitional requirement, is there really a principalled argument for limiting the number of contracting parties to 2, and denying state recognition to polyamorous unions? If so, what is it? D suggests it would be complicated. The legal theorists writing the journal and law review articles don't see that as an insurmountable barrier - and if it's the right thing to do, shouldn't it be done even if it's more complicated?
At 5/23/2008 11:02:00 AM, D
First, as the article itself points out, LGBT advocates do in fact distinguish monogamous relationships from multiparty ones (p3). To state otherwise, as you have intimated, is wholly disingenuous and counterproductive to your argument. The author also acknowledges in the following page that her argument is essentially on the fringe. As you set yourself up as an expert on this topic for the purposes of this comment section, your (wrong) characterization of this opinion borders on the dishonest.
Further, the comparison, again, doesn't make sense, and I think the LGBT community would largely agree with this. You are once again sidestepping the underlying issue in your argument -- whether homosexuality is a choice or an identity. Overwhelming, the evidence, in my opinion and experience, supports identity. Now, if you want to have a discussion about the social construction of identity, and all, we can do that, but I doubt Mike would enjoy us taking over his blog. :)
The article you linked to describes polyamory as a "theory of relationships." To ascribe to a theory, one must make a choice to its ideas or be convinced of them. Sexual identity -- attraction to men or women -- occurs on a deeper level in which in most cases choice is not involved. (I believe some people probably do chose same-sex relationships just as some people chose hetero relationships. On the whole, though, I think we come hardwired for one or the other. As we have seen, some of the staunchest opponents of homosexuality in fact are homosexuals themselves).
I think the author of the study makes interesting points about our preference for monogamy and the cultural constraints. Of note, most people in America do practice polyamory on the sly through extramarital affairs, etc. One study found that 1 in 3 house wives with children had or were having affairs. So in a sense, we are in denial about not what is right, but what we as humans actually do.
Again, by attempting to make a side argument about polyamory, rather than actually arguing the case presented by Mike, I assume that you do not actually have a solid argument against same-sex unions. The slippery-slope fireball just doesn't follow. So, the question remains, I think, why shouldn't monogamous, same-sex unions be recognized by the state?
I don't think you have presented a coherent argument that doesn't try to misdirect the discussion to a different issue.
At 5/23/2008 12:53:00 PM, Derek Berner
I've been for a clear-cut dissociation between "civil marriage" and "ceremonial marriage" for a long time. Let the churches decide the unions they want to acknowledge, and let the state provide legal benefits to families apart from religious dogma.
Trouble is, I'm starting to think there just may not be such a clear-cut distinction to make. For many Americans, marriage is marriage, whether state- or church- (or mosque/synagogue/temple/etc) recognized, and to divorce the two is, to many, simply unheard of.
At 5/23/2008 02:54:00 PM, Mike Clawson
"D and Mike, you're in disagreement with a lot of the cutting-edge LGBT and other progressive legal theorists if you see polygamy and polyamory as a whole different conversation from monogamous gay unions, rather than just a different subcategory under the same umbrella of sexual repression/suppression/expression. I'm talking about family law professors at places such as the University of Michigan, SUNY, University of Chicago - not some little known fringe corner of academia."
Am I supposed to care who these people are or whether or not I agree with them? Sorry, but I don't spend a lot of time reading "cutting-edge LGBT and other progressive legal theorists" or any other legal theorists for that matter. Either their ideas are good or their not. I couldn't care less about their credentials.
But at any rate I agree with D: this whole "slippery slope" argument is rather unconvincing Karl. Deal with the issue at hand, not whatever red-herrings you can come up with.
However, regarding this other, entirely separate issue of polygamy:
"Who are we to say that someone can't love and be committed to more than one person at a time? On what (if any) basis can we say that it's wrong for them to express that love and commitment sexually?"
We can't. If they don't subscribe to our own standards of morality when it comes to personal sexual behavior (as long as it is not harmful to others), then we have no right to impose it upon them through laws.
"If civil unions are defined or redefined along contractual terms only, removing the one man, one woman definitional requirement, is there really a principalled argument for limiting the number of contracting parties to 2, and denying state recognition to polyamorous unions?"
Nope, I guess not. I say let's go for it.
"D suggests it would be complicated. The legal theorists writing the journal and law review articles don't see that as an insurmountable barrier - and if it's the right thing to do, shouldn't it be done even if it's more complicated?"
Sure, let's do it.
Again, I think this polygamy issue is still inherently different than the gay-unions thing. As D pointed out, the former is a philosophically based lifestyle choice, conservative rhetoric notwithstanding, being gay usually is not. But regardless, your slippery slope still doesn't seem too scary to me. So we endorse polygamy, big deal. As long as teenage girls aren't being forced into it and women aren't being treated like property (like with those FLDS folks), I don't see why you think I would be opposed to this.
At 5/24/2008 04:37:00 AM, C. L. Hanson
Marriage has a human meaning across religions and cultures around the world. If we decide to keep the secular state out of this business -- as you suggest -- then I'm no longer sure to have the right to live in the same country with my husband. That may not matter to you, but it matters quite a lot to the families affected by it.
How about an alternate solution? We leave "marraige" for society at large, and if Christians want to have their own separate understanding of it as a sacrament, then they can invent their own terminology for it, such as Christian marriage or the like.
You may think I'm kidding, but I'm not. That's what the Mormons do. They have a separate category of marriage called "celestial marriage" (a.k.a. "eternal marriage" a.k.a. "temple marriage") which indicates that the marriage has been sealed according to the sacraments of their faith, and they make a very real distinction between the two types of marriage. This is a good solution. It eliminates the confusion that would result if every faith tried to redefine the general term "marriage" to include only their own sacraments, and hence what to call couples from other belief systems and cultures whom you would normally regard as "married."
At 5/24/2008 09:17:00 AM, Mike Clawson
"Marriage has a human meaning across religions and cultures around the world. If we decide to keep the secular state out of this business -- as you suggest -- then I'm no longer sure to have the right to live in the same country with my husband."
I'm not sure I understand your concern. What kind of situation are you referring to exactly?
Let me be clear. What I am suggesting with civil unions is a legal category that would be identical to what marriage is now, just without using that word. I don't see why anyone would lose any rights by doing that.
At 5/27/2008 01:03:00 PM, C. L. Hanson
I'm not sure I understand your concern. What kind of situation are you referring to exactly?
I am a citizen of the U.S.A. My husband is a citizen of France. As a result, both the U.S. and France allow the both of us to live in whichever of the two countries we please. We have a couple of gay friends (whom I think had a "domestic partnership") who were not allowed to bring a spouse (as a permanent resident) to live in either country.
At 5/27/2008 01:31:00 PM, Mike Clawson
BTW, speaking of both C.L.'s concern and Karl's polygamy question, I should also point out that immigrants from traditionally polygamist cultures (e.g. many parts of Africa) often have a similar problem coming to the United States when we will only recognize the legal status of one of their wives.
At 5/28/2008 10:31:00 AM,
D, that article is just one among many and was offered to show that top-level scholars in highly respected universities are the ones discussing this - not just strange fringe people in backwater institutions. Among other things, the author is pointing out the same thing I am - the inconsistency in the fact that most outspoken proponents of same sex unions aren't currently publicly in favor of multi-party unions. In some respects the article is representative but it's not exhaustive of all the positions taken by family law theorists on the matter. I'm not an expert, but I've studied the issue some, in law school and since.
Your distinction between gay and polyamorous unions as one of nature (gay) vs. choice (bi or poly) is a controversial one. By definition, if someone is bisexual they can't be monogamous and fulfill their bisexuality. Limiting them to monogamy would be requiring them to choose only one of the "bi" loves that (they would say) are an intrinsic part of their identity and would deny them a full expression of their sexuality. Likewise, many who argue for other polyamorous unions say that they are by nature "poly" and that monogamy is an externally imposed, unnatural thing for them. There are a number of gay theorists who argue the same thing with regard to homosexuality - that monogamy is an artificial and oppressive heterosexual construct and that gays (in some cases they say gay males) are by nature non-monogamous as part of their identity. So I can't really buy the bright line distinctions between gayness as identity and bi-ness or poly-ness as choice. I really think that for this argument choice vs. nature/identity is a red herring.
Mike, this isn't some far-fetched slippery slope argument, nor are they wholly separate issues. It's the cutting edge of legal theory in the area of family law and most law students taking a family law course will be engaging in these discussions as part of their curriculum. The more progressive theorists draw a direct connection between what you are suggesting (civil unions for monogamous homosexual couples) and state legal recognition of any consensual sexual-and-living arrangement/relationship between any number of consenting adults. If anything, the US is behind the curve as compared to most of the western world on these issues - you can look at conversations being had elsewhere (now that state-recognized monomagmous gay unions exist, what bills are being introduced or advocated for in the area of family law). So it's relevant to the discussion. You're fine with the state recognizing polygamy and polyamory - not just making them legal between consenting adults, but giving federal and state legal benefits to the partners that are currently reserved for married spouses, etc. That's a legitimate position to take, even if a lot of others disagree. At least you're principalled in your position and carry it out to its logical conclusion. I don't think someone can draw a principalled distinction between the initial position (grant legal status to monogamous gay unions), and the follow-ups, other than (as D says) the fact that it would be more challenging to implement state recognition of poly unions. That's why the follow-ups are germane to the discussion of the initial position.
Mike, I'm a little puzzled and amused by the first paragraph of your reply to me. I thought you had left that kind of anti-intellectualism behind? You don't have to agree with the experts, but that kind of retort doesn't do much to refute them.
At 5/28/2008 12:04:00 PM, Mike Clawson
Whether or not they are experts just seems irrelevant to me Karl. I'm not even sure why you brought it up. If they are "experts" so what?
At 5/28/2008 03:13:00 PM,
If they are experts and opinion-shapers then their ideas ought to be taken into account - even if only to be disagreed with and demonstrated wrong. Saying "why should I care what the people who study this the most and who stand to have significant influence on the future direction of the law in this area are saying?" sounds odd.
It sounds kind of like someone saying "why should I care what N.T. Wright or Marcus Borg says about Jesus? Their credentials and the fact that they are on the cutting edge of Jesus scholarship don't mean squat to me." You may not agree with them (heck, they don't agree with each other) but they are fairly significant figures representing influential schools of thought, and what they are saying ought to be taken into account if you're going to offer opinions about something in their area of expertise.
At 6/13/2008 02:49:00 PM, benjdm
Why should we as Christians give the State the right to define what we mean by "marriage" in the first place?
You didn't. The word has multiple meanings. If you no longer want to share the word 'marriage' with the state, I suggest you start talking about 'religious unions' in churches instead. As one who is only married in the civil sense, I do not want to give up the term. I'm happy to continue sharing it, though.
There already is a contract end of things - it's called marriage. You get a marriage license from the state, you file taxes married filing jointly, etc.
I will not surrender the term 'marriage' willingly. If the term is no big deal, then how about churches get in the business of 'religious unions' and leave marriage to the state?
At 6/13/2008 10:25:00 PM, Mike Clawson
Whichever ben, makes no difference to me. It's just a word. My point is simply that there is a difference between a state-sanctioned legal union and the Christian conception of marriage (but I couldn't care less which word you want to attach to either one). IMHO our legal structures ought to start reflecting that, i.e. stop trying to define State marriages according to religious principles, and vice versa.
At 6/14/2008 12:03:00 PM, benjdm
What are the chances of religious people adopting 'religious unions' as their term? You're the first person who has accepted the idea. The chances of non-religious people adopting 'civil unions' voluntarily is pretty low. It seems to me we're stuck with the term having multiple meanings.
If you take out the argument over terms, you are at the status quo. Religious institutions already get to decide who they will and won't marry - religious marriages are not defined by the state at all. The civil institution of marriage already exists, and has nothing to do with the religious institution.
At 6/16/2008 06:46:00 PM, Mike Clawson
"The civil institution of marriage already exists, and has nothing to do with the religious institution."
If that were actually the case we wouldn't be having this debate about gay marriage, nor would I have to be licensed by the State to perform marriages. The two are currently intertwined and religious people are looking to the State to affirm their own ideas of marriage.
But at any rate, I think you misunderstood my suggestion in the first place. I wasn't saying that religious people alone ought to get dibs on the term marriage or that anyone would have to "surrender" it. I specifically said that we should "let each church or other religious, ideological, or ethnic group define marriage their own way and administer their own ceremonies, and keep the government out of it altogether." This would obviously include the non-religious. You would get to define marriage your own way along with everyone else. After all, I don't see why atheists anymore than Christians would want the government defining their relationships for them.
At 6/17/2008 08:27:00 AM, benjdm
I specifically said that we should "let each church or other religious, ideological, or ethnic group define marriage their own way and administer their own ceremonies, and keep the government out of it altogether."
When we got married in 2000, it was before 9/11 and G.W. Bush. Neither of us were active in any religious, ideological, or ethnic group at all. We got married via a Justice of the Peace - I didn't even know what the term humanism meant, much less any humanist groups or celebrants. There was no group of which I was a part. It was purely a civil ceremony in a restaurant - government only. No other group recognized it. With your idea, my wife and I would not be married. We would be 'civil-unioned.'
Even being licensed by the state, you can turn away anyone you wish for any reason you wish. So could a humanist celebrant. If activists wanted to change this, I would oppose it vehemently. The religious conception of marriage is different than the legal one and is free to be defined by anyone anyway they wish. Loving vs. Virginia did not and does not require any church to marry interracial couples. Only the civil right to the civil conception of marriage is affirmed. The civil conception is independent of the religious conception.
The state can not refuse to allow the marriage of two people who were living together before they got married; the Catholic church can and did in a case of someone close to me.
After all, I don't see why atheists anymore than Christians would want the government defining their relationships for them.
The state only defines our relationship in the legal sense, and that is exactly who I want to have control over the legal definition. I've never gone through any other group to get married. I do not volunteer to consider myself a partner in a civil union instead of a marriage.
At 6/17/2008 11:09:00 AM, Mike Clawson
"There was no group of which I was a part. It was purely a civil ceremony in a restaurant - government only. No other group recognized it. With your idea, my wife and I would not be married. We would be 'civil-unioned.'"
No, under my suggestion you'd be able to define marriage however you want and you'd still be married, just on your own terms not the State's. Your "group" could be just as big as you and your wife.
"The state only defines our relationship in the legal sense, and that is exactly who I want to have control over the legal definition."
That's what I'm suggesting as well. But why call that marriage?
"I do not volunteer to consider myself a partner in a civil union instead of a marriage."
I'm not asking you to. It's not an "instead" it's a "both/and". You'd still be married, but because you and your wife say so, not because the State does. And the State would handle the legal contract part of it, but wouldn't pretend that that is "marriage".
At 6/17/2008 04:37:00 PM, benjdm
That's what I'm suggesting as well. But why call that marriage?
Because we have 50 state's laws, IRS laws and regulations, military basic allowance for housing rules, federal laws, and a million other regulations that all call it that. To merely rename it is confusing, expensive, and likely to create all sorts of unanticipated legal problems from missing things in the changeover.
When I call myself married, I am referring to the civil institution - the legal one. I am not referring to any private definition only my wife and I share. If you asked me if George Takei (sp?) was married (before recently), I would have said no. After he got legally married, I would say yes. The only thing that changed was his legal status.
If some people wish to have separate terms for civil and (cultural? religious? un-civil?) conceptions of partnerships, it is simplest for the people who want different terms to just create their own. C.L. Hanson pointed this out already in the case of the Mormons. They didn't have to get approval from the state, or non-Mormons, or anything. They have their own personal conception AND term that they don't have to share.
At 7/22/2008 12:55:00 PM, benjdm
Another take on divorcing the secular and religious aspects:
First Amendment Center Article
Suddenly this summer, the reality of same-sex couples lining up to get married in California has led some religious leaders to rethink their government role.
In a letter last month, Bishop Marc Handley Andrus of the Episcopal Diocese of California directed his clergy to “encourage all couples, regardless of orientation, to follow the pattern of first being married in a secular service and then being blessed in The Episcopal Church.”
The bishop’s missive illustrates what a tangled web we have woven when clergy intone “by the power invested in me by the state.”
...When I first floated this idea four years ago (on the cusp of the Massachusetts decision legalizing gay marriage), I thought the cleanest break would be to call state arrangements “civil unions” and religious ceremonies “marriage.” Now I’m not so sure that’s workable.
Removing the much-contested term “marriage” from the same-sex marriage debate would have obvious political advantages. But it might not go down well with the millions of religiously unaffiliated or nonreligious Americans who are likely to prefer being “married” to “civil unioned.”
It’s probably best to stay with “marriage,” but separate the civil from the religious by ending the role of clergy as agents of government. After all, for people of faith, marriage in a house of worship should be by the power invested by God — not by the state.