Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Meaning of Marriage


On this Valentine's Day, love is in the air, and so is change:  One by one, states and nations are  granting legal recognition to same-sex couples as well as different-sex couples, making government-sanctioned marriage licenses available to all non-related couples of the age of consent.

Opponents of marriage equality tend to define marriage in reductionistic terms:  Marriage, to them, is an institution created by society to safeguard the "fruits" of "the procreative act."

Happy Valentine's Day, sweetheart.  Here are a dozen roses to celebrate the safeguarding of our procreative acts.

For most of us in the twenty-first century, marriage--and sex--means a little bit more.

We do not see sex as a single "act."  We see it as a multifaceted expression of intimacy involving the whole body, mind, and soul.  Sometimes sexual activity is motivated by purely physical desire.  In the context of relationship, however, sex is more than just working out a bit of built-up tension:  It is an expression of affection, emotional bonding, and love.

Similarly, while sex certainly can serve to reproduce the species, that is not its only purpose, nor even necessarily its primary purpose.  Social bonding, after all, also contributes to species survival.  As long as enough members of a species are reproducing themselves to keep the species from going extinct, the evolutionary imperative for the continuation of the species is being served.  It is not incumbent upon every single member of every single species to replicate her or his DNA for posterity.

Were that the case, the Earth itself would have gone extinct a long time ago.

Marriage in the twenty-first century is more than a vehicle for procreation.  It is a partnership between equals:  a shared commitment, rooted in love and affection and compatibility, to building a shared life.

Note that the above definition of marriage excludes "marrying" villages, toasters, pets, and other red herrings.

Marriage may or may not involve children.  With or without children, marriage always means becoming family.

Finally, let us be clear on one essential point:  What we advocates of marriage equality seek is not to create some strange new phenomenon called "gay marriage" but to create legal recognition of all existing marriages, including those of same-sex couples which are not yet uniformly acknowledged.

Because, whether the state recognizes it or not, these couples are already, inherently, very much married.  Marriage is a state of being that no man shall ever put asunder.

Failing to recognize the de facto marriages of same-sex couples will not make their marriages go away.  It just makes daily life in our society a lot more difficult for those couples to navigate.

Creating hardships for people who are doing no harm is a violation of basic human ethics.

Gay people are not going to go away.  Gay couples are not going to go away.  We have a choice:  to recognize them as our family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and members of our communities, or to ostracize them and treat them as if they were less than human and continue to put up legal and societal obstacles to their happiness and well-being.