Yes, my friends, mawwiage is what bwings us togethuh today. Mawwiage – that pwecious event, that dweam within a dweam…More specifically, same-sex marriage (gasp!). As the current Hot Topic, civil rights-wise, this issue has gotten a lot of coverage. I think it’s fairly obvious that this question serves as a proxy for people to advertise their views on LGBT rights in general. I haven’t seen any primary literature on the subject, but I imagine that there are very few people, if any, whose feelings on the specific issue of same-sex marriage differ greatly from their feelings on other queer rights-related issues, such as adoption or right to hold religious office. Marriage, in and of itself, is not the issue here. Intolerance is. But, since the prevailing struggle in this country is, presently, marriage, we will talk about marriage.
I just want to reiterate, for anyone who might not have gotten it the first time, that marriage is not the be-all and end-all issue for queer acceptance in this country. It is not an isolated question, it is not some unique arbitrary matter that everyone suddenly cares about for no good reason. It is the current battleground on which Bigotry is fighting against Acceptance. It is not the only battleground, or even (perhaps) the most important one. But, whichever side gains some ground finds their ultimate goal (societal shunning of those who are ‘different’ vs. the right to live one’s life undisturbed) that much easier to obtain. So, even though I personally feel that marriage is in some ways a flawed institution, and there are many reasons for everybody (queer or not) to take a good long look at its history and how it might affect your current life, the right to get married is a very important stepping stone in the journey to some kind of absolute acceptance (in addition to being a major goal in and of itself, for many people). So it is a worthy topic to spend a minute or 100 on.
The argument against same-sex marriage is frequently couched in terms calculated to not connote oppression of any particular group, but merely defending against some enemy or onslaught: “protection of marriage”, “defense of marriage”, “preservation of marriage”. And this word “marriage” is frequently modified by the moniker “traditional” – “preservation of TRADITIONAL marriage”, and so on. I could (and will, at some point) write a whole post about what is actually connoted by “traditional marriage” and how a lot of people don’t think about what means or doesn’t mean, and how arbitrary it is, but right now, for brevity and clarity’s sake, I will focus merely on the institution of marriage in the present-day United States.
Every state (and the District of Columbia) has its own set of restrictions, in which marriage is prohibited. The most common reason for these restrictions is consent; thus, prohibitions include:
- People who are under a certain age (in most states partially mitigatory by parents’ permission).
- People who do not have the mental capacity to consent to a marriage; this varies, and can be expressed by not letting mentally disabled or unstable people marry, or in one state, requiring the permission of a guardian to do so. It is also possible that some of these restrictions are remnants of the days of Social Darwinism when mentally disabled people were sterilized and not allowed to reproduce.
- People under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the marriage; this can be expanded to include drug addicts and alcoholics in some states. This may not always involve the issue of consent, but I think most of the time it would, as mere drug use is not enough to disqualify one from a marriage.
- Marriages induced by fraud or under duress
- Proxy marriages; these are apparently legal in a few states when one member of the party is in the military and thus not physically available. However, it is easy to see how someone could be taken advantage of and enter into a marriage against their will under this system, thus I have put it under the category of consent
- Consanguinity, or incest. This I will mention later, as not all cases of incest are connected to the issue of consent, but between older and younger members of a family, it is easy to see how the younger could be taken advantage of and emotionally manipulated.
- Bigamy/Polygamy – again, this does not always involve lack of consent, but it could if one person did not know the other had a previous and still valid marriage
Other prohibited marriages include ones that try to circumvent the law, such as going to a state or country in which the particular type of marriage one wanted was legal even though it wasn’t in your state, common law marriages, or not having an officiator with the authority to perform a marriage.
The third category of marriage restrictions is one I will entitle “For Their Own Good”; items in this group include:
- Presence of any communicable disease. One state specifically mentions that getting married while infected with syphilis or gonorrhea is a felony – this would be more offensive to me were those diseases not both curable with antibiotics (assuming the syphilis hasn’t progressed to, like, neurosyphilis, in which case it’s more difficult and the person is also cracked). I still don’t like it very much though, as many people don’t have access to health care and if the other person knows about the disease and is okay with it, who cares?
- Incest. Those incestuous unions that don’t involve lack of consent would fall under this category. In most cases, it seems that the main concern is inbreeding and the possible emergence of recessive genetic disorders, as in several states first cousin marriages are prohibited unless the parties will not able to reproduce. However, a couple states have the provision of allowing normally prohibited marriages between members of specific cultural groups that differ from the mainstream, that would normally allow such incestuous unions. This seems to be a nod to the fact that the incest restrictions are at least partially based on cultural norms, and not completely biologically based. In addition, at least one state (Rhode Island) prohibits marriage between any kind of in-laws, which clearly negates the whole genetic argument. In some cases these in-law unions would have gray areas, consent-wise, but other times not as much, so this seems to be another instance of cultural norms trumping common sense.
- Poverty. One state, Delaware, has a law on the books prohibiting “marriage between paupers”. While I can see why, from the state’s point of view, you might want to pass a law, it doesn’t seem at all morally defensible. I don’t know how strictly or in what ways this is enforced, though.
- Impotence. Most states give the option to annul your marriage if it was unconsummated, but in at least one state, you can’t get married at all if you can’t get it up. No word on whether or not this would apply to people of all ages, or with certain medical disorders, or how exactly this would be determined (“There’s just one more test, Mr. Jones – could you drop your pants and look over here, please?”).
- Bigamy/Polygamy. Again, this seems to be an expression mostly of cultural norms rather than specific objections. I will qualify this with the statement that I have no problem with polygamy or polyamory in any form, and thus would have no objection to its legalization, were it not for the fact that the vast majority of those currently seeking to legalize it are from Mormon splinter sects, and just want to be able to legally rape scores of young girls (who are frequently related to them). So, at least for now, there is something of a good reason for this restriction, though it is a shame that those consenting adults who wish to enter into such a union are prohibited from doing so by a couple of pervy old men.
Some points to take away from this: unless otherwise mentioned, any marriage that is legal in the state (or country) in which it is performed is legal in any other state. There is no mention of divorce, except that it is necessary to have dissolved any previous marriages before entering into a new one. There is no means of determining whether the couple is “truly in love with each other”, or the couple’s suitability for one another, or estimates on how long the union will last. There is absolutely no mention made of religion, except in the rare cases where it intersects with consanguineous marriages (see above). The only mentions of children are the aforementioned ‘impotence clause’ (thus only obliquely), and in some incestuous marriages, in which case one’s inability to have children is actually a prerequisite for the marriage. Many states, as I previously stated, allow for an annulment on the grounds that it was unconsummated, which would presumably preclude any children. The only other mention of children is several states that have laws determining the legitimacy of any children spawned from that union. But the main point is that in absolutely no state is there any law that requires or even encourages marrying couples to produce children (except for the impotence one).
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this, but this post is already too long and I’m exhausted. So you’re going to have to wait until next time, in which I will debunk most (hopefully all) of the “arguments” against legalizing gay marriage, and explain why it is, in fact, a Big Deal.