Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What is Marriage?

I am conflicted when it comes to marriage these days. I must confess to being somewhat bewildered and not finding easy answers. I am told that if I do not support gay marriage then I am either a bigot or a neanderthal or both. That is not a fun thought to dwell upon.

My general tolerance and respect for all individuals leads me to want to support marriage regardless of gender these days, but I am troubled by certain questions.

Center in my mind is the question, "What is Marriage?" followed closely by "How do we best support unions between people that maximize the benefits to the society as a whole?" Finally, what is appropriate for the State to support that both respects our religious traditions and respects evolving technology and culture?

How do we best support unions between people that maximize the benefits to the society as a whole?

I begin in the middle. As a society, we have built one of the principle foundations of our society around the notion of "Family Law". In fact much of our legal codes center around "Marriage and Family" Law. Historically we have passed legislation with the intent of supporting the family structure as foundational to a vibrant, healthy society. In Paul Smith's excellent piece entitled, Traditional Marriage is Best for Rearing Children, Mr. Smith lays out several excellent studies that support the position that children are most likely best served in a home where there is a biological mother and father married to each other.

An excerpt from his Blog entry is as follows: Studies also provide direct evidence that traditional marriage relationships are better for the rearing of children than either single-parents or cohabiting adults, including same-sex couples. Dr. A. Dean Byrd states that “Mothers and fathers contribute in gender-specific and in gender-complementary ways to the healthy development of children. In support of this, Dr. Byrd referred to the following summary of Child Trends research:Research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage…. There is thus value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents.

Now I have heard the arguments that a child would be better off with two loving people of the same gender than in a family where the couple were abusive to each other. While that may be true, it would also be true that a child raised by loving grandparents would be better off than in a family where one of the parents was an alcoholic and missing most of the time. Nonetheless, our society has codified a system that supports traditional parents over other forms of parenting because, generally speaking, it is what is best for the children. Society is well served by this position.

What is Marriage?

Our society has a long tradition of denying marriage to certain unions regardless of how they feel toward one another. I love my sisters absolutely. Nothing the state can do or not do would have an impact of the degree of love that I have for each of them. Still, it is appropriate that the state not confer the option of marriage on our relationship, regardless of our desires for each other (and to be clear here, NO, I do not have inappropriate desires for either of my sisters, yuck!). Still, there is a legitimate health concern here. Marriages between brothers and sisters (or even cousins) are prohibited because any children that might be produced would be at a very high risk of genetic issues that would impact their lives. Now some would say that this is not an issue in a same gender relationship because there is no possibility of children. That is true, but the point here is that there is a societal standard for prohibiting certain relationships from being conferred marital status.

So, this gets to the heart of my question; "What is Marriage". If you take the position that marriage should be between any two loving people, my question becomes.... OK, then why not a brother and sister? or how about a mother and son? a father and a daughter? Why just two? Why not a woman and three men? Three men and two women? What is the justification for having it be "two people" and how do we then continue to deny marital status to the other examples I just stated.

One argument I have heard that supports same sex marriage is that a person can not help themselves in their sexual orientation and therefore they should be entitled to marry the person of their choosing. OK, by this logic, anyone, who is born with any orientation that is non-traditional should be allowed to marry consistent with their orientation, whatever that is. The problem here is that this opens up Marriage as to be so poorly defined that it becomes meaningless as a distinction and unworthy of support by society and the state.

I want to be clear here. I am willing to be tolerant of any two or more people choosing to engage in whatever relationship behavior they want, especially in privacy. While I do not condone or knowingly encourage it, I am willing to be respectful of those individuals in their behavioral choices so long as it does not infringe or harm me or my family. I further want to be clear that I will not tolerate others being disrespectful to them as human beings or discriminating against them in a workplace environment.

Nonetheless, I say that our goal here should be to reserve marriage for those relationships that best support a family structure that benefits society as a whole. For me, a traditional marriage between one man and one woman, provides the best structure to benefit society. As such, it should remain the societal standard for "What is a Marriage".

My final argument is one that my son offered several years ago when I was engaged in a spirited discussion about this subject with a family member. After much heated conversation, my son stated his concern "OK in a gay marriage who gets to go to the bachelor party?" There is some wisdom here.

I invite your comments back.

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