The Social Consequence of Gay MarriagePosted: January 25, 2013
This post is a long overdue promise to The Frazzled Slacker outlining my views on gay marriage. All opinions are my own. No legal advice is intended or implied. Not taking my advice is a good idea in any case.
So at long last the Supreme Court is addressing the issue of gay marriage. I for one am thrilled, since it’s about time we get some clarity and put this issue to rest once and for all, as we have with other contention issues before.
All joking aside, I do think it’s time the high court stepped in. We have a plurality of answers on this question in different jurisdictions, and it is a matter that has implications both nationally and across state lines, which is a proper role for the Supreme Court. More so, it is a civil rights question, in that the heart of the matter is to what extent the State can and should regulate the institution of marriage.
And that right there is the first point I believe needs to be made in this debate, and one that seems to be lost in much of the heated rhetoric. Before anyone makes demands about what should and should not happen, we need to draw the lines very clearly: this is, and should remain, strictly about the role of the State in the institution of marriage. No person or group’s personal beliefs should impact, or be impacted by, these cases. If a particular religious organization wants to refuse to marry a gay couple, they should maintain the right to do so; it is theirs to decide, in the same way they can decide not to marry a straight couple on any grounds (IMNSHO).
With that out of the way, we are led to the question of “what exactly is the role of the State in the institution of marriage?” As I understand it, the State has traditionally had a handful of roles, and in recent history (the last hundred years or so) has taken on a few additional roles as well. Once we define those roles, it should be relatively easy to tease out the question as to whether or not (a) homosexuals share those rights with heterosexuals, (b) whether heterosexuals would suffer any significant harm in sharing those rights with homosexuals, and (c) whether society writ large would suffer any harm from allowing homosexuals to exercise those rights.
The traditional roles, as I understand them, are to encourage child rearing, social stability, and guide the process of inheritance. End of line. The additional roles that the government has taken on have been to grant certain rights such as tax benefits, Social Security benefits, and various and sundry other spousal benefits such as visitation rights, next of kin in medical matters, etc. to married couples.
To the first question: do homosexuals even have these rights? According to the state of Kansas, a lesbian can be a single parent, so by logical extension, a homosexual can have parental rights. While Kansas has in this case proven they prefer not to encourage child rearing, one would think it would be desirable to support couples that prefer to rear children together rather than attempt to sue someone in an iffy court case, and that’s of course assuming there was no proper waiver and doctor present to even allow a lawsuit to move forward.
As for social stability, setting aside the obvious counter-argument that rhymes with “fifty percent bivorce rate” there is the simpler counter-argument: given a choice between encouraging couples to be monogamous and stay together rather than NOT encouraging them to do so, when your purported goal is a more stable society, why wouldn’t you?
Finally, the question of inheritance is, again, simple on the face of it. Any individual has the right to assign their estate as they see fit in a will; simply assuming that next of kin would be the logical beneficiaries in the absence of such is a grace and mercy to a bereaved family, as well as relieving an overburdened court system. Insisting that one segment of the population does not have that right and must go through an onerous process by virtue of who they love is demeaning and unbefitting of a civilized society.
Most spousal benefits are in the same category as inheritance; they can, with time, money and effort be resolved through other legal means (power of attorney, etc.). It is simply demeaning to insist that one segment of the population is required to climb an extra hurdle because they have a consensual relationship between two adults that others do not approve of (c.f. miscegenation). The only exceptions are such things as Social Security and tax benefits, so I shall address them as such: are homosexuals exempt from paying Social Security and other taxes in ways I am not aware of, or do they receive other special benefits to compensate them for their inability to access these benefits?
Moving on to the question of whether heterosexuals would be significantly harmed by sharing these rights with heterosexuals. That’s a bit of a tricky one, because there are two important words there: significant and harm. Would I be “harmed” if someone else were paying lower taxes? Arguably, yes. Would it be significant? If they did so in large enough numbers, maybe. Does that mean I should be able to deny them their rights? I do not see how. True harm is if I were to lose something I were otherwise entitled to, and I am not entitled to having first claim on someone else’s life, their labor, or their choices, so long as those choices do not interfere directly with my ability to make choices. And seriously, I don’t see how homosexuals choosing to marry impacts any heterosexual’s choices, unless they have secrets they aren’t sharing (in which case the statement is still valid).
Would society suffer any significant harm in allowing homosexuals to exercise their rights? Again, it depends on how you define society and how you define harm. Considering the potential good outlined above, and the societal purposes that marriage serves in the first place, I see no evidence that expanding the civil tradition of marriage could bring. There will be those who will not be able to accept this gracefully, and they may even commit violent acts in response. This would not be a direct result of allowing homosexuals to exercise their rights; this would be a result of people who are unable to accept change attempting to use violence and fear to coerce others when all else fails. There is a word for that: terrorism. It should be dealt with as such.
In the final analysis, there is no good reason to continue to deny a significant portion of our population the same rights that the majority have enjoyed for so long. The Supreme Court should step in and, as it has a few times in its long history, strike down the laws of oppression and let liberty carry the day.