A friend of mine posed a few questions regarding marriage and Proposition 8. It made me really think about why marriage is important and why I support restoring the traditional definition of marriage in California. These reasons can stand outside of any particular religious creed. (I do however, hold strong religious beliefs which also support the importance of protecting marriage. You may read them here.) I'm posting my reply in hopes that it clarifies why people like me feel strongly about this issue.
The principal difference, as I see it, is how we view marriage. I believe marriage is much more than just the legal union of two consenting adults. Traditionally, marriage has been understood as the sanctioned union of a man and woman to be sexually intimate with the realization that this relationship has the potential to create children. In the interest of those children, and society as a whole, marriage has long been a heavily regulated institution.* These regulations, or limits, demonstrate the significance society places on marriage and the importance of the commitment between husband, wife, and child.
I reject the simpler and more recent definition of marriage for the following reasons. Viewing marriage as a mere arrangement of two consenting adults does not take into consideration the significance of procreation or the impact on children. A vital purpose behind limits on marriage is to honor the power to create life and to protect children by ensuring they are raised by both a father and a mother. While it is true that heterosexual couples do not have to prove fertility or even the desire to have children to be married, these exceptions do not nullify the biological truth that only a man and woman can produce a child and that this potential for family warrants special benefits and protections that marriage can provide. Legal marriage encourages the fidelity of couples and the responsibility of parents to care for and nurture the children they bring into the world. Furthermore, this union benefits society in several ways--a few of which include discouraging promiscuity, and increasing the likelihood that children will avoid crime, tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse. Genderless unions shift the focus of legal marriage from the bearing and rearing of children to the attempt to satisfy the desire for intimate adult relationships. It becomes merely a sanctioned social ordering of couples. In other words, the focus is not on creating and protecting families, but on adult relationships.
When defined traditionally, marriage between a man and a woman is not an infringement of rights. All citizens have the right, or choice, to participate in marriage as it is legally defined or not. Changing the definition of marriage is another matter, and not one based on fundamental rights, but the desire to alter a long-established understanding of it as an institution that encourages and protects the natural creation of families.
Finally, because of the way marriage is traditionally defined, the union of two same-gender adults is not a "separate, but equal" union, but an entirely distinct one. To call such a union marriage undervalues the significance of the procreative power and, to quote a brief to the California Supreme Court, "would necessarily alter the law's current emphasis on procreation and child welfare, refocusing it on affirming and facilitating adult relationship choices. A gender-neutral marriage definition would unavoidably change the message, meaning, and function of marriage by altering its underlying rationale and structure."
If you read this far, thanks for your patience/indulgence. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my thoughts and hope I haven't offended (or bored to death) anyone who reads this.
*Current regulations of marriage include that marriage is limited to two people, cannot be incestuous, and--until age 18--one cannot marry without parental consent, a court order, and the possibility of requisite premarital counseling. Furthermore, a couple must obtain state permission (or license), be married by a statutorily authorized person, and cannot terminate a marriage without a judicial decree.
** (Added later) Limits on marriage like those above are not unconstitutional and are already in place. The people have the right to legally define and limit marriage. Citizens who oppose current definitions and limitations as stated in the law have EQUAL OPPORTUNITY to initiate changes to the law and should do so using the democratic process. This proposition is misrepresented as an initiative that will take away people’s rights. The right for same-gender couples to marry has not been granted by the voice of the people. To say that Prop 8 takes away rights is misleading and deflects focus from the central issue of defining what marriage IS. A significant change like altering the traditional definition of marriage, should come before the people (and three California Supreme Court judges concur). This proposition does NOT prevent citizens from engaging in the democratic process and putting initiatives on the ballot that could ammend our state constitution to reflect their wishes and beliefs; it only seeks to clarify the legal definition of marriage.
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