A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a panel on the Dian Rehm show discussing same sex marriage. One of the panelists, who opposed legal recognition of same sex marriage, explained that those who are in favor of legal same sex marriage tend to frame their arguments in terms of rights while those who are opposed tend to frame it in terms of tradition. (This guest did not bring the term “Biblical marriage” into his argument.)
It seems that those who hold the “tradition” view believe society bestows an honor on those to whom it grants the status of marriage. It is a celebration, a recognition and a welcoming of the couple into the larger community. Some feel that the marriage of same sex couples is not something that society ought to sanction or bless.
What I found most interesting about this guest was that he said that there was nothing stopping gay couples from gathering with their families and holding a ceremony to honor their commitment. He was not opposed to that, only to the government legally recognizing the marriage. When it comes to the legal status of marriage he said (I’m paraphrasing a bit because this was a couple of weeks ago) “We have to decide if it is a benefit to society to allow that.”
What is odd about this is that government recognition of marriage is the one part that completely ignores the spiritual, romantic and community aspects of the union. The government doesn’t care if the couple is serious, or committed or in love, or what their parents think, or if they go to church or wear white or plan to raise a family. The government cares if you filled out the right forms and paid the correct fee.
Just as the government is not honoring the proud parents when it issues a “certificate of live birth,” the government is not bestowing a blessing with a marriage license. Governments are not in the blessing business.
The reason the government provides a legal status of marriage is to make it easier for everyone else. By granting couples the status of marriage, many legal processes are streamlined. We do not have to reinvent everything for each couple or each relationship. We have processes for co-parenting, joint property, divorce, inheritance that, as long as there are not too many complicating factors, simplify things for the rest of us. We don’t need long explanations of what the intentions of the two parties are because they have defined it using this legal umbrella term of “marriage.”
Not including same sex couples who have similar intentions in our legal category creates a lot of extra headaches, litigation and work for our system.
What is interesting to me about the panelist’s tradition argument is that he believes gay couples should actually be entitled to the blessing, the honor and the welcoming embrace of community. He would open all of the tradition to them, as he has no problem with them having wedding ceremonies and living as committed couples with all of the community acceptance of their status.
Listing a person of the same sex as spouse on an insurance form, however, seems to be the problem.
The fact of the matter is that “marriage” is not one thing. There are legal aspects and social aspects to marriage. Marriage is a property arrangement and can also be a spiritual bond. Even though we call everyone we’ve given this legal status “married” no two marriages are alike.
If same sex marriage is not a question of rights, but of tradition, shouldn’t it follow that a person who holds this view would not care one way or another about one’s legal status (render unto Caesar…) but would be opposed to the honor and blessing of a ceremony recognizing the union of the couple? Is this not where the blessing and tradition lies?