We've moved!

Social Icons

twitterfacebooklinkedinrss feed

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Keep Marriage out of the Constitution -- Note for Ken

Ken Blanchard is right: he and I agree much more than we disagree on the issue of marriage. His critique of my effort to differentiate monogamous adult relationships from polygamy and incest is reasonable. I said that polygamy and incest are too often entangled with power issues, but as Blanchard points out, there are plenty of conventional marriages and homosexual unions tainted with inequality, if not abuse. If I could go around with my magic legislation wand banning all relationships in which partners fall short of loving, honoring, and cherishing each other as equal partners, well... how many marriages can you think of that would go poof? Yikes.

I recognize Ken's point that the Constitution doesn't lay out principles governing marriage, thus leaving decisions to the legislatures. I would suggest that the decision needs to be left even further down, at the church steps. (Maybe that's further up, depending on your perspective.) When I refer to contortions of law and Constitution, I refer to the effort to enshrine marriage in law—not civil unions, not insurance beneficiary designations, not visitation rights, but marriage, this institution that, as far as I can tell, is really distinguished only by its sacred component. Sacred means religious, and religious means hands off for secular authorities.

Remember, I'm married. Mrs. Madville Times and I said our I do's at First Lutheran in Brookings (yup, Touchdown Jesus). If Pastor Scott has looked at the two of us, shaken his head, and said, "Nope, I can't be marryin' off one of our precious Lutheran angels to a heathen like this guy," well, I'd have been disappointed, but I wouldn't have had a court case. I couldn't sue a pastor for not marrying me any more than I could sue Pastor Daryl here in Madison for denying me communion (don't worry, Daryl, I'm not coming to test that one).

If the state is going to get into the business of granting certain practical rights to partners in committed relationships (e.g., see above), it can't Constitutionally distinguish between relationships that are religiously sanctioned and those that aren't. That's why I view having to obtain a license from the courthouse to get married as an improper "contortion" of the law.

By the way, Ken mentions nookie. Rebutting my contention that the legal discussion of marriage need not be about sexual intercourse, Ken says, "We wouldn't be considering extending the relationship of marriage to couples of men who are just chums. Without the nookie, no one would be talking about marriage." A minor quibble: the law generally turns a blind eye to whom we choose to have sex with (as ought we all). Why the law would suddenly start paying attention to our genital activities after we buy a ring is beyond me. And to be honest, if two heterosexual male best friends decided marriage wasn't for them but wanted to be roommates for life, share the mortgage and insurance coverage, and be each other's go-to guy if the other was in the hospital, I'd say, "No problem." Give 'em a civil union and all the concomitant legal recognitions. Rights shouldn't depend on nookie.

(Ken also notes his virgin spellchecker doesn't recognize "nookie." Ken's spellchecker doesn't know what it's missing.)


  1. Lots to think about here, Cory. If a meaningful and logical legal definition of "civil union" could be developed, and "marriage" left entirely out of the government's field of view, there might be less controversy surrounding the issue than we now see.

    There would have to be some rather strict requirements to qualify for a "civil union," lest people make them and break them just to get tax breaks and other benefits, eventually rendering the whole thing meaningless. I won't even begin to try to outline what those requirements might be.

    As for "marriage," I wonder what would happen in the current "gay marriage" battles if that institution were left entirely with the churches? I suppose some churches would marry gay couples, but most would not. If, however, "marriage" were a religious sacrament like communion, and not a legal contract, the wind would go altogether out of the sails of those would would burden the courts with this business -- right?

    I am puzzled by the zeal and fury with which the gay community has reacted to the initiative in California. Even after having lived for five years in South Beach Miami, I don't get this. I can only suppose that it's a reaction to an inner fear that I think gays have: If they don't stand up for their rights and maintain a certain "eternal vigilance," society might go down a slippery slope against them. Some of my literary colleagues were gay when I lived in South Beach, and one of them made constant reference in his fiction to "the camps," meaning places that HIV-positive people (a disproportionate number of whom are gay) would be sent for quarantine until death. These imaginings were not altogether paranoid, either -- some of my straight friends believed that quarantines of that sort were an ideal solution. If I took one thing away from South Beach in regards to the gay attitude, it was a knowledge of this fear, which a straight person might understand by comparing it to simmering fears in recent years among some ordinary folks that they could be targets of raids by out-of-control "homeland security agents" because they uttered the wrong word on the telephone or hit the wrong sequence of keys on their computers.

    So ends another pre-dawn Bidenism. In short: The more I think about keeping "marriage" out of the government's cross hairs, the more I like the idea.

  2. Good morning, Stan!

    You got it: take the legal component out of marriage, and all the court cases disappear.

    And even on civil unions, I'm not terribly worried about people abusing the institution. People getting married (or civilly united) for the wrong reasons doesn't render my marriage meaningless, any more than the Vikings playing bad football renders the sport meaningless.

    Do be careful, Stan: if people find out about your associations with the South Beach Miami gay community, they might not support your bid for President. ;-)

    Actually, your comment proves your earlier point about associations helping us understand different people. Well said.

  3. Oh, better clarify a couple of things...

    My comment was about civil unions, not marriage, becoming meaningless if people abuse it for financial gain at the expense of the truly deserving, e.g., a "family unit" including children. But we're a long way from having to face that dilemma, so my concern is largely theoretical and academic and will likely remain so for the rest of my lifetime, at least.

    The other thing worthy of note (in case there are any serious wingnut cases out there with endorphin deficiencies or hormonal maladies): I am as straight as a North Texas highway. Nevertheless, when I lived in South Beach Miami, I did have several gay literary colleagues. Interestingly, however, our difference in sexual preference placed a barrier or limit on the extent to which we could become good friends. "Acquaintances" was as far as it could go. I hope someday society can break down that invisible wall. Just as the human race becomes richer and healthier physically from racial inter-breeding (black father, white mother, for example!) so we ought to become spiritually richer by interacting with people who in some respects are totally unlike us. If there is one thing (besides the early morning ocean swims) that I miss about South Beach, it was the diversity. So many different thought modes packed into a square mile! Never any excuse for this eccentric scrivener to get bored.

    I guess I just got tired of the crime, noise, and hurricane threats ...


Comments are closed, as this portion of the Madville Times is in archive mode. You can join the discussion of current issues at MadvilleTimes.com.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.