Thursday, July 24, 2014
Episode 135 -- In Defence of Marriage
This is my humble response to laws claiming to defend marriage, revising and extending an earlier comment I made on Twitter.
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Hi. Something I wanted to say before I lose my nerve, but it's been on my mind for a while.
This whole debate about gay marriage? It really isn't about gay marriage. It's about marriage. And it's about the role of the government in marriage.
Right now, the role of the government is to acknowledge the commitment between the two people, and say, "Since you've done the right paperwork and made this commitment to each other, we'll give you certain rights and privileges, and impose certain responsibilities. It is most emphatically not the role of government to decide who gets married, simply to acknowledge the fact of the marriage and treat them as a married couple as provided by law.
That seems to be the point being missed by those who argue for DOMA and other quasi-religious laws to defend, or support, or encourage traditional marriage. The government has no role in those parts of marriage. The supporters of DOMA et al don't think they should, either, really. They think -all- such a law would do would be to prevent people of whom they don't approve from being married. That's wrong, twice over.
It's wrong because it doesn't actually prevent two people in a committed relationship from being committed to each other. Their own religions don't say the government marries people. Their churches and their deities marry people, the people marry each other, the government just does some paperwork, for all those rights, privileges and responsibilities I mentioned earlier. By their own standards, people who are committed to each other are married, far beyond the governments poor power to add or detract. They often feel their own religious ceremonies make those people more married, but they certainly don't believe the government can.
And it's wrong because it sets a standard, that the government _can_ define what is and is not marriage. That's been done to a point already, for good or for ill, mostly for ill. It's that whole slippery slope thing rearing it's ugly head once again. I find it ironic that the arguments that come to mind for me against putting the government in charge of marriage are the same ones GK Chesterton made a century ago.
If you think I'm wrong, read or re-read "Eugenics and Other Evils." If you're listening to this you're probably aware I recorded the whole book to audio a while back, and you can still find it on Podiobooks, or in back episodes of Stories from the Hiber-Nation. I shall try to force myself to not add entire chapters of those recordings to this one. But let me grab a couple of sentences on point in my opinion. For some reason, folks who argue for some law "defending marriage" keep raising the issue of some guy wanting to marry a goat. I don't know of anyone other than those folks who can't keep that image out of their minds, and one wonders how much of their time is devoted to their fascination with this possibility. Chesterton had something similar to say regarding the Eugenist's fascination. "If men did not marry their grandmothers when it was, for all they knew, a most hygienic habit; if we know now that they instinctly avoided scientific peril; that, so far as it goes, is a point in favour of letting people marry anyone they like. It is simply the statement that sexual selection, or what Christians call falling in love, is a part of man which in the rough and in the long run can be trusted. And that is the destruction of the whole of this science at a blow."
A couple more snipped quotations for you. "Far into the unfathomable past of our race we find the assumption that the founding of a family is the personal adventure of a free man. ... Among free men, the law, more often the creed, most commonly of all the custom, have laid all sorts of restrictions on sex for this reason or that. But law and creed and custom have never concentrated heavily except upon fixing and keeping the family when once it had been made. The act of founding the family, I repeat, was an individual adventure outside the frontiers of the State. Our first forgotten ancestors left this tradition behind them; and our own latest fathers and mothers a few years ago would have thought us lunatics to be discussing it." That's what Chesterton said. And that's what we lunatics are discussing now, having the State decide who is really married.
Another common defence of these laws is given in response to future abuse of the laws once created. Once a law is in place to give the State more power over marriage, as with anything else, the State will take more and more power over it. These law-givers smile and say "We would never allow that to happen, of course." Here's what Chesterton said about those people. "I call them the Autocrats. They are those who give us generally to understand that every modern reform will "work" all right, because they will be there to see. Where they will be, and for how long, they do not explain very clearly. I do not mind their looking forward to numberless lives in succession; for that is the shadow of a human or divine hope. But even a theosophist does not expect to be a vast number of people at once. And these people most certainly propose to be responsible for a whole movement after it has left their hands. Each man promises to be about a thousand policemen. If you ask them how this or that will work, they will answer, "Oh, I would certainly insist on this"; or "I would never go so far as that"; as if they could return to this earth and do what no ghost has ever done quite successfully—force men to forsake their sins. Of these it is enough to say that they do not understand the nature of a law any more than the nature of a dog. If you let loose a law, it will do as a dog does. It will obey its own nature, not yours. Such sense as you have put into the law (or the dog) will be fulfilled. But you will not be able to fulfil a fragment of anything you have forgotten to put into it."
See my point? It's the same debate, with the same forces making the same arguments, for seemingly different reasons. Maybe it's just that I've gotten older, but every time I hear the modern arguments, I hear echoes of the old ones. And the reason I intend to harp incessantly upon this particular point is that I think it is one that those religious who are supporting these actions might acknowledge and agree with. I bring GK Chesterton to the table with me, because I doubt any of them could argue he wasn't a wise and religious man. As a man of his time, he most likely would not have spoken in favor of gay marriage. But he's already spoken about this sort of law presented by essentially the same people in shinier suits.
These laws don't defend marriage. I don't think you defend marriage by having it more strictly ruled by the State. Judge for yourself if that has worked in Communist China. I think you strengthen marriage by encouraging and acknowledging the committed relationships that lead to marriage. We have hundreds of thousands of people who have those committed relationships, who ask of us that we acknowledge their commitments as we acknowledge other commitments we think we understand better. "Far into the unfathomable past of our race we find the assumption that the founding of a family is the personal adventure of a free man. ... falling in love, is a part of man which in the rough and in the long run can be trusted."
I think that says it all. Good night. And good luck.