“Marriage” matters   Leave a comment

as published on examiner.com

The Constitutional threat that is the Defense of Marriage Act (discussed in Part One), and the false rhetoric of some in the opposition to Civil Unions (countered in Part Three) are just some of the elements  essential to the problem of Government support for “Gay Marriage”.

The opponents of gay marriage in the general populace at the least have intellectual honesty on their side — even if that pesky empathy (and perhaps some level of Reason) evades them.  Few public voices against State sanctioned gay marriage, if any, dare to address the psychological and moral premises involved in their positions, and even fewer are able to.

This post will.

To understand the issues involved one must begin with fundamentals. The fundamental question one must ask first is not “should we or should we not provide public sanction for gay marriage?” .

The questions one needs to ask are “what is marriage” and “why are so many opposed to providing a public sanction for “gay marriage” ?”.

One could easily run to the simple “everyone knows what marriage is” answer to the first question.  It would be even easier for an automatic “its just a religious thing” answer to the second. Both knee jerk responses, though understandable, are fundamentally flawed.

The problem of “gay marriage” is philosophical.  Specifically, it is a conceptual issue, not a moral one.

Concepts are the singular element in understanding existence and  are essential for furthering our body and level of knowledge.  Concepts cannot be manufactured artificially.  Each of us develops our conceptual awareness step by step based on observation.

Each side of the divide on gay marriage, while ostensibly debating “marriage” on legal grounds, are using dissimilar concepts. Quite literally they are not discussing the same thing. Incidentally, much of our public discourse may well suffer from this problem.

Observe that when Conservative opponents of “gay marriage” voice their position they do so using terms like “threat”, “constitution”, and “manufactured rights”, while supporters use terms like “family” , “fairness”, and “equality”.

Each side becomes further entrenched in their position, and often angry at the other for perceived hate or dishonesty. Each side of this divide leaves a particular discussion feeling that their view of the other has been validated by the refusal of the other side to see and accept their arguments.

As stated, the problem lies in the fact that we are not discussing the same thing.

To go back to the initial questions which need be addressed: what is it we are talking about when we use the term “marriage”? What visual image arises when the word “marriage”  heard?

Most of us likely picture an assemblage of family and friends smiling for the happy couple in a hall or house of worship on the wedding day, a gathering of relatives and friends at home for a dinner for some family function, a friendly face greeting us in the morning with breakfast, sitting down with another paying bills or putting together a shopping list, etc.  All these visual images arise unbidden and automatically from our subconscious because we have, based on a few basic observations as children, which we further build through a lifetime of experience.

With these observations we have developed  a concept we call “marriage” . Little if anything has changed since our first childhood observations that would alter in any meaningful way our initial conceptualization. Over many experiences in life we have merely expanded our initial concept to include, for instance, bill paying or relationship techniques.

Think then if you will how we could possibly incorporate data into that concept that is simply unusable, imprecise, or contradictory to what we already “know” to be “true”. Could or would the term “briefcase” or “surface” add anything meaningful to the concept “marriage”? Could one integrate them into one’s definition and mental image? Of course not.

This is the problem with adding “gay”  to “marriage”  for both opponents and for supporters. One side has no problem integrating because for them “marriage” means one thing, while the other means something quite different.

Gays and lesbians conceptualize marriage in terms of legal protections and sanctions; civil benefits of visitation, inheritance, and tax benefits are the primary concern, with the not necessarily consciously added bonus of “public validation”. Opponents, on the other hand, conceptualize “marriage” in terms of community recognition, family obligations, and moral validation from faith; the legal protections afforded are secondary, though not trivial.

For those of a religious leaning, the very premise of publicly validating what they deem immoral relationships — on their fiscal and moral dime — indeed threatens their very concept of “marriage”.

Meanwhile, gays and lesbians have experienced  many, many centuries of their very presence hidden from public view. They’ve  endured considerable financial and personal losses from an absence of civil benefits and public protections, as well as many, many decades of scorn. The notion that anyone would deny them legal protections of their assets and refuse to grant the fundamental similarity of their relationships  — despite the fact that they themselves pay the same taxes (often a bit higher) — is correctly seen as both hypocritical and a violation of their right to fair and equal treatment.

The  conceptualization of marriage by the Right does not, and as yet cannot, grasp that history and scholarship shows that gay couples up through much of the middle ages had been afforded marital status if they sought it. Their conceptualization cannot incorporate what it deems an immoral and illegal usurpation of their right to not have their faith interfered with. They remain convinced (and perhaps correctly) that a government that protects the “sanctity” and the “rights” of gay relationship would do this.

The dilemma of “gay marriage”  is that since time immemorial “marriage” as a legal institution has been a conflagration of civil (as in non religious governmental) protections as well as a public validation of the relationship through an institution such as a house of worship.

Historically marriage has always had these components.

Practically, the public component was the validation of the relationship for property “rights” and for dynastic purposes while the private component was rarely considered.

History and practicality, as well as the natural changes of social norms, has imbued “marriage” with the addition of “romantic love” and “family bonding” into a mix that was once unconcerned with these.

Our ever changing notions of love and family made marriage a much more private, interpersonal affair than it once was.

Marriage has kept its public component. That role, however, has changed. Today, private concerns include issues of money and family. Publicly the term “marriage” invites the notion of validation of the relationship qua relationship. Both supporters and detractors of gay marriage recognize the psychological significance of this public component. Neither side is likely to give much ground.

Gays continue to demand (correctly) that their relationships be seen for what they are — fundamentally similar to heterosexual ones.  This cannot be done through the imposition of an artificially created concept like “gay marriage” and must not be done through the force of government. The Right must be persuaded and convinced, not forced.  The religiously minded continue to refuse (correctly) to be told that they must offer public validation if gay relationships.  This is especially true if they perceive their religious liberties to be at stake. For Conservatives (and one would assume for liberals) liberties are an ethical issue, not merely a political one.

Much is at stake conceptually for Conservatives.  Much more than just “constitutional” liberty. The conceptual framework that they’ve built their lives on; marriage, family, faith is threatened by the attempted integration of the foreign element “gay”, as well as by the ethical notion of “manufacturing” rights they do not believe ever existed qua public validation.

Each side continues, however,  to use the language of the other.

Each has perceived that the other has achieved some amount of  successes in employing specific terminology. When making their case,  each uses the terminology of the other side.  This guarantees  to set off alarms.

The terminology and the end goal of this debate needs to change, if indeed each truly  hopes to achieve  the fairness and equal rights they claim they seek.


Posted May 14, 2011 by cchashadenough

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