Monday, August 18, 2008

definition of marriage

During the interviews with Obama and McCain conducted last weekend, Rick Warren asked the candidates for their definition of marriage. Both candidates are against same-sex marriage. It's a gotcha question. The words "definition of marriage" lead naturally to the language that has been written into DOMA and many state constitutions over the last few years. It's easy to fall into the trap, as Obama did, by starting your answer with, "Marriage is the union of one man and one woman." But there's a much better way to answer that question, both more accurate and more open.

Marriage is at the same time, a legal contract administered by a state, and a religious covenant sacralized by a faith community. As a legal institution the state is required by our laws and our American principles of fairness and equality to extend the benefits and responsibilities of marriage to any two adult persons who wish to make the pledges of mutual support that constitute legal marriage. As a religious covenant each faith community is free to define for itself what marriage means spiritually and which marriages they will recognize. At this time many religious communities will only bless the marriages of opposite-sex couples, while many other religious communities joyfully bless the marriages of same-sex couples as well as opposite-sex couples.

4 comments:

Bill Baar said...

As a legal institution the state is required by our laws and our American principles of fairness and equality to extend the benefits and responsibilities of marriage to any two adult persons who wish to make the pledges of mutual support that constitute legal marriage.

As long as marriage is licensed by Governments, Governments are going going to have to discriminate one way or the other on what marriage is... for example in Illinois cousins under age 50 may not be licensed to marry (over 50 it's ok). When the marriage cermony is performed, the license has to be signed and mailed from the same county where the ceremony was performed.

All sorts of rules about marriage. Like 'em or not, Marriage is hardly a right.

As for clergy, my UU minister had us take a Meyers-Briggs test and then recommended my wife and I not get married.

He wasn't about to perform the service for us as a right. I left that Church (no hard feelings) and ended up at a UCC Church where the minister performed the service contingent my joining his church.

Nobody talked about our rights to marry for sure....

Rev. Ricky Hoyt said...

The state naturally has the power to make decisions about what sorts of personal arrangements it will recognize and support - whether marriages, or adoptions, or business partners or whatever. And in making that decision the state must consider several factors, such as the ability of the persons to enter a contract, public safety, and public interest (i.e. whether there is a benefit to the state in granting legal recognition).

So the state has perfectly legitimate reasons to allow some persons to marry and not others. There are good reasons not to allow children to marry, or close family members, but there is no legally justifiable reason not to recognize the marriages of same-sex adult couples. Nor would recognizing same-sex couples would not lead to opening the floodgates to a broadly perceived "right" to marry that would have to apply to all people.

Religious institutions have different criteria about whom to marry. Some marriages that the State will recognize some religious groups won't recognize (i.e. interfaith marriages). And some marriages that a religious group will recognize (i.e. same-sex marriages in several faiths currently) the state does not recognize. Religious groups will always have the right to decide for themselves which marriages they will bless, whether the marriage is legally recognized or not.

Bill Baar said...

Once you've accepted the government's right to license marriage i.e. to discriminate whom can marry, you've conceded to the Gov the right to discriminate pretty much as voters see fit. There is certainly no explicit constitutional right to marry. It's not something inalienable to us.

When you write

And in making that decision the state must consider several factors, such as the ability of the persons to enter a contract, public safety, and public interest (i.e. whether there is a benefit to the state in granting legal recognition).

You've made marriage public policy here and the public has a right to voice what their common interest is through the electorate.

At one time that was racial purity and meant the Gov licensing marriages to control whom married. Sometimes the public can come up with bad policies.

Given our libertarian times and the trend to increaing autonomy and individual living... I think we'd best get the Government back out of the marriage-licensing business alltogether, disentangle benefits contingent on married couples just too individuals, and leave it to Churchs for those who wish a sacrament.

Rev. Ricky Hoyt said...

I completely disagree.

Yes I accept the government's right to license marriage. We're not talking about the freedom of persons to make romantic attachments or the freedom of religious organizations to freely bless relationships they deem holy, we're talking about a legal contract through which two people agree to mutual support (thus relieving the state of a certain burden) in exchange for the state granting various benefits and protections to that relationship. Absolutely the state has the power to decide which sorts of relationships are eligible for that and which are not. Some restrictions are reasonable - like only adults can be married - some restrictions are unreasonable - like only people of the same race or opposite sexes could get married. The unreasonable restrictions are eventually overturned by due legal process (courts, legislature, executive order, vote).

But you're absolutely wrong that government licensed marriage means that the state can then discriminate "pretty much as the voters see fit." The voter's will is constrained by our constitution. And in California the recent court decision says that gay and lesbian couples do have a constitutional right to marry. The voters can only eliminate that right by changing the constitution. A right doesn't have to be "inalienable" to be a right. And a right can be reasonably restricted and still be a right. I have a right to free speech but not in every circumstance.

I certainly hope that the California voters will not change the constitution when we vote in November but I absolutely support their democratic right to do so (although I believe they are grave problems with the initiative system by which the constitutional amendment was brought to a vote). And if it does pass it merely means that a future amendment will be needed to take out the discriminatory language.

And lastly, I don't agree that governments should only grant rights to individuals and not recognize any marriages. Human beings are not just individuals we are also social and communal beings. Legal marriage recognizes a fundamental aspect of human life. Legal marriage is a great benefit to our society as well as the individual's involved. It is in the state's best interest (and the state means you and I and everybody) to recognize and regulate civil marriages and then let the religious organizations do what they will about spiritual marriage.