Thursday, December 4, 2008


Robert Epstein argues in today's Los Angeles Times that Californian's were correct in constitutionally defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. Interestingly his problem is not that same-sex unions shouldn't be legally recognized, rather that there are many other kinds of adult relationships that ought to enjoy state recognition. Money quote.

Let's fight a larger battle, namely to have government catch up to human behavior. That means recognizing the legitimacy of a wide range of consensual, non-exploitative romantic partnerships, each of which should probably have its own distinct label.

While admirably inclusive, his argument makes no sense in several different ways:

Recognizing same-sex marriage does not preclude discussing other kinds of romantic relationships beyond marriage (co-habitation, polygamy) if that's what someone wants to do at a later point. Why not move the argument forward by addressing the issue that's actually on the table?

On the other hand, recognizing same-sex marriage does not automatically lead to recognizing other kinds of romantic relationships if we would prefer not to. The primary benefit to society when couples marry (opposite-sex or same-sex) is that they agree to take responsibility for each other and any progeny relieving the state of that burden. Relationships that can be easily undone (co-habitation) or that confuse the issue of personal responsibility (polygamy) are less desirable for the state and Epstein is wrong to equate them.

And lastly, the issue of what to call these different arrangements comes down to three options: either we call every relationship marriage, or we call every relationship by some other term (civil union, perhaps), or we call each kind of relationship by a different uniquely descriptive word as Epstein suggests. But Epstein's idea is inherently discriminatory. The word marriage itself carries societal benefits that other labels do not convey, even if every legal benefit is included. So if the only other option is to call everything marriage or everything something else why not just call everything by the word that people already use and understand?

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