With controversy raging about same-sex unions, same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships and commitment ceremonies, those attending Socrates Café one cold January night wanted to clarify the issue about the nature of marriage, if only to warm the cockles of their hearts.
It would make sense to reserve the term marriage for a relationship sanctified by some religious tradition, but “marriage” is applied to civil or common-law relationships. Furthermore, we usually imbue “marriage” with both sacred and legal dimensions. This raised several questions: Doesn’t our current concept of marriage represent the interference of church in the state’s business of granting legal and financial privileges to the relationship? Why are clergy made agents of the state? Why isn’t there a clearer separation of the religious from the civil aspects of a marital union?
It seemed to the group that “marriage” has fully confounded its sacred and civil aspects. This tradition has a powerful influence on our expectations of what the word means. Even some of the most liberal attendees felt that “marriage” should only apply to a male-female relationship. Nonetheless, traditions aren’t necessarily just. Several participants expect an evolution in the term “marriage” over the next twenty or so years to include same-sex committed relationships. Some pointed out the current controversy about same sex couples is similar to the arguments used several decades ago to proscribe trans-racial adoption or inter-racial marriage.
Virtually everyone felt that justice demanded that the financial privileges of married couples should apply to formally recognized same-sex committed relationships. These would include healthcare coverage, social security benefits to survivors, inheritance rights, adoption rights, etc.
Procreation is an argument for heterosexual marriage, but many heterosexual couples elect not to have children or cannot biologically have children. This, like homosexuality, may be viewed as promoting limits on population growth and therefore is good for society overall.
What if “marriage” were reserved for different-sex couples and if same-sex couples were given a different designation but identical civil rights? Some responded that, although there wouldn’t be a functional difference, there would be an emotional one. This would lead to a second class status and discrimination that would deprive same-sex couples of the historical, religious and romantic associations of marriage. If same sex couples are capable of engaging in the same, essential features of marriage that different-sex couples do, i.e. commitment, fidelity, respect, love and understanding, why should a different term be used? In fairness and from a humanistic standpoint, it was hard to argue against this, yet the emotional meaning of marriage and its association with a man and a woman left many with conflicted feelings.
The power of ideas is deeply felt and makes a difference. Join us the first and third Mondays of each month at 7pm. It will make a difference to you and to the others there.