Monday, July 14, 2003

Same Sex Marriage

What's all the fuss about? All over the (Western) world, and soon to come to these shores, governments are allowing their civil laws covering the state of matrimony to apply to members of the same sex. Most recently, in Canada, the Ontario Appeals Court made a decision that, in combination with the federal government's refusal to challenge it, made "same-sex marriage" a fait accompli in Canada. And or course, our own Supreme Court refuses to allow legislation that regulates private sexual behavior (although they have not legalized prostitution or bigamy, and don't look like they are likely to). So the social conservatives are steaming hot over the "abandonment" by our governments of the most basic foundation of civilization, the institution of marriage. And again I ask: "What's all the fuss about?"

Marriage is a contract between two people. It has been enshrined in religious ceremony and license. It is only quite recently that governments decided to legislate the institution. In the way of governments and the nature of laws, these enactments were mostly intended to prohibit certain behaviors, but more recently, after bigamy and polyandry were prohibited, the thrust of matrimonial legislation and license was made to ensure the transfer of certain rights between the partners. Rights like the right to receive part of a pension or Social Security payments, the right to make certain medical decisions regarding the health of one's partner in times of dire need, the right to receive some of the assets and income or the other in divorce, and the right (and obligation) to participate in the lives of the offspring.

But, over time, these rights have blurred. Many, but not all, of these rights have become available to non-married people either through changing rules of society, or specifically contracted agreements between people. But not everyone executes a pre-nup, or antenuptial agreement, and not every pension plan allows marital payouts to be assigned by contract. And hospitals are wary of contractual agreements; a doctor friend of mine claims that even living wills are frequently ignored. But they will always listen to the wishes of the spouse. And that may be the most heartbreaking part of the problem. My wife could have the hospital pull the plug on me, should the need arise, but if I were gay, my partner could only watch me suffer, until the insurance money ran out.

My marriage is a legally standard one, but it really is a deal between me and my wife, with a side order of kids. I can not imagine that, after the novelty wears off, that many gays will want the same deal. But if they do, I can't see a logically compelling reason to deny them the legal protection that we enjoy. And if they can find or establish a church that will bless their union, God bless them as well.

(You can check out the opposite view, at - Essays On Our Times.)