What is marriage? Gov Christie vetoes “same sex marriage bill”.
Good for Gov. Christie. There remains hope that there is a place in the Republican party for people of principle. Maybe not in Washington, but that is another discussion. I want to discuss what marriage is and how we can protect it.
I want to approach this from a different point of view. One that doesn’t rely on religious belief. One that is based purely on an analysis of the logic behind why a society allows government involvement in the relations between two consenting adults. From a purely civic point of view marriage is a contract between two consenting adults and the government. What is unique about marriage is that last part, “and the government”. Lets see what this means.
First we need to understand something about regular legal partnerships. Two consenting adults of any sex can enter into a contract partnership without approval by the government. Two consenting adults can engage in intimate relations without government interference. Two adults can own property in common; they can acquire, benefit from, and dispose of assets held in common; they can exchange powers of attorney, and they can designate each other beneficiary of insurance policies, and in many states they can declare a “life-partner” who will be treated to the same employee benefits extended to a spouse. In short, with proper legal documentation they can create a framework covering all the benefits of marriage without approval from the government. Like all partnerships it ends with the death of one of the partners and the assets become the property of the other partner. Taxes ramification can be offset by insurance. Further, if the partners decide to end the partnership (for any reason) the government will adjudicate any dispute over distribution of assets and liabilities based on the provisions of the contract.
So in short, the government has a system in place to provide people with the ability to enter into a partnership that provides all the legal protections of a marriage, without the strings and without advanced approval. So what makes “marriage” unique?
Marriage is a contract between two consenting adults of the opposite sex, and the government representing the interests of an unknown number of potential interested minor third parties, interests that survive the termination of the partnership.
We call the interested third parties children.
This is what makes marriage different from any other contract. First, there are potentially interested parties that otherwise do not exist, that might be introduced into the partnership through intimate relations between the partners and standard partnership is not designed for this situation. A standard partnership does not “automatically extend” to additional partners and as minors they do not meet the qualifications to be “consenting adults”. Further, unique to a marriage contract is that the interest of the children survives the termination of the contract. In all partnerships once the partnership is dissolved, there are not further obligations on the partners. But marriage is different because the offspring retain a claim against both partners that continues even after the contract has been dissolved. It is this claim and the rights of these children that brings the government into the agreement in advance. The government is there to protect the interests of the minors, not the interests of the adults.
Same sex couples cannot introduce children into the the partnership through monogamous intimate relations. Therefor there is no risk that a same sex marriage will introduce “interested third parties’ and no reason for the government to go to the expense to “provide protection” for children.
There is the argument that couples can adopt. Any couple can adopt as can single people in many places. But adoption has it’s own legal structure to protect the interests of the minors involved and therefore does not require the unique provisions of the marriage contract. In addition it must be recognized that one or both members of a lesbian partnership can produce children. Not through intimate relations between the partners, but by the introduction of breading material from a third party how ever that may be achieved. The government has a very clear stance on extra-marital relationships that produce offspring. The obligation falls on the biological parents. The government treats any relationship, however brief or transient that results in the birth of an offspring as a contract and gives the offspring rights that survive the termination of the contract.
So, in summary, marriage is a unique legal construct for the express purpose of providing protection to the unborn children that result from a declared partnership that involves an intimate relationship between two people of the opposite sex.
Religion and cultural beliefs distract from the basic legal purpose for government involvement. While they enhance the lives and relationships of the parties involved they only serve as a distraction from the basic debate over the meaning of marriage and laws intended to change the definition of a marriage contract.
Personally I don’t care what relationships two people have, regardless of sex of the partners. But I do not believe it is in the best interest of society to deny the basic premise of marriage as legal protection for offspring produced by the intimate relations between a man and a woman in a monogamous relationship. Even if that does result in an inferior status for any other form of relationship.