Thursday, January 22, 2004

Rights & Reason: Gay Marriage, Inc.

I’ve just completed a lengthy review of the State of the Union, which will be posted at Initium later tonight. But while this topic is fresh in my mind, I wanted to comment here on President Bush’s opposition to gay marriage. As in the past, Bush’s policy is to “defend the sanctity of marriage” from any institutional change, even if that means amending the Constitution. The conservative argument has always been based on the principle that marriage is the single indispensable building block of society, and that permitting homosexuals to marry one another would destroy the institution’s fundamental value.

Bush uses the term “sanctity” for good reason. Like most conservatives, he views marriage as a God-based institution, a product of Biblical command and tradition. But in truth, marriage is a man-made institution. This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, yet this objective fact is always ignored by gay marriage opponents. Indeed, different societies structure marriage differently. Islamic societies permit polygamy. Many societies promote arranged, non-consensual marriages. Even some western European countries forbade divorce until recently. In the United States, the differences in marriage among states is generally cosmetic—Nevada has no waiting period, for example—but still the institution itself remains a product of man’s creation and control.

Nick and I were discussing this question last night, and the analogy we developed was that of a corporation. The corporation is a fundamental institution of capitalism—it provides a stable mechanism for raising capital and organizing individuals into large groups—but this does not make the corporation a sacred or infallible institution. The same is true of marriage. It is a man-made institution that provides a stable mechanism for raising children and organizing individuals into families. This does not, however, mean that permitting new marital structures will endanger existing ones. Gay marriage is no more a threat to existing marriage than LLCs are to publicly-traded corporations, even though the LLC is a relatively new invention of law.

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