There's been a lot of talk about marriage equality over the past several months. But like those who invoke the phrase "social justice," activists who speak of "marriage equality" don't seem to have a clear understanding as to what marriage equality actually means.
One writer for Salon.com thinks marriage equality means granting polygamous couples the right to marry. Libertarians contend it means getting the state out of the marriage business all together. Others still, like well-known pro-gay rights journalist Masha Gessen, admit that “fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying” because, in reality, “the institution of marriage should not exist.”
What are we to make of all this? Once we get past all the smoke screens and sloganeering, it’s easy to see that there is no such thing as marriage equality.
Marriage is an institution endowed by nature. It is not a creation of the state. The state merely recognizes marriage as the union of one man and one woman because it has an interest in the well-being of children.
In this sense, marriage is not a religious institution. Marriage is a pre-political union that acts as a societal building block. As the philosopher Aristotle noted some 2300 years ago, when a man and a woman come together they form the first government: the family.
When the state recognizes this complimentary union, it strengthens society. When the state tampers with this union, like it did when it introduced no-fault divorce laws in the 1960s and 70s, the state weakens society. Ultimately, children end up getting hurt.
State recognition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman encourages responsible fatherhood. When a child is born, chances are its mother is going to be close by. Whether or not that child’s father is going to be around is unknown. By supporting “marriage equality,” people are indirectly supporting a policy that says it doesn’t matter where that child’s father is.
Of course, not all male-female unions can produce children. This is an important point. It leads some to argue that marriage really isn’t about procreation at all.
While it may be true that some opposite-sex couples cannot procreate, the reason for their infertility is not the same as same-sex couples. Anatomically speaking, same-sex couples are inherently incapable of bearing children.
Their union necessitates the distancing of any children they may rear from one of that child’s biological parents. Opposite-sex couples, on the other hand, cannot procreate due to old age or biological realities. This is not a one-to-one comparison.
Again, marriage is primarily about children. If marriage was not about children, there would be no reason for the government to regulate it.
Even if you believe same-sex couples should be able to participate in the institution of marriage, what rational basis is there, as liberal Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has argued, to discriminate against polygamous or incestuous couples by limiting marriage to two unrelated people?
Sure, the state may create an institution that imitates marriage, and whatever that institution ends up being called might allow some people to be happy for a while, but marriage itself is not something that can be equalized. Let’s stop kidding ourselves