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Gay Marriage — Burden is On Those Proposing Change

Posted by GayPatriotWest at 10:02 pm - January 7, 2007.
Filed under: Civil Discourse,Gay Marriage

In the update to one of my recent posts on gay marriage, I noted that while cleaning my apartment, I chanced upon a note I had scribbled about the debate on gay marriage, that the “burden is on those proposing the change.”

As opponents of gay marriage frequently point out, for the five thousand years of recorded human history, marriage has been an institution uniting a man and a woman in a lifelong union. And they’re right. While numerous cultures have recognized same-sex unions, they have defined them with a different name (than marriage) or required that one of the partners live his (or her) life as the gender opposite that of his partner.

In responding to that post where I faulted gay marriage advocates for not talking about the meaning of marriage and focusing only on gaining the right, a number of people commented in the same vein, demanding “equal rights,” including “full marriage rights.

While marriage has existed for as long as we have records of human civilization as the union of one man and one woman, it has evolved over time. The question that Western civilization now faces is whether or not our understanding of the institution will continue to evolve and come to include same-sex couples as well. Perhaps, as gay couples become increasingly a part of mainstream society, the evolution will happen naturally.

That said, I think we would be well served if those who want to see that evolution took more time to express why they believe it’s important to expand the definition of marriage. The burden is on those proposing changing an ancient institution. And yet, I don’t think it’s necessarily a heavy burden, merely an opportunity to promote the benefits of relationships.



  1. For the most part, it is your people, your party, that is holding things up or actively trying to make sure it doesn’t happen. You’re the conservative–go talk to them. That you pretend that they are even listening to gay and lesbian folks on this issue requires some therapy, but see what you can do. Best of luck with that conversation with your fellow party members.

    Oh, and just because you don’t hear what gay and lesbian people are saying about marriage in toto–which makes sense since LEGAL arguments about changes in CIVIL LAW require arguments about RIGHTS–doesn’t mean people aren’t speaking about it. (Imagine Scalia, listening to you go on about the romance and affection and love and bond and covenant and so on during oral arguments!)

    Comment by sean — January 8, 2007 @ 1:17 am - January 8, 2007

  2. For the most part, it is your people, your party, that is holding things up or actively trying to make sure it doesn’t happen. You’re the conservative–go talk to them.

    Actually this isn’t the reality.

    Look at several states that passed some kind of consitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage or some law to prohibit it. Those measures won by much larger margins than the GOP candidates got votes.

    The problem for the democratic party is they have a case of dueling constituents-gays and mostly African Americans-and when looking at the numbers, which group do you think the democrats are going to much more willingly throw under the bus?

    One huge group of people are more anti gay and opposed to gay marriage than any other, and that is a group that overwelmingly votes democratic-African Americans.

    Which brings us back to GPW’s point. If gays want to have the right to marry, they have to make the case for why they want to get married, and they need to broaden that case beyond the demand for legal rights-what is it about the institution itself that they want for themselves.

    Just tossing out a “it’s your fault” isn’t going to move the debate forward. At this point, there are a good number of people supportive to some degree of gay marriage or at least civil unions-now it is time to make the case to those who are opposed, and pointing fingers and casting blame isn’t going to do much to engage them in debate.

    Comment by just me — January 8, 2007 @ 7:24 am - January 8, 2007

  3. Marriage, a religious institution?

    I have difficulty trying to understand why allowing gays to use the term “marriage” rather than “unions” to be such a sticking point. I have heard it often said by people that are opposed to gay marriage; say that marriage is a religious institution. Or using the term marriage will somehow make a mockery of traditional marriages. If marriage were indeed a religious institution, why then are heterosexual couples afforded such a wide variety of ways of getting married that have no religious affiliation whatsoever? Heterosexual atheists are allowed to marry and they certainly don’t want any religious overtones to their marriages. Straight couples can get married by the justice of the piece; they can get married by a ship captain on a cruise ship. They can be married underwater or on a mountaintop, it seems to me it just doesn’t matter and that there are no restrictions. The list goes on and on therefore, making the argument of about marriage being a religious institution absurd.

    I have also heard many opponents of gay marriage say that same sex marriage will make a mockery of traditional marriages, meaning I suppose between a man and a woman. I think that looking closely at all of the statistics about the success of traditional marriages; they seem to be doing a damn good job of their own, making a mockery of the institution of marriage. Then when one looks at the statistics of how many straight lay men and woman who have extramarital affairs doesn’t look so good either not to mention many couples of the clergy who seem also not to have the greatest track record. So then, what do the opponents of gay marriage really mean by saying that same sex marriages would make a mockery of traditional marriage? One doesn’t have to be a sociologist or have a degree in statistics to understand that allowing gay marriages to exist would hurt no one. In fact gay marriage would likely cause gays to have longer lasting relationships. There has been a common complaint generally spouted out by the straight population, that gay relationships don’t seem last very long. Statistics do however bear out one thing in regards to marriage verses just living together as a couple, and that is that couples that are married verses couples just living together, do last longer if they are married. Perhaps this could be the answer in motivating gay couples to work harder at their relationships if they were legally bound by a legitimate contract, rather than just being able to just walk away as so often happens when they hit some rough waters as all relationships do at some point whether gay or straight. Thank you, Aaron Jason Silver Saugatuck, Mi 49408 269 561 6789

    Comment by aaron jason silver — January 8, 2007 @ 8:35 am - January 8, 2007

  4. I agree that we need to make the case on not just the legal level. The legal conversation is important, but marriage is about more than legal benefits, it’ a social institution, and most of the objections to gay marriage are not objections to granting benefits, per se, they are objections based on the social position of marriage. Marriage is a hybrid — it isn’t simply a civil institution. If we limit our rhetoric to the legal level, we will fail to convince millions of straight people who otherwise may be open-minded about the issue if we phrase it in a way that suggests we would like marriage opportunities for relationship reasons, for reasons that respect the institution of marriage and so forth, rather than simply to get the basket of benefits that goes along with marriage.

    Comment by Novaseeker — January 8, 2007 @ 10:21 am - January 8, 2007

  5. #3 You rightly point out the failing traditional marriages. While same sex marriage may not hurt marriage, I think that it helps to recognize that marriage is, in fact, threatened. Our entire society needs to talk about what marriage is and why it is important and valuable. So far it’s essentially conservative religious sorts who even seem to care at all about fidelity. I think that the overwhelming passage of defense of marriage sorts of things are passed by people who see families falling apart but who, if you asked them, also see no reason not to “shack up” as my mother would call it, and who see divorce as an entirely normal thing to happen.

    Heaven help the person who suggests that teenagers shouldn’t screw around.

    We sorta-kinda frown on “adultery” but “fornication” is a right to be enjoyed by every girl and boy.

    I would suggest that “marriage” depends on the expectation and practice of monogamy, before and after marriage. It depends on an assumption, not just a practice, of exclusivity and life-long commitment. It’s that assumption that allows two people to build together and support each other in a stable and reliable way. Not the perfection of it, because people fail, but the assumption of that standard and that what I build today with my partner will not be torn apart tomorrow.

    My father said that taking the other person for granted was the most important part of marriage. That you both *knew* without a doubt, that the other person would be there and still be there. You could take that for granted.

    I think he’s a pretty smart guy.

    Comment by Synova — January 8, 2007 @ 1:13 pm - January 8, 2007

  6. Marriage, a religious institution?

    While I wouldn’t label it specifically a religious institution, I admit that the aspect of my marriage that is most important to me is the religious one. Marriage to me is a promise made before God to be committed in every way to my husband.

    For a lot of people, this is the part of marriage that is important, and to dismiss it as inconsequentional is a mistake.

    I think that the missing part of this debate is what the commitment aspect really means, or ideally should mean. Why is that commitment good for society? Good for those involved? Why is it better than living together without marriage?

    While I wouldn’t say religion or religious believers have a monopoly on what is marriage, to dismiss their concerns or positions isn’t going to do much to further the debate.

    The people who are mainly focused on the legal/civil aspect of marriage are already on the side of gay marriage, it is the people for whom marriage means more than taxes, health decisions, and inheritance issues that need to be brought over. Making the “fair” argument is legitimate, but marriage is something more than what the government brings you, it is time to move in that direction with the debate.

    Comment by just me — January 8, 2007 @ 4:17 pm - January 8, 2007

  7. Just me and GPW:
    I think some clarification is in order.
    Marriage means different things within different religions, not to mention different things to different people within the same religion. Compare how a evangelical Christian from Quiverfull might view his marriage and family compared to a Protestant or Lutheran who belongs to the ACLU. Marriage represents an amazing amalgam of legal and religious characteristics. Marriage may be born in faith, refer to it in passing, or ignore it entirely. We are a society of many colors, blah blah blah. We all know this, right? So why am I bringing it up?
    Because to get married in today’s society, there is no religious test. None. And there never will be. Atheists can get married, religious people can get married civilly and never go near a house of worship, religious people and atheists can get married in a basilica or temple: it doesn’t matter. The state passes no judgment on those marriages, regardless of religious objection. So why do gay couples have to prove why their relationship and desire for a union passes muster with this religion or that? The answer: they don’t. They simply wish to bond together.
    Can you imagine a religious-based discussion of gay marriage? Assuming we could get past the gay-hatred by fundamentalist Christian and Muslims and Jews, how would we examine whether gay marriage is “religious enough” to deserve to exist? Do we analyze whether they plan to have children? If they view their vows as life-long or only “for now”? (And before you jump on me for that one, anyone who believes that Brittney Spears wedding in Vegas was entered into with a “till death do us part” intention, let me know; I’ve got a bridge to sell you.) If they view their marriage as a three-part arrangement (spouse, spouse, and God)?
    Basically, as soon as straight couples have to explain their religious intentions in getting hitched, gay people will as well. But until that day, I don’t see why gay people have to explain their motivations or lack thereof anymore that straight people do.

    Comment by torrentprime — January 8, 2007 @ 6:02 pm - January 8, 2007

  8. I am not advocating a religious test.

    I am simply calling somebody on the issue that marriage doesn’t have a religious component.

    Why is my marriage important to me? Because of the religious component. If the government decided tomorrow that it wasn’t going to provide various benefits to married couples, and/or stop recognizing marriages, I wouldn’t feel less married, because that isn’t what my marriage is.

    At this juncture, the debate as to why gays want marriage needs to move into the “what marriage means to me, and this is why I want it, and this is why it would be good for me and good for society” realm.

    Yes there is a civil component to marriage, but if all gays cared about is the civil component, they why not advocate for civil unions? What is it about marriage that makes gays want it?

    Not every gay person is an atheist, I am willing to bet many of the gay couples that want marriage want marriage for the same reasons my marriage is important to me-because of the religious significance it represents for them.

    As I already said-the people who are going to come over to the pro marriage side based on the civil stuff are pretty much already there, it is time to debate and address the more spiritual and philosophical aspects of what marriage means, and why gays want to be married above and beyond the government goodies.

    Comment by just me — January 8, 2007 @ 6:54 pm - January 8, 2007

  9. Yes there is a civil component to marriage, but if all gays cared about is the civil component, they why not advocate for civil unions? What is it about marriage that makes gays want it?

    From what I hear from my fellow gay guys who want to marry, their motivation is a stamp of validation from the government, local, state, federal. It really isn’t about a particular set of benefits, all of which can be addressed via ad hoc legislation. It isn’t about a particular status of the relationship within itself, i.e. how its participants view themselves or each other because, as you say, this isn’t what a marriage is and to achieve this status and have it taken away does not diminish the strength of a relationship any more than to deny this status in the first place. It really isn’t about love, either. I’ve been in love with both men and women (well, O.K. — I was a kid and was in love with this really beautiful girl who sat across from me in class and not only did I love her with all my heart, I loved looking up the little skirts she’d wear…this was before I knew I was gay) and our ‘status’ had nothing to do with my emotions, my deep love and appreciation, etc. It’s about being on equal footing BY LAW. It’s about society being forced (yes, forced) to regard homosexual relationships/homosexuality and heterosexual relationships/heterosexuality as equally valid. Though I’m gay, I don’t happen to agree with this view. Homosexuality and heterosexuality are, culturally and societally, not equal, never will be, and no label of pretense will ever change that.

    Comment by HardHobbit — January 8, 2007 @ 8:40 pm - January 8, 2007

  10. I’m sorry, but I have a hard time accepting this.
    “From what I hear from my fellow gay guys who want to marry, their motivation is a stamp of validation from the government, local, state, federal.”
    This sounds like it came straight from Freeperville, and I think it’s almost a direct quote! Many gays don’t want a stamp of validation. We don’t need one. In my case, I love my boyfriend and want to be with him forever, and the legal protections that straight couples have I want available to me. Ad hoc legislation or legal contracts rarely rise to the level of marriage, and why should I have to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees for what another couple gets for a cheapo marriage license?
    “A stamp of validation from the government?” When black wanted the right to vote and have a job, were they only looking for federal approval of their skin color?

    Comment by torrentprime — January 9, 2007 @ 2:26 pm - January 9, 2007

  11. I don’t even know what Freeperville is and I can assure you I don’t use the words of others without quoting explicitly.

    One of the benefits of marriage the gay men I know claim to want is the benefit of inheritance. I’m no legal expert, but I can hardly expect that anyone would disagree with a piece of legislation that allows anyone to bequeath their estate to anyone else. This is an issue of property rights. I agree that you shouldn’t have to pay legal fees or be engaged in a probate battle should you be your boyfriend’s heir. Wasn’t the property his? What possible gain has the state from preventing his wishes to be carried out?

    My point is that I often hear about the benefits of marriage (as in inheritance benefits) denied homosexuals. If the benefits were that important, why insist that marriage be only possible remedy? It isn’t.

    Comment by HardHobbit — January 9, 2007 @ 5:17 pm - January 9, 2007

  12. Just passing through but I couldn’t let it lie: In response to HardHobbit’s post above –
    Your question, essentially, is why can’t you just be happy getting with the same, or almost the same, rights through contract/will/etc? Answer: Because they’re not *really* the same. To use your inheritance example:

    Estate taxes: Property bequeathed through will is taxed differently from property inherited via legal survivorship; a legal survivor who is a spouse (or, hypothetically, a civilly-unioned partner) doesn’t have to pay them. Anyone else, including your partner of however many years or decades who has no other legal standing, will; and this can be a financial burden. Believe it or not, bequests are not slam-dunk either – families of decedents have successfully petitioned the courts to wrest said property from the surviving partner.

    This is but one example. For the record, any civil union that grants the same rights/responsibilities as marriage is fine by me; I don’t care what you call it. It’s not about “oh, oh, look at me” recognition. It’s about rights, it’s about responsibilities that are a tangible manifestation of a binding committment, it’s about creating stability in a community that often has little external support.

    It is difficult to create a stable home with a partner when your families are trying to tear you apart. Not some disapproving “society” – specific people you know, who know that legally you have no standing, so if they break you up it’s “no big deal;” who, when one person dies, wrest the above-mentioned bequeathment from the rightfully appointed heir. And, yes, it does happen.

    Comment by RadicalCentrist — April 27, 2007 @ 5:04 pm - April 27, 2007

  13. In typical male fashion, one forgets the main reason for a contract of marriage and why the state, for the well being of society, should keep it in it’s traditional form…..children.
    They do best in two parent families with the complementary mother and father. Yes, people marry who don’t or can’t have children, but for the majority they will.
    As far as legal documents, you can put whoever you want as beneficiary without a lawyer. If something happens to me, my parents will not have any problem as they are named beneficiary on all of my accounts. In the event I find someone special, I can switch.

    Comment by dianeces — January 28, 2008 @ 1:06 am - January 28, 2008

  14. […] Advocates of gay marriage must not forget that while the state may recognize gay marriage during the course of the campaign, they’re the ones pushing to change the way American jurisdictions, indeed world political institutions, have defined marriage for as long as they recognizes the institution. As I wrote before, the burden is on those proposing the change. […]

    Pingback by GayPatriot » A Strategy to Defeat CA Referendum on Marriage — May 19, 2008 @ 10:16 pm - May 19, 2008

  15. […] For as long as I’ve been blogging, I have faulted gay marriage advocates for demanding the benefits of marriage while not not talking about the meaning of this ancient and honorable institution (e.g., this post) […]

    Pingback by GayPatriot » A new California Initiative on Gay Marriage/A Slight Change of Rhetoric — June 10, 2008 @ 7:28 pm - June 10, 2008

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