Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hamlet's Plan: Thoughts on Marriage

The thing with revolutionary thinking is that it doesn't accomplish much if it isn't revolutionary enough. The gay marriage debate, for instance. Maybe we need to think less about who should be able to marry and more about why the hell we allow the government to determine what a valid relationship is. If we are going to change things, let's change them.

For a different reason (and from a different perspective) than Hamlet, "I say we will have no marriages."

Why do we think it is okay for the government to tell us if a union is valid? -- heterosexual or homosexual? I say we get the government out of the marriage business altogether.

I'm not much for argumentation by precedent. "Well, Chris," someone might say. "You have this pie-in-the-sky view that marriage should be all about love. In the past, it has been more of a business arrangement, from the Middle Ages forward..."

I know that. I do not care. We should have evolved past that by now.

To me, and to anyone with half a brain, marriage -- true marriage -- is about the union of two souls in love. The real "marriage" is spiritual. The legal part is about coins and rights. My marriage was not a mere business arrangement. Yet, the fact remains, I do have a legal right to choose my wife as my partner in all things legal. I get tax breaks for being married. I get to speak for her and she for me if extreme sickness comes to visit. Gay couples do not have this right, right now.

That said, let's not bring gay couples on board the Big Brother Machine of Marriage Blessing. Let's all bail out of it -- gay and straight alike.

The solution? We all get to choose who we want to speak for us if we are sick; we all get to say who inherits our stuff. We all have the right to arrange this legally, no matter who the other person is. If this means we call what used to be "marriage" "civil union," for all people, so be it.

It is for the government to say what is legal and what is illegal; it is for the individual to decide what is right and wrong (or for the individual's church or religious group, if he or she is a believer in such things and wishes to follow). There is a difference. The government will not tell me and should not tell anyone else what is "right." I think it is monumentally sad that we (all of us) seek approval of the State for our love. It's horrifying that this is what we seek. When I hear people talking about marriage rights as a validation, it makes my skin crawl and I start getting all Orwellian.

We, as Americans -- and citizens of the world -- should have the right to choose our legal life-partners. The motivation for that choice should be irrelevant, at least as far as the government is concerned. We should be able to do this on paper and in the books, so that, when we are sick, we have who we want at our bedside, making the big decisions; so that we can leave what we want to whom we want. (In fact, if I have lived with my pal Tom all of my life and we are just two straight guys who have decided never to marry and who are best friends who plan to live together forever, why not allow us to file for a civil union? -- to be legally responsible for and connected to each other?)

As for marriage? That is for us as couples, alone. It is an event that should take place in churches, temples, synagogues and sacred groves, based on individual belief. We should be free to follow our beliefs. Even in the Bible story, God put the forbidden tree there so that Adam and Eve could decide what to do on their own. He didn't put a legal team in place to assure that the State upheld the rule of what is "right." He wanted humankind to decide, each as individuals -- to have free will to make decisions.

I know this idea of pushing the government out of the marriage business is not immediately practical, but sometimes a good idea is inconvenient and impractical. It is not always a plan that is ready to be implemented. All I am saying is that we as both gay and straight people ought to work up the guts to tell the government that they will do our bidding: If I choose to tie myself legally to a person, I will do so and the government, which is there to serve me, will comply. The legal eagles can make it as hard as they want to break these legal ties -- and it should be hard to worm out of an official legal life commitment -- but they should not be allowed to say whether I am "married" to the one I love.

You can, if you want, type up laundry list of reasons why this is impractical. I do not care. I'm interested in what is right. We can work out the bugs later. Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis knows it is about starting a chain-event of ideas and not about proposing point-by-point solutions.

If we are going to revolutionize things, let's do it. Let's stop allowing the government to diminish the meaning of love and marriage to paperwork. This debate shouldn't be about marriage equality; it should be about marriage freedom; legal rights should be a separate issue and if a couple wants to marry in their church and not file for civil union, okay. It should be about the government getting out of matters of the heart and soul and sticking with bean-counting and road-building and tax-break providing.

The current debate feels too much to me like a bid for an equal right to be branded and herded by the government. Again, I think both proponents for and arguers against gay marriage are oversimplifying this whole issue. The current system (when it comes to marriage) is invasive. Maybe it took the gay marriage debate to uncover that. For me, that's what happened, anyway.

For the record, the person who first mentioned this idea to me was my gay uncle. It's amazing how a passing statement can give one a new perspective on something as old and as accepted as the hills.

I understand that during arguments at the Supreme Court, the issue of semantics came up; one of the judges asked if this were as simple as a word: "marriage" or "civil union." Well, that ain't simple. And I guess that's what this is all about. I'm good with a government sanctioning a "civil union," but not a "marriage." A governmental body saying who I am married to is just creepy.

(I'm interested in what you have to say about this, but, please, if you are going to give me a knee-jerk reaction to this [after a quick reading] that reduces this to a pro or a con of legalization of gay marriage and then condemn me for either an opponent of gay rights or as a liberal nut-job, you either didn't read closely enough or I wasn't clear enough. This is supposed to be about freedom for all of us. I wish it were as simple as a question as to whether gays should or should not have a right to marry, but I do not believe that it is. )


  1. Yeah, I agree, you have the ideal. Thanks, Uncle to Chris, for the insight. Now if we could all work on the competent execution of divorcing marriage from the government in an actionable way... hmmmm. This will take more than two cups of coffee, I'm afraid.

  2. "Get the government out of the marriage business" is a common libertarian refrain, often meant in support of gay marriage, but I find the notion at odds with what many gay people and all gay activists actually want: solid government recognition of their marriages.

    We all live in the shadow of a bureaucratic and legal mountain so vast that I don't think it's possible to get government out of marriage. Even though the idea is widely discussed, I don't see any politicians, lawyers, or activists seriously working to bring about such a divorce.

    1. No, neither do I, Jeff. But all I'm asking is that we make a "civil union" as simple as filling out papers and submitting them. The idea that gays and gay activists want "government recognition for their marriage" is the very thing I would like to see go away. Let the government recognize all of our civil unions (gay and straight alike) and let't leave marriage for the spiritual end of things. Admittedly, a lot of this has to do with semantics for me. Marriage is a bigger thing than the government should be allowed to dabble in. If we all get civil unions and are on our own for "marriage" then the gay community will have equal recognition. The only thing that will change is the implication that the government is telling us what is "right" in terms of love and committment. I'd love to see that piece go away.

  3. It is, indeed, a speeding train, Bryce. But I think we can steer it safely if we are wise enough to adjust our concepts a bit.