You can’t just change the definition of marriage

26 Jun

This is a quick and dirty post in response to a news story about New York becoming the sixth state to recognize same-sex marriage. The report showed reactions from a few people who were opposed to the Marriage Equality Act: a woman who complained that you can’t just change the definition of “marriage,” and a man fretting over the possibility of a man wanting two women, or (presumably worse) a man wanting two men.

To the woman: the definition of marriage in the United States is not universal. A quick look at the entry on marriage in wikipedia shows not only that there are many definitions of marriage depending on the culture in question, and that the definition varies among scholars who study marriage, but also that the federal legislature has changed the definition several times over the years. The age of consent has changed, the ability to divorce has been made easier, and it is no longer illegal to marry outside your race. The definition of marriage can change, has changed, and will change, as society deems it necessary and/or right to do so.

To the man: And? I find it interesting that the concerns you have over polyamorous marriages does not include a woman who wants two husbands, or a woman who wants two wives. Or maybe those concerns were edited out by the show’s producers who wanted to limit the item’s shock value. Puritans can be so easy to shock when it comes to the sex lives of people they don’t know. Anyway, I have news for you: people already live in polyamorous relationships, and some of those relationships last longer than some monogamous heterosexual marriages. The only concern I have about polyamorous or group marriages is that everyone is genuinely committed to one another. The polygamous marriages in (usually Mormon, in the US, anyway) offshoot cults in which men in their 80’s compel girls in their early teens to join their however many other wives against their will is a problem, but it’s one of child abuse, not marriage. At any rate, polyamorous and group marriages are not likely to be recognized by law anytime soon.

More to the point, however, it’s a leap of logic to go from recognizing monogamous same-sex marriage to recognizing polyamorous or group marriage. Considerations in inheritance laws alone make the comparison invalid.

So, what it comes to is this: what do we, as a people, want legally recognized marriage to be? Do we want a system of laws that officially relegates gays and lesbians to second-class (or lower) status? Do we really want to preserve a system that treats some people (heterosexuals, in this case) preferentially for no logical or even discernible reason? (I’ll be generous and not assume bigotry.) We have an unfortunate history of using religion to justify unjustifiable laws and social customs, especially where logic fails to support those laws and customs. I believe that it would be a good and wise thing to ensure that logic and reason provide the basis for legislation, especially in cases where emotions run high, and if the concerns of the two people mentioned above are truly representative of opposition to same-sex marriage, then logic and reason are against them.

Congratulations, New York!

1 Comment

Posted by on June 26, 2011 in social justice



One response to “You can’t just change the definition of marriage

  1. Colin Wright

    June 26, 2011 at 6:10 am

    Nice post! Keep up the blogging; I’ll definitely keep reading.


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