Gay Marriage Dilemma: SOLVED

I have the solution to it. The solution did not originate with me, I’m only channeling it to you. But then that raises the question of origins and originality, which must certainly be left to another post (or no post).

I’m not going to tell you the solution yet. This, of course, might make you want to scroll down to the bottom of the post, in the same way that I still want to flip to the end of a novel before I’m halfway through it. However, the solution lies not only at the end, but in the path towards it.

Anyways, before the solution, we need to define our terms.

Defining Our Terms

“Gay” – This one’s easy. Used to mean happy, now means homosexual.

“Marriage” – This one’s hard. And it’s contextual. Exploration…

Different people mean different things when they say “marriage.” Some religious people (Buddhists excluded, by the way…watch for an upcoming post on why I’m not a Buddhist) think about God in reference to marriage – they use words like “sanctity” and “covenant” and “holy” and “union.” Among those religious people – even within Christendom – opinions vary about whether homosexuals ought to be granted the term “married.” That’s a fine debate, but it’s not actually pertinent here, for the other sphere in which “marriage” is a commonly employed term is the legal one. We’ve heard enough news and talk radio (or signed enough papers) to know what marriage means in a legal sense – your legal spouse gets to do special things like inherit all your money when you die, and visit you in the hospital right before they inherit all your money. They also get legal guardianship of the kids. And then there are the various insurance benefits and tax perks that come from having a legal spouse. And the word “marriage” – or some form of it – is ALL UP IN these legal dealings. To a lawyer, “marriage” might mean something completely different than it would to a priest.

And that makes me wish we were simply more linguistically original in our little country. We use too few words for too many things. Especially “love,” and “marriage.” But I regress…

What’s Causing All The Fuss

Now, “marriage” in the legal sense is what all the hubbub is about. Most recently, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has indicated that his state’s legislature has the voting capacity to move forward on a legalizing-gay-marriage bill.

And so the movement to legally embrace gay marriage continues its slow spread across the fruited plains. It’s wrong for the country. But not for the reasons most frequently mentioned in emotional comment-boxes and internet forums.

The debate is not about the first definition of marriage I mentioned above; it’s about the second. It’s about whether the government will give gay partners the right to hospital visits, insurance benefits, tax joint-filing, and so on.

But it’s that “g”-word that’s the whole problem. Well, that combined with the “m”-word. More clearly: Government should not be involved in marriage! Here’s what I think happened. In America’s 18th- and 19th-century Christian-morality-dominated society, it was simply presupposed that marriage would be reserved for heterosexual couples. So no one minded a bit, or felt a need to divide church from state, or define terms, or anything, when the government got its fingers all up in the wedding cake. It should have had its hand smacked…or worse.

“Marriage” should have been left to the people who cared about it, and to the various communities who defined it how they wanted. The word should never have been tied to legal situations such as income taxes and inheritances.

The Solution

Get the government out of the marriage business altogether. Let churches marry people as they see fit, and let “marriage”  (and “husband” and “wife”) mean whatever the churches (or community centers, or atheist clubs, or whoever wants to use the word) say it means. That’s how language works anyways – understood within a community; government doesn’t get to write definitions.

Then, we ought to have a simple (ha!) legal system in place that allows for all the legal privileges that are currently bestowed on married couples, but it ought to be called something different, like “legal partners.” Yeah, that sounds lame enough to put on a government document.

So then, when you make introductions at a party, you could say things like “And this is Mary, my wife and legal partner.” Or you could leave out the second part. Or the first part. Your option (also perhaps your punishment later). Or you could marry one person, and make another person your legal partner. Or you could stay a bachelor (or maiden) your whole life, and still have a legal partner, just for the sake of finances and having a friend visit you in the hospital.

Summation

“Nathan,” you might say, “are you really chalking up the whole gay marriage debate to nothing more than semantics and language games?”

“‘Nothing more than…’?!” I might exclaim. “Language is..is..well, huge! Language and mis-communication are at the root of some of the greatest conflicts in history! Haven’t you ever read of the Tower of Babel…or been married?” And surely you have at least done one of those. Maybe both, if you’re lucky like me.

Language charges our emotions; certain words (or the lack thereof) can evoke unbelievably powerful responses from others. And the word “marriage” is one of those: it’s a great word, just stretched too thin across too many arenas. “Like butter spread across too much bread.” (name that great book/film)

So yes, I do think it’s about language largely. That, and the age-old theme of “too much government intrusion.”

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Props to Ron Paul for being an influential genius, and to Anthony Chelette, for midwifing this idea with me. Not its first birth, not its last…

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15 Responses to Gay Marriage Dilemma: SOLVED

  1. Kevin says:

    Well put Nathan! Really makes clear what is at the root of the whole conflict.

    My question is, if the government were to use a term like “legal partner” and leave the churches, community centers, atheist clubs, etc. to coin their own term. What will happen if they all decide to use the same word, “married?” Would we be right back to square one? Or will people be satisfied knowing that it’s just a group of people, instead of the government, who recognizes their marriage?

    If a gay person introduces his partner to a Christian as their “husband” and talks about how they are married, how does the Christian respond? Wether the government recognizes them as “legal parters” or as a “married couple,” the same emotions will still come up the second he says “husband.”

    I agree though, this would be a good way to get the governments hand out of the whole issue. Leave the squabbling over words to the private sector. However, like you said, language is very powerful, and if they were to try to change documents from “married” to “legal partner,” there would be a huge uproar over that too.

    It’s all just another fine mess that the government has gotten us all into.

    • Good point, but I don’t think it would take us back to square one – it would just put the conversation in right sphere: one where we can converse without all the legal baggage. There would undoubtedly be anti-gay-marriage Christians who would have a problem with anybody using the term “marriage” outside of monogamous heterosexual relationships. And vice versa. But that’s fine – great, even. It’s the spirit of conversation that’s supposed to compose a thriving republic. But it doesn’t have to touch the legal sphere (for example, there’d be a more clear-cut legal answer if one group tried to legislate another group from, say, employing the term “marriage” outside of the former’s preferred usage: freedom of speech answers that one).
      Just because it’s an issue, doesn’t mean government has to necessarily be involved. Just like government shouldn’t be involved in church denominational conflicts, or cultural conversations/trends like art, or music.

  2. Melanie says:

    It’s from the Fellowship of the Ring. WOW I actually can answer one of your questions! I am so pleased with myself.

  3. Anthony says:

    You’re welcome, Mr. Bechtold!

    Another reason to abolish marriage is that to permit state-sanctioned marriage concedes the principle that the state can regulate the institution. If they are able to “allow” marriage, then whose to say in some future day churches will not be dragged into court for not performing gay marriage?

    Abolishing state-sanctioned marriage is just as good for the state as it is for churches.

  4. Benoit says:

    So are you saying that you are for gay marriage as long as they don’t call it marriage? I think I agree with that. I’ve often thought that one of the reasons for the gay marriage dispute is the facade of the U.S. being a Christian nation. We’re all about equal, “inalienable” rights. If that is the case, why wouldn’t a gay couple be able to be “legal partners” and have all the legal benefits of that title.

    In response to Kevin’s scenario. That situation is already happening. I have had gay friends of mine introduce me to their “partners” before. What difference would it make if they were legal partners?

    I sound very pro- gay as I read this over. I’m not pro-gay. Very thought provoking post, Nate. I have more thoughts. I need to think them through though. Lady Gaga for Prez! (just kidding)

  5. Friend Mouse says:

    Talk about emotionally-charged words!! Well, yes. What my “partner” and I have is a gay marriage. Not always, but mostly. Of course, I choose to use the “previous” definition of gay; not the homosexually hijacked word.

    • Gemma says:

      Firstly,

      Homosexually hijacked word?

      That’s a bit much don’t you think.

      Do you think of a computer mouse as a technologically hijacked word? Words change all the time.

      The us and them attitude needs to stop. people are people.

      Secondly, I started reading this blog and was impressed with your commitment to living such a sustainable life style. But this post… well I guess my time reading your blog has come to an end. It’s your blog, say what you like for sure. But posts like this, though I’m quite sure you didn’t intend it, are incredibly unpleasant to read and I am disappointed. So I will say my bit, and I will leave you to say yours without my interruption again.

      I’m straight, I was brought up Christian and as part of that I was told to believe in love and respect. I now consider myself agnostic and I agree that there isn’t an essential need for non religious people to be “married” as it is a religious institution. However, it is also not for you, or me, or anyone else to say who and who doesn’t have a right to it.

      What about Christian homosexuals? Why should they not be able to have their love recognised in the same way a Christian straight couple can? I know the bible mentions homosexuality a couple of times. But again and again the Bible tells us to love one another… and not to judge. And by the by…. the bible wasn’t written by God himself, so I’d say the general themes are more important to focus on then the occasional word against gay sex and women with their periods.

      Ideas like this are judgemental, ideas like this are riddled with a false and ugly sense of superiority. They are not loving, and any God that I know…. any God that I have any time for…. would be ashamed of what you’ve written here.

      The words married, husband and wife are not yours, they do not belong to Christianity or any other religion. As words they are Universal, though in definition they may vary. If an atheist gets married, the word to them is separate from God. Their definition of marriage differs from yours. It is no less valuable, but it doesn’t have the exact same definition. A different word isn’t needed to make it…. different.

      And lastly…. when you say things like “Haven’t you ever read of the Tower of Babel…or been married?” And surely you have at least done one of those. Maybe both, if you’re lucky like me.” you illustrate my final point, you see that word as something wonderful and special…. and yet you expect it not to be a big deal if you take it away from people with different beliefs? It isn’t only about the legal rights, it’s about having the SAME rights…. which includes being able to use a word that for centuries has been used as the ultimate symbol of love.

      If you (collectively, those who believe in a need for a separation between your marriage and those you see as lesser) want something different then maybe you should seek something new instead of trying to take from others. May I suggest a Holy Partnership?

      • Thanks for your response – and I certainly hope you won’t remove yourself from the dialogue!
        I’m not sure if I made myself clear enough in my post, based on what you’ve said here. I’m not addressing whether or not gay people, straight people, people who have amorous feelings for horses, people who want to sleep with their sister, people who want to marry five people, or people who want to marry rocks should be “allowed” (whatever that means) to be married.
        And yes, I’m saying marriage (mine in particularl) is wonderful and special – but not because of the word! Or because it is state-sanctioned! I’m saying the state-sanctioned nature of marriage is the problem!
        I’m saying that language, as a thing birthed out of communities, ought to be able to express what people are and do. So if an agnostic (you know, the etymology of that word is not very complimentary to its adherents) wants to be a life partner with someone of the same sex, now I have my ideas about what the scriptures say about that situation, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m saying that they should be allowed to do it with the same legal capabilities as a heterosexual couple. And a person who wants to marry their sister should be allowed to do that, and so on (though a problem might arise with people marrying horses or inanimate objects). So they could share insurance, visit in the hospital, and so on and so on. I don’t want the law to try to order peoples’ personal or moral lives. That kind of thing potentially devalues morals anyways.
        So the only “others” I’m trying to take anything from is the government – I’m trying to take away their ability to rule areas of our lives that they shouldn’t. And yes, you may suggest a “Holy Partnership.” Or whatever phrase any group wants to use. Marriage is more than a word, and it’s certainly more than “something the government lets me do.”
        I look forward to your response!

      • Also, I agree with you – I don’t think “gay” was “homosexually hijacked,” nor could it have been. I don’t think words can get hijacked. And I think that, homosexuals being such a numerical minority in the english-speaking world, the word “gay” in reference to homosexuality must have been adopted by heterosexuals in order for it that to become such a mainstream usage.

      • Okay, after re-reading your comment and thinking about it a bit more, I see that my original response was a bit misdirected. I’ll leave it up, but the following is I think a little more toward what you were saying…
        I think your main concern is that I might be trying to deprive certain people (homosexuals) of something special, like the word “marriage” and all the societal/emotional implications. I gathered that you don’t want me (or anyone) to tell someone “you can’t be married.”
        Now, for one person to say that to another person, well that’s fairly insignificant – the latter can simply ignore the former. Individuals don’t possess that kind of power over each other. And for a group of churches to say “gay people can’t be married,” well you must agree that that is their prerogative, as well – just as much as it is another group of churches’ prerogative to say “gay people can be married.” I’ve said neither of those in this post.
        My issue deals with what I perceive to be the issue most homosexuals seem to be concerned about – their legal rights in marriage in America. After all, it must be simply that – they certainly can’t hope that the government will pass a law telling churches to let gay people get married and telling those who disagree with gay marriage that they must now embrace it (in a societal sense). I wrote in my post, “‘Marriage’ should have been left to the people who cared about it, and to the various communities who defined it how they wanted. The word should never have been tied to legal situations such as income taxes and inheritances.”

        So it’s strictly the legal side of gay marriage I’m addressing (the non-legal realm is too rife with drama for an online discussion to be worth anyone’s time). And all I’m saying is that “marriage” should be removed from the legal realm. When it comes to insurance, income taxes, hospital visits, adoptions, and inheritances, the law should provide for “legal partnerships” that allow two (or perhaps more…) people to be on the same insurance plan, file taxes together, make hospital visits, adopt children together, and so forth. In other words, the law shouldn’t hinder people from living life the way they want to (as long as their choices don’t negatively affect outside parties, of course). And then, any group could use any word they want to refer to their lover, their life partner, their spouse, whatever. Maybe conservative Christians would revert to the Hebrew word for “marriage” in an attempt to distinguish heterosexual marriage from homosexual marriage. Who’s to say they can’t? Maybe people who want to have a marriage-type relationship with their sister could make up a random word (e.g. “This is Sonya, my blobleblock. We’re in love.”). Sure! Maybe everybody would just choose to use the word “marriage” to refer to lots of different kinds of lover-situations. Fine. What I’m saying (and what I said) is that the term “marriage” and the idea should be left up to the people and not all intertwined in government and legislation.
        Hopefully that’s more clear, and concerning your pronouncement that God would be ashamed of what I’ve written here…well, I hope not. But if I’m not aligned with Christ, then may God give me the willingness to see it and the willingness to admit it. To live a life passionate for God’s Gospel, filled with love and grace, covered with humility and devoted to the person of Christ, filled up with the full measure of His breath (spirit…wind…”nooma”)…gosh, that’s a supernatural task of which I am uncapable without His help and at which I regularly fail. May we all solicit His help more frequently, coming to a greater knowledge of Christ, the Truth, and more closely following His Way.

  6. I agree with you, Nathan. The most glossed over element of this debate is the difference between legal union and the sacrament of marriage.

  7. Adonius says:

    I think the question lies mostly in the question of “Are we a Christian nation, and should there be such a thing?” I think it’s preferable for a country to guarantee freedom of religion while having a favored religion (i.e. We are going to operate by Christian/Muslim/Buddhist principles and recognize those holidays, but we’re not going to force anyone to convert, nor will we prevent them from converting). America’s become like LAX: it’s really intriguing for a while, and you can have some really good conversations with some really interesting people from really cool cultures, but it never feels like home. THAT said…

    I think we once were a de facto Christian nation, we weren’t very good at it, and we no longer are. So now it’s the whole “do I spank my 18-year-old” dilemma. Your 18-year-old used to be your 4-year-old, and when he was, there were moments when the situation called for nothing less than a spanking. But now that he’s 18, you wonder how much you try to keep correcting and training, and how much you just leave him to God, pray for him, and let him go his own way. I think there was a time (when we were a “Christian” nation) when we should have fought to keep marriage and sexuality in legal agreement with Christian teaching (the same way you try to teach your 4-year-old the right way to live and act). I’m not convinced we need to anymore, because I think our country is “all grown up” and wants to go its own way. It’s foolishness, and it won’t succeed, but maybe we Christians are partially to blame for not parenting all that well when it was young. Then again, our country was founded on “Enlightenment” ideas, which were birthed in the minds of men who, for the most part, weren’t thinking a lot about how to make God famous. So I don’t think our country has really been looking to us (Christians) for guiding principles from the start.

    • You should talk to Taylor. We were trying to decide the other day if you can actually separate religion from politics. He seems to think you can, and should…at least last I checked. And you seem to think the opposite.

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