The plaintiffs’ first grievance in Maryland’s highest court in December was that "they have same-sex partners whom they love and seek to marry." After the arguments of thatcase were heard, the director of the lobby Equality Maryland stated that the plaintiffs’ love is "the only truth that really matters." He added for good measure that "they love each other very, very, very much."
The debate about legalizing same sex marriage has created a new body of jurisprudence which defines marriage, in its whole essence, as simply and only a committed relationship between two people. Absent from this definition of marriage is any presumption of children.
Consider the 2001 Vermont Supreme Court statement that the purpose of civil unions is to grant "official state recognition and legal protection to the professed commitment of two individuals to a lasting relationship of mutual affection." Likewise, in February, 2004 the Massachusetts Supreme Court flatly stated that the sine qua non of civil marriage is "the exclusive and permanent commitment of the marriage partners to one another." We shall see soon enough what the Maryland court comes up with.
The problem is that these conclusions stand the purpose of civil marriage on its head. Governments should be concerned with the external impact of the institution of marriage upon society, not with the internal dynamic of relationships.
Do we really want judges to define marriage by making assumptions about the motives and feelings of couples who seek to marry? It seems clear that is a role better suited for clergy who bless marriages.
The debate boils down to the question of why governments should confer a special status on marriage at all.
The only compelling reason to do so is to hold parents responsible for their children. And that responsibility can begin only with biological parents. They ultimately provide society with the children, whether they end up taking care of them or signing away their parental rights.
Further, the childbearing/childrearing link in civil marriage does not exist only for the sake of married couples who choose to be responsible for their offspring. It is there to promote state interest in all biological parents taking responsibility for their children as a matter of obligation. That is the union — the template for marriage — that the state has an interest in reinforcing. It is the only efficient way to keep in check the problem of absent fathers and broken families already overwhelming our society. When the state confers a special status and benefits on married couples, it is providing some compensation for taking on the life-consuming task of rearing the children we sire and bear.
The question of children and how they fit into the marriage picture is widely misunderstood because children do not always fit into the traditional picture. Variations — such as adoption of children, artificial means of procreation, foster children, stepchildren, and lack of children entirely — can all be mirrored by same-sex couples. And of course there are many marriages without expectation of producing children because of intent, health, infertility, or age.
But our society follows a very basic logic when it confers the same marriage status to all adult heterosexual couples — and only to heterosexual couples — across the board. The logic is deeply rooted in the fact that the heterosexual union — whether performed traditionally, or artificially, or in a petri dish, or at all — is ultimately the only means through which any citizen can exist. Functioning societies correctly recognize the significance of this union for the sake of the society itself, not for the sake of the couple or their perceived rights.
We are not dealing with disposable facts of biology or matters of morality in the underpinnings of civil marriage. Government support for marriage can only be rooted in stark facts of social stability. And, for better or for worse, love’s got nothing much to do with it.
Stella Morabito is a writer residing in Maryland.