With the Supreme Court’s ruling effectively outlawing the national government’s Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, people are decrying or celebrating this ruling along the usual lines: This is either a travesty of judicial activism thwarting the will of the people and the congress or a victory of enlightenment over mob rule. This blog has a different view entirely, and it should both assuage and challenge social conservatives and social liberals alike.
To social conservatives I ask: When did citizens of the USA give up their natural rights to define marriage? I understand and sympathize with your desire to have the most powerful state in the history of the world to define marriage according to your terms. Not too long ago in the USA, every relationship—dating, friendship, marriage, f**k buddies, adultery, acquaintances, hooking up, celibacy, &c.—was defined and regulated by individual people. Yes, many people looked to their communities of worship—church, temple, mosque, synagogue, &c.—to help them define these relationships, but without an established church (in light of the First Amendment) membership in an agreement with the definitions of relationships of any community of worship is voluntary. At most, the county or state government would duplicate and consolidate the marriage records from the various communities of worship for the purposes of upholding the contracts (“marriage”) into which the people had entered. In fact, one argument against the statehood of Utah was the people in other states would have to have accepted plural marriage since many men therein had registered marriages with multiple wives.
Things have been complicated. An inversion of the aforementioned system took place: Instead of politicians and bureaucrats accepting voluntary records at face value, they started to regulate who could and could not be recorded. This allowed them to control tax benefits and welfare payouts. It has gotten to the point today that a married couple on average pays less in taxes than an unmarried couple, and many welfare payouts are given for surviving spouses but not surviving nonspouses. A married person pays less and gets more; no wonder everyone wants in on this!
This inversion occurred without much of a protest from people or their communities of worship. Mormon leaders had received a special revelation reversing their earlier acceptance of polygyny, reducing opposition to statehood for Utah. This brought most of the major religious groups in the USA into almost substantial agreement on the definition of marriage: one man and one woman in a lifelong contract. Thus, not too many people protested when the various state and even national governments defined marriage along their terms.
With the privilege to define marriage in the politicians’ and bureaucrats’ hands, they were free to tinker with it. They did not conform to Mormons’ teaching (changed since by a special revelation) that a black and a white could not marry; it struck down antimiscegenation laws. They did not conform to the Catholics’ teaching that marriage is lifelong; it could be broken by mutual consent of the parties. They did not conform to the Orthodox Christians’ teaching that no more than three marriages can be admitted for a person; it could be entered into many times by mutual consent of the parties. I could continue with the divergences between state government “marriage” and each community of worship’s “marriage.”
To social conservatives I conclude: You gave up the fight in the nineteenth century. You saw an ally in government officials, who have betrayed you ever since. The death of DOMA and Prop 8 are not watershed moments in history; they signify but one more step on the road to politicians’ and bureaucrats’ control over the most intimate relationships and moments of your lives. (Also, break your loyalty to the Republican Party. The deciding vote to kill DOMA and Prop 8 was Justice Anthony Kennedy, an appointee of Ronald Reagan.)
To social liberals I warn: Take heed of what politicians have done to social conservatives, and be wary of—indeed, reject—government officials who agree with your definition of marriage today. For we cannot know what a grant of power over our lives today can harbor for tomorrow. (On a personal note, I implore you to stop declaring victory for “marriage equality” when a polyamorous group does not have equality under the law compared to a heterosexual couple and a homosexual couple. I do this for your own sake; you sound just as bad a social conservatives: “I want to use the force of government to define marriage as between two people; all others need not apply.”)
I propose instead: Let us wrest control over the definition of marriage back from the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. Let people marry and not marry whom they choose according to the consent of the parties. Let none of us use or threaten to use the force of government to force others to live according to our own definitions of marriage. Separation of marriage and state! Leading to the ultimate separation of the two: Ecrasez l’etat!