Defining Marriage

November 4, 2011

Political Theory


One of the major arguments against same-sex marriage is that it ruins the sanctity of the institution. A website opposing same-sex marriage (http://www.nosamesexmarriage.com/marriage/nogaymarriage.php) elaborates on this point, explaining that “if it [the fractured family] continues, almost every child will have several ‘moms’ and ‘dads,’ perhaps six or eight ‘grandparents,’ and dozens of half-siblings.” This sentence alone got me thinking, what exactly does this website mean by “fractured family?” Last time I checked, a same-sex marriage is a marriage, and therefore by definition is a union not a separation. A union does not in any way imply fracture, but instead means the opposite.

While taking a break from pouring over the support for the above argument that same-sex marriage ruins the sanctity of the institution, I mindlessly switched over to Twitter. The most recent tweet in my feed was as follows: “@AP: AP VIDEO: Kim Kardashian finds that love means sometimes having to say you’re sorry: http://apne.ws/vYYqG1 -BW.” This tweet reminded me of one of the biggest pieces of recent entertainment news: Kim Kardashian’s divorce. All celebrity gurus have been buzzing for days about Kim K’s brief marriage to Kris Humphries. The marriage lasted a whole 72 days, and we all know that both the cost of the wedding and the amount she made off of it are upwards of six figures. There have been theories labeling the marriage as a publicity stunt, a business deal, etc. It really doesn’t matter what the motivation behind the marriage was, they can and will get away with it, but the issue raises the question of the sanctity of the marriage. How can it even be argued that same-sex marriage is destroying the sanctity of the institution when this situation is the alternative? Sure, those opposing same-sex marriage say that Kim’s marriage is not a good example and that it also destroys the sanctity of the institution, but then such destruction can not just be attributed to same-sex marriages and therefore is an invalid argument to use against it.

While contemplating the government’s role in all of this, I turned to John Locke’s “Letter Concerning Toleration” to aid me in arriving at a conclusion. In his letter, Locke theorizes that the government exists to protect rights, not infringe upon them, and that toleration must exist in order to prevent a majoritarian tyranny. Toleration is defined as the act of permitting something that one disapproves of. Since it is the duty of the government to protect the rights of ALL of its citizens, homosexuals included, allowing marriage is included in those rights. Locke supports each individual’s right to liberty, and the ability to legally marry is within each individual’s liberty. Furthermore, since homosexuals are considered a minority, they must be tolerated solely on the basis of preventing tyranny of the majority.

The 2009 court case Varnum v. Brien upholds Locke’s ideas. In its decision, the Supreme Court issued the following statement: “We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important governmental objective. The legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification. There is no material fact, genuinely in dispute, that can affect this determination.” Toleration in order to prevent tyranny of the majority is demonstrated in this decision, as well as constitutional support.

I find it worth noting that despite the fact that the framers of the constitution were in general very religious people, they were strong believers in the separation of church and state (hence the reflection of religious freedom in the First Amendment). Another major argument presented on the above website opposing same-sex marriage is that “the culture will be anti-Christian.” Following the first amendment, whether or not the culture is “Christian” is not something for the government to worry about, and they couldn’t even if they wanted to. The government cannot make laws/rulings with any religious backing because of the first amendment. Therefore the argument that the culture will deviate from Christian values upon the legalization of same-sex marriage is yet another invalid argument because it cannot provide any backing to a government decision.

I am aware that this is an extremely controversial issue, and I am not trying to spark a debate in one way or another by posting this; I simply saw an opportunity to apply theories we have been working with in class to the issue, and I chose to take it.

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