Over at Little Catholic Bubble, I’ve been talking about the most important question in the gay “marriage” debate: namely, “What is marriage?” What I’ve consistently found is that defenders of the traditional definition of marriage have a pretty good idea of what marriage is (or at least, is supposed to be), while advocates of gay marriage can’t seem to pin down what exactly “marriage” means in the first place. They want it, but don’t know what they want.
Today, I wanted to ask a second question: why should the State promote gay “marriage” at all? Presuming, for the sake of argument, that there is some rational (non-circular and non-arbitrary) definition of marriage that includes what we’ve always understood as marriage, plus gay “marriage,” but excludes all other potential forms of “marriages” (polygamy, consensual incest, etc.), why should the State reward that bond with hundreds of state benefits?
In other words, there are solid reasons why the State favors marriage, as it’s traditionally understood. It’s not about romance (from the State’s perpsective), but the well-being of any children or potential children. But this rationale doesn’t hold for gay “marriage.”
If a heterosexual couple is having sex (coitus, specifically), there’s a good likelihood that they’ll end up having children. As such, there’s good reason for cultures to encourage couples having sex to be married: that is, to make a lifelong contractual commitment to each other, for better or worse. Otherwise, you get all sorts of problems tied with broken homes, and the like.
Broadly speaking, there are two potential ways of encouraging marriage: the carrot and the stick. The stick was the historical stigma attached to out-of-wedlock pregnancy, infidelity, illegitimacy, and the like (and sometimes a lot worse than stigma, like stoning). We’ve quite sensibly set the stick down as a culture. The carrot, in contrast, is the bundle of special rights and benefits conferred on the married: preferential tax treatment, the automatic conveyance of all sorts of rights, etc. Here, we encourage marriage as a culture, without stepping on anyone’s toes.
So it’s true that these rights can be harder to acquire for unmarried couples (gay or straight). The state, and the culture, is expressing a clear preference that coitus be in the confines of this contractual framework.
This is discrimination of a sort, yes. But it’s not discrimination against gays (or roommates, or anyone else). It’s discrimination in favor of married couples. It’s social engineering through tax and fiscal policy, which the state does every day. Think about the child tax credit, which rewards parenting, or the new market tax credit, which rewards the use of green energy: this form of “discrimination” is so widespread as to be absolutely unremarkable.
So we give favors to married couples capable of coitus, in an effort to encourage stable families. This is also why cultures have always closely regulated marriage norms and rules. Gay marriage advocates point to the apparent inequality in how same-sex couples are treated compared to married (heterosexual) couples. But same-sex couples are treated the same way as unmarried heterosexual couples, and as close friends, roommates, etc.
What can be said of gay “marriage,” then? Any redefinition of marriage would almost certainly end up looking like “long-term roommates who are having sex.” But what interest does the State have in promoting that? I’m not asking if you think it’s moral or immoral, or you think it’s gross. I’m wondering why the State would spend tax dollars to favor roommates having sex over roommates who aren’t.
To see what I mean, take two hypothetical roommates: Jim and Mark. They care about each other deeply, have each other’s best interest in mind, and have a long-term lease on a house together, with lots of shared property. Same-sex marriage advocates would say that if Jim and Mark are just friends, they should get one set of rights. But if they’re having sex, and want to be called “married,” they get a whole new set of expanded rights. So, for example, if Jim leaves everything to Mark in his will, Mark gets it tax free if they claim to be married, but not otherwise.
In other words, we end up discriminating in favor of “married” gay couples over, say, unmarried hetereosexuals. Why? What valid reasoning supports this discrimination?
So it’s true that the State historically discriminates in favor of traditional marriage, to help ensure that couples having potentially-reproductive sex are doing so within a legal and social framework that’s stable for any potential children. This discrimination is in favor of married heterosexual couples over all other individuals and groupings of individuals out of a legitimate state interest in promoting marriage and two-parent families.
But same-sex marriage favors gay couples who want to be married over gay couples who don’t want to be married, straight couples who don’t want to be married, polygamist groupings, close friends, roommates, and so forth. And this discrimination in favor of gay couples who call themselves married seems to me to be arbitrary, if not outright irrational. Are there some counter arguments that I’m missing here?