Friday, May 17, 2013
A Libertarian Conversation on Same Sex Marriage, part 4: Giving Prejudice to Precedent
One argument against Same Sex Marriage that I've heard a lot is the idea that we should give prejudice to precedent, and that precedent favors heterosexual marriage; in other words, the idea that the burden of proof is on the innovator, and the assumption that marriage as one man and one woman in a loving, faithful, mutually beneficial contract has been the historical norm. To believe that, you have to forget polygamous society, biblical societies, and every society where marriage was primarily for the legitimizing of heirs and which considered women as property and required no faithful monogamy from their husbands. Yes, marriage, throughout most of history, was strictly opposite-gender. But in most other respects, it looked very different from the sort of modern western monogamous marriages we think of today. Marriage provided heirs to property, economic stability, and social and political alliances. Men were, with a few exceptions, not required to be monogamous; women were. Marriages could certainly contain the companionship, mutually delightful sex, respect, and cooperative parenting that we associate with marriage today, but those things were more pleasant bi-products than the primary purpose of the institution and were not required for marriage. In many cultures, female consent has not even been a requirement for a legally binding marriage. The elevation of romantic love and personal feeling and companionship in marriage has waxed and waned; even in societies where "romance" and "courtly love" were revered these things were not universal, and varied greatly by economic class. Victorian romanticism and medieval chivalry have both been incredibly whitewashed in modern, conservative christian circles; chivalry was not as purely noble, or as universally applied, as some would have us believe. In Victorian society, child labor and prostitution were rampant and wives were both on a moral pedestal and considered mentally inferior to their husbands; there were also double standards of behavior for husbands and wives when it came to sex and marriage, and yes, that's an understatement. :) I really can't think of many civilised societies where men and women held equal power and responsibility for monogamy in their marriages. The technologically advanced society we have today allows for the valuation of non-manual labor, dna testing, and allows solitary females to support themselves with ease in a variety of professions. This, among other things, makes egalitarian, monogamous marriages more socially favored.
The assumption that the sort of marriage we American christians recognize has been the historical norm assumes that, at a basic level, mutual, monogamous marriage between two members of the opposite sex is more like polygamous and/or unilaterally powered marriages between members of the opposite sex than it is like mutual, monogamous marriage between two members of the same sex. It puts paramount importance on the gender of those involved in the marriage, and less importance on the nature of the marriage- monogamous/polygamous, mutual/wife as property, et c. It is for that reason that I find this view of marriage and its precedents deeply troubling. What is more significant about the creation of Adam, Eve and Marriage- that they were different genders or that they were made to populate and rule the earth together in a beautiful partnership of equals? I realize many christians disagree with my convictions on mutuality in marriage, but assuming an egalitarian framework, the behavior of the individual marriage partner and the structure of the marriage and its benefits for couples and families is more important than the unchangeable characteristics, such as gender, of the people involved.
A majority opinion does not, in my opinion, equal a correct one. Precedent is a good starting point, but precedent should also be subject to scrutiny and not held above principle, scripture, or reason. There is nothing wrong with starting from precedent, but to give precedent credence when it contradicts other considerations like ethics, reason, and scripture is tantamount to judging an argument not by its merits, but by its origin.
Historically I think that marriage was as much an economic institution as a religious one, and even in its religious nature it was not necessarily congruent with scripture. In our Christian faith, marriage is considered a sacred, religious covenant, and I would not try to change that, but I would not force a religious view of marriage on those who do not share my faith. (I would prosecute abuse, but that's a little different; illegal or abusive behavior should not be tolerated, but I have no right to dictate the beliefs of those who perpetrate it) I know some very, very healthy, loving, atheist marriages, and marriage as a means to companionship and co-parenting is by no means limited to the religious among us. I fundamentally view marriage as a partnership toward a common goal and a means to stability, physical, emotional, and spiritual support and companionship, safe sex, and co-parenting, not a mandate to live out a certain symbology or the fulfillment of a responsibility to procreate as much as possible or the arbitrary requirement of a deity or religion.