Wednesday, October 8, 2008

For the Children, For the Future

I am saddened to see so much argument in favor of so-called same sex marriage based on the assumption that "marriage" is personal affair between two people. Marriage is not and never has been a personal affair between two people. Marriage, throughout the thousands of years of human civilizations, has often varied with regards to the specific rights and obligations of the people involved. One thing, however, has remained constant: marriage is the socially endorsed union of a man and woman for the continuation of their family and lineage, and of the greater social structure, through the bearing and rearing of children.
It is not surprising that we find marriage being radically redefined by "Generation Me". I know, I belong to this generation. I see the evidence all around me. Self-fulfillment, self-expression, and self-absorption are paramount. I should be able to marry whomever I want. And if that relationship ceases to meet my needs, I should be able to discard the marriage like an old pair of shoes whose color no longer pleases me. Oh, and society should give me a pat on the back for being so honest with myself in my search for personal fulfillment.
I hate to break it to you, folks, but this is not what life is about. And this kind of attitude is most certainly not going to lead to a happy, healthy, productive society. Marriage and families are not about self-actualization. They are about building our future. They are about bringing children into the world within the security of a family including a father and mother, grandfathers and grandmothers, and the social support and endorsement that facilitate the children's future.
We lament the state of the family in our country. We are faced with an epidemic of children born to unwed mothers, children of divorce, and the rampant breakdown of marriages and families. Can we not see that the past forty years or so have seen a weakening of the fundamental institution of marriage that has facilitated the current state of affairs. We introduced no-fault divorce to allow marriage partners to "get out" of a union that was no longer meeting their needs--did we look ahead to see that we were making marriage less binding than a common business contract? We liberated ourselves from moral restrictions that would limit sexual relations to marriage--did we stop to consider that we were stripping from the act that creates human life the soil and foundation upon which that life must take root? We legalized unrestricted abortion--did we recognize that we were undermining the value of human life itself as we bow to personal Choice? In every one of these cases it is the smallest, the weakest among us--those who are and will be our future--who bear the consequences for our choices. Whatever happened to accountability? Freedom of choice was never meant to be freedom from consequence, nor can it be. The consequences must be born. In our society, it is our children, born and unborn, who bear those consequences.
Our nation was founded on principles of freedom, virtue and self-sacrifice. We who hold its destiny in our hands today, we who will determine the world our children will grow up in and inherit, need to embrace all three of those value. Sometimes what I want must be set aside in favor of what my society needs. And right now our society does not need for the meaning of marriage to be further diluted. We as individuals make choices. We as a society also have a choice to make. We must choose the future.
Support America's families. Support America's future.
Please vote yes to protect traditional marriage in California, Florida and Arizona.
YES on California Proposition 8
YES on Arizona Proposition 102
YES on Florida Proposition 2


Tom said...

You make excellent points about the breakdown of marriage -- but you fail to say why marriage equality would contribute to their breakdown. Nor do you say why or how marriage equality prevents heterosexual couples from marrying and staying together and raising children.

If the goal of passing Prop 8 is protecting children, how exactly does it achieve that goal?

Paula said...

My point is that extending the definition of marriage to include same-gender marriage dilutes the meaning of marriage itself. When no-fault divorce was instituted it diluted marriage by making it an easy-in, easy-out arrangement. Did it preclude any particular couple from marrying or from staying married? Maybe not, but it changed the definition of what marriage was--now it was no longer a lasting obligation that could only be annulled under compelling circumstances. It became a more casual relationship that could be dispensed of at will by either party.
Including same-sex couples in our social concept of marriage removes from the definition of marriage the idea that marriage is a unique institution that harbors and supports the natural family. While it is true that not every marriage between a man and a woman will produce children, and it is also true that some children come into families through adoption, both of these situations mirror the marriage into which natural children are born and thus do not detract from it. A same-sex relationship is one which is essentially different--it can never produce children in itself. It is different, it appears different, and if it is given society's endorsement as no different from traditional marriage we will lose a significant part of what marriage is and what it means to society and to our families. Of course giving same-sex relationships the title of marriage would not prevent heterosexual couples from marrying, but it would eliminate the social standard of heterosexual marriage. Without that social standard, I do believe that more marriages would fail, and very likely fewer people would marry. We see evidence all around us that what is endorsed by society will be emulated. We must maintain that social endorsement for marriage in the traditional sense, for the sake of our nation's children and families.

Tom said...

Paula -

Thank you for thoughtful and reasonable response.

Most of these debates are filled with vitriol and inaccuracies, but yours has neither. We merely have a different point of view about the value of marriage.

I had a similar discussion with a woman who said her marriage was "like a diamond" that became less valuable when there were more diamonds on the market. My response was that love is not a diamond, and that love, in fact, becomes MORE valuable the more of it there is.

"Of course giving same-sex relationships the title of marriage would not prevent heterosexual couples from marrying, but it would eliminate the social standard of heterosexual marriage. Without that social standard, I do believe that more marriages would fail, and very likely fewer people would marry."

But you don't say why. Moreover, if it is the "social standard" of marriage that worries you, does it not seemly slightly elitist of you to say "you gay people can't join our club because you can't naturally have children"? Some gay couples adopt (often adopting the children that straight couples won't -- older children, special needs children, etc. -- because adoption agencies put them at the back of the line.

Other gay couples (including the one I am in) are raising children that one or both of the partners had from a previous heterosexual marriage.

And, of course, there are older and/or infertile couples who will never have children, yet get to enjoy the benefits of marriage.

I also wonder why -- if the point of marriage is to establish families with children -- that the traditional ceremony never mentions children, but only the commitments the two partners make to each other?

Most important of all, however, is the very real effect of inequality on real people. Let me tell you a true story.

I had an uncle-in-law, the descendant of handcart pioneers, who was an amazing man: the perfect child (according to his mother), a great student, organist at church, served his country in the military. For the last 35 or so years of his life, he lived with his partner. They shared a modest home in San Francisco, paid their taxes and did lots of volunteer work. They were deeply involved in the lives of their nieces and nephews — and very popular with us! They were committed to each other and to the rest of the family.

They also did all they could legally to formalize this commitment. But they could not marry.

When my uncle died, of lung cancer, his surviving partner did not receive Social Security survivor benefits — as he would have if they’d been able to marry.

In addition, his partner had to pay inheritance tax on what my uncle had bequeathed to him, including 50% of the house they shared. Spouses don’t have to pay this tax. In fact, all they have to pay to gain this right is the cost of a marriage license.

On top of this, the property tax basis on the house they shared was readjusted upward — significantly. Why? Because they couldn’t marry and the transfer of title was considered a change in ownership. If they had a civil marriage license, the tax would have remained the same.

These three things combined meant my uncle’s partner could no longer afford to stay in the home they had shared for more than three decades.

Doesn't seem fair or equitable to me. Did they deserve such unfair treatment simply because they lack the physical ability to create children on their own?

Consider my situation -- my partner and I will be married in just a few days. We have been in a completely monogamous relationship for over 10 years. We have seen each other through the deaths of parents and friends, through more than one surgery (we are both fine now), as well as reveled in many, many happy times. We are good, responsible neighbors.

In addition, I have a daughter from a previous marriage who lives with us part time.

If my partner should die suddenly, don't I deserve access to Social Security Survivor benefits, as I would if he were a woman and we were able to marry? (I realize same-sex marriage is not recognized on a federal level, but go with me here.) That extra money could make the difference between my daughter having the stability that comes from staying in the same house, and from having a little extra money to go to college tuition or for senior pictures or SAT prep.

I fully appreciate (and honor) your right to hold whatever religious beliefs you like, but I wonder why YOUR idea of what God thinks is moral should be allowed to trump MY idea of what God thinks is moral. We are talking, after all, about CIVIL marriage.

This is what Proposition 8 is about. Fairness. Equality. For all.

Thank you for reading and for allowing comments on your blog.

Paula said...

Hello Tom,
I too appreciate your willingness to speak civilly even though our opinions differ.
I'm not sure I understand your argument about receiving social security survivor benefits. According to my understanding, these benefits are to a spouse only after reaching age 60, and only if the spouse does not qualify for a greater social security benefit of their own. Since the benefit is only 50% of what the deceased spouse would have qualified for, my guess is that in most same-sex couples each individual probably receives at least an equivalent benefit on their own. The widow benefit was originally designed to provide some coverage for women who were unable to work because of the demands of bearing and raising children. Social security benefits provided to married spouses might benefit a small percentage of same-sex partners, but I do not find this to be a compelling argument for redefining society's most fundamental institution. In addition, if the door is thrown open to same-sex marriage, it is likely only a matter of time before other types of marriage arrangements are recognized. This is a current issue in several European countries, such as Denmark (which has legalized same-sex marriage). Muslim immigrants with multiple wives are calling for legalization of polygamous marriages. Denmark is a highly socialized state. If polygamy is legalized, will the government then be obligated to pay social security benefits to each wife?
I agree that people in same-sex relationships can be responsible, caring people. Nor do I disagree that expanding the definition of marriage would seem to be a benefit to them. But a society, to work, cannot seek to meet the demands of every member any more than I, as a mother, can meet every demand of my children. Buying my daughter a pony would undoubtedly make her happy, but it would not be for the good of the family. I believe that legalizing same-sex marriage, while it will make some people happy, would not be for the good of our society and our country.

Paula said...

I do need to correct part of my last comment. It is true that a surviving spouse may receive social security benefits before retirement age while he or she is caring for a child age 16 or under. I still believe that this would impact only a very small number of people and has only minor social impact. Partners who are concerned about providing for their loved ones after death can do the same thing other people do and take out life insurance. I do apologize for the error.

Paula said...

By the way, if I had a daughter from a former marriage I would not receive any money on her behalf if my current spouse died...I really don't see that you are missing out on anything.

Publicola said...

Thank you for defending marriage. Please join us at

Tom said...

Paula -

Thanks for your comments. I'm just back from a six-hour stint of training phone bankers and leading a phone bank session. Very invigorating and uplifting. For me, at least! My daughter and her boyfriend participated in the group, as well.

In terms of the Social Security questions -- yes, it would likely be a minor benefit and aid a relatively small number of couples, but that's not really the point. The point is that there is an inequity there. If the benefit goes to some and not others, simply because of who they fall in love with and commit their lives to, it doesn't seem fair to me. (And my partner is currently over 65, so...)

"Muslim immigrants with multiple wives are calling for legalization of polygamous marriages. Denmark is a highly socialized state. If polygamy is legalized, will the government then be obligated to pay social security benefits to each wife?"

This is exactly the point I make when people bring up the "slippery slope" argument about marriage equality. Polygamy creates an inherent INequity as you point out, with people in multiple partner marriages getting more benefits than those in two-person partnerships. This is why approving marriage equality for same-sex couples won't inevitably lead to polygamy. It wouldn't pass constitutional muster.

"I believe that legalizing same-sex marriage, while it will make some people happy, would not be for the good of our society and our country."

But I'm not asking for government to "make me happy," I'm asking for government to treat me equally under the law. I can manage my own happiness. But if Prop 8 passes, I won't be able to access the benefits of marriage, even though I am willing to take on the responsibilities of marriage.

Marriage, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, delivers benefits to society beyond creating the next generation of citizens. When two people sign an agreement to care for each other, it's less likely the government will have to step in and do so. When two people assume shared responsibility for debt incurred by either of the partners, it motivates you to keep an eye on your partner and make sure he or she is making wise choices.

I'm willing to give society those benefits by taking on the responsibility of marriage -- all I ask in return is the same rights afforded to any other couple who enters into a civil marriage relationship.


James said...

I absolutely love what you said about sexual liberation:

"did we stop to consider that we were stripping from the act that creates human life the soil and foundation upon which that life must take root?"

I think you're making a real impact and contribution with your excellent blog.

Tom said...

After all the debate, all the arguing, all the back and forth on the issue of marriage equality, today I want you to think about just one thing. I want you to imagine how it would feel if other people were allowed to vote on the validity of your relationship. How would you feel if millions of people were stepping into voting booths right now to decide whether YOUR marriage would be “valid or recognized”?

Dextra said...

Well written article.