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 Keeping Marriage Straight 

August 1, 2006 
[Originally published by the Universal Press Syndicate, December 12, 1996]
paragraph indent for 
Keeping Marriage StraightThe current debate over same-sex marriage suffers grievously from a sort of national imbecility about institutions. It might force clarity into the discussion if we banned the word rights. Then again, some people seem to prefer banning clarity.

paragraph indent for Keeping 
Marriage Straight“The issue of marriage goes far beyond the commitment of two people of the same sex,” writes David Mixner in Time magazine. “It goes to the civil rights of gay and lesbian Americans. The effort to ban same-sex marriage would deny us the basic right accorded to our neighbors and friends. Today's column is "Keeping Marriage Straight" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.The issue involves immigration, taxation, family leave, health care, adoption, Medicare, and numerous other benefits and rights.” And yes, he ascribes opposition to same-sex marriage to “fear of change” among people who are “frightened” by homosexual love.

paragraph indent for Keeping 
Marriage StraightLike most gay advocates, Mr. Mixner implies that the nature of the institution doesn’t matter; only vaguely defined “rights” do. These include government entitlements. But how could nonhomosexuals be prevented from contracting same-sex marriages to cash in? Or would only homosexuals be permitted to contract such marriages? This is only one of many practical problems, most of them unforeseeable, that would surely arise from basing an institution on alleged rights instead of actual social needs. If that prospect doesn’t excite “fear of change,” it ought to.

paragraph indent for Keeping 
Marriage StraightTo hear the gay version, you’d think that marriage was created to endow heterosexuals with special “rights” that were denied to homosexuals — a total, and lugubrious, misconception. The institution is prior to the rights attached to it.

paragraph indent for Keeping 
Marriage StraightNearly every society has some version of marriage, simply because the institution is necessary for the care of women and children and for the orderly distribution of property. This social necessity isn’t a matter of creating rights, but of defining pretty basic obligations. The people on whom these obligations must be imposed are, obviously, those who are capable of having children.

[Breaker quote for Keeping Marriage Straight: Institutions and rights]paragraph indent for Keeping Marriage StraightThe people most apt to want the pleasures of marriage without the obligations are, as you may have observed, young men. Men complain about marriage. Women don’t complain about marriage; they complain about men.

paragraph indent for Keeping 
Marriage StraightThe relation between marriage and “rights” is much more complicated than the gay version suggests. In most societies marriage is less a right than a duty, and the failure or refusal to marry can bring shame and other penalties on the unmarried. In many societies parents choose spouses for their children or, even more commonly, reserve the power to veto their children’s choices. The notion that marriage is merely the natural and proper conclusion of romantic love is a recent and dubious Western idea.

paragraph indent for Keeping 
Marriage StraightArranged marriages seem heartless to us, but the parents who do the arranging usually do so with full consideration of the welfare of their children, as well as the interests of the family. And their choices may be more prudent than those the children might have made on their own. Not that the parents are always wiser, but the conception of marriage as an individual “right” is by no means the only view of the matter. At any rate marriage didn’t originate with the idea of the individual’s pursuit of happiness — an idea that, in fact, has proved subversive of the institution and its obligations.

paragraph indent for Keeping 
Marriage StraightThe simplest refutation of the gay version is that some societies have been very tolerant of homosexuality and pederasty, like ancient Greece and Rome, without feeling any need to institute same-sex marriage. In fact, it apparently never occurred to Greco-Roman homosexuals and pederasts to demand such a thing. They seem to have been content with their informal arrangements, since procreation wasn’t involved.

paragraph indent for Keeping 
Marriage StraightInstitutions have their own purposes and inner logic. That is what makes them institutions. Their definitions make them more or less exclusive; a Baptist can hardly complain if he is rejected by a Catholic seminary. To say that Baptists ought to be accepted is really to say that Catholic seminaries shouldn’t exist. You can argue that they shouldn’t exist in the first place; but you can’t argue that if they accept non-Catholics they remain Catholic.

paragraph indent for Keeping 
Marriage StraightMarriage means a permanent union between people of opposite sexes. That’s the whole idea. The advocates of same-sex marriage aren’t really complaining about discrimination; they’re complaining about marriage.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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