What’s all the fuss about?

The Supreme Court ruled Friday that states may not discriminate against same-sex couples when issuing marriage licenses. There are many people who are up in arms about this, but their arguments don’t make sense to me. In addition, it seems that persons on both sides of the issue mischaracterize it.

In everything that I’ve read for or against same-sex marriage, the authors seem to be missing the most important point: marriage is actually two related, but definitely different things. Traditionally, marriage is a social and religious institution: a vow made by two people, involving a promise to love, honor, cherish, be faithful to, etc. in accordance with the rules and customs of their particular religion or social group.

But marriage is also a legal contract, with defined rights and responsibilities that vary from state to state.

The two, as I said, are related but definitely separate. For example, legal marriage doesn’t require a commitment to love, honor, cherish, etc. All it takes is two consenting adults to sign a paper in front of witnesses. Done and done. You are now legally married, with all of the rights and responsibilities that come with it. Granted, those rights and responsibilities are rather ill-defined, and they’re not spelled out in the marriage license or any other document that you’re required to sign, but that’s an entirely different matter.

That other type of marriage, the one recognized by churches or other social or cultural groups, typically requires some type of ceremony that takes place in front of the group invoking the blessing of the group or whatever deity they worship. That marriage is recognized by those members of the group, but without a properly signed state-issued marriage license it is not recognized as a binding legal contract.

In short, states can refuse to recognize church marriages that aren’t accompanied by a state-issued marriage license, and churches can refuse to recognize as married two people who have a state-approved marriage that doesn’t conform to the church’s teachings.

The Supreme Court’s decision applies only to the legal contract. All it says is that states can’t discriminate based on gender when it comes to issuing a marriage license and that based on the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, no state may fail to recognize a marriage that was performed legally in another state.

That’s a no-brainer. There’s no Constitutionally justifiable reason for denying same-sex couples the right to enter into a legal contract. And there is long precedent establishing that legally binding contracts executed in one state are recognized as legally binding in all other states.

Note that the ruling doesn’t force religious or other non-government organizations to recognize those unions as meeting the rules for marriages as defined by the group. Nor does it force your church or club or whatever to perform a marriage that doesn’t conform to your group’s rules.

I know that many people reading this will argue that this ruling is the first step on a slippery slope of group marriages, incestuous marriages, unions between an adult and a child, a woman and her cat, etc. In truth, I don’t see a Constitutionally justifiable reason for denying group marriages. But then, I don’t have a particular problem with multiple people entering into a legal contract. As for the others, neither a child nor a cat is a consenting adult, so the argument is idiotic. And in the matter of incestuous unions the appearance of coercion is enough for the state to dispute the claim of “consenting adult.”

Many of those who dispute the ruling bring up the matter of sex, saying that by allowing same-sex marriage, the state is officially condoning homosexuality. That’s not true at all. The legal contract says nothing about sex. It’s not like the marriage license is a license to have sex. People have sex out of wedlock on a regular basis. Some states might still have laws on the books prohibiting sex out of wedlock or certain sexual practices between two consenting adults, but none of them are enforceable. The state is officially indifferent to sex between consenting adults.

Supporters of the Court’s ruling have mischaracterized it. The ruling is not “a victory for love.” It’s a victory for equality, no doubt, but it has nothing at all to do with love. It was purely a Constitutional question, and the ruling addressed just that. The Court’s opinion written by Justice Kennedy, however, is a different thing, and I will address that in a future post.

Members of both groups have acted badly in the wake of Friday’s ruling. Granted, those opposed to the ruling have been by far the more vocal and vitriolic, but supporters have spewed a fair amount of invective themselves, even when confronted by reasoned and polite disagreement.

I will happily accept your comments on this post, including opinions that differ from mine. All I ask is that you keep it civil. Discussion, not argument. Also, if you’re going to discuss the Constitution, I suggest that you read it. In addition, you can save yourself some embarrassment if you read the Supreme Court’s decision. It’s helpful to read the entire thing, but the first five pages contain what really matters.

I am the sole arbiter of what is considered civil, and I will delete any post that I deem to be objectionable. You’re free to say whatever you like, and I’m free to choose what appears in the comments section of my blog. My page, my rules. If you want to act badly, find somewhere else to play.