How did a Republican from Poughkeepsie by the name of Stephen M. Saland become one of the greatest forces for gay rights this side of Lady Gaga?
In late June, when a bill to legalize gay marriage was floundering in the New York state Senate, Saland stepped up to make a majority, asserting that everyone deserves equal treatment under the law—marriage included. Incidentally I was visiting friends in town and saw, after the Senate passed the bill, New York streets overflowed with jubilatory crowds during what was perhaps not coincidentally the weekend of the city’s Gay Pride Parade.
Gay marriage is the newest front in the civil rights movement that has passed through Seneca Falls and Selma, Alabama. Denying two committed people to the social benefits of marriage is inherently unfair and oppressive. Though I fail to see how opposing gay marriage is an ethically defensible position, I can understand where the social conservative contingent is coming from. Marriage as an institution derives from religious sacrament, and, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, marriage is a procreative and holy rite between a man and a woman. But why is something as intimate and personal as marriage the purview of government at all?
If you don’t agree with a religion, you don’t have to pay attention to it. The same does not go for your country’s government and laws. Because it can’t be avoided, government must provide equal protection under the law to its citizens. It also has a responsibility to avoid meddling in religion. Instead of making the issue the latest skirmish in the so-called culture wars, we should circumvent the entire issue by dissolving the very concept of government-recognized marriage.
The concept of marriage as a legally binding contract is antiquated and causes much suffering. If two people, regardless of gender, decide to commit themselves to one another, they should be free to do so. However, they should be just as free to dissolve the bond if they decide the partnership can no longer work. Legally dissolving a marriage is monumentally traumatic, costly, and time-consuming. And yet one of every two married couples must endure it.
Government-protected marriage comes from an era when women were socially and economically subjugated to men. The contract served to protect women from abandonment, philandering and the like. Today this is less of a factor. Yes, a woman who commits to marriage and child-rearing oftentimes sacrifices some independent livelihood and career development, though that’s no longer a steadfast rule. Responsible adults should be expected to act as such without painful governmental restrictions that can force people to choose between going through the hell of a divorce and the hell of being legally bound to someone who you can no longer endure.
Don’t interpret my position as being “anti-love.” In fact, I believe love and love alone should be enough to make two people want to share everything—time, money, life—with one another. Government is an inherently unsexy entity, and should stay outside the domestic castle whenever possible.
The only time in which government should step in to enforce a contract is to protect an innocent third-party: a child. When a couple decides to conceive and raise a kid, they should be required to sign a legally-binding and enforceable contract with each other to rear the child, valid until the offspring turns 18. A child is harmed deeply if one parent decides to bail. The parent who makes career sacrifices to make a home also deserves protection. As the government avoids regulating business unless there is an externality involved—air quality, endangered species—so should it only intervene in a social situation fraught if an innocent is endangered.
After the kid grows up and leaves, why do the parents have to stay together? They’ve probably established a good relationship built on years of shared experiences, but the decision should revert to the two of them instead of being underwritten by the government.
All other benefits of legal marriage can be preserved by making civil unions, the secular half-measure currently offered to gays in lieu of full marriage, the norm. If you want to file taxes jointly, do so; government shouldn’t be subsidizing heterosexuality anyway. Medical decisions on behalf of your partner? Power of attorney is a serious declaration and should be separate from the amorous aspects of marriage. Shared benefits and health insurance can be based off of civil unions, joint marriages, or other measures of commitment.
The entire gay marriage debate reminds us of why the separation of church and state thing is so important. The state can treat everyone equally, and religions can discriminate against whoever they’d like. Let the New York legislature worry about more important issues, like whether it can get Lady Gaga to fill the budget gap.
Sam N. Adams ‘14, a Crimson editorial writer, is a sophomore in Currier House.