A Frank Talk about Marriage for Eric Stewart’s Benefit

Marriage is, at its root–hell, at its root, trunk, branches, and leaves–about property rights. In the not-so-distant past, it was about a changing of control of certain property of a man’s–his daughter–to the control of another man–her husband. Even now, marriage is about property rights and inheritance and assets and all kinds of legal contractual stuff.

There has been a radical redefinition of marriage in the last 150 years–people of every class came to expect that they would be allowed to marry for love, first and foremost, not for the economic benefits it would bring to their respective families. So, congratulations! If you’re married to a person you yourself chose and you fell in love with that person before you got married and, indeed, it was because you were in love with that person that you felt like you should get married, you are participating in the most radical redefinition of marriage in the history of human kind.

Even so, there are a lot of people–not just “crazy” radical feminist, but some of them, too–who believe that the institution of marriage is irredeemably tainted by its roots and history as a means of moving property (a woman) from one household to another. They see everything about the wedding and the marriage itself as being too steeped in traditions they find ugly. Plus, they don’t think that you should have to have a magical kind of legal documentation–like a marriage certificate–to assure that your property rights and power-of-attorney wishes are abided by. Some even think that it’s old-fashioned, this notion that a two-person headed household is so uniquely suited to best comprising a family.

So, let me be clear–if you support marriage first and foremost for love, you have already accepted the most radical redefinition of marriage in human history. But if you support marriage? You support an institution steeped in tradition, for better or for worse. This is the position most people in this country find themselves in–they like both the radical redefinition AND the institution steeped in tradition.

But the most liberal position on marriage is that it sucks and shouldn’t be necessary and is irredeemable.

Supporting and encouraging marriage is a conservative position.

Conservatives should be able to get behind the idea that two people who love each other and who want to provide legal protections for each other and their household is a good thing. And, in fact, among young conservatives, this is already a no-brainer. Of course, we’d want to encourage the stability of married partnerships, unlike those liberals who all want to live in polyamorous communes where everyone is called ‘Ned’ and they wee because Chumbawumba broke up.

Denying people the right to marry based on who they want to marry isn’t a conservative position. It’s just being an asshole. It’s saying “I want this great thing that protects me and the person I love from all kinds of shenanigans and trouble to be off-limits to you and the person you love.” It’s saying “I want special rights, because of who my spouse is.”

Let me repeat. Opposing gay marriage, when you yourself are married, does not make you conservative. It makes you an asshole who wants special rights.

That’s point one. Point two, the GLBT community has worked hard to help elect Democrats. They are working hard right now to help elect Democrats. We are all supposed to be mad and upset that Mark Clayton is on the ballot for Senator as a Democrat because he belongs to an anti-gay hate group.

Being anti-gay is supposed to be an uncool thing for a Democrat.

Apparently Eric Stewart did not get the memo.

Stewart presents himself as a conservative on some issues. For example, the senator said he is opposed to same-sex marriage, noting Tennessee voters approved a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
“I stand with the voters of Tennessee,” he said.

Let me be as clear as I can be. I’m a Tennessee voter. And I did not vote for that abomination of a state constitutional amendment. So, if you have to have voted for that abomination in order to be considered by Stewart to be a voter worthy of his standing with, well, then, sir, message received.

Every day Eric Stewart takes for granted that, if his wife is in a car accident, he’ll be allowed to see her at the hospital and that, in fact, he’ll be able to make the necessary medical decision to return her to health. Every day Eric Stewart takes for granted that when he dies, his assets and property will go to his wife and that some distant cousin of his he barely knows won’t be able to claim she’s the next of kin. Eric Stewart doesn’t worry a moment that, if he and his wife were to divorce, her church would help her take their children out of the country so that he would never see them again.

That security, which he takes for granted, is too much to grant to other people in love.

Like I said, that’s not being conservative. That’s being an asshole.

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17 thoughts on “A Frank Talk about Marriage for Eric Stewart’s Benefit

  1. The first step is separating marriage from the public policy aspects of families.

    Take any legal standing away from marriage. Couples who wish to be partnered with another person of the same of different gender should sign contracts spelling out basics of the relationship, how these basics can be changed and general procedures on ending the relationship including property division. As for children, that is up to the Courts.

    That way there can be no religious objections to gay unions and a chance for couples to plan ahead with the same security as heterosexual couples. And if churches want to marry gays, so much the better.

  2. So, you’re taking the liberal position? Hmm. I find that surprising. Certainly, it’s easier to expand rights to folks than to dismantle a whole legal structure just to make churches comfortable.

  3. I don’t regard my position on this issue as ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal.’ Marriage ought to be about love. Who gets the dog, the car and what % of the bank account ought to be about contracts.

    The government {aka society} has no interest in who loves whom beyond questions of age and competence. Conversely the government {aka society} has considerable interest in whom you want to have power over your finances, how you raise your children and other more tangible aspects of your life.

    If 15 people want to hold a wiccan ceremony and call themselves ‘married’ I have zippity doo dah problems. If 15 people want to create a shared domestic arrangement involving the raising of children, I think that government has a real interest in whether or not to permit such a ‘family’ because the impact of such an unconventional structure on the children is unknown. The two parent family ought not be abandoned for the sake of ‘change.’ {Note: this point is my conservative side. A distrust of dramatic change without need to respond to a problem.}

  4. Why ought marriage be about love? Love is its own thing which is quite often entirely seperate from marriage or any other legal frameworks. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but marriage was conceived a a contract in the first place and love came latter as Aunt B said. Now you want to take the contracts out and make it just about love? Making a full 180° turn seems like an unnecessarily complex way of dealing with the problems we have now.

    It’s also interesting that you see multi-parent families as a dramatic change for no reason. Just because you think two parent families are tthe best doesn’t mean everyone else does.

  5. If someone wants to marry his sister, then that’s fine too. After all it is BIBLICAL: Abraham and Sarah were siblings.
    You can’t get much more conservative than a marriage practice dating back 3500 years.

  6. Mark, but fifteen people can and do right now create a shared domestic arrangement in which children are raised. Are we really going to authorize some authority to do a bed check every night to make sure that everyone is only with who the state thinks they should be with? That no adult has too much influence on a child unless it is that child’s prescribed parent?

    This, to me, clearly gets at the heart of the issue–not letting gay people get married is just about being an asshole.

    Because there is no good argument left. All folks are doing is either lying–”Well, I believe in Biblical marriage” when they don’t actually believe a man should have multiple wives or be forced to marry his brother’s wife if his brother dies–or making false equivalencies–”If we let gay people get married, we’ll have to let people that want to marry turtles get married” as if two loving consenting adults is the same as beastiality–or dismissive–”If we let gay people get married, we’ll have to let groups of 47 get married.” You know who’s not being bullied unto suicide? Kids who want to have 46 spouses. You know who’s not having their children kidnapped by church groups? People who want to have 46 spouses. You know who didn’t have to drive by Chick-fil-a and see how many of their neighbors hate them? People who want to have 46 spouses.

    Taking the issue of gay marriage, which would have immediate and important benefits for gay people in our community and dismissing it as if it’s as silly as people who are facing none of the issues our gay neighbors face possibly wanting marital rights they’ve not asked for is bullshit and condescending.

    But that’s speaking generally. Specifically to your point, you say that you have a “distrust of dramatic change without need to respond to a problem.”

    Your neighbors have told you there’s a need. What is it about them that makes you disinclined to believe them?

  7. Not speaking for Mark personally, but it’s my observation that when conservative politicians talk about “change when there’s a need,” they mean “when I feel the need, because I think everyone in the world is exactly like me (or should be!) and experiences the world from my exact position of privilege.” Since our current system works pretty well for extremely wealthy white dudes, it should come as no surprise that they aren’t feeling an urgent need for change. The concept of themselves as a representative acting on behalf of people who are not exactly like them is lost on them. It’s a very old problem in the republic.

  8. Specifically to your point, you say that you have a “distrust of dramatic change without need to respond to a problem.”

    Your neighbors have told you there’s a need. What is it about them that makes you disinclined to believe them?

    B, you shouldn’t bury your lede.

  9. W.,

    The way I see it is that marriage is about emotional commitment between two {or more} people. It is no one’s business to whom you make such commitments. If your church wants to allow gay marriage, that is good by me. If your church doesn’t, then that is the business of the church and perhaps you should change churches.

    If you want to have a legal relationship with another person {or persons}, then that is a civil matter. Churches should have no power to shape your domestic choices. That is the area of public policy.

    For example, if I am an employer and I want to offer benefits to the families of my employees including those who are not ‘married,’ how do I determine the difference between people in ‘committed’ relationships versus those who might want to take advantage of my generosity? If I take the ‘marriage’ aspect out and say “the definition of ‘committed’ is a legal contract between the parties” then I have a solid foundation for providing benefits or not. Ideally the legislative bodies that draw up the rules for such contracts will be rational although I cannot promise that they will be.

  10. Mark, I thought I understood where you were coming from. I disagreed with it, but I thought I understood it. But how is introducing a requirement for individuals who wish to marry (in the current sense of the word) fill out lots of extra paperwork that they now don’t, and probably pay lots of attorney’s fees that they now don’t (to be sure that the legal agreements that you want them to have actually properly say what they mean), in addition to the necessity of 50 states having to institute legislation to make this happen, all the while hoping that the legislation will be “rational” not introducing needless drastic change? It certainly introduces more change than requiring civil and/or religious marriages (in the current sense of the word) between same-sex couples to be recognized.

  11. Aunt B.,

    “Certainly, it’s easier to expand rights to folks than to dismantle a whole legal structure just to make churches comfortable.”

    Possibly. But I am unwilling to support allowing government to tell churches that they must teach X in preference to Y. And I do not think that allowing churches to determine issues with legal implications, like who is or isn’t married, is a desirable situation today.

    “Are we really going to authorize some authority to do a bed check every night to make sure that everyone is only with who the state thinks they should be with?”

    I hope not. But how people raise children impacts other members of society. If the government can apply the Commerce Clause to the family garden, then parenting certainly ought to also be covered. The impact of child abuse and neglect can actually be quantified. In Tennessee it is in the neighborhood of $800 million annually.

    It is not desirable or even possible to monitor all families. But the US still prohibits polygamy and polyandry. Originally that was based on religious beliefs. I suspect that any effort to abolish that prohibition today would run into public policy concerns. I see no reason to prohibit a practice based on religion and allow it as a secular option.

    “Your neighbors have told you there’s a need. What is it about them that makes you disinclined to believe them?”

    I do believe them in this case. And I support them. Marriage for LB&T individuals has become more and more accepted as part of a larger awareness that their equality is consistent with basic American ideas. Here Republicans could take a lesson from libertarians.

  12. nm,

    We live in a day where one can download all the paperwork needed to perform a range of legal filings. People who cannot figure out how to fill out a few forms relating to division of property, medical decisions and domestic responsibilities probably shouldn’t be entering into contracts or accepting responsibility for others.

    Couples that feel the need to clarify specific points can consult lawyers. Again, couples who cannot spend a couple of hundred dollars on a lawyer probably shouldn’t be spending $20,000 on a wedding.

    The bottom line is that the best way to ensure equality of rights for marriage is to leave marriage to religion and let people make contracts with each other.

  13. I’m thinking Mark is suggesting adopting the Belgian system. One gets married in the Town Hall. If one wants to seek a blessing on that civil union, one heads to church.

    In point of fact, though, marriages in the US cannot be legal without the ok of the state. That’s why one has to have a marriage license before heading off to the minister, if one chooses to have the union solemnized in church. The marriage is through the state; the church blessing is (legally speaking) window dressing. Maybe I’m being obtuse, but I don’t see how Mark’s suggested reform is actually a reform at all. Instead, it appears that churches should mind their own business and get out of the business of policing rights (which they are very ill-suited to do).

  14. If that’s what Mark means, I agree with him. It sounds to me, though, that he’s suggesting that we introduce an entire new layer of paperwork (since he doesn’t trust that his married employees are sufficiently committed for him to give spousal benefits without it). For which, I imagine, there would be filing fees and other associated expenses even if the papers themselves could be downloaded from the internet. If that’s not what he means, he’s being unclear.

    Mark, I tend to read what you write with good will, because I consider you a person of good will, but honest-to-goodness, it sounds like you are saying that there needs to be some new form of marriage introduced in addition to what we already have. Because, you know, we already require that everyone who gets married obtain a marriage license — why is that not sufficient to convince you of your employees’ sincerity? Wouldn’t it be easier to expand the right to get that license to all, rather than going through contortions to say that what gay couples are getting isn’t marriage?

    But what do I know? My husband and I got married, with a marriage license and a ketubah, in a synagogue, with new clothes and flowers and live music at the reception and all, for so much less than $20,000 as to suggest use of the term “order of magnitude.” I’m not saying that paying for one more form would have broken our bank — it wouldn’t — but I think someone’s privilege is showing again: a lot of people don’t live at that level, and some of them don’t need extra expenses added on.

  15. Mark, I tend to think the “don’t force churches” thing is cover. Straight and heterosexually-partnered bi people can legally get married right now, in or outside of a church, in another religious facility, in a government office, in a field, whatever – it is legal. It’s not as though “with some church’s blessing” is the legal requirement for marriage. Gay people cannot, in most states, even outside of the church structure. Allowing them to do so does not force churches to do anything, and does not require blowing up the current legal structure around marriage.

  16. I think some of this is a difference in use of language.

    Let’s go back to Aunt B’s first post.

    “marriage is about property rights and inheritance and assets and all kinds of legal contractual stuff.”

    This is a practical truth. However ‘marriage’ also has a distinct meaning to various religions. Untangling these two meanings would help with a range of issues.

    Taking any legal status out of religious marriage does not seem to be unreasonable to me. I an no fan of the idea that the Establishment
    Clause means what some members of the Supreme Court thought it meant beginning in the 60s. However ‘marriage’ impacts on the public in uncountable ways so there is a case for keeping the civil aspects separate.

    As for my advocacy that people wanting to form civil partnerships need to sign contracts that spell out a range of details, that benefits everyone.

    First, requiring contracts would help many couples {or groups} have a better understanding of various aspects of couplehood like financial planning and how to evaluate each person’s contributions to the couple. Couples who are well-prepared for marriage will need little assistance and unprepared couples will benefit from the experience.

    Second, it would greatly simplify divorces. 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Fighting over aspects of marriage that would be covered by contracts is a major reason for much of the bitterness in many divorces. Toss in issues like child custody {something that a contract can be amended to include} and you get even greater messes. Contracts would, I believe, dramatically reduce areas of conflict.

    Third, such contracts would be an excellent way to suck up the overflow from law schools instead of having more starving lawyers out looking for opportunities to get X to sue Y.

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