Yesterday there was a primary election in North Carolina, the state where I reside, the state of my birth. There was a lot on the ballot. There was so much, in fact, that I did not vote. Wife phoned to remind me, so it's not because I forgot. Mainly it's because I'm lazy and apolitical. I'm not plugged into the political process. I don't know any of the people who were running for office. Not only do I not know them personally, I don't know anything about them. I don't follow political news closely enough to form an opinion. (It bores the heck out of me.) The day of the election is much too late to start that homework assignment. I did not want to go to the polls only to pick winners by flipping a coin. That sort of uninformed voting is liable to do more harm than good.
Then there's the fact that I have some background in mathematics. I understand the odds. I also have a grasp of local demographics. This is the Bible belt, Ku Klux Klan territory etc. There's more of them than there is of me. I might break a tie between two candidates, but in any election that pits me versus a sea of Bible thumpers, my lone vote doesn't count for much. I'm okay with that, actually. I'm used to it. That's democracy. I may lament the outcome, but I know that the majority of people will get the quality of government they deserve. After all, they asked for it.
The reason I'm pounding the keyboard today is, that there was precisely one item on yesterday's ballot about which I had formed a clear opinion. If I had gone to the polling place, it would have been in order to express that single opinion. Election returns indicate that it may have been a touchy issue for a lot of people, because there was a big turnout for this primary. The big draw was a constitutional amendment restricting the institution of marriage to intersex monogamy. The amendment passed.
Since I didn't bother to express my opinion at the polls, I'll beg your indulgence to express it now. If you don't care about what I have to say, then move along, folks. There's nothing for you to see here.
Here's the text of the amendment:
"Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts."
What does this amendment change? Most marriages with which I am familiar, including my own, follow the standard one male per one female pattern. Most are conducted in a church or, at least, by a minister, which satisfies a religious imperative. You get a marriage license, which implies a legal angle. You file your taxes jointly, which adds an economic consideration. You get to shack up, which multiplies the economic effects and satisfies a biological imperative. In many cases children will follow, and there is a social imperative that the parents should provide a healthy and stable child-rearing environment. Society regards marriage as a kind of kinship. The amendment affirms all that.
There is already (since 1996) a law on the books which bans gay marriage in North Carolina. I assume there are laws restricting other patterns, such as group marriage, as well. The amendment confirms and reinforces all such restrictions and denials.
The effects of the amendment are therefore minimal. Voters get to vent. The affirmations and restrictions are now etched somewhat more deeply in figurative stone. Surely there are other more pressing and important issues that might be addressed by amending the state constitution.
So why the rigamarole? What is it about the institution of marriage that needs regulating so stringently? Let's look over some of the attributes of marriage that I listed earlier: kinship; child rearing; sex; economics; legal, social and religious sanctions — and love. I didn't actually list that last one before, but here in the Occident love is very much part of an ideal marriage. There may be more stuff that I didn't think of. If I left out something that is important to you, sound off. That's what the comments are for.
Kinship defines families. Whom do we call for help? Who will inherit our stuff when we die? Where do we draw the line between incest and fair game? For most people who get married, these considerations are secondary. One doesn't usually date one's future in-laws. One doesn't amend the constitution over such questions, either.
Child rearing is how we perpetuate our civilization. That's sort of a biggie. That would certainly be worth an amendment or two, but the text of the amendment doesn't address this point. Is monogamy the best way to accomplish the goal? Traditionally children were raised within an extended family. Grandparents, aunts and uncles provided care and acted as role models. These days kids are lucky to be born into a stable nuclear family. Separation and divorce are increasingly common. People are mobile. They leave their families to go where the jobs are or wherever their wanderlust takes them. In a sputtering economy it's more common for both parents to hold jobs. Kids are raised in daycare centers or by television. It might be better for our civilization to consider group marriage as an option. I'm thinking that more (than two) people in a marriage would yield more income, stability and caregivers at home. Those are all good things.
Sex... is private. There is an exhibitionist/voyeuristic side to sex, but in general I don't want to know. I don't really care who does what to whom. Bible thumpers rant about what the Bible says, and I don't care about that, either. The United States Constitution, which explicitly supersedes the state constitution, guarantees freedom of — and by implication, from — religion. I don't need some self-righteous ass telling me what I can do in my own bedroom. Butt out, Jack; it's none of your business. We're all consenting adults here. You're free to do it your way in your bedroom. Grant me the same privacy. That goes for all you paparazzi, too. Butt out. If it were up to me, you guys would be required to paint a target on your t-shirt.
Marriage conduces to economies of scale. By pooling incomes and sharing food and lodging, people are better able to care for each other. No problem there.
Legal marriage affects official identity, since most married couples style themselves as Mr. and Mrs. It helps the state keep track of kinship, inheritance and taxes. Lastly it separates condoned sex from adultery. Adultery is a concept that bleeds over from the social and religious side of things. In that sense it's sort of artificial and doesn't necessarily belong here in the legal domain. Among some primates promiscuity is more the rule than the exception, so I'm inclined to doubt that this kind of jealousy is inherent in human nature. I think it probably goes back to the old patriarchal religions, of which we seem to have a more than generous affliction.
The social and religious aspects of marriage are where the norms and mores originate that define our ideals and expectations with respect to the institution. This is where it gets touchy. This is where the animus behind the amendment comes from. In particular, I think it is the religious folks who feel threatened by any proposal for innovation or diversification in our definitions of marriage. Why they should feel threatened, I can't understand. They remain free to do it their way. Insofar as they seek to prescribe for others, who may not believe as they do, they have no moral or legal standing. In my opinion the new state amendment could be ruled in violation of First Amendment rights, no matter how many people voted for it. Marriage as defined here is essentially "an establishment of religion". It abridges certain forms of free speech. It infringes the rights of people to peaceably assemble.
Peaceable assemblage is what marriage is all about. That's where love enters the picture. Two people like each other so much that they are prepared to make a lifelong comittment to stay together. Most newlyweds have little idea what that commitment will entail. They rely on their love to make their dreams unfold in the face of adversity. Love can hold the marriage together despite the often unforeseen exigencies of aging. It is love, more than anything, that good parents wish to pass on to their children.
So here is where I have the greatest problem with this marriage restriction thing. I don't want my government to tell me what I can't do. Don't repress people. Don't tell me I have to be like everybody else. Don't create problems where none exists. This democracy of ours is not supposed to be exclusive.
I want a government that helps me out. Keep me safe and healthy. Create a fair system within which I can seek my own happiness. Encourage diversity. Spread the love. Love is inclusive. If I'm happy, it increases the chances that you can be happy. Life is not a zero sum game. We can bootstrap this sucker. We can build heaven right here. It will take a lot of love and commitment.
Let's get married.Previous Entry
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