Why Ought the State Care About Same-Sex Marriage?
In a discussion comparing interracial marriage to same-sex marriage I was challenged with this question:
Please provide a rationale to explain why we should allow bi-racial couples to marry but not same-sex couples.
It is not in the interest of the State to grant privileges, special protections, or legitimacy to same-sex unions any more than for roommates or two sisters living together in retirement. The State only cares about marriage at all because family and reproduction are the foundation upon which the State continues to exist. Heterosexual, bi-racial couples are, by design, intrinsically able to participate in these thing. But same-sex unions are on the periphery of this institution, and cannot even counterfeit it unless they succeed in conscripting the services of the opposite sex (or the product of a heterosexual union). This is not to say that same-sex couples cannot form their own unions apart from the sanctioning of the state, or that they cannot lobby for whatever legal privileges they find attractive.
They replied as follows:
Marriage is not needed for family and reproduction. Hi, I have a big family, 3 kids and have been together with their mother for 16 years. We’re not married. I’m living proof that what you just said is nonsense.
First of all, if you and the State don’t care about marriage in your situation, then why should the State care about even more unconventional arrangements, like between same-sex couples? It seems like while the rest of the world cares less and less about marriage, homosexuals seem to care about it more and more.
The State is concerned primarily about marriage in relation to the safety, care, and rearing of children. In some totalitarian regimes the State has thought to take this on itself. In American society it has deemed that the role of the natural family — man and woman, preferably the birth parents. It also presumes a committed and loving relationship to be the best incubator for raising productive citizens. A marriage is the best expression of such a commitment. To this end the State privileges and sanctions these unions apart from any other types of social affiliations. Your own arrangement approximates a marriage, even though you personally choose not to formalize it; but it certainly wouldn’t be any *less* stable for having done so.
And then the inevitable appeal to exceptions:
Same-sex couples can have families by way of sperm banks, surrogate moms and adoption. The reasons you state to oppose same-sex marriage could just as well be used to oppose marriage between infertile opposite sex people.
The State cares only about the framework and the ideal. It doesn’t get into the specific intentions and problems within that framework. It doesn’t sanction these unions only *after* children come, and then remove sanction in the case of accidental death of a child or spouse, however, there are certain additional privileges that are indeed granted for children once they arrive (e.g., tax breaks and education). It can’t judge whether a couple intends to have children or is unable to — perhaps some day they will and can have them.
You can’t invalidate something in general by pointing to examples of where it is not exploited or is broken. Shall we deny that hammers are for nails simply because some choose not to swing them or that sometimes they break? Does it then make it sensible or effective to pound nails in with wrenches?