NYTimes.com Article: Op-Ed Contributor: Joining the Debate but Missing the Point


  I think Nathaniel Frank clearly gets it wrong when he says we must
ask, "Is giving gays the right to marry good for society?"

  Rights are inherent in individuals; they are not "given" by society,
because they are not society's to give. A libertarian would ask, "Is it
voluntary?" "Does it involve aggression against others?" Any
justification for legal discrimination that might appeal to
libertarians ought to evaporate pretty quickly in the face of such

  Fortunately Frank reaches a pro-liberty conclusion with regards to gay
marriage, but he makes some awfully tortured arguments against
polygamous, incestuous, and age-differential marriages in order to get

Yours in liberty,
            <<< Starchild >>>

This article from NYTimes.com
has been sent to you by tradergroupe@yahoo.com.

Dear Everone;

A very interesting take on the marriage debate from a very different

Ron Getty
SF Libertarian


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Op-Ed Contributor: Joining the Debate but Missing the Point

February 29, 2004

By declaring his support for a constitutional amendment to
ban gay marriage, President Bush has taken sides in an
energetic national debate. Unfortunately, thus far the
debate has often obscured more than it has illuminated.

Supporters and opponents of gay marriage are talking past
each other. Social conservatives argue from the premise
that marriage is important to society - the president
called it "the most fundamental institution of
civilization" - and must be protected. Letting gays wed
will undermine marriage, they say, but they are seldom able
to explain how.

Proponents of same-sex marriage, meanwhile, make a
rights-based argument, insisting that gays deserve the
freedom to marry - but they don't address the possible
impact of gay marriage on society. As a result, they are
open to the valid retort that if marriage is an individual
right (instead of a social good), why not polygamous,
incestuous or child marriages?

For a productive dialogue, we should be asking the question
this way: is giving gays the right to marry good for
society? And to answer that, we must ask what larger social
purpose marriage serves.

The main reason marriage is considered good for society is
that committed relationships help settle individuals into
stable homes and families. Marriage does this by
establishing collective rules of conduct that strengthen
obligations to a spouse and often to children.

This is why the word itself is so important. The power of
"marriage" lies in its symbolic authority to reinforce
monogamy and stability when temptation calls. The hope is
that, having taken vows before family and friends, people
will think twice before breaking them. It is this shared
meaning of marriage that is central to the success of so
many individual unions.

Yet it is precisely this shared definition that causes many
Americans to worry that legalizing gay marriages would
undermine straight ones. By sharing the institution with
couples whose union they don't trust or respect, they fear,
the sanctity of their own bonds could be compromised.

The argument is not so much that individual straight
couples are threatened by gay marriage, but that the
collective rules that define marriage are being undermined.
Instead of feeling part of a greater social project that
demands respect, people will feel that breaking their vows
offends only their spouse, not the whole community. Knowing
that their friends and neighbors no longer hold marriage
sacred can make it easier for people to wander.

Thus it is inadequate to argue that marriage is a basic
civil right because it cannot be extended to all unions -
to the brother who wants to marry his sister, to the man
who wants two wives, to the 10-year-old who wants to marry
her teacher. Marriage could indeed lose some of its current
meaning and power if society legalized unions between
relatives, groups or children.

What about gays? While marriage may not be a universal
civil right, it is a social institution that gays deserve
to join. The best argument for gay marriage is that it
serves the same social function as all other marriages.

It is silly to argue that broadening the definition of
marriage will have no impact on the institution; it will.
But no generalization about the nature and durability of
same-sex unions can justify banning them. After all,
society does not deny marriage rights to divorced,
infertile or impotent people - so long as they are
straight. We offer that right because society generally
tries to encourage as many people as possible to live
stable and productive lives. Marriage - gay or straight -
helps society achieve that goal.

After identifying the social function that marriage serves,
it is easy to allay the fears of those worried about a
slippery slope to an "anything goes" definition of
marriage. Marriages between brother and sister? Incestuous
marriages strike at the core of the bonds of trust and the
functions of care that a family requires. Polygamy? One
husband and numerous wives invites increased jealousy,
deception and subjugation, and mocks the importance of
"forsaking all others," essential components of the
stabilizing function of marriage.

The traditionalists may well be right that a monogamous
relationship between two unrelated, consenting adults makes
a strong foundation for a stable family, and thus for a
vigorous social order. They're just wrong that those two
people have to be of different genders.

Nathaniel Frank teaches history at New School University.



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