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Two Views: McClaughry on defining marriage

03/17/09 7:55AM By John McClaughry
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(HOST) In the first of Two Views on the marriage rights debate. we heard commentator David Moats on the life and legacy of Harvey Milk. In this second view, commentator John McClaughry considers the laws and conventions governing the established definition of marriage.

(MCCLAUGHRY) Vermont legislators have again taken up the question of same sex marriage. Since no legislature has ever voted to allow same sex couples to marry, passage of such a bill would be a breakthrough of national importance.

The gay and lesbian activists, and their many straight supporters, believe that legislating same-sex marriage will wipe out a long legacy of disgraceful discrimination, and confer the much sought after status of marriage on loving and mutually committed couples unfairly discriminated against.

A majority of opponents base their opposition on religious grounds, as contrary to church teachings and natural law. There is also a non-religious argument that deserves more attention than it has gotten.

Marriage serves at least three important social functions: procreation and child rearing, mutual care and assistance, and reining in young males with raging hormones by linking approved sex to a serious and long-lasting social commitment.

To be sure, the sexual liberalism that began in the Sixties has undermined this third argument; nevertheless, it's important for our laws and customs to give maximum support to the traditional institution of marriage. That support will at least slow down the slide into totally commitment-free sexual license, resulting in ever more single mothers and fatherless children.

Gays and lesbians may well say, those are valid arguments but we're loving and committed couples who are pro-marriage. How does allowing us to enjoy the status of marriage undermine the institution of marriage?

The response is that prohibiting discrimination against same-sex couples seeking marriage cannot be limited to just couples. If two men or two women can marry, why not two of each as a foursome? Or a Muslim taking four wives? So far as I can tell, the same-sex marriage partisans have never shown any willingness to include those groupings of their fellow humans in their demand for enjoyment of the status of marriage.

Is this a ridiculous argument? In his brief for the state in the Baker appeal eleven years ago, Vermont attorney general William Sorrell wrote - quote - "[If the Court accepts gay and lesbian Appellant's argument for] separating the [marriage] statutes from their language and their historical foundations, the groundwork will be laid for other groups to claim the right to marry. The most obvious are polygamists and proponents of group marriage. Following the arguments of Appellants, such persons would have strong claims to fit within the ‘purposes' of the marriage statutes." End quote.

And there's the rub. Statutes and judicial opinions allowing every conceivable collection of humans to unite in legal marriage will eventually make the idea and practice of marriage a laughing stock - especially among young heterosexual males who society most wants to channel into legally recognized relationships responsible for child rearing and support.

Whether running this risk to confer marriage status on a small number of same sex couples - who already enjoy all the benefits of marriage - is a worthwhile trade off, is a question serious legislators need to ponder deeply.

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