Certainly marriage can be and usually is a civil contract. There are laws determining the distribution of property within a marriage, as well as other financial obligations and benefits (i.e., taxes, inheritance, debt and credit, etc.). It is essentially a business arrangement. Woo hoo! Cool, let us incorporate, if it serves to provide for fiscal security, eh? I mean theoretically if this is what you’re after in a partnership, then marriage is not the only civil contract that can be entered into that will serve quite well. In fact, there are likely BETTER ways on the books right now to organize one’s finances in a partnership than marriage, in which the benefits are greater.
Marriage as a civil contract also provides governing for child custody and legitimacy, as well as some aspects of custody-like responsibility for one’s partner in the event of health issues (up to and including death). In this realm, marriage tends to differ somewhat from other business contracts, and also tends to more directly intersect with human relationships other than financial considerations. Okay, now we’re in trouble. Outside of certain rarefied sub-cultures, we generally have feelings about our children and spouses that are not directly and solely related to business as it is known in the market place or halls of fiduciary government. These feelings are most often, if I’m not entirely mistaken, the REASON people enter into marriage. So, marriage ALSO represents a subjective commitment to specific relationships on a purely social basis, which people often take even more seriously than the miscellaneous business arrangements provided for.
In fact, people generally ignore, or at least take as an incidental given, the business side of marriage in favor of the rite of passage and statement of personal commitment that it represents within our culture. People most often enter into a civil marriage contract as a means of ratifying in the eyes of the community an interpersonal relationship. It’s a social statement. Having done so, both parties in a civil marriage gain a certain status within the community that legitimizes not only their relationship, but also legitimizes both parties as bona fide members of the community in his and her own right.
I offer the observation that a purely religious ceremony of marriage, without involving the state, does not do this for most people. In other words, in our culture, we are not required to take seriously a marriage which is purely on spiritual grounds. With the separation of church and state (which incidentally had nothing to do with spiritual matters per se, but with the distribution and dissection of political and secular power within governing bodies), suddenly spiritual life had no (or at least significantly reduced) authority as mandate in our social relationships in concrete terms (i.e., the material).
What does that tell you, friends and neighbors? In effect, the spiritual side of being human was rendered marginal. Human interaction was denormalized to account for the anomaly of love, as it were. And it doesn’t stop there. The spiritual as social mandate was not merely marginalized, it was rendered subordinate to the material. In other words, we’re put in the position of having the secular state be the authority for legitimization of our spiritual lives.
Most of the time, this can be ignored, and usually is. But what happens when an out-group, such as gay and lesbian communities and individuals sadly still so far represent, attempts to gain the right of marriage as a civil contract, and not solely as a personal and private spiritual commitment? Suddenly certain in-groups who usually tend to quietly (and yes, all too often not so quietly) object to homosexuality are faced with being required to regard as legitimate something to which they are adamantly morally opposed. In effect, their hands are now forced. And what happens, proverbially, when you back a wild animal into a corner?
In terms of marriage, this may explain a little more “Why does it matter to you who loves whom?” Whereas the public and the private have whole realms that never touch each other, they are nonetheless interactive and have strong effect on each other.
Does this need to be fixed? How? How can we break this down a little further? Or, is there any way we can add dimensionality to the problem of a power struggle between public and private that serves as an end-run around it? (Hint: be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath. Separation of church and state exists for some pretty damned good reasons. Are these reasons still operational…?)
10:47 AM 12 Comments 5 Kudos