Friday, September 24, 2004

Keep Your Neighbor from Marrying His Leafblower

No need to make light of the slippery slope arguments. They are very real to a lot of people as this letter to the editor of the Indianapolis Star attests:

"The amendment seeks to affirm marriage as between one man and one woman, as it has been defined throughout history. Yes, it will prohibit legal recognition of homosexual marriages, but it will also prohibit recognition of any other arrangement that a judge might decide to call a "marriage," such as between siblings or other close relatives, groups of more than two people, an adult and child, individuals and their pets, you name it.

I'm not aware that the GOP has targeted homosexuals for discrimination, but with a little stretch here and there, a politically inflammatory headline was created."

This letter was written by a a neighbor or ours, who I think genuinely likes John and I. Though it is most concerned with inflammatory headlines, we are getting together soon to talk about her other concerns. I think it is important to listen to this kind of argument. It is a sincere. It also points up a binary thinking about this issue that is unnecessary--either only heterosexual couples can get married or ANY kind of marriage relationship can exist. Surely there is a way not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

In my mind the hippocratic oath ("First, do no harm") seems applicable to exploring the permuations of human relationships that might potentially vie for marriage rights. I wonder why the pro-same-sex marriage group hasn't pointed out that same-sex couples in committed relationships, including those with kids "do no harm" and actually contribute positively to society. In Indiana's governmental system (which, believe me, is a model of conservatism) same-sex parents are considered equal in their abililties to parent kids well. Even without kids, no one is damaged as a result of being in a long-term same-sex relationship.

What about marriages between adults and children? Aside from insufficiently developed understandings of sex and marriage among children, this is an issue of unequal power, minor vs. adult. In this case, the minor would be harmed.

Polygamy? Put it to the hippocratic oath test. Is anyone harmed by this situation? BTW, biblically it is a very traditional approach to marriage. But scrutinizing polygamy through the harm lens probably would not produce very different results than we have today.

I've actually not heard of two siblings wanting to marry, but the same preventative harm standards should apply. As for the man and his leafblower, the leafblower would have a hard time expressing its needs and boundaries. Therefore, I would refer you to the issue of unequal power, though the harm standard might be difficult to prove (I hope you know I'm kind of kidding here).

But here is an even better idea! We know that the two-person marriage model is a good one. What if we just didn't limit the rights and benefits to heterosexual married couples, but opened it up to other two-person committed couples (they would not have to be romantically involved). For instance, there are these two former nuns that live near us. They have lived with each other for years. And they provide foster care for several kids. What if the social security benefits of the one who passes first could be passed on to the surviving sister so that she could better continue to care for herself and their kids? (BTW, same-sex couples, no matter how long they are together are not currently allowed to receive their partner's social security benefits.)

For that matter, couldn't two siblings who have decided to remain single, but don't want the insecurity that comes with singleness in old age also benefit from this strategy? And if one works and is transferred, couple benefits could still be provided to help them both move to their new location.

In both cases, A commitment would still be necessary, but I'm telling you, those nuns qualify in my book.

With this second option, churches then could be in the marriage business, and government could be in the business of supporting healthy family structures for the welfare of all who choose to commit to care for someone besides themselves.


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