Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The American Definition of Marriage

James Madison warned of the "Tyranny of the Majority" in Federalist 10. Many could argue that to be the very case in regards to the same-sex marriage debate. However, going back to the base definitions of marriage, it is that very majority that sets the traditions and laws governing the topic.

The dictionary (base definition) of "Marriage":

1: the state of being united to a person  in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law or the accepted traditions of a given society.

1b : the mutual relation of married persons : wedlock

1c : the institution whereby individuals are joined in a marriage 
2: an act of marrying or the rite by which the married status is effected
3: an intimate or close union 
Most people who subscribe to Christian or Jewish faiths will use the definitions of marriage dictated by the laws, dogma, and scriptures of their faith. However, if, in the USA, we used religion to define marriage it could easily violate the First Amendment. Any form of definition of marriage would then be a form of dictating a chosen state religion. However, if the 1st Amendment were strictly obeyed, then states would not be able, constitutionally, define marriage. They would not be allowed to issue marriage licenses. Courts would not be allowed to determine the division of assets and property in the cases of divorce. It would be up to the religious organizations. This would pose a particular difficult  problem in cases of mixed-religion marriages. Even two sects of the same faith may not have the same religious rules. Logically, the second definition does not work in our country.
I firmly believe in marriage as a union between two people as determined by the rites of their religion. (Definition 2). My religion and faith have no bans or taboos on same-sex marriage. Within my faith, gay couples can be married to each other. I am not a Christian, though I was raised Catholic. My faith blesses any union between two consenting adults regardless of sexual orientation. So, a religious argument against same-sex marriage is an automatic loss with me.

Because of religious freedom in our country, marriage has to be a legal matter, not a religious one, in our society. Put another way, marriage in the United States is not defined by religion. It is defined by common law combined with accepted societal tradition (Definition 1). In using definition 1 (above), there is no violation of the First Amendment.

Recently, it has come to our society to formulate its legal definition of marriage, according to its laws and traditions. At the forefront of this debate is the concept of same-sex marriage. It is a non-partisan question. It is also a hinge decision for our society. Right here, right now, we get to decide what "marriage" means in the USA. Given that it is a legal status and not a religious one, in our society, why not allow gay marriage?

That was the question posed to citizens of North Carolina this past Tuesday. The citizens of the state voted, by referendum, to amend their state constitution to define marriage, in their society, as between one man and one woman. That amendment passed by an overwhelming majority. That overwhelming majority chose that its society will adopt that definition. It is now the legal one for North Carolina.

An anthropological and sociological study of the history of our species reveals that marriage has, traditionally, been a contract between a man and a woman to manage a household and raise a family. Science dictates that a woman cannot impregnate a woman, nor a man a man. That is the primary basis of North Carolina's recent amendment. Agree of disagree with holding the historical tradition that dates back to the earliest days our species walked the Earth; it is a fact.

Modern technology and science allow for a redefinition of those terms. Adoption and artificial insemination make way for same-sex couples to raise a family. This, again, begs the question: Why not same-sex marriage?

Based upon the 10th Amendment to the US Constitution, that is a decision to be made by the individual states. Each one needs to settle on its definition. Despite various religious-based arguments, it really comes down to each society defining it, by law, for itself. So far 31 of 50 states have voted to amend their constitutions to adopt the "one-man and one-woman" definition. 37 states have a statute, constitutional amendment, or both upholding that definition.

It appears that the legal definition based upon the will and traditions of our society have spoken, at least in those 37 states. Love it or hate it, that is the decision of our society. Until society changes its mind, the "Tyranny of the Majority" rules. To quote one of the favorite slogans of the Occupy Movement:  "This is What Democracy Looks Like".  "We the People" have decided, for better of for worse.