On Why Marriage is Controversial

The following chart shows why discussing marriage with others who do not share your presuppositions is fraught with peril.


I suspect that most people’s notions of marriage form a subset of the items on the chart. Trouble is, for two different people the overlap can exclude what one or the other finds to be most important.

I won’t belabor the point.

  • By Brother Volition, August 21, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

    Great chart! Couple more you might add: With the sanction of the church, and yielding social benefits to children of the union.

  • By Lizzie, August 21, 2012 @ 3:23 pm

    It’s also fraught with peril because this argument is being settled toward equality with more and more of the voting population. This truly is the current Civil Rights movement, and you guys are willfully, gleefully on the wrong side of history. I cannot WAIT to see which photos the history books use for you guys in 30 years as the 21st century oppressors who lost.

  • By GC, August 21, 2012 @ 11:04 pm

    Different religious people and groups indeed teach different notions of RELIGIOUS marriage.

    CIVIL marriage, however, is available to people of all beliefs, including atheists. Civil marriage, not religious marriage, is the SOLE source of those important “legal benefits” (enabling much of that mutual support, and also conveying many social benefits), and as such is a civil right. There is no reason for our SECULAR government to deny civil marriage or its benefits on the basis of gender or of sexual orientation.

    Don’t believe the distinction is important? Fine: when you get married, have a proper religious ceremony, but forgo the marriage license, tell the celebrant to omit “by the authority vested in me by the State of ______”, don’t register the marriage with the state. You can use various powers of attorney, trusts, and other expensive legal maneuvers to try to replicate SOME of the legal benefits and obligations that come “for free” with civil marriage, but not many others, especially in tax and immigration matters. The two of you will be strangers in the eyes of the law, your status in your church notwithstanding.

    Currently, in most U.S. states (and in the eyes of the U.S. federal government, thanks to the so-called “Defense” of Marriage Act) and many countries, this is the situation many couples are forced into, NOT by choice but by discriminatory law. Those laws and amendments are no less wrong for being long-standing tradition. (Think slavery. Think interracial marriage.)

    Lizzie, you are absolutely right, those who oppose equal marriage are on the wrong side of history.

    Quick further reading: http://jhuger.com/learn

  • By a.mcewen, August 22, 2012 @ 3:26 am

    Don’t you think that you are making assumptions as to why gays want to get married? You make it seem that they have no idea of commitment or loyalty to each other. I think that you painting a lot of gay couples with an unfair broad brush.

  • By Will Duquette, August 22, 2012 @ 5:58 am

    To the previous three commenters: I’m not sure who you arguing with, but I don’t think he’s in the room—but thank you for proving my point.

    Where in this post have I said anything about why gays want to get married? The most you can take from it is that I recognize that some gays do want to get married.

    Why are you arguing civil vs. religious views of marriage? In this post, I’ve not taken a position on the role of church or state in marriage, except to say that many people think there is one.

    If you want to engage the post, please do so. If not, why bother commenting at all?

  • By Avid Reader, August 22, 2012 @ 7:00 am

    Marriage is controversial because one set of people is insisting the state uphold one religious definition of marriage.

    If marriage is between one man and one woman, based on some religious beliefs, then the state has no business providing marriage to anyone. Civil unions, yes, and to all citizens.

    If marriage is merely a societal unit in which parents set up a household in which to raise children, then the state may provide it to all citizens of the legal age of consent, and states may decide on various parameters — gender, number of adults entering into this contract, etc.

    It’s not the definition of marriage as much as it is where that definition of marriage comes from and who is providing it.

  • By Joanne K McPortland, August 22, 2012 @ 7:05 am

    And just for those who are dropping by: marriage is not a right, it’s a privilege, one that incurs specific rights and responsibilities but not one that is open to all people. Try applying for a license to marry more than one person, or a child, or a person still in a legal marriage, etc, etc. That’s why the rights and responsibilities of marriage don’t automatically belong to any two unmarried people, gay or straight–because you have to register, get a license, meet the requirements. It’s like driving or voting, neither of which is a universal civil right.

  • By Avid Reader, August 22, 2012 @ 7:26 am

    True, Joanne, but we don’t deny driver’s licenses or pet-owner licenses or licenses to operate forklifts, and we don’t deny citizens voter registration based on orientation, either.

    Let’s settle the definition first — what is marriage, why do we define it as we do, and why should the state be involved?

    Religious, or sacramental marriage, is something else entirely, and I’m sure religious people don’t want the state involved in defining that, so maybe religious people should allow citizens to decide on what state-provided marriages/unions should include.

  • By Will Duquette, August 22, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

    Avid Reader, I’ve not said much yet about marriage as a religious institution vs. a civil institution; that’s another post or two or three. However, if you’ll take a look at my earlier post, On Coercion, you’ll see that I’m not primarily interested in the legal or political aspects of the question, nor am I (in general) calling for laws to be passed. There may be exceptions to that, but if so I’ll talk about that in coming posts.

    Thank you for your civility!

  • By Barry Deutsch, August 23, 2012 @ 8:45 am

    This is a nicely done chart.

    The one criticism I’d make is that the word “family,” or “kin,” appears nowhere on the chart.

    But I think that for a majority of people, marriage’s function of forming a new family (as the spouses change from being unrelated to being each other’s closest kin), and in linking together two previously unrelated families as in-laws, is one of the most essential and life-changing aspects of getting married.

    That said, I realize that you can’t fit everything on a small chart! It’s just a pet peeve of mine — family formation is such an important part of all marriages (even childless marriages), and yet seems to be ignored in most discussions of marriage.

  • By Will Duquette, August 23, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

    Barry, you’re absolutely right. There are probably dozens of things I could add. For example,

    1. With the sanction of the Church

    2. With social benefits for the children of the marriage

    3. For binding of families together

    4. For the stabilization of society

    5. Governed by the Natural Law

    It’s so hard to remember everything at once!

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