Baby, don’t hurt me, but that’s a natural question in the wake of today’s Supreme Court ruling. Or more appropriately, what is marriage?
Same sex marriage advocates are romanticizing the decision as a win for “love.” How silly to believe that something as big as love can be defined or confined by something as small as legal proceedings. Justice Kennedy’s opinion was clear that, because the 14th Amendment preserves equal protection under the law at the state level, all states must recognize the practice. He wrote that marriage was a fundamental right which could not be denied.
What he didn’t write was what a definition of marriage. That seems just a little important, doesn’t it?
It’s the giant gorilla no one talks about: Much of the vitriol in the same sex marriage debate stems from an unspoken disagreement over the definition of a marriage. If you believe a marriage is a pairing of biologically complimentary individuals intent on procreating, you might see a same sex union as pointless. Sure, the participants might offer each other emotional support and companionship, but the very root need for a marriage doesn’t exist. (This point of view was summed up nicely by the priest in Spaceballs: “I’m trying to conduct a marriage here, which has nothing to do with love.”)
Conversely, if you believe that marriage is a committment based solely on love, you don’t see a reason (other than bigotry) why someone would oppose same sex marriage. Each side would be well served to assume better of the other.
Kennedy wrote that pairings should not be limited – that the fundamental right to be with the person you love shouldn’t be confined to heterosexuals. Fair enough. But it is fair to ask, why stop at a pairing? Two is an arbitrary number when biological considerations are brushed aside. Why couldn’t polygamists marry all the consenting adults they’d like to marry? Why do we recognize marriages at all?
There may very well be answers to these questions, but Kennedy didn’t spell them out. If marriage (or any other protected institution, status, or practice) is a nebulous concept, government cannot do its job, which is to guarantee citizens equal protection under the law. So while this week’s opinion may have been a short-term victory for same sex marriage advocates, it’s tough to say what exactly they won.