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"Marriage and other unions"

The North Carolina vote against homosexual marriage

Confessions of an average North Carolinian

May 2012

There were good reasons why the state of North Carolina voted to prohibit same-sex marriage. We invite the rest of the U.S. to a discussion that needs to reach beyond the slogans, beyond the President's political calculation, to the essence of this issue.
In North Carolina, same-sex marriage and its cousins "domestic partnership" and "civil union" have been specifically prohibited by law since 1996. The NC legislature recently decided to place this question before the voters – quite reasonably in my view, given the social/ethical aspects of the issue. Thus, the NC primary election ballot on May 8, 2012 carried the following measure, which the voter was asked to vote For or Against:
Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.
In the end, the measure passed by about 61% to 39%, and was thereby incorporated into the N.C. constitution. North Carolina thus became the latest of the growing number of states (now 30) that have placed a traditional marriage definition in their constitutions. While several states now permit same-sex marriage, these have all been imposed by the courts or the state legislatures. In all 32 cases to date where the people of the state have been consulted in a popular referendum, they have rejected the idea of legalizing homosexual marriage.

The "average NC voter" is both conservative and religious; though I differ from the average NC voter on both counts, I voted for the measure. Eight years ago I argued in a BRJ essay that the striving by homosexuals for official recognition of their "domestic unions" deserved to succeed, but that it was an error to insist on the word "marriage" for such unions, partly because marriage is a sacrament in all the major western religions (Protestant and Catholic Christianity, Jewry, and Islam), and such insistence amounted to unnecessarily picking a fight with these religions. The same argument holds for other non-traditional domestic unions, such as those involving more than two individuals. (It is clear that voiding the requirement for two different sexes represented in a marriage would quickly bring a demand to void the limitation to "2 persons" in marriage.)

Since then, the issue has rumbled on, and we recently heard that President Obama has experienced a political conversion on this question. He had struggled with the issue for some time while his consultants worked out the likely vote-getting fallout of the action, and in the end they concluded that the President would gain more votes than he would lose by his announcement.

I frankly have nothing whatsoever against homosexuals joining forces in any arrangement they prefer, and my view of marriage is not entirely traditional. So why did I cast my vote against homosexual marriage? This is why:

Marriage is not a "right." It is a specific civil domestic arrangement, created by law and designed to serve a purpose. Just as there are different legal associations of persons – stock co's, non-profits, associations, etc. – each of which have specific rules and different tax and benefit consequences, the same holds true for personal unions. The institution of marriage – the common, everyday variety – was decreed in ancient religious law for one purpose: to ensure the care and feeding of children and their mother, by preventing the fathering male from skipping out on his responsibilities, which he certainly would do if it weren't for the requirement to stay put or else be punished for dereliction. For the past several thousand years, with basis in civil law, the legal responsibility of the father has been to be the breadwinner – to provide for his wife and children, through the enforceable legal contract of marriage.

All the legal and economic benefits of marriage derive from this longstanding imperative to provide for children and for a wife who has dedicated herself to caring for the children and is therefore not able to compete in the job market when the husband dies. These rights, such as pension and social security survivor benefits, certain tax benefits, community property and inheritance rights – all designed to protect the stay-at-home surviving wife – are the "equal rights" that homosexuals are now trying to get a share of. I don't see any connection of the original rationale for these costly public supports to the situation of two homosexual persons living together. Their insistent demand for "equal rights" with the traditional mother has, to me, a pathetic, puling sound, akin to greedy relatives trying to horn in on an inheritance they don't have coming to them.

In these days of fathers and mothers essentially working equally outside the home, and of strained and drained public entitlement chests, what we need to do is not to add beneficiaries to social support structures that were designed for a different need, but rather the opposite: to review such supports and ensure that they support those who need them, and not those who don't. The social benefits, such as survivor rights and tax breaks, that were designed to assist non-employed mothers during and after child-rearing, should be limited to those who qualify on that basis. That means that these benefits should no longer be gained merely by marriage, nor by individuals who are or could be gainfully employed, but should be reserved for mothers who choose to forego a career in employment in order to raise their children.

The upshot of this is that not only should marriage benefits not be expanded to those who have no relation to their rationale, such as homosexual couples, but they should be contracted and limited to those – a diminishing number – who fit the model for which the benefits were designed. And that's the basic reason why I voted against expanding marriage benefits to same-sex couples.

There are other good reasons for opposing "gay marriage." I invite the reader to check my essay from 2004, referred to above. There I discuss the problem of the religious basis of the marriage ceremony, and the need to place all (new) legal domestic unions on a contractual basis. There would be no reason why any number of persons of whichever sex could not contract together to form a mutually obligated domestic union, if they so desire. This is a point commonly overlooked in the discussion of altered ideas of marriage: the legal approval of same-sex marriage must lead to approval of polygamous marriage, since the same argument about the right to marry one's loved one necessitates approval of polygamy for those who love more than one. There can be no doubt that the courts would hold that once "marriage" is freed from its traditional strictures, plural marriage, which is less radical or revolutionary than same-sex marriage, must also be permitted. Personally, I have enough with my one lovely wife, but couldn't care less if my neighbor has five. That's his problem.

The solution in the end is to not expand public expenditures by allowing irrelevant claimants to marriage benefits, but rather to remove these benefits (dating from a vanished era) from married couples who do not meet the original basis for the benefits (e.g., couples who are both working), and eventually to move all domestic relations to a contractual basis, where every conceivable mix of individuals will appear as a domestic unit (as already permitted by the NC constitution). Our society will change, of course; but let's change it rationally, consistently, and in accordance with the will of the people.

© 2012 H. Paul Lillebo

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