Monday, January 18, 2010

Why Not Civil Unions?

Anne Rice likes to pose controversial questions on her always lively Facebook page and watch people argue them out. A recent contributor raises this familiar question. “Once again I don't know why the governments don't just issue a ‘Civil Union’. The ‘Sacrament’ of Marriage is a religious institution and needs to be addressed within each religious organization and the people that follow it.” To which my response is this.

Marriage was the main subject of the earliest known legal codes, long before churches existed. (The pagan temples of the time made good money from "sacred prostitution" and had no interest in marriage.)

From the start marriage was a civil institution designed to create fatherhood as a social role and legal responsibility, thereby protecting mothers and children and providing the best available norm for raising children. It assured children the right, reaffirmed in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of the Child, to be raised where possible by the two adults who made them.

When the link between marriage on one hand and sex and children on the other is broken, marriage is reduced to a travesty of its former essence, to a kind of Hallmark card sentiment involving two (or more--why just two?) adults. The state has an interest in supporting the institution that provides the best known setting for raising children. It does not have a comparable interest in other, inherently non-procreative sexual relations.

Civil unions do not address this radical difference between marriage and other kinds of sexual relations. They are not a viable alternative, because as courts have already ruled, they discriminate against people who have the same legal rights as married couples except the right to use the same name. Legally and practically, to accept civil unions is to accept same-sex "marriage" and hence the fundamental redefinition of marriage itself. In a nutshell, civil unions an entering wedge for same-sex "marriage," which is one more way in which the rights and needs of children are sacrificed to the freedoms of adults.

Same-sex marriage does not extend a good or right to a new class of people who were excluded from it. It redefines that right and turns it into something altogether different. Indeed, some lifetime opponents of marriage, like Judith Stacey, do support same-sex marriage precisely because they see that it will undermine marriage itself.

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