Wendell Brane’s Sept. 2 letter (Redefining marriage poses grave threats) raised a number of questions regarding changes to the definition of marriage. Although same-sex marriage is different from interracial marriage, the questions raised in the letter to the editor are the same kinds of questions that came up in the 1950s and 1960s.
Whether the issue is miscegenation or equal rights for gays and lesbians, the answers are still the same. Below, I’ve addressed Brane’s questions.
The implicit argument being made is that marriage should be open to any two adults who love each other and are committed, whether heterosexual or homosexual. But how is this not discriminatory? As when the anti-miscegenation laws were abolished, making marriage more inclusive doesn’t necessarily make it perfect. But it does make it less discriminatory than before, and that’s a worthwhile goal.
Why only two? Going back to biblical times, marriages permitted multiple wives, but over time marriage has changed, and it is currently between two people. Some people believed that the 1967 Loving decision that struck down miscegenation laws would somehow lead to polygamous marriages. That logic is as flawed today as it was then.
Why only adults? Although the marriage of children used to be allowed, one of the many improvements made to the institution of marriage over the years is that the civilized world has come to realize that marriage should be between consenting adults. Those parts of the world that still condone marrying children are the same parts of the world that are most firmly opposed to same-sex marriage. Perhaps they are motivated by misplaced fears that any change to marriage would harm the institution.
Why only people? For one thing, people can give consent, while animals cannot.
Or for that matter, why must there be love and commitment? Legally, I don’t think that love and commitment are currently required, but both are recommended for a healthy marriage. Their importance is too often forgotten. Anyone suggesting that love and commitment are to be de-emphasized when thinking about marriage is making a mistake.
The letter ends with the kind of statement that was often made by those opposing interracial marriages. The efforts to expand the understanding of marriage, however innocent the intentions may be, will eventually render both the institution and the concept utterly meaningless. That kind of statement was wrong in the 1960s, and it’s just as wrong today. The way to make marriage meaningless would be to fail to improve it.
At times in the past, marriage has been forced on unwilling participants, it’s been used to keep women subservient, and it’s been denied to people of different races. Thank goodness those mistakes of the past have been rectified. Many of us who honor and appreciate marriage look forward to another advancement.