In this final post of the series, I’m going to look at the role of government. After a very brief search of the internet, I found a very nicely worded statement about why the government takes an interest in endorsing marriage. It is, oddly enough, from a blog on Boundless, a web magazine affiliated with Focus on the Family. Needless to say, I think some important changes can be made to the quote, but here it is in its original form, as written by Glen Stanton, the director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family:
No society anywhere has discovered a way to keep a cohesive, productive, safe, economically viable community without marriage. Marriage is a community’s most basic bonding agent, calling man and woman to commit to one another and their larger kin group. It calls them to work together to establish a common life and livelihood. It calls and compels them to monitor and govern each other’s behavior: sexually, economically, emotionally and publicly. And this is done by linking men and women into lifelong, exclusive and duty-bound domestic and sexual unions. No other social union does this.
Stanton rightly references the work of Aristotle as inspiration for this view, which I think is spot on. The only difference I would suggest is that there is no reason to limit this view to man-woman couples. In the unlikely event that I were given permission by the author, then, I would change all instances of “man and woman” or “men and women” to the more general phrase “two people”.
(As per my previous post, my view is that marriages involving more than two people do not appear, in practice, to work particularly well for everyone involved, so I will no longer consider polygamy in my discussion.)
The essence, then, of government interest in marriage is commitment, and therefore stability. Societies with long-term, stable family units tend to work better than those without such units. And this is, after all, a very natural inclination of the human species: to settle down with one partner for a significant period of time, if not for life. This inclination is critical because, among other reasons, children (unlike the young of most other species) have a very long period of dependence on their parents.
“…the State’s legitimate interests in regulating intimate relationships are limited primarily to promoting stable relationships [and] providing for an orderly process for the dissolution of such relationships when necessary…”
(The additional concept of orderly dissolution of partnerships is, I’m sure Stanton would admit, a necessary role for government, if it is to be in the business of marriage at all.)
As the CFI also claims, gays have every right to enter into a long-term partnership with the person of their choice, and therefore to receive state support for the social stability that such relationships promise. To deny them this right is to classify them as second-class citizens.
My only concern in all of this is the tight relationship the U.S. government currently has with the church when it comes to marriage. It is strange to me that priests and other religious leaders are permitted to conduct weddings only if they are given appropriate credentials by the state. If government is in the business of supporting committed relationships for the stability they confer, then there is no reason for it to get entangled in religious aspects of the institution.
My view, then, is that government should confer the legal and financial benefits of marriage on any couple that is willing to make a statement of mutual commitment in front of a judge (or other appropriate official). If the couple then wishes to have their commitment publicly recognized by a religious institution, or a group of friends and family, they can take part in a ceremony that is separated from any legal machinations.
Churches should, perhaps, be permitted to deny the religious component of marriage to any couple they deem unfit. I realize that this might make many religious gay couples unhappy: but that is an argument they must take up with their church. And if their church is unwilling to budge, then the couple would be better off leaving the church altogether.