Column: The wrong question

By John Bambenek

If nothing else, the ongoing debate on gay marriage shows that the vocal camps on both sides really don’t understand what marriage is. The vast majority, however, is not part of the loud activist camps who know what marriage is. But the debate has become framed into who the participants should be. This is the wrong way to look at it.

The discussion we should be having is not whether people of the same sex should be allowed to get married. The discussion, which is long overdue, should be what we want marriage to be. Catchphrases like “marriage is love” and “marriage = man + woman” are tasty little sound bites, but they are not accurate representations of marriage.

Historically, there has never been such a thing as gay marriage. Gay relations, sure, but never gay marriage. Marriage has been a relationship by which families are created. The simple facts of biology are that a natural consequence of heterosexual sex is the conception of children. Procreation is of supreme importance to the survival of a society. As France is learning, a society that does not reproduce ceases to exist. It’s simple natural selection.

There are also many esoteric arguments being made. For instance, since marriage is a legal institution, it is arbitrarily formed by the state and should be subject to constitutional theories. This was largely the position of the University’s recent Center for Advanced Studies speaker Evan Wolfson.

Not only is this absurd, it is completely false. If marriage were simply a legal construct, it would differ greatly between countries that have extremely different legal structures. Marriage is a social institution that has legal recognition. By inviting Wolfson, the Center of Advanced Studies has shown once again it isn’t about intellectual advancement. It’s displaying its partisan advocacy and has again disgraced this University.

The traditional marriage crowd, however, has a lot to answer for themselves. While there is no historical or cultural basis for gay marriage, the issue has come to the forefront because of the flippant way society treats marriage. Marriage used to be a covenant, now it can hardly be considered a contract. One person can divorce their spouse for any reason or no reason at all. We’ve accepted the transformation from “til death do us part” to “as long as love shall last.”

Children, once seen as the singular joy of marriage, are now viewed as a burden, or at worst, an impediment to marriage that must be prevented at all costs. I was repeatedly asked when I was engaged, what if the sex isn’t good? I thought I was seeking a life partner and loving relationship, and people were asking that I use criteria more appropriate in hiring a prostitute where sexual expertise is the most important criteria.

Marriage, in the eyes of many people in this society, is little more than a long-term sexual relationship. The irony is that married people have never been less sexually fulfilled. If marriage is nothing more than sex, there exists absolutely no reason why same sex couples cannot be included. Or for that matter, why polygamy, incest or any other sexual combination could be allowed.

Marriage was socially recognized for the immense benefit it brings to society, primarily in the form of well-adjusted and well-raised children. There is absolutely no benefit that society gets from two people shacking up, regardless of gender. Until the traditional marriage crowd can embrace children by casting away contraception and embrace the life-long commitment to marriage by casting away no-fault divorce, the gay marriage crowd has an extremely powerful argument – that traditional marriage advocates are hypocrites.

It is high time that we as a society have a serious discussion about what marriage should be instead of fighting about who the participants should be. Defining marriage will largely answer the question of who can participate on its own.

John Bambenek is a graduate student and a University employee. His columns appear on Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected] dailyillini.com.