Column: Public good?

Is marriage really just a private arrangement between individuals? Or is there a public interest in the form and matter of marriage? I propose that the form, or participants of marriage, when combined with the matter, or the nature of the relationship, determine the meaning of marriage. The question should be what the meaning of marriage should be and what effect these changes will have on it.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court has tried to relegate marriage solely into the private sector. When the court unilaterally amended their constitution to create a right to gay marriage, it declared that neither procreation nor sex can any longer be used to privilege relationships. But the separation of children from sex and sex from marriage was not an idea these justices invented. They merely confirmed what our society has already done: that the “matter” of marriage – a committed and procreative sexuality – stands eviscerated by a society of no-fault divorce, contraception, adultery and abortion.

Interestingly, many gay marriage advocates implicitly agree that sex shouldn’t privilege a relationship. In the states that provide domestic partner benefits, there is increasing objection to having to certify that the partners are actually having sex.

If marriage doesn’t require sex, why should one discriminate against relationships that are merely platonic? What about relationships with three, four, or ten persons? Relationships between mother and child? Even the supporters of gay marriage who are not driven by thought-blocking pettiness acknowledge that legalizing gay marriage will open the door to polygamy.

Without any “matter” to marriage, removing the “form” is to complete its deconstruction from an institution to a meaningless title. Marriage then becomes merely an economic relationship wherein the parties organize themselves for mutual financial benefit. The word more properly used to describe such a construct is a “corporation.”

If marriage is merely a private arrangement with purely private benefits, no public recognition, support, or benefits should be conferred. No one confers benefits on a dating couple, best friends, or any other of the myriad of interpersonal relationships. These relationships are good, but the good is enjoyed primarily if not solely by the parties of the relationship. I enjoy the timeless and honorable act of eating cows, but no one wants to give me a tax cut for doing it.

Marriage, and by extension the family, is a primeval and pre-political institution, not a creation of the state. It is not a grouping of persons but a unit in its own right that stands as a mediating influence between it and the state. To treat marriage as an arbitrary construct of the state to be created, destroyed, and recreated according to the whims of societal fad is to destroy it on a fundamental level.

Marriage, as far as society is concerned, has always been oriented toward the procreation and rearing of well-adjusted children. Society simply will not continue to exist if people don’t have children. That is the hard lesson the future Islamic Republics of Europe are learning. This foundational principle of procreativity is what excludes those relationships which are, by definition, infertile.

None of this is to suggest that legislation banning homosexuality is advisable or even right. Nothing prevents homosexuals from entering into and leaving relationships. The question is whether public benefits should be bestowed on these purely private relationships. The answer remains no.

John Bambenek is a graduate student and academic professional at the University. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at [email protected] illini.com.