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So, The First Question

with 23 comments

Is whether or not the backspace and delete are going to work on t his keyboard the first I wake up this morning, and they did.  Of course, I haven’t had any caffeine yet, so I can’t actually see, but that’s another issue.

And, I’ll admit, today is the parking problem–I have a schedule that is hell on earth, but only because there’s no way to park anywhere near my building after about eight o’clock.  If I could go in at ten thirty, I’d have a perfectly sane day, and be somewhat relaxed in the process.  When I taught in the other building, it was no problem.  Nobody wants to go to the other building.

Okay.  You know the term has started.  I’m complaining about the parking.

But I have been reading all the comments.  And I think–

I agree with Cathy about the fact that both sides want to restrict liberty.  I don’t think I’d use gay marriage as an example of the right wanting to restrict liberty, though, because marriage is not what is at issue in the “gay marriage” debate, and what is is not a liberty issue that I can see.

The issue in gay marriage is not marriage, per se–churches in New England were performing marriage ceremonies for gay people ten years ago, and carrying those couples on their books as married.

The issue in gay marriage is the government recognition of marriages between two people of the same sex.

And that is not a small thing.  Even without the various benefits–from Social Security, for instance–there is the legal right to act as next of kin when one partner becomes ill and other things that amount to having married couples recognized as if they were related by blood.

But, aside from the fact that all rights are properly negative, the mere history of government recognition of marriage argues against such recognition as a right.

All states have always put restrictions on the marriages they would recognize, and not merely restrictions on “miscegnation” as existed in the South under Jim Crow.  States put age restrictions on marriage, for instance.  And states have refused to honor marriages from other states when the age of the one of the partners is significantly below that at which the marriage would be recognized for people in-state.

That was a terrible sentence.  I meant that even in the Fortie and Fifties, states like California and New York were refusing to recognize a thirteen year old girl as “married” even though she and her husband had gone through the ceremony in a state (like Kentucky or Alabama) that allowed her to be married at that age.

The big liberty issues on the right are a) abortion; b) private sexual acts between consenting adults; and c) publicly coerced prayer.

The abortion one doesn’t need elaboration in the present discussion.  The private sexual acts between consenting adults, however, may.  I give you Lawrence vs. Texas, where the SCOTUS struck down a Texas law forbidding sodomy, pretty much saying that if two men wanted to have sex together in their own bedrooms, it was there business and none of the State’s. 

And conservatives were, fairly solidly, behind the “right” of a state to forbid such sexual acts.  What’s more, they were alarmed at the possibility that the decision in Lawrence would mean, in the long run, that it would be impossible to pass any kind of morals legislation at all.

On that one, I agreed with them, and said–yay.  I don’t want the government to pass morals legislation.

Of course, it will anyway, it will just call it something else.  Public health measures, for instance.  On things like smoking.  Or maybe, later, eating Big Macs.

Publicly coerced prayer is, of course, the endless call to bring prayer back into the public schools. 

I tend to be someone who thinks school boards should be local and that local communities should be allowed to teach their children what they want to teach them, even if that makes the teachers’ unions froth at the mouth.

But I actually have a bigger problem with school sponsored prayer than I do with the teaching of Creationism.  And I’m not the only one, and the other people who have, or have had, a problem with it are not necessarily atheists.

We have an enormous system of Catholic schools in this country because Catholic parents would not allow their children to say the Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer or read from the King James Version of the Bible–and how that wasn’t a government establishment of religion is beyond me.  It was paid for by my tax money.  It was imposed on the general population by agents of the government as the Official Version of religion.  There were penalties for dissent, if not formal ones than informal ones.  Ask any kid who got to “sit out” the prayer in the Fifties what his classmates said to him later, in the cafeteria and on the playground.

But in spite of all that, I still think it’s sane to be more worried about having left moral prejudices imposed on you in this country than the right’s. 

It’s not that the right isn’t trying to get theirs established as law–they are–it’s that the left tends to work not through the electoral and legislative process, but through bureaucracies and courts.

And the bureaucracies are worse than the courts.

If you were going to ask me what the worst idea we ever had was, I’d have to say it was the one that allowed federal bureaucracies to issue regulations that did not–each one individually–have to be enacted by legislatures.

And yes, I know the rationale for allowing it.  It was still a really bad idea.  And clunky as the resulting system would be, I think we should abolish that particular power of bureaucracies. 

If spanking is ever abolished in this country, it won’t be because somebody passed a law against it.  It will be because various state Departments of Child Protection decided to treat spanking as the same thing as “beating,” call it child abuse, and have children removed from homes where it is practiced.

And this is an enormous power to have, especially in family court, where the due process rights of parents are treated as nonexistent.  (In fact, when parents in one case a few months ago claimed their right to refuse to answer questions under the Fifth Amendment, the relevant state Department went to court on the grounds that, if people could refuse to speak, the Department wouldn’t be able to do its work.  My internal response was:  if your work is impossible when you follow the Constitution, then maybe it shouldn’t be done.)

And the attempts to use CPS to enforce one segment of the population’s ideas on what is good and proper isn’t restricted to physical acts like spanking.  It’s behind all the calls for religious upbringing to be treated as “child abuse,” and for homeschooling to be treated as a “risk factor” for such abuse. 

But it isn’t just CPS that issues and carries out regulations under its own steam and without public imput, support or ratification.  Virtually every government department issues regulations and none of them have been discussed by legislatures, or passed by them.  They’re entirely outside the scope of the Democratic process.

And that, I think, is much more threatenting to people than anything that has to be passed in an actual law.

And it should be.   The point, after all, is self government, and a country increasingly ruled by arbitrary regulations issued by unelected (and job protected) bureaucrats is not self governing.

We have in fact installed a new aristocratic class.  It’s virtually impossible to have them fired.  They can issue rules for the rest of us on their own power, without having to have our consent or our imput.  They can enforce them with everything from fines and jail time to removing children from families. 

If you happen to be on the receiving line of a lot of that, then thinking the Democrats–who tend to support that kind of thing more than Republicans do–are Communists is maybe not as crazy as it sounds.

I’m going to go drink this tea before I fall over.

Written by janeh

September 14th, 2010 at 5:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

23 Responses to 'So, The First Question'

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  1. It’s perfectly possible to fire a bureaucrat. Not only can his/her superiors manage it, so can anyone who broadcasts an appropriate slur, possibly with the support of a carefully edited videotape. You don’t need the ability to fire a bureaucrat, you need control of the people they answer to.

    I do suspect that we in Canada don’t have quite the same legal authority given to our bureaucrats as you describe as being the case in the US, but I don’t have evidence or know enough about the two legal systems to be sure.

    I have always been a bit puzzled as to why there was so much demand for officially-recognized same sex marriage right at time when many or even most heterosexuals seemed to be postponing or ignoring it or even simply treating it merely as an excuse for a big party. I suspect my puzzlement was worsened by the fact that I think I’ve always been happy enough to go my own way in just about any aspect of my life, and didn’t give a damn whether society in general approved or not. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is often a role for conformity in the small points – it does help get things done – but that still leaves the question of why bother having a publicly-recognized ceremony when more and more people don’t seem to find it necessary, and the next-of-kin thing can be set up anyway. (Or a lot of the divorced and childless and never-marrieds are in serious trouble if they don’t have close kin around).

    And as for parking – I mentioned construction in my last post? The new building is going up on a former parking lot. I don’t have a car, but the people who do are going ballistic. One claimed to be applying for a moose license to use on her trek from the new temporary place!


    14 Sep 10 at 6:31 am

  2. While I agree with you on the need for public approval, Cheryl, a marriage is a lot more than just a publicly-recognized ceremony. I know gay people who were refused the right to visit and make decisions about the care their long-term partners got in the hospital; I’ve even known one case where one partner died and her parents came and cleaned the house out – just took all their shared property and the surviving partner couldn’t do a damned thing about it.

    As long as we tie access to health care benefits to employment AND leave it up to individual companies to decide whether to cover domestic partners, some people are going to have no access to things that most of us take for granted. People who adopt children will often lose contact with those children if they break up with their partner because there is no civil recognition of the union or their status as parents.

    If we could come up with mechanisms to eliminate using marriage as the basis for making decisions about people’s health care benefits, their rights of survivorship, their ability to make decisions regarding the healthcare of their partners, and their ability to be a parent to their adopted children, then I’d shrug and say that I don’t see why ANYONE worries about getting married.

    But by using marriage as the basis of deciding whether people can do all these things AND denying access to marriage to a whole group of people – who are contributing members of society and pay their taxes that support the bureaucracies that deny them access to all these benefits – we are deliberately refusing governmentally derived benefits to these people. And that’s wrong.

    And to quote Jane, that sentence up there was awful.


    14 Sep 10 at 11:15 am

  3. Yep, Mary’s got it. It’s because of all of the *other* laws that legal recognition of marriage is important.

    And it seems a lot more prevalent for gays, because the “inlaws” are more likely to object.

    Keith and I are not legally married, but when a middle-aged hetero couple shows up at the hospital, no one even asks if they are married….

    I would be much happier if their were no government involvement in marriage at all. Make everything a matter of contract, but not based on whether or not you are married.

    And yes, it’s the bureaucrats that are the big problem, I agree.



    14 Sep 10 at 12:21 pm

  4. But surely there are legal mechanisms to enable whoever you want to make decisions regarding your health care, get your property when you die, and act as a guardian to your children if you die! That was the point I was making in my comment about the never-marrieds, childless, long-divorced…I should have added in, the ones who have outlived all the close biological relations. None of them – and I expect to be one myself, so I’ve given this some thought – have someone on whom the right to do any of that automatically devolves. We manage, sometimes well, sometimes badly. Considering the shenanagins people get up to even with people who were formally married and then widowed, I’m not surprised that a family went after the property of their relative who lived with a same sex lover. In lieu of the proper legal arrangements, they had every right to do so, and I’ve heard of family battles breaking out over who gets the old stereo.

    I’m not really surprised the deceased relative didn’t have a will which would have prevented that happening, or at least allowed the survivor to charge the relatives with theft, because I know lots of people who don’t have wills and don’t have any arrangements for the guardianship of their children in the presence of AND in the absence of a legal marriage. And sometimes they lose their gamble, they die, their property is dispersed in ways that would have horrified them, and the child goes to the estranged biological parent or the feeble grandparent or into foster care. That’s life. If you want to protect people and property, you take action NOW, you don’t do nothing because the current laws don’t let you do what you want easily and automatically.

    Who gets what job benefits, and even what job benefits exist (aside from the limited number mandated by law, like minimum wages, maximum working hours etc) already depends on your employer. That’s a matter that should be taken up with the employers.

    Health care – well, the US system seems so incredibly archaic and convoluted that adding one more complication to the job of getting health care, hardly seems to matter.


    14 Sep 10 at 1:00 pm

  5. In the case I referred to, Cheryl, the deceased DID have a will. Her partner’s family ignored the express and clearly defined wishes of her partner and just loaded up the effing truck. It’s not that hard to go to court and challenge a will, and even if you don’t have any real basis for doing so, the grieving survivor may not have the heart for a legal battle after losing a partner.

    Yes, people are assholes, but there’s no reason for the government to make their assholery easy.

    Again, it’s easy to point and say that people aren’t doing enough to protect their own rights, but when straight people just get a marriage license and sign on the dotted line and the gays have to jump through umpteen legal hoops and hire lawyers at great cost, you have to admit that there is discrimination at work, and there’s no real basis for it other than a lot of people who get all squicked out imaginging two guys having sex – or who have religious beliefs condemning it.

    Well and good, but those of us who don’t share those religious beliefs should not be subject to them anyway. Don’t like same-sex marriage? Fine, don’t have one.


    14 Sep 10 at 2:04 pm

  6. Cheryl, yes, health care is quite f-ed up in the country. Yes, people work with individual employers to get coverage for domestic partners–unless the state makes it illegal to offer it because you are “promoting homosexuality.”

    And the piece of paper that says you have the right to make health care decisions for your partner is only as good as the idiots who work at the hospital. Which is to say, it might be great, or it might be like a restraining order–worth nothing.



    14 Sep 10 at 2:53 pm

  7. There’s no guarantee of decent behaviour or no frivolous lawsuits, even with a will. That’s not the government making bad behaviour easy; just ask anyone who’s been involved with a family dispute after a death involving no gay relationships at all.

    It’s the going at things crossways that doesn’t make sense to me. One problem is identified – say, the requirement for a will to enforce one’s wishes and the strength to fight for it in court, when challenged – and instead of trying to strengthen the law, or subsidizing wills, or making it simpler to write ones’ own, activists are trying to gain recognition of a certain legal status – which in itself doesn’t guarantee a solution to the problem, not given the amount of ill-will and number of lawsuits engendered by wills of married heterosexuals!

    No, there’s something else going on as well, and I think it’s connected partly to a desire to have public acceptance of one’s relationships and partly to the relationship in question having changed over time from essentially a lifetime partnership contract to something that supposedly is all about the participants’ emotions.

    The latter has made traditional marriages much more fragile, and is probably a sign that they are on the way out – to be merely an excuse for a party, and totally optional.

    Although I make no secret of my religious beliefs, I don’t need to – and haven’t – even mentioned them, because I don’t need to in order to make my points. As for the ‘squick’ idea – that’s not even worth mentioning. People have different ideas on what ‘marriage’ means and that necessarily affects whether or not it is ‘fair’ for there to be restrictions on the practice.

    That the actual practice of marriage is changing is mildly interesting, but changing the structure itself is far more interesting in what it reveals about the different meanings given to marriage even within our societies (and without doing some kind of intercultural comparison) – and the way people think about such ideas as fairness, the structure of society and the family etc is going to be determined by what marriage means to them. Surely there are more than one valid view!

    Then there’s the degree to which people grab at the trimmings of tradition within the culture regarding marriage while utterly changing the structure and meaning…it’s a fascinating issue in a period of rapid social change, and if you don’t like it being discussed – or at least, not from a mildly questioning point of view, well, don’t participate.

    But please don’t tell me the only thing I can do if I don’t like or even have reservations about same sex marriage is not to have one. You come across like you’re trying to shut down debate.


    14 Sep 10 at 3:15 pm

  8. Okay, a few things.

    First,the reason for any government recognition of marriage at all is twofold: to secure the rights of the children of the woman in the estate of the man; and to secure the identity of the children of the woman as the natural offspring of the man.

    That’s what marriage is for. It has nothing to do with love, bonding, romance, or even having the right to make medical decisions for the other partner.

    Whether it makes sense to go on having the government recognize any marriages–hetero or homosexual–given the availability of DNA testing is a good question.

    But marriage between homosexuals were not not recognized because the law was prejudiced. They weren’t recognized because there was no point. Two people of the same sex cannot produce–note that word PRODUCE–offspring.

    In fact, this was so universally accepted as the reason for marriage throughout Western history that the Church had a hell of a time convincing people in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to get formally married. Why bother if there was no property?

    Second, all that being the case, the fact is that under the laws of some states in the US, if you get a legal paper designating your homosexual partner as the person to make your medical decisions, that piece of paper will be automatically overridden in preference for your biological family. The homosexual partner is not considered to be legitmately next of kin or even to meet requirements to be the designated health guardian.

    What’s more, a ton of benefits–survivors benefits under Social Security, for instance–require a formal marriage.

    And at the moment, EVEN IF you’re formally married in the US states that allow it, the federal government will not recognize the union and you will not be eligibe for federal benefits that normally accrue to a spouse.

    Third, I agree with one thing absolutely–the issue is how we define “marriage.” IF we define it as “a union of two people who love each other and want to commit to each other,” then it makes no sense to limit it to heterosexual couples.

    But if marriage is defined as the legal state that establishes the natural parentage of the father over and woman’s children and to secure the rights of those children to the husband’s estate, then it doesn’t make much sense to extend it to people who cannot have children.

    And yes, I know all the arguments about allowing people to marry who are too old to have children. Nevertheless, children were the reason for the marriage law.

    You’re just dealing with generations of people who did not really accept the idea that a woman couldn’t have children after menopause absolutely.


    14 Sep 10 at 4:49 pm

  9. How nice to know that my political notions are not necessarily an indicator of insanity! A few stray points:

    As regards the state’s right to impose some regulation on sexual content, when something has been done under the current constitution for a couple of centuries, surely it is not unreasnable to conclude that law and custom agree that it has such power? A lot of us with no affection for bluenoses think even less of the “living Constitution” which forbids or requires different things without being re-written. The appropriate method is surely to repeal the law and then, if you’re sure you’ll never need another one, amend the Constitution.

    But how sure are we? The Compleate Libertarian says we ought not to have or need such laws, but he can’t point to a large state that hasn’t had them, and tribal informal societies tend to be more restrictive still. I’d say repeal the laws and see what happens.

    As for sexual relationships generally, I’d keep in mind Burke’s basic advise–that society is large and complex, and we may not understand all the interrelationships. For instance, we customarily extend residency–citizenship, but some other types–to entire nuclear families. We let surviving spouses inherit pensions, and we do not compel spouses to testify against one another in court. These arrangements were made in a day when marriage entailed sexual rights–and exclusive sexual rights at that–was restricted to a single person and was difficult or legally impossible to dissolve. I can think of a LOT of ways to game the present system, and I’d bet on more rather than fewer over the next five years.

    Let 50 flowers bloom. Give up as much as we can on an imposed national solution, and let the states find their own paths. In 20 or 30 years, we man know something.

    On the more general point, it’s worth reflecting that government employees are a growing share of the electorate, and get to vote for their own increasing power. It’s a good argument for a constitution with enumerated powers, but the “civil servants” have rejected such a notion.

    I’d balk at “Communists” even for the whacky end of the party, but I think there is something coalescing–a mix of politics and religion, with Marx as only one of a number of canonical texts. Think of Carson, Ehrlich, Freud and Friedan among others. I refer to it as “The Movement” and when all the pieces click into place, it could turn really ugly. We’re about one demagogue short of a nasty mess, and demagogues are seldom hard to find.


    14 Sep 10 at 4:59 pm

  10. Robert, Robert, Robert.

    I wasn’t talking about your political ideas.

    You’re being hampered once again by the fact that you don’t watch television.

    Calling Obama a socialist and members of his administration outright Communists is a staple of the Glenn Beck television program and of most tea party demonstrations.

    I suddenly realized, some days ago, that the word they actually want is “totalitarian.”


    14 Sep 10 at 5:15 pm

  11. I pretty much agree with Robert and I don’t watch US TV either! Let me throw this into the discussion of rleigion.


    The Constitution states that the Commonwealth “shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth” (section 116).

    The prohibition on establishing any religion has had nothing like the impact that the corresponding ban on making a law “respecting an establishment of religion” in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution has had in that country. The High Court, in rejecting a challenge to Federal funding of church schools13, seemed to take the view that nothing less than an explicit establishment of a State Church as the official religion of the Commonwealth would come within the terms of the prohibition.

    As for marriage, I just don’t like tinkering with an institution that is 3000 years old and exists in every culture that we know about.


    14 Sep 10 at 6:47 pm

  12. Marriage *is* changing, whether individuals like it or not. It’s time we stop asking the single institution created, as Jane says, to first guarantee parentage through sexual control of the woman, and second to ensure a child’s rights in the father’s estate to extend to all the other complex issues we’re asking it to.

    If every person had their own health care without reference to a spouse, then that benefit wouldn’t have to follow marriage. If every SS account paid an adequate benefit, then spouses wouldn’t file to live on the highest benefit between the two of them.

    If every person would be required to designate a health-care administrator or estate executor, spouse or not, then the burden of that would be spread fairly. And of course, there is the concomitant requirement that hospitals and courts honor those documents, blood relatives notwithstanding.

    I suspect that what’s changing isn’t JUST marriage, it’s the nature of blood-relationship. More people have no children, or they have several sets with different partners. Where does the relationship properly go when stepchildren are more beloved than blood children?

    I can see coming a time when having children involves a contract to define parentage AND support for the minority of the child, and does not involve marriage at all. Do it first, or don’t have children, because letting the courts decide these things through divorce or paternity suits is an unnecessary burden on society.

    Very interesting to me is that there is a new reality TV show coming on this fall…one about one man and three women in a plural (not religiously based) marriage. I’ve seen this coming for a while. If marriage is redefined to be a relationship between loved ones, plural marriage is the logical next step. And conventional marriage doesn’t begin to cover parent-child relationships, social issues or inheritance in such circumstances.

    It would seem to me that in any multi-person household involving children, contracts such as I propose above would be the only responsible course. As anyone who has read “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” or other Heinlein knows, provision for the children has to be undertaken by ALL parties to a multiple-partner relationship.

    And once again we return to the basic premise of marriage. Protecting the children. Perhaps, unless children are produced, marriage should be denied to everyone. Many peasant societies used to subscribe to that one. There’s no real reason for non-fertile people to marry, except that our society has loaded all these other benefits into the single act.

    And John? 3000 years ago marriage meant one man, several dozen wives, and unlimited concubines. You really want to go back there?


    14 Sep 10 at 10:39 pm

  13. And John? 3000 years ago marriage meant one man, several dozen wives, and unlimited concubines. You really want to go back there?

    I doubt that was true for anyone other than the king or a very rich landholder. He would still be expected to support the women and their children so it was still an arrangement for child bearing and support.


    15 Sep 10 at 12:34 am

  14. “But in spite of all that, I still think it’s sane to be more worried about having left moral prejudices imposed on you in this country than the right’s.”

    And that sentence would for some reason be less grating if I watched television?

    And would you like a short essay on the sanity or otherwise of watching television for anything but entertainment?


    15 Sep 10 at 4:46 am

  15. OK, I’m calmer now – I’m afraid I got a little intemperate after a long day.

    Anyway…we are, actually, heading towards a situation in which you could have a man with dozens of wives and unlimited concubines. That’s simply another version of ‘plural’ marriage. The most prominent Canadian exponents of that idea aren’t particularly enthusiastic about having their relationships recognized legally, I suspect because then the person leaving the marriage could take property with him/her. Now, that doesn’t happen. You leave, you walk out with the clothes on your back. Legalities in such situations (when officially legitimized) are inevitably going to be extremely complex. They’re complex already, with only two adults (and possibly children) involved.

    I don’t think blood relationships are changing much. They remain, with all their advantages and disadvantages, and it’s hardly new that some people have few or none. Well, the proportion of the population that has few or none is increasing, but we often seem to deal with that formally, with bureaucracy. Oh, I’m sure most of us – assuming we’re of a certain age – have been called upon to help out sick friends who have no surviving relatives – maybe even see to their burial. But there always seem to be more who are discovered dead weeks after their death, with no friends or relatives.

    What’s changing is that relationships – especially the ones that used to be partly duty, like the ones with the relatives (by blood and marriage and friendship) you don’t much like all the time, or any more, but you still feel a sense of responsibility for. Relationships nowadays seem much more fragile, dependent only on the emotions of those involved – and emotions are notoriously changeable.

    The rest of it is down to human nature – the inheritance quarrels – and politics – the acceptance of a system in which your health care depends on whether you or someone you can make a claim on has a particular job.


    15 Sep 10 at 6:48 am

  16. I’m thinking about setting up a popcorn concession in here. :-)


    15 Sep 10 at 7:30 am

  17. Ha, Mique.

    I’m with Lymaree, though. Jane’s correct about the historical purpose of marriage, but it’s been changing for a long time already. People often marry with no intention or ability to have children – I’m one of them. Institutions do change, and I see no need to fear that.

    And I will willingly mess with a 3000-year old insitution if said institution (or at least some people’s definition of it) is resulting in inequity. I know too many gay people who’ve been in their relationships as long as I have – and so do you, Cathy, Mique, and Jane. That people like Mark and Doug are legally nothing but roommates is obscene to me.


    15 Sep 10 at 10:04 am

  18. My best mate in the RAAF was a gay lawyer to whom I owe my present comfortable life. It was by his efforts alone that I won a liveable pension entitlement after going deaf due to prolonged exposure to jet aircraft noise. He often complained about how his own pension entitlement would die with him and it did just that when he died young of lung cancer a few years ago. I absolutely support the legal recognition of gay relationships (and CathyF-style de facto marriages) for all legal purposes applicable to “normal” marriages.

    I think that most people are willing to support that, but the real burr under the saddle of religious people is their unwillingness to condone the extension of the religious sacrament of matrimony to gay people.

    Softly softly catchee monkey. If I were in that situation, I would go after full legal recognition of gay unions, and I would discourage any campaign for gay marriage as such. Then, after legal recognition of gay unions had been achieved, those who wanted religious recognition of their marriages and, if possible, the full sacrament of holy matrimony however defined by each individual faith, I’d apply pressure selectively to each individual faith.

    Going at it the other way is counterproductive because it puts the desirable ahead of the essential and simply frightens the horses.


    15 Sep 10 at 10:57 am

  19. Please note, plural marriage in a modern context is not necessarily one man with several wives. That’s simply the most traditional form. One woman with several husbands would probably be a much more logical form, as such a marriage would likely be more sexually satisfying for all involved, and would be an economic powerhouse with all that earning power and limited children.

    And as we’ve seen, the traditional polygamy leads to serious inequities for the numerous young men who must be ejected from the society because they are shut out of the marriage market. Such an arrangement can only exist in small isolated groups surrounded by a larger group to absorb the rejected men. Either that or there must be some mechanism to use up those extra men. Traditionally, that was war. I don’t think we want to go there, so if we’re going to embrace plural marriages, we should do so for both polygamy and polygyny.

    And then there’s group marriage, with several husbands and several wives. In those cases the legal provisions for property coming in and out of the marriage, custody and support for any children, and inheritance and legal issues would all have to be handled by contract, as there is no current law that applies. Such marriages could be very rich, and very long-lived, if new members were recruited as others aged or left.

    Blood relationships right now trump everything else. I think that’s going to have to change. When someone is living with a long-term partner and blood relations are decades and thousands of miles away, what sense does it make to stick with blood? Just because you’re the last surviving nephew of Uncle Ernie, doesn’t give you the right to inherit when Ernie and Steve have loved one another for 40 years and built a home and life together. Law will inevitably come to recognize the equity of that.


    15 Sep 10 at 12:05 pm

  20. Just because you’re the last surviving nephew of Uncle Ernie, doesn’t give you the right to inherit

    But you don’t now. Laws vary from place to place, but generally you’re only legally required to provide for spouses and underaged children when you die. If you die intestate, your parents and siblings may or may not get a look-in, depending on local law. (One of the Peter Wimsey books turned on a change in this sort of law in the UK). Your rich uncle may or may not be required to leave anything to nieces or nephews IF HE DIES INTESTATE, depending on local law, but I’ve never heard of a place where would he be required to leave them if he wrote a will leaving it all to his dear friend and partner Ernie? Or for that matter, to a charity that offended all his surviving relatives, or to set up a home for his cat, or whatever.

    Any greedy relative can challenge a will, of course, and nowadays even non-relatives tend to pop up claiming relationships if enough money is involved.

    I’m not saying that traditional polygamy is the only form of plural marriage, just that it’s the most likely to be next on the legitimization list, even if its Canadian practitioners don’t seem enthusiastic about the idea.

    A ‘marriage’ that lasts over generations (as in the long-lived group marriage you describe) isn’t a marriage, it’s a family. At least, it is until the word ‘marriage’ is used to mean what we now call ‘family’. Lots of families maintain and transmit riches over the generations, bringing in new members as old ones divorce or die off. Or so I hear; I don’t actually know any.

    I think part of the reason blood relationships trump everything else is that they have in general been more dependable than friendships and marriages, and because they’re fairly unarguable. It’s hard to prove that you were in a relationship equivalent to marriage with someone if you don’t have a marriage certificate or evidence of lengthy cohabitation. For blood kinship, all you need is birth (or adoption) certificates or possibly not even that, just a DNA test.

    As often as blood families fail miserably and brutally – and they can and do – they’ve got a better track record than any other relationship, including marriage. They’re also found cross-culturally and historically, even though exact practices (which blood relatives are supposed to be the closest to you, and are you expected to break blood bonds when you marry?) might vary.

    You may be right when you say that more and more people will choose to favour those they contract with over those they were raised with and by, and those they gave birth to or fathered. If they do, I would expect that although a range of behaviour will be expected, on the whole, family bonds will be weaker and less stable than they are for people raised in and joining families based mostly on biology. I’ll also bet that the larger the core group – the adults forming the marriage – the less stable it will be and the more complicated the resultant court cases will be over the contracts when breakups occur.

    I might be wrong. I doubt I’ll live long enough for proof to become available.


    15 Sep 10 at 2:38 pm

  21. “And I will willingly mess with a 3000-year old insitution if said institution (or at least some people’s definition of it) is resulting in inequity.”

    Please name a few random institutions of which this cannot be said to be true, and I promise to be somewhat more impressed. Meantime, as I say, try in certain places and check back in a generation. People who wouldn’t think of testing a device without (a) going slowly, and (b) clearing people back to a safe distance, are happy to experiment with entire countries.

    Mique, will it be a good popcorn stand? Will there be caramel corn? Salted peanuts?


    15 Sep 10 at 3:45 pm

  22. “And John? 3000 years ago marriage meant one man, several dozen wives, and unlimited concubines. You really want to go back there?”

    Second jd on this one. If you went back 4,000 years, you’d be in the age of the Patriarchs, and things went on that wouldn’t happen again until the invention of California. But by the start of the Iron Age, Greece, Rome and Israel–all the root cultures of the West–had settled on one man and one woman, with divorce difficult where it wasn’t impossible, and, in Aristotle’s words, “no one speaks of a good adultery.”

    Certainly David married more than once, and Solomon is reported as having so many wives as to make one doubt the whole “wisdom of Solomon” routine. David also committed cold-blooded murder. That doesn’t mean cold-blooded murder was acceptable in (give or take) 1,000 BC. It means powerful rulers could get away with things.

    Not much change on that score, either.


    15 Sep 10 at 5:11 pm

  23. Mique, will it be a good popcorn stand? Will there be caramel corn? Salted peanuts?

    All of the above. And a First Aid station with an Intensive Care Ambulance, trauma counsellors and lawyers for casualties. You know, typical Saturday night on the tiles stuff. :-)


    15 Sep 10 at 5:52 pm

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