Government doesn't belong in marriage

Alan Boraas

"Marriage is what brings us together today."

-- from "The Princess Bride"

It is time for the government to get out of the marriage business. Not that marriage is a bad thing; marriage should and will continue as the basic institution of society, as it has been in all societies since the dawn of humans. (Its anthropological variation, however, might surprise you.) It is the government sanction of marriage that should end because that gives the state a foothold into the bedroom, defining what sex should be and how we should love one another.

As we ramp up for another major election cycle next year, social conservatives will surely trot out the anti-gay, anti-lesbian, marriage is between a man and a woman issue again. It's a tiresome tactic that diverts energy from meaningful political discussions about the economy and the distribution of wealth, wars and how to end and not start them, how to keep the planet environmentally healthy and how to make local communities sustainable, among others.

But we should not debate the nature of sex and love. Homosexuality exists and has for thousands of years; a lot of good, kind and thoughtful men and women engage in it to no one's detriment. No society, no community has ever degenerated because of its gay or lesbian members. Some socially conservative pastors proclaim homosexuality a sin, citing antiquated Old Testament passages. In my Bible, God is far more concerned about love than sex; two people loving each other regardless of gender is a good thing. One way to end the weariness is to get the government out of the marriage business and take sexuality out of the political arena. The state should recognize domestic partnerships, not marriage.

Society does have an interest in three things related to domestic partnerships. First, parents must take responsibility for raising their children in a secure environment free of abuse. Parents must be held accountable for feeding and clothing their children, for their health needs, and seeing that they are socialized and educated. It is too much to ask that the state require they also be loved -- hopefully that will happen without the government's involvement.

Second, the state should allow insurance, tax and other benefits to accrue to a financially co-mingled household whether or not the couple is married and regardless of gender. A financially co-mingled household can mean a heterosexual couple; it could also mean two widowed sisters who live in the same house, two non-sexual friends or a homosexual couple. Call it a state-licensed domestic partnership or whatever term you like; just don't restrict benefits to marriage between a man and a woman. If the domestic partnership breaks up, it can be dissolved. If one partner dies, the survivor is entitled to benefits designated by the deceased.

And the state should see to it that a loved one can visit a partner in a hospital and can make medical decisions in case a person is incapacitated. It is scandalous that in some cases a gay or lesbian partner cannot hold the hand of their dying loved one because of a hospital rule restricting access to a husband or wife.

Marriage, and the marriage ceremony, can continue without the state's sanction. If a couple wants an old-style church wedding recognizing holy matrimony with the bride in a white dress, the groom in a tux and a score of lovely bridesmaids and handsome groomsmen, so be it. Churches should be free to define marriage -- the state should define domestic partnerships. Or, if a couple wants to hike up Flattop on the summer solstice and have a good old secular hippie wedding with wildflowers in their hair and someone singing "The Wind Beneath my Wings," that's fine too. And if a gay or lesbian couple wants a formal or informal wedding, it's nobody's business but their own.

It's not likely we'll see the government get out of the marriage business soon. In the meantime, anyone in the upcoming political year who brings up restricting marriage to a man and a woman is likely "selling you something," in the words of the Dread Pirate Roberts in the definitive work on love and marriage, the movie "The Princess Bride." And what they're selling is the condemnation of homosexuality. Homophobes are the real subversive force operating today, because they demonize those who have done no wrong and minimize human possibilities to the detriment of us all.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College.

Alan Boraas