No government-defined marriage
Saturday, November 20, 2010
By Beth Cody, Writers' Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen

B.P. Waterbury's column concerning gay marriage, ("Redefining bigot, homophobe," Nov. 11), sure got people's attention, provoking 150 comments and several letters.

He writes, with great conviction, that marriage should be reserved for those who can have children and that gay couples, not being biological parents, will damage any children they raise. Hence, government should not allow gay people to marry.

Putting aside the numerous flaws that nearly everyone perceives in his arguments, the more interesting topic is why so many people are so upset by government allowing gay people to marry.

Every conservative I have discussed this issue with has been extremely concerned that government is changing the definition of marriage. This is understandable: conservatives take the idea of marriage very seriously, most defining it as a religious union between one man and one woman.

But a growing majority of Americans define marriage differently. The big question might seem to be: whose definition should be the law of the land?

However, the real question is: Why must government define marriage at all? Is there one definition that can possibly serve everyone? This is the crux of this issue, even if both conservatives and liberals do not understand that it is.

Most conservatives still fall for the premise that government should define marriage, and therefore, should define it in the way that they believe is best.

But marriage is none of government's business. There can be no one right definition of marriage. People marry for myriad reasons: procreation, religion, companionship (both sexual and more platonic), economic stability, social advancement and of course, love.

Marriage, like most other life decisions, should be controlled by individuals, not government. That way, everyone can choose what they are happy with, and no one else has the right to decide for them. It's called freedom.

Yet we allow our government "servants" to decide whether we are permitted to marry. No matter what your personal beliefs concerning the morality of gay marriage, how can you believe that we are a free people if we are not permitted to make such ultimately individual decisions for ourselves?

The founders of our nation were silent on the issue of marriage not just because they never envisioned that homosexuality (or interracial relationships) would be openly accepted. They were almost certainly silent because it never occurred to them that marriage regulation was in the sphere of appropriate government functions at all, that free people should need the permission of government to marry. At most, government should enforce legal marriage agreements between individuals.

After all, what is the sphere of appropriate government functions? Does it include regulating and licensing every private and public decision we make from cradle to grave?

Or is simply keeping the peace, protecting our lives and property and defending our borders?

We do not need to be protected from gay marriage. It does not hurt anyone, it merely bothers those who disapprove of it – which is a thoroughly inhumane reason to prohibit a joyful personal decision.

And as far as hurting children, children are resilient, successfully raised by grandparents, aunts, uncles, non-biological strangers who adopt them. Children of divorced heterosexual couples surely suffer greater damage than those raised in stable, if unconventional, family situations. Marriage encourages stability, and stability lends itself to raising happy children.

It is okay to personally feel that certain behaviors are not right and to decide that we ourselves would not do certain things or live in certain ways.

But in a free nation, we do not get to make those decisions for other adults. Living as a free people means we must give up the right to make moral – and economic – decisions for others.

But we gain something even better, more precious: the right to make our own decisions without interference from an intrusive government – something most conservatives value highly. We cannot have it both ways.