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Divorcing Marriage

Andrew C. Thomas

Throughout the entire debate over gay marriage, opponents have constantly reminded their audiences that marriage should be preserved as it is for historical reasons. History, though, has rarely been on the side of progress.

But the issue of marriage is a thorny one. It’s a beast with two heads: the religious side, where marriage is a sacred institution by which a man and a woman are blessed by whatever God is called for; and the secular, which gave us (at the very least) safe, monogamous relationships in the past and tax breaks in the present.

We haven’t yet reached a point in the evolution of society where the term marriage has been able to differentiate itself smoothly between the secular and the religious. My solution to the problem? Cut off a head.

Guess which one.

President George W. Bush insists that marriage is a sacred institution, and he’s absolutely right. Does it need to be protected? I think so. But despite the foundation of the government on religious principles, it was not founded by cardinals or rabbis for the advancement of a particular religious agenda. No government should be in the business of advancing the interests of either religion or atheism. So what is it doing meddling with marriage?

As it stands, marriage should be a sacred institution -- and nothing more. It should be a recognition between two caring people that they want to spend the rest of their lives together, a recognition shared with their families, friends, preachers, and deities. It can be celebrated with as little as a kiss or as big as a full-blown cathedral wedding and a six-carat diamond.

The government’s interest in the union of two people is huge. Children are far better off being raised by two parents -- the same two, ideally -- for their entire development, living in a house filled with love. The closed-minded would be wise to know that their worst fear is false, and that children aren’t turned gay by exposure to gay parents, as they show the same incidence of homosexuality as the general population (Nature 1, Nurture 0). If this is the only fear of the intolerant, the case is made: average gay parents are just as capable of raising healthy children as anyone.

But if we accept this, the rest just seems to fall into place. Married couples are more likely than single people to buy homes, settle down, and raise families, so what sense does it make to discourage this?

Britney Spears proved in 55 hours that marriage is in far more danger from impetuous youth, easy annulment or divorce, and the Little White Wedding Chapel than it is from people who love each other. So the church disagrees? So what? Any church can marry anyone they want; they can even marry three people if they like. (I don't believe in polygamy for reasons of trust, let alone tax breaks, but that’s another column.)

If people are so concerned with the preservation of the word “marriage” -- the union in holy matrimony of two people -- then we must follow the spirit of the First Amendment to the letter and make marriage a purely non-governmental institution. What we know as the civil union, made popular in Vermont as a separate but equal status, must not be separate any longer and made the standard for all states. Marriage, as we see it now, can only be saved by taking it more seriously, not as a tax break or a weekend fling, but as the pure, idealistic, and glorious union between two people who love each other.

This change cannot possibly happen overnight, but it’s the only way I see that both sides of the debate will be slightly happy. And the acceptance of gay couples in church is another battle entirely, but it’s being debated as vigorously as it is at the government level. And surely the strong benefits to children alone represent a strong, compelling interest to the state.

Clinton knew well enough to make marriage a state issue with the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which made the recognition of same-sex marriages a same-sex issue. But it’s time to rewrite the official definition of marriage, and back up the anti-Clinton image desired by the Republican administration. Let’s just hope that it sticks to its founding principles and removes the gaze of government from where it knows it doesn’t belong: the personal and religious decisions of its citizens.