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Being able to make it, and to make it freely (not under duress) is taken to be definitive of adult human freedom.The statement made by the marrying couple is usually seen as involving an answering statement on the part of society: we declare our love and commitment, and society, in response, recognizes and dignifies that commitment. For many people, a marriage is not complete unless it has been solemnized by the relevant authorities in their religion, according to the rules of the religion.Same-sex marriage is currently one of the most divisive political issues in our nation.
Each of these important aspects of human life, in turn, can exist outside of marriage, and they can even exist all together outside of marriage, as is evident from the fact that many unmarried couples live lives of intimacy, friendship, and mutual responsibility, and have and raise children. Married people get a lot of government benefits that the unmarried usually do not get: favorable treatment in tax, inheritance, and insurance status; immigration rights; rights in adoption and custody; decisional and visitation rights in health care and burial; the spousal privilege exemption when giving testimony in court; and yet others. When people get married, they typically make a statement of love and commitment in front of witnesses.
Nonetheless, when people ask themselves what the content of marriage is, they typically think of this cluster of things. Most people who get married view that statement as a very important part of their lives.
Unlike private actors, however, the state doesn’t have complete freedom to decide who may and may not marry.
The state’s involvement raises fundamental issues about equality of political and civic standing.
In the United States, however, as in most modern nations, government holds those keys.
Even if people have been married by their church or religious group, they are not married in the sense that really counts for social and political purposes unless they have been granted a marriage license by the state.Nonetheless, it seems to most people that the state, by giving a marriage license, expresses approval, and, by withholding it, disapproval. It is not about whether same-sex relationships can involve the content of marriage: few would deny that gays and lesbians are capable of friendship, intimacy, “meet and happy conversation,” and mutual responsibility, nor that they can have and raise children (whether their own from a previous marriage, children created within their relationship by surrogacy or artificial insemination, or adopted children).Certainly none would deny that gays and lesbians are capable of sexual intimacy.Given all this, it seems odd to suggest that in marrying people the state affirmatively expresses its approval or confers dignity.There is indeed something odd about the mixture of casualness and solemnity with which the state behaves as a marrying agent.Although some religions urge premarital counseling and refuse to marry people who seem ill-prepared for marriage, the state does not turn such people away.The most casual whim may become a marriage with no impediment but for the time it takes to get a license.Analyzing this issue will help us understand what is happening in our country, and where we might go from here.Before we approach the issue of same-sex marriage, we must define marriage.But marriage, it soon becomes evident, is no single thing. The institution of marriage houses and supports several distinct aspects of human life: sexual relations, friendship and companionship, love, conversation, procreation and child-rearing, mutual responsibility. (We have always granted marriage licenses to sterile people, people too old to have children, irresponsible people, and people incapable of love and friendship.Impotence, lack of interest in sex, and refusal to allow intercourse may count as grounds for divorce, but they don’t preclude marriage.) Marriages can exist even in cases where none of these is present, though such marriages are probably unhappy.