Same-sex marriage is advocated as a basic human right. We applaud any expansion of human rights. Yet, as we’ve watched the debate over this issue unfold over the years, we have had some misgivings about the current approach: It seems too piecemeal. First some couples get admissions tickets to the legal benefits and protections of marriage, then the gates are opened to other kinds of couples. But why should a person have to be part of any kind of couple in order to qualify? One of us (Bella DePaulo) found some relevant arguments articulated by others and posted excerpts from them, and the other (Rachel Buddeberg) added many more. We decided to pool our efforts and continue searching.
We were intrigued by the number and diversity of people who have made relevant statements on the role of government in marriage. We’ve collected some of them here. (Further suggestions are welcome.) The people (and groups) we have quoted have cast their arguments in terms of getting beyond marriage or conjugality, or privatizing marriage, or abolishing marriage, or maintaining the separation of church and state. The authors include libertarians, liberals, and conservatives; people from various religious perspectives; gay rights activists and people hostile toward the GLBT community; people taking a marketplace perspective as their starting point and others starting from a concern with basic human dignities and needs.
There are important distinctions in the arguments that have been advanced. For example, some simply suggest replacing marriage with civil unions – civil contracts for all couples. That option, though, would continue to privilege conjugal couples. A more inclusive possibility is to open the civil contract to any two people, whether friends, relatives, or conjugal couples. Again, though, people would qualify for protections only by way of their link to another person (or persons, in some versions). Even broader is an approach that regards every individual as equally deserving of fundamental protections.
Take the Family and Medical Leave Act as an example and consider its relevance to people in the same generation ( i.e., setting aside parents and children). If you are seriously ill, your spouse can take time off from work to care for you under the Act. If the conjugal criterion were set aside, then people could also qualify to take leave to care for, say, a sibling or a friend with whom they had a civil contract. With the broader approach, any person could take leave to care for any other person in need (within the usual stipulations, such as the 12 week limit). Within a given workplace, every employee would have the same opportunity to give or receive care under the Act, regardless of their relationship status.
Here are some of the statements we found, arranged under these headings:
1. Statements from formal groups
2. Arguments from book-length discussions
3. Contributions from anthologies
4. Arguments from academic journals
5. Arguments from religious perspectives
6. Articles from political publications
7. A sampling of other arguments online