Reset the Marriage Default

It's seldom easy when society adjusts its default settings. The strife is partly because humans are complicated, at once wired similarly and utterly different, and partly because human Americans are grapplers. We've never been a lockstep society except when we are.

We left Britain to escape religious intolerance. We set up shop in New England and then hung people as witches when their religious behavior was deemed aberrant. We wrote a Declaration of Independence confirming that all men were created equal, then excused black-skinned humans from the category of men. We were smug from birth about our free, democratic, one-person, one-vote philosophy, but failed to enfranchise women for nearly 150 years and to legally confirm the principle for nearly 200 years. After the Civil War, we were separate but equal until Brown v. the Board of Education, when we weren't the latter because of the former.

In July, a federal judge ruled that Massachusetts' anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional because it violated the Equal Protection Clause and a state's rights. In June, Federal Judge Vaughn R. Walker heard arguments about the legality of Proposition 8, which constitutionally codifies California's marital default of heterosexuality. His ruling is coming down tomorrow. These are merely the latest iterations of our social schizophrenia.

An essentially libertarian person who also situationally welcomes the comfort of conformity, I know that free societies work only if their members feel responsible for each other. I try to understand why people would be opposed to any marriage not their own. Would even consider it their business to pass judgment on the rectitude of such a personal association.

To me, whom you choose to marry is a life decision comparable to choosing to worship. I'm not a believer in organized religion, but I understand the primordial desire to be rooted in something spiritual, something supposedly immune from human inconsistency. Personally, I think following the golden rule meets the need that many people cite as a reason for organized worship--to be a better person.

But that's me, and practicing religion is a private choice that, absent an unfair or illegal influence, does not invite discussion. Although I disagree with people who categorically believe interracial marriage or polygamous marriage or homosexual marriage is wrong, to hold that opinion is their right, provided its expression does not deprive others of theirs. It's the same sentiment articulated by that old pro-choice bumper sticker: "If you don't support abortion, don't have one."

Arguing in June not to overturn Proposition 8, arguing in favor solely of heterosexual marriage, attorney Charles Cooper said the primary purpose of marriage was "procreation." He said that was a fundamental reason to support the gay marriage ban, that such proscription was critical to the survival of the human race.

I say, Mr. Cooper, if you don't support gay marriage, don't have one. I ask, Mr. Cooper, how dare you presume to know, with all your human hubris, amid all your American grappling, what is fundamental to human survival? By your logic, Mr. Cooper, my marriage 24 years ago should not have been allowed. Not because I'm gay, but because I'm infertile. By this logic, a single woman my age today shouldn't be allowed to marry because she's past the child-bearing years. By extension, you must believe it's OK to discriminate by age AND gender, but that's another lawsuit.

I doubt Cooper truly intends to impede an infertile or older woman's ability to marry. But he does mean to do so if her choice of spouse is another woman, or if any man wants to marry within his chromosomal class. Cooper and the people he represents are OK with depriving others--who make choices they wouldn't, choices that do not affect them--of the protection of the law.

That is so human. And so, so wrong.

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