Sunday, November 23, 2003

Homosexual Marriage

In thinking about the Massachusetts high court's ruling on homosexual marriage, one thing that is very unclear to me is what homosexuals hope to accomplish by such marriages. The arguments I've heard say that making homosexual relationships into marriage would solve problems with inheritance, would give the right for one partner to make critical medical decisions for another when the other is incapacitated, would provide partner health care, and so forth.

I'm afraid it's still unclear. I can leave all my worldly goods in trust for a goldfish if I want to and homosexuals can leave their possessions to whomever they please. What does that have to do with marriage? And as far the other difficulties homosexuals face, it seems they could all be settled by contractual arrangements. So I really don't understand the reasoning.

But for the sake of discussion, let's assume there are benefits to marriage that homosexuals could not otherwise obtain. And having assumed that, let's back off even further and ask ourselves why any couple should receive such benefits; heterosexual, homosexual, man and dog, whatever.

In other words, why should the government provide benefits for people just because they decide to live together? Good question.

I suggest that it is because the government has an interest in promoting marriage, and when the government has an interest in promoting some behavior, it often provides incentives to encourage that behavior. For example, the government may give you a tax break if you install a solar system on your house or buy a hybrid car. The reason is because it wants to promote alternative energy sources. Someone may argue that it isn't fair; that the government should also subsidize SUVs, but SUVs don't promote the government's goal of energy efficiency.

So, what is it that the government wishes to promote in male-female marriages? Despite all its problems, marriage provides a reasonably good environment in which to raise children into productive, healthy citizens, and the government has a huge interest in promoting productive, healthy citizens. Further, until recently, the difficulty in obtaining a divorce helped protect from poverty women who stepped out of the workforce to manage a household. Their husbands couldn't abandon them with impunity. Today, with more liberal divorce laws, the government attempts to provide this same protection, should marriage fail, by requiring alimony.

On the other hand, it is unclear why the government should promote homosexual unions. There isn't the slightest possibility they'll result in children. Though homosexual couples could adopt children, it is highly debatable that this is a healthy environment for children. Further, I'm guessing that in most cases, if a homosexual partnership breaks up, both partners simply continue working at their current jobs; one unemployable partner is not suddenly left in poverty.

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