Sunday, June 4th, 2006

hummingwolf: Drawing of a creature that is part-wolf, part-hummingbird. (Hummingwolf by Dandelion)
United States President George W. Bush yesterday announced his support for a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. This is not terribly surprising; in fact, this is one of those rare occasions when the latest "Preternaturally Thin Hollywood Couple Breaks Up" story has better claim to the title of "news." Still, a fair number of news organizations are treating the president's statement as news, so maybe what we have here is a problem of differing definitions.

I wonder sometimes how much of the gay marriage debate is a problem of definition. Does the average American really think that homosexual partnerships should be denied all the rights marriages are accorded, or will they always use quotation marks when discussing gay "marriage" because defining marriage as involving people of the same sex makes about as much sense to them as defining "orange" in such a way that it may also be used to describe artichokes?

Honestly, I can understand if people have lexical objections to state licensing of gay marriages. Many Americans want to preserve what they see as the purity of the English language, even if they are generous enough to forgive our president his own linguistic trespasses. I have no problem with that.

I can also understand and respect people who have religious objections to official recognition of homosexual marriage as marriage. Many people believe that marriage is an institution ordained by God, designed to consist of one man and one woman--or, for the old-fashioned, one man and multiple women, except in cases where the man is too poor to support more than one woman, in which case it is more important than ever for him to find a virtuous wife as described in Proverbs 31* (specifically verses 10-31, though the first few verses have some good stuff involving the rights of the destitute (and beer)). Religious organizations whose doctrines declare that only certain kinds of relationships are valid should not be under any state compulsion to recognize other kinds of relationships as well. As it happens, churches and (most) other religious organizations in this country are given rather a lot of freedom about what they may or may not recognize when it comes to human relationships, and this is as it should be.

But the debate over an amendment isn't about what kinds of definitions wind up in the dictionaries, or about what people do and believe in the privacy of their own homes, churches, and other private clubs. For many people, Marriage Is the Foundation of Society and--here's the part I don't understand--Marriage Is Under Attack and Must Be Protected By The Government.

Now, it does seem clear that the environment in which we live is of great importance in determining the health of society, and that the quality of marriage relationships is a major factor in the makeup of our environment. So I can understand why, for instance, a congressman feels compelled to discuss the importance of the family. And I understand that "The institution of marriage has played a critical role both in defining the legal entitlements of family members and in developing the decentralized structure of our democratic society." What I don't understand is how people can believe that marriage is the foundation which supports our society; that "traditional" marriage consisting of one man and one woman is the one best foundation upon which to build a strong society; and yet at the same time believe that marriage is such a very, very fragile institution that if we even allow the possibility of domestic partnerships, marriage is in grave danger from those who would destroy it.

According to my copy of the good old Encyclopedia Americana (an edition from the Reagan years, so we know it's not tainted by the sickly relativism and postmodernism you might find in your more modern encyclopediae):
All buildings are supported on the ground, and therefore the nature of the soil becomes an extremely important consideration in the design of any building. The design of a foundation depends on many soil factors, such as type of soil, soil stratification, thickness of soil layers and their compaction, and groundwater conditions. Soils rarely have a single composition; they generally are mixtures in layers of varying thickness.... The elasticity of soils is often time-dependent, that is, deformations of the soil occur over a length of time which may vary from minutes to years after a load is imposed. Over a period of time, a building may settle if it imposes a load on the soil greater than the natural compaction weight of the soil. Conversely, a building may heave if it imposes loads on the soil smaller than the natural compaction weight. The soil may also flow under the weight of a building; that is, it tends to be squeezed out.

For the many of you whose response to the above is TL;DR, the short version is: In order to decide what kind of foundation you need, you first need to understand where you are.

A foundation appropriate for one kind of soil can be completely wrong for a building in another place. If your foundation crumbles so very easily, maybe you've been building on the wrong foundation.

Of course religious people can point out that marriage--traditional marriage as defined by their tradition--is designed by God and should never be redefined. As I said above, I can respect that. But someone who believes this and also believes that marriage is the foundation of society may have to accept the possibility that God wants society to crumble. This is not so hard to believe. After all, Bible-believing Christians know that Jesus' kingdom is not of this world and that he came to bring division to our families rather than peace, so why should anyone care if the foundations of this world are crumbling after all?

It just boggles my mind that marriage is thought to be strong enough to be the support for all of Western Civilization, but so weak as to be jeopardized by the possibility that somehow, somewhere, some fully-consenting adult male might be covered by some other fully-consenting adult male's health insurance.


* I once read in an evangelical essay that the thirty-first chapter of Proverbs tells us it is important for a woman to have hobbies, which I thought at the time was pretty good reason for the author's high school diploma to be confiscated due to extreme lack of reading comprehension skills.

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