January 04, 2004

Marriage Language Foolishness

Glenn Reynolds wonders if procreation is the only reason for marriage. This is one more sad bit of evidence of how wretched the level of debate is over marriage. You can refer to religious marriage, secular marriage, or marriage in general as the superset of both. But people are absolutely sloppy in their language and use the term marriage for all three.

If you refer to the religious and spiritual roles of marriage, you end up getting first amendment establishment clause lectures shoved down your throat. If you refer to the state role of sustaining society through procreation, you get slammed for being anti-woman, anti-romantic, or anti-spiritual.

The truth is that marriage in western society is generally split in its role. You have the state interest which is pretty sterile but very practical. Then you have your choice of religious meanings you can pad onto it. This is why in many countries you get married twice, once by the state, the other by your church. The major difference in the US religious figures often have the power to grant secular marriage licenses as well so you get two ceremonies going on simultaneously (though you still can do them separately, my wife and I did).

Procreation is also a slippery term. There is biological procreation, for which marriage is hardly necessary, and then there is the complex biological and socialization process that some lump into the same word, procreation. Is biological procreation a state interest? Yes, but so is the much more complex task of taking the fertilized egg all the way up to its majority and entrance into society as a functioning, productive adult a state interest. Is that the only state interest? No, but it certainly is a huge one, and sufficient for a great many of the rules on marriage, including the one limiting it to heterosexuals.

Posted by TMLutas at January 4, 2004 08:50 PM