Testimony in Opposition to H5660, Concerning Same-Sex Marriage
Although it has apparently been stricken from the itinerary within the past couple of days, today’s RI House Committee on Judiciary hearing was supposed to include testimony concerning a bill (PDF) that would delete gender from Rhode Island’s definition of marriage. Being unable to make it to Providence, this afternoon, I submitted written testimony, which I’ve pasted below. Please consider contacting your state representatives and, if you’d like to make a more prominent statement, the Committee on Judiciary as well.
When I began considering testimony in opposition to bill H5660, concerning same-sex marriage, my first thought was of the people who would be making statements for the other side, whether verbally, in writing, or through participation in the corresponding rally. Their motivation is easy to understand; at issue are the terms by which they live and love.
In contrast, I was drawn to the topic during the summer of 2001 as an intellectual matter. More or less ambivalent about the issue, I merely thought some of the arguments put forward by same-sex marriage proponents were incorrect in interesting ways. As I’ve researched, thought, and written about the topic, however, it has become increasingly apparent to me that at issue are the terms by which we all live and love. Unfortunately, the experiences that would count as personal testimony of this are so pervasive that we take them for granted, and the people who would be most harmed by such a profound social change are not available for comment.
Before the representatives of the people Rhode Island is a bill that would make some editorial changes to statutory language. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like much — a simple matter of erasing gender. Man and woman, husband and wife, simply becomes “any person who otherwise meets the eligibility requirements” and “any other eligible person regardless of gender.” A tweak, really, to answer the emotionally compelling pleas of a minority for whom the historical model of marriage does not fit their relationships.
But passage of this bill would not represent a minor change. For some perspective, consider that, until extremely recently, every reference to marriage in law, sociology, psychology, history, literature, lexicology, and, yes, theology has been understood — by definition — to suggest a man and a woman. More: in the interwoven network of culture, every law on the books, every idea by which our society has defined itself, was formed in a world that took the meaning of marriage for granted.
No doubt, it would be compassionate, and conducive to social health, to extend certain benefits to homosexuals for their roles as parents and as mutual caregivers. If they face inordinate difficulties ordering their affairs, then their fellow citizens should consider means of addressing undue hardships. We should do these things, however, without tampering with the meaning of marriage.
Marriage is not solely, or even primarily, a civil contract. It is not a system for awarding benefits. It is not a statutory definition to be rewritten. It is a matter of fundamental construction, linking families across generations, tying a man and a woman to the children whom only a father and a mother can create. The phrase “regardless of gender” recklessly disregards the unique nature of relationships that join the genders. This is not a disparagement of those who are not drawn to such relationships; it is a statement of reality.
Homosexuals who would like the legal ability to marry each other ask whom it would hurt. The answer is not emotionally satisfying, but it is no less important for being so. Marriage is effective because of its shared principles and the way in which it counterpoises benefits and requirements, law and romance, responsibility and emotion. And this balance of factors is most important for those least able to articulate them.
There are two distinct reasons that such people aren’t stepping forward to testify about the importance of marriage’s preservation. The first covers people who do not realize how important the social and moral standard of marriage is to them, because they are not among those who consciously uphold the standard, but rather are those whose lives the standard is meant to shape. The second reason covers people who have not yet been born and have not yet been subjected to a society in which marriage is not about ensuring stability in the circumstances of their birth. We can glean a sense of the effects that marriage’s redefinition would have on these groups by observing the effects of previous changes to the institution; look particularly to the inner city.
No, the question that you face as representatives of the people of Rhode Island is not an insignificant one. Please do not use the law of this state to dictate a change with consequences that we cannot possibly comprehend as we stand, now, in the midst of turmoil and controversy. Please do not ignore the countless faces that we cannot see out of compassion for a few that we can.