After a Difficult Violent Roundtable, Part 1

Last night’s Violent Roundtable on the Matt Allen Show was the most difficult public appearance/talk show that I’ve done yet. Probably because Matt correctly assessed that an hour of harmony wouldn’t have been very interesting, his questions touched on a number of weighty subjects on which expressing comprehensive thoughts on the spot is not easy.
For instance, take Matt’s reference to Rep. John Loughlin’s suggestion that the government get out of the marriage business, and permit everybody civil unions, because “marriage is a religious concept.” That attempt at compromise (I’d call it a cop-out) is simply based on a false premise. Marriage is not a religious concept; it transcends religion, not only in the sense that all religions throughout history have recognized its opposite-sex nature, as I mentioned last night, but also in the sense that it resides at the intersection of multiple social strata: religion (yes), but also family, heritage, government, property, history, and so on, all of which find relevance in the biological fact of a man and a woman’s ability to become one in the person of a child.
Religion’s role in marriage is to lend the mysticism that makes the relationship profound, and therefore worthy of lifelong vows. Ancestry roots children in their society. Property gives motivation for productivity and economic prudence, particularly with a long-term view of generations. And government’s role is to protect the community that it governs, in this context, by protecting the familial structure on which all of Western society’s progress has been founded.
Consequently, government has even more objective, secular interest in encouraging stable marriages — that is, permanent unions between intimate men and women — than it does in encouraging the additional social good of consistent mutual care, which is ultimately what civil unions would recognize. Even the requirement of intimacy would be impossible for the government to require or assume, opening the door for civil unions between anybody and anybody (or anybodies).
For government to reduce all mutual care relationships to a level field, relying on religious groups to define their profundity, it would create a necessary equivalence between them. By declining to adhere to a consistent definition understood across the aforementioned strata, the government referee would be declaring the concept of marriage available for redefinition and throwing it to cultural forces that include not only religious organizations, but also pop-culture industries. If nothing else, the social noise would end the marital institution’s utility.
Matt’s suggestion — fantastic in principle — that we should refuse to acknowledge the government’s authority as lexicographer skirts an assessment of what is actually happening. Drawn forward by well financed and highly motivated special interests and prodded by a complicit media industry, the government has been forcing a new definition of marriage into the culture. That being the case, following Matt’s political philosophy would actually require the people to demand that the government explicitly affirm the definition of marriage under which their culture has operated throughout history until such time as it is understood by all to have changed.
In other words, the trajectory of the change currently involves the government’s redefinition in order to manipulate the culture. Those playing defense on the traditionalist side are not the ones ceding authority to the political class, nor is there equivalence between our attempts to hold the government in place and the attempts of radicals to drag it into the cultural fight.
The initial question that sparked our discussion, on the radio, was whether the government should be granting heretofore marital rights and privileges piecemeal, one by one, to same-sex couples. The topic shifted a bit by the time it got to me, but my answer would have been that such an approach is precisely the appropriate one. Formed back when people actually believed that same-sex marriage was sufficiently inconceivable that a constitutional amendment was not necessary, my view has long been that the governments at various levels should affirm the traditional definition of marriage and do so in such a way as to enable state-level legislation easing the difficulties that those with other relationship types face. Require that legislation to define new relationships and their privileges without reference to marriage (i.e., no “all rights and privileges of marriage” language), thus requiring our society to come to consensus about the justification, purpose, and meaning of each change.
Cultural forces will vie to define the new unions, and it would be appropriate for those on the same-sex marriage side to refer to themselves as married, if they so choose, as well as to strive for the broader society’s similar understanding of their relationships. Over time, the culture may come to see no significant difference between civil unions and marriage, or perhaps the distinctions between mutual-care relationships and procreative marriages will become more prominent. All the debate, however, and experimentation would be performed outside of the core institution of marriage and without the government’s being used as a lever to roll the cultural boulder.

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13 years ago

Justin, I heard Matt’s show, and agree it was a profound discussion. “Equal under the law” is all the State (any state) has the authority to legislate. Under the law, I am given the same standing in property rights, employment, etc., as a man. But nothing a legislature can conceive will ever make me – a woman – the same as a man, because I am not and never can be a man. I am fundamentally different, but treated equally under the law. At the time, no one proposed we change the definition of “man”; that would have been absurd. Women “settled” for equal under the law, without protesting that equality as being “less” than full manhood. The definitions stood, and the law accommodated. Although I understand your argument, your points are more profound (and, therefore, more obscure) than many people can grasp. Eliminating the term “marriage” from all State documents and laws may ignore marriage’s secular importance in society, but at least it clearly draws a line between marriage’s mystical and spiritual ideal (what could be ascribed to the realm of the “religious”), and the authority a State has to recognize a legally binding contract between two committed domestic partners for purposes of property, taxation, health/death, next-of-kin, children, etc. The State does not have the authority to re-define marriage. Nor does the State have an interest in “love.” It has the authority to extend some or all of the benefits, rights, privileges and responsibilities in which it has an interest and which it recognizes in the contract between two heterosexuals, to the contract between two homosexuals. For the government, it’s all about the contract, the civil union. “Marriage,” no. Civil Union, yes. P.S. I think the tactics currently underway outside the Statehouse are shameful – to coerce Rhode Island,… Read more »

13 years ago

Lucie said
“the tactics currently underway outside
the Statehouse are shameful”
Hello Lucie,
Did you think freedom of speech,is for teagagers ONLY ???
The murders of Harvey Milk and Matt Sherman are shamefull
The folks at the statehouse today have the same freedom of speech as YOU, Justin Katz and Rev fred phelps
Sorry are an IDIOT

13 years ago

Jacob, did I say you didn’t have the RIGHT to rally for your cause? No, I didn’t. But I still say the TACTICS of coercion under the banner “Everybody else is doing it!” is shameful. And stupid. It lacks any shred of rational thought.
Reminds me of the parental admonishment about jumping off a bridge…
And how typical – sinking to name-calling and personal attack with no offer of logical reasoning or intelligent debate about the real issue. Bet you’re so proud of yourself. *yawn*

13 years ago

Rhode Island should allow SSM because it’s the right thing to do, not because the states around us are doing it.
Are we going to use the “we don’t have to be like everybody else” argument if every other state in New England, say, cuts its sales tax? Hell, we didn’t elect a moderate Republican governor in ’02 just because Massachusetts and Connecticut did.

13 years ago

The SSM idea mens less than the marriage idea. The two are not the same thing. Also, there is a huge difference in the role of government in these two ideas. With marriage, government (small g) is a facilliator of which one key function is to distinguish who is married from who is not married. Marital status is not partial nor conditional. With SSM — call it civil union or whatever — Government (big G) is an imposer of which the primary function is to flatten the distinction between who is married and who is not. Given the lack of distinctive features, civil union can be partial and conditional. Also, marriage is a foundational social institution — hence the role of the governing authority has always been to facillitate entry into the institution. Civil union is government owned and created and is not a foundational social institution. It depends on Government as the predominant of pluralistic authorities in a civilization. Indeed, it sets Government against nongovernmental social institutions whose consensus is NOT sought but whose compliance is coerced. The issue of marriage is not just about the meaning of marriage itself — althought I think the facts of marriage decide the matter in favor of the man-woman basis. The issue of marriage has become one of affirmation, or deconstruction, of the principles of good government. It is intellectually dishonest to insist that there can be no governmental (supportive) role in ensuring that the social goods produced by the social institution of marriage are protected and that the institution, and those who enter, are shown preferential treatment. The only way that one can get to a civil union for all, marriage for none, is to discard the distinctive and universal features of marriage and, thus, the unique social goods that marriage… Read more »

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