The Daily Gamecock

‘Marriage’ not term for state to define

Legality, not acceptability, premise of civil union

The United States Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments on whether restrictions on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. While I’m inclined to support marriage equality, there are some important logical issues that need addressing.

Opponents of same-sex marriage claim that recognizing same-sex relationships will set our society on a slippery slope towards pedophilia and polygamy. While the pedophilia claim is easily countered — changing the definition of marriage doesn’t change the definition of adulthood — the polygamy claim is more challenging.

The basic premise of the marriage equality movement is that preventing adults in love from marrying is a denial of their rights. They are against the idea that a relationship can be viewed as inferior because of the genders of the people involved. This is a perfectly reasonable argument. What I fail to understand is why same-sex marriage proponents are so offended when one claims this line of thinking could lead to the recognition of polygamy. The anger suggests they view relationships with more than two partners as inferior to relationships with only two people. If it’s unfair to discriminate based on gender, should it not also be wrong to discriminate based on number?

If proponents of marriage equality insist on rejecting the “polygamy as the logical next step” argument, the only way around it would be to change the basic argument. Instead of claiming that restrictions on same-sex marriage are a denial of one’s rights, they would have to claim that the law should evolve as the society does. As society has started to recognize same-sex marriage, so should the state. Under this line of thinking, restricting same-sex marriage only became discrimination when a large portion of society began supporting marriage equality. This change in argument undermines same-sex marriage supporters’ moral high ground.

Only one argument avoids these contradictions: The state doesn’t need to define marriage. The primary argument of same-sex marriage opponents has been that the state should define marriage as a heterosexual relationship because it has an interest in promoting procreation. This is a weak argument. Justice Elena Kagan had the best response when she asked if this meant sterile heterosexual couples should also be barred from marrying. In the end, the government’s role should be to provide civil unions as a legal framework for property sharing between adults regardless of whether they are intimate.

Marriage is a very personal title. Regardless of what a government or court says, if your neighbor doesn’t think you’re married, he’ll never recognize your relationship. The marriage equality campaign should focus on getting the government out of marriage, rather than trying to change the definition while excluding the rights of groups with different views of marriage because they aren’t yet “socially acceptable.”