Saturday, February 18, 2012

Two Cheers for Gay Marriage

You probably know that the Washington State legislature has passed and the Governor was signed an act for the recognition of gay same sex marriage.

(As a side note, If you are interested in a perspective on the same-sex marriage issue and how elected political in Washington state -- and in what my mother used to call goo-goos -- fails, I suggest you look at When there's no cost to them, Olympia's liberals stand strong. It make a very good case as to why in a special session devoted to a budget deficit, this is all that would be produced.)

The debate about same-sex marriage, on both sides, misses the main point: marriage is not about "love" or "sex".  It is about the creation and accounting of economic units which can accumulate property (which historically includes children), and the maintenance of kinship organization (which is also about property).

Societies and the state need to track such units so as a resolve problems of ownership.  Marriage law, even and especially religious marriage law ,is dominantly about property -- who has access to it, how it is inherited, how it can be separated.  That is, it is contractual.  Definitions of marriage, and its legal status, have always reflected this, for example the reason that monogamous marriage is the norm in west, and now the world, that it simplifies property issues. 

Gay individuals are forming kinship units, accumulating property, having offspring in significant numbers.

It is in the interest of the the state and society that such units be allowed to be regularized, as it would  to facilitate the management of property, assign responsibility the care of children, and clarify kinship relations (for example next of kin in medical cases).

For the most part, I have supported domestic partnership laws over same-sex marriage as they could be tailored to satisfy these interests with minimal change to existing law -- a Fabian approach.  I am always chary of changing something with a lot of history. Granted this is perhaps pettifogging.

(Interestingly, in the United Kingdom they have a fairly strong domestic partnership law and little agitation
for same-sex marriage.  Also in the UK, according to surveys, males have a greater interest in partnership than females -- which is the reverse of the US and Canada.  These differences might make an interesting research topic for someone.)

There probably has been enough experience with domestic partnership laws and examples of drafting same sex marriage laws here and around the world, that the reasons for my preference are no longer relevant.

So, let's proceed with this.  Hopefully, we will survive the referendum -- it would be nice to solve a social issue without recourse to court intervention -- and the statute will be maintained.

But please, let us not talk about love, human rights, or values -- we are talking about a property issue.

Put another way, I welcome same sex couples to the right to pay alimony and child support.