Saturday, May 23, 2009

Choose One: Outlaw Divorce or Allow Gay Marriage

Over a cup of coffee, an Italian friend was explaining Italian relationships; more precisely, how the termination of Italian marital relationships plays out.  The state has to grant the right for divorce given probable cause.  And, as it turns out, marital infidelity is not probable cause.  Piecing the information that my friend relayed to me, were it the case that cheating hearts constituted grounds for divorce, about half of Italian marriages would dissolve.

We, in the US, are self-critical because of our high divorce rate.  The infamous statistic that is bantered about is that nearly one out of every two marriages fail.  This is "about half;" so, Americans and Italians are far more alike than divorce statistics would have you believe.

Yet, just focusing on the statements above, there is something profoundly different between the US and Italy.  In the US, it is easy to get married; a couple can simply go through a Las Vegas drive-through church to declare themselves husband and wife.  It is nearly as easy to get divorced (assuming willing parties and no legal or financial vengeance in the mix).  In Italy, the state grants the right for divorce upon sufficient grounds; accordingly, the state requires that a couple be schooled in marriage prior to tying the knot precisely because it is difficult to legally separate.

This brings the question of relationships onto a broader stage; namely, what should the relationship between the state and the individual be?  Shall the state prescribe details of people's lives, or shall people be let free, make their own decisions, assume their own responsibilities, and keep the state as intrusive as possible?  

We Americans like to think of ourselves as members of a free society where the state is small and relatively unobtrusive.  Witness our Bill of Rights, abridged for readability:
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom for peaceful assembly
  • Freedom to petition the government for grievances
  • The right to bear arms
  • Freedom from arbitrary government seizure of property
  • Freedom against unreasonable searches without probable cause
  • The right to be tried in a court of law
Basically, we do not like our government dictating what we can do within certain limitations.  Unfortunately, those boundaries are rather murky.  

Going back to the marriage question, it is not clear why same gender marriages are unlawful in 45 out of the 50 states given that we prize our freedom (the quibbles centering on the religious definition of "marriage" being the "union of a man and a woman," which makes for a poor argument given than the religion definition of marriage has changed significantly over time and that there is freedom of religion).  So, we Americans are a bit tortured on how much we prize our freedom and whether we want to accept the inconvenient consequences of being free.

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