Monday, May 25, 2009

State of the "Union:" Genders, Numbers, and the Taboo

The question of allowing same-sex marriage raises troubling points.  The trouble is the question of what freedoms Americans should be granted, and what the definition of marriage is.  As mentioned in my earlier posting, the Bill of Rights explicitly allows for the freedom of religion.  This is to say that the state will not sponsor or advantage any religion or faith above any other.

Those who argue that marriage is the union between a man and a women predicate their argument on religious grounds.  The trouble with this argument is twofold:  Over time, the religious definition of marriage has evolved and there is that bit in the Bill of Rights that grants freedom of religion. 

The Bible neither endorse nor condemns polygamy.  And, while it includes passages that describe a relationship between only a single man and woman, it does not specifically prescribe monogamy.  Likewise, it includes passages regarding Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon, all of whom had multiple wives. Moses has a sort of an odd warning to Solomon in Deuteronomy 17:17 regarding polygamy:  "He must not take many wives."  What is not clear is whether the meaning of "many" is "more than one" or "more than what Solomon could afford."  But these minutia are besides the point, the point being the lack of definitive rejection of polygamy in the Bible.  It should be noted that polygamy has been in common practice throughout the ages, and still is in many faiths around the world.  Therefore, one cannot claim monogamy as "God's way" by claiming residence or Biblical prescription.

That aside, the Bill of Rights does grant Americans freedom of religion.  This right prohibits the enforcement of an ideal justified through religious teachings of any sort.  In other words, it should not matter what the Bible - or any particular religious text - says when it comes to the creation of laws and granting of rights in the US.  The paramount issue is individual rights; namely, can individuals willingly join and leave unions without any coercion or credible threats?  If I, as an adult, am free to marry whomever I want and can leave that person by my free will, then that marriage should be allowed as I am ultimately exercising individual rights.

This is the crux of the argument for same-sex marriage:  It is the wish of two adults to marry in accordance to their free will.  Same-sex marriage is a question of individual rights; it is ultimately the American way.

But, when it comes to individual rights, namely the wish and ability of an adult to make a decision for his betterment without coercion or a credible use of force*, why should the American way only extend to monogamy (single man-woman, man-man, or woman-woman relationships)?  If it is the wish of multiple, freely willing adults to engage in polygamy, why should the American way stop that choice? One can imagine marriages where are the traditional polygamous type, the non-traditional polyandrous (one wife, many husbands) type, or the tribal kind where multiple men and women are in a marriage, with "multiple" defined as "as few as zero and with no upward bound," making it possible for exclusive groups of many men or many women to be in a tribal marriage together.  

Call this modern love or taboo.  Despite its moniker, polygamy, polyandry, and tribal marriage clearly extends beyond most Americans' sensibilities and comfort zones.  Which, of course, begets the question of whether the existence of something uncomfortable or unusual make it un-American.  Coming back to the central point, if we wish to respect individual rights and adults are free to make choices* without coercion or a credible threat, then adults should have that right.  

We, Americans, have a long way to go before we fully digest our constitution and understand its ramifications.  And we, Americans, have a long way to go before we grant individual rights as they should be granted.

* Examining the notion of individual rights will be the topic of the next blog.

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