By: Andrew Del Bene
The fight for marriage equality across the Union has grown significantly in the last decade and stands as an extension of the fight for homosexual rights reaching back to the Stonewall Riots in 1969. The recent movement attracts not only homosexuals but also the rapidly growing and fervent following of “allies.” The equality of marriage for all couples, heterosexual and homosexual, has become not only a civil rights issue of equality but also a moral question of how we think of others and the institutions that help to define our society.
The perspective I am about to postulate is only offered as food for thought. My purpose here is only to play the devil’s advocate and provide a different outlook on what many are calling the issue of our generation.
Proponents of marriage equality argue that this is a human rights question of equality, that all persons deserve the right to share in the institution of marriage and all benefits derived from it. Opponents of marriage equality argue that the redefinition of marriage is a threat to tradition and culture surrounding one of the oldest human institutions.
Proponents also argue that marriage equality is yet another step in the battle for total civil rights and, like the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s, is a natural progression that will occur with or without our intervention. Opponents further argue that such redefinition only opens the floodgates for further, potentially unnatural, change. The argument of the opposition boils down to: “where does it — redefinition — stop?” The most popular, and silly, example of this is: “when will marriage next be redefined so that a man can marry his dog?”
Ludicrous as this generalization may be, the conservative opponents have a point: the fight for marriage equality is a fight for redefinition. And there’s nothing wrong with that, which brings me to my perspective: while there is a natural social progression towards tolerance and equality, the fight for marriage equality is in fact a redefinition of marriage.
Both parties have a point, and both are guilty of righteous indignation. Marriage has been redefined at least half a dozen times throughout human history given our cultural needs and scientific understanding.
Marriage was once a system of wealth and property transfer between a father and his son-in-law. Marriage was once a system of ensuring and defining the parentage of legitimate children. Marriage also existed at one time for the sole purpose of procreation. Today, those needs and understandings have changed. Marriage is no longer a system of property transfer because of women’s equality. An understanding of genetics enables us to determine the paternity and legitimacy of any child regardless of marital status. Finally, with roughly seven billion people on this planet, the continued longevity of humanity through procreation is no longer an issue.
So while opponents of marriage equality are guilty of digging their heels in and standing behind what is actually an evolving definition of what they believe to be an ancient and tightly-defined institution, so are the proponents by claiming that marriage equality will just happen eventually. My point: why can’t the supporters of marriage equality just take this for what it is? Fighting from the perspective of civil rights and human equality is all well and good. But wouldn’t the supporters of marriage equality completely undermine their opponents by also understanding this as a fight over definition and use the above points on marriage to demonstrate the fallacy of “tradition” and “custom” which their opponents so freely employ?
While most believe the fight for marriage equality is largely won in the U.S., proponents of marriage equality still stand to gain from acknowledging this perspective of acceptable redefinition. If they acknowledge the natural evolution of human institutions, they could pave the way for resolution of future conflicts between tradition and progress.
Andrew Del Bene is a junior from Yonkers, N.Y. He majors in economics and is in the Honors Bachelor of Arts (HAB) program with a minor in philosophy.