Sunday, February 11, 2007

second edition

what follows is a reprint of a post written by my brother (b. walthrop) back in october. he granted me permission to repost it in honour of freedom to marry week and the freedom to marry blog carnival hosted by mombian.

the original, and any other posts by b. walthrop can be viewed at from the basement of the transept.

Marriage is a fine institution, but I'm not ready for an institution.
– Mae West


Constitutional Protections for an Institution?

In Robert Heinlein’s first novel For Us, The Living, he outlines the idea that future society would develop the concept of public and private spheres of action. These spheres of action were to remain constitutionally separated, and no law could be enacted except that the law prevents an individual from materially harming another individual or to prevent an individual from limiting the ability of another individual to act within his or her private sphere of action.

One of the flaws of this construct is that there has always been an interface (however slight) between an individual’s public and private spheres of action. In Heinlein’s novel, he attempts to present a solution to this problem by limiting the scope and power of the government to pass laws that force the two spheres to intersect.

This utopian world view clearly has its limitations, but is an interesting starting point for a rational discussion surrounding the upcoming November 7th vote in the Commonwealth of Virginia to change the Bill of Rights of the State Constitution with the following amendment:

That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.

This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.


The world we currently live in is far different from the one that Mr. Heinlein described, and civil marriage is an area where the public sphere of action and the private sphere of action have been tied together by current legislation and social custom. Civil marriage in our country conveys with it certain rights, benefits, obligations, qualities and effects as outlined in the verbiage of the proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution.

The proposed amendment clearly attempts to limit the extension of the “civil” rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, and effects of civil marriage by defining the terms under which a civil marriage will be recognized by the state.

Anecdotal searches of websites of the supporters of this proposed constitutional amendment (which will in all likelihood pass into law) show that the publicly voiced “reasoning” behind the necessity of this amendment is closely tied to “a defense and support for the institution of marriage.” An example of this reasoning is found in the following quote from and NPR interview:

NPR Morning Edition, February 15, 2006 • You can see why Victoria Cobb became executive director of the Family Foundation of Virginia at the tender age of 26. She's a woman with a passion: When the Virginia legislature is in, she's in her office in Richmond by 7 a.m., and often stays until nine at night.

Her mission: to defend family values. Right now, that means passing an amendment to ban gay marriage.

"This is about so much more than two individuals who might love each other but don't happen to be a man and a woman," she says. "This is about redefining an institution that has been a bedrock of society for all of history."

Cobb says instead of denying same-sex couples rights, this movement has as its goal protecting children.


Although the supporters of this amendment claim that this amendment is not about denying civil rights to individuals who live outside the state definition of civil marriage, and that the goal is ultimately protecting children, it is interesting to note that the verbiage of the amendment clearly states that certain individuals or groups of individuals will be denied the rights afforded by civil marriage, and children (the object of the purported protection) are not mentioned at all.

What is specifically stated by more than one supporter of this amendment is that the goal of the amendment is to redefine or protect the institution of marriage.

The concept that a constitutional amendment to protect an institution (or social custom) above the rights of individuals is a gross miscarriage of a true bedrock of American society, the individual freedom of choice (and action within our private spheres of action).

Strongly held beliefs are often greater enemies of the truth than outright lies,
B. Walthrop

1 comment:

Alex Elliot said...

I enjoyed reading your brother's post. I have never understood why allowing gay marriage threatens heterosexual marriage. What's threatening marriage is divorce rates (don't get me wrong, I do not believe you should stay in a marriage if there's irreconcilable differences and definitely not if there's abuse.) For Cobb to say that marriage is a bedrock makes me laugh because of the high divorce rate. In MA gay marriage is legal. We have the lowest divorce rate of any state. And once again, how does gay marriage threaten heterosexual marriage. Also, the bit about having to protect children by not allowing gay marriage is bullshit. If someone is really concerned about kids, then give their parents equal rights! One more thing that really concerns me: if we're going to start letting religion decide who marries and who doesn't , is at some point my marriage going to be annulled because my husband and I are two different religions? This is the question who frequently write in our letters to our representives every time that it looks like gay marriage is threatend in MA.