Friday, August 06, 2004

Gay Marriage in Missouri

Missouri state-primaries were on this past Tuesday and we voted on two different major issues:
  • Should we allow another casino on the Mississippi River?
  • Should we add language to reinforce the statement that marriage can only exist between one man and one woman?

As a state, it turns out, we're morally divided on just how bad a thing gambling is. Bad for the neighborhood. Good for school funding. Encourages crime. Adds a few hundred jobs. Morally reprehensible. Keep the government out of business. The amendment failed 44/55.

As for marriage though, 70% of Missouri residents seem to believe that the bedrock for our state should include a strong statement on who each of us should be allowed to publicly and formally declare our love... I realy thought Missourians were more conservative than that! I honestly don't think that many people who voted "Yes" on this amendment really understood that they were voting to change our constitution, not just declaring their opinion on whether or not two men or two women should be allowed to legally declare love and dedication to each other.

Marriage is one of those sloppy institutions that crosses the line between church and state. In my belief, the "holy bonds of matromony" by definition are something beyond the control of any earthly judgement. Marriage is a statement of love and devotion. Something like this can't be constrained or defined by legal dictates. On the other hand, as a society, we believe that being married should also change how your legal matters are handled. You've declared a deep committment to someone; it makes sense that this person should have some legal rights and responsibilities when it comes to your affairs. Making financial and medical decisions, for instance.

Some people will claim that legal constructs already exist for these relationships: powers of attorney. I heard an anecdote at work this week from a conservative woman about problems she's had with powers of attorney. When her husband was in the Navy and away on duty, they went to sell their house. Her standard power of attorney wasn't satisfactory for the bank to complete the sale, though. Her husband ended up needing to send a telegram from his ship to the bank for the sale to be final. Overlooking the sexist implications of this annecdote, it serves as an example of how complex and full of holes the power of attorney construct is. We've also all heard annecdotes about how powers of attorney are sometimes ignored completely by medical and financial institutions.

Let's be clear, of course. I'm not gay. I'm a happily married breader. I do have gay friends. Even if I didn't have any close gay fiends, it wouldn't matter. There are certainly things that the government should be able to say about marriage: no, you can't marry a turtle (search for "Texas Senator John Cornyn, turtle, John Stewart" if you don't know the reference) -- we don't have any way of knowing the turtle has actually concented. But gay marriage is well outside those things that the government should be controlling.

As a holy institution, marriage can only be defined and constrained by religious leaders -- and there are definitely mainstream denominations already defending gay marriage. The government's obligation is to ensure the rights and privileges of marriage are there for everyone who is called "married."

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