Nashville is on the verge of becoming the 4th city in Tennessee to extend benefits to two people who are in a same-sex relationship, and Chattanooga just voted to give benefits to same-sex couples at a time when the city is struggling to fund existing pension obligations.
It is very interesting that Nashville would increase the cost of employee benefits at a time when the chair of the city’s budget committee says he doesn’t even know where the money would come from to give current employee’s a 3% pay raise.
That would seem to be reason enough not to take on another liability for taxpayers to bear, but beyond the practical, we need to insist that our politicians explain why we give benefits to those who are married and why those who are not married should get the same benefits.
In that regard, it seems that the primary argument for extending benefits to non-married individuals is grounded in what really amounts to an appeal to sympathy. Proponents want to begin the debate by urging us to look at marriage as simply a status to which the law provides certain benefits. From there it is easy to play on our sense of “fairness” by arguing that its not fair for some to get those benefits and not others.
But for this kind of logic to work, it is necessary to reduce marriage to nothing more than love between committed adults. Defined this way everyone can have the “benefits of marriage” and life is “fair.” But, while love and commitment are important for marriage, they are not enough to constitute a marriage.
To consider the legal benefits of marriage and who gets them before defining marriage is to put the proverbial cart before the horse. It is not the legal benefits given by society that make something a marriage. Rather, it is the nature of marriage that motivates society to give it certain legal benefits.
A Unique Relationship
The point is that marriage is not a relationship that society created in order to give some people benefits and deny them to others. Rather, “marriage” is the name that societies worldwide have given to a unique relationship between men and women that provides particular benefits to society.
By analogy, there are many geometric shapes. The word “square” represents one type of shape and “circle” another, but because each is what it is by definition, we cannot make circles that look like squares or vice versa. Likewise, there are many different relationships, even very important ones, but they are not marriages.
In other words, marriage is a real thing, not just a word. And marriage is important not because it has been given certain benefits.
Rather, real marriage is given benefits (and imposed with obligations) because it adds value to society in a way that it is different from any other relationship. That value is the healthy preservation of society itself.
Specifically, what makes the committed relationship between a man and woman different and of such importance to a healthy future society is its natural procreative potential and the unique roles each sex adds to the nurturing of the children they may raise.
To define other relationships as marriage so that everyone gets the same legal benefits is akin to redefining what a college diploma means so everyone can get a better paying job.
When marriage is reduced, its unique place in society is diminished. Doing so ultimately undermines the welfare of children and society itself.
Portions of this post taken from an editorial by David Fowler originally published in The Tennessean on May 27, 2008.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.