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I have this uncle, let’s call him Jim. He and David lived together for decades. They shared expenses, kept each other company, and generally looked out for each other. They were, in many ways, like an old married couple. But when David died, Jim had no right to receive spousal survivor benefits because he was never married to David. Why did they never marry? Because they were gay? No: because they were brothers.
Why shouldn’t Jim and David have married? They were consenting adults. They had a long-term committed relationship. Granted, there was no physical union, but so what? The idea that a marriage must be consummated by a sexual act is surely a relic of a bygone era.
Today the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case involving traditional marriage laws in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. If, as many expect, the Court declares same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right, it will not be long before siblings and old bachelor chums will demand the right to marry. And under the fast-evolving jurisprudence of SSM, it is difficult to see how such demands could be denied. Indeed, if marriage is redefined along the lines advocated by opponents of traditional laws, siblings, roommates, and 20-something buddies will find it exceedingly convenient to get married for the legal benefits while continuing to play the field for sexual partners.
Does anybody seriously doubt this? When marriage is a right belonging to any two adults who assert an emotional bond, there is no logical stopping point (indeed, there would be no reason to limit marriage to unions of just two adults). In the new world, marriage is no longer a product of civilization, but becomes more akin to a Social Security card: it is a gateway to various taxpayer-subsidized benefits that any couple can lay claim to.
The precarious future of marriage is what happens when we forget first principles. The state does not create marriages; it recognizes marriages. The state may confer certain benefits on married couples for policy reasons, but that doesn’t mean that marriage owes its existence to the state. Similarly, in the US no state has “banned” gay marriage. Any clergyman can perform a same-sex wedding; gay couples have the right to live together, pool their income, and draft wills, powers of attorney, and health care proxies in each other’s favor. In most states, however, the electorate does not believe that such unions should be recognized by the state as marriages.
Only 11 states have decided to recognize same-sex marriages through democratic means. What is at issue today is whether the people of the other 39 states can weigh the pros and cons for themselves, or whether they will have same-sex marriage imposed upon them as a matter of judicial fiat.