Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gay Marriage - should it be legal?

Recent news is Gay marriage is illegal in California due to Proposition 8, and legal in Connecticut due to court ruling. Obviously, we wonder, should gay marriages be legal?

But, here is my rhetorical question - why should "marriage" be legal? Why should the law take positions on concept called marriage? Why should governments spend public funds issuing licenses, tracking who is "married" and so on? The answer is easy - taxes, benefits like medical insurance or social security, inheritance, immigration, liability such as spousal and child support and host other things are tied to "marriage". The religious believe marriage strengthens families and hence good for overall society, but that's not quite why governments are tracking marriages.

If that is the case, we should address the problem of social benefits, and not get caught up on the more religious notion of marriage. Why not let individuals form communities regardless of gender, regardless of gay or straight, and regardless of how many want to be together? For example, why can't two straight men who are just roommates, declare they are forming a community or household and get a license, so they can get tax benefits, be able to add an unemployed roommate to medical plan, allowed to make decisions during emergency etc. This will obviously strengthen the their well being. What if someone is living with a cousin and a grandmother? After all, if the idea is to strengthen society with people helping out one another, it should not matter if dependents are from a particular sex, have specific sexual orientation etc, or what relationships exactly can form a community. In fact, we don't restrict who can be together in a household, but just don't want to extend the typical benefits, possibly due to fear that it will be misused. In fact, we also enforce certain responsibilities such as child support, regardless of someone is married or not.

One thought I read somewhere is to issue marriage licenses for 7 years, and have people renew, if they are still together and value the relationship. Likewise, community or household licenses could be issued to any set of people, so they can avail themselves of benefits and share responsibility. Another example, in India, there is a legal concept of "Hindu United Family" to determine taxes, inheritance and benefits pertaining the patriarchal families which comprise of so many married couples in a large household as well as children, parents, grandparents, and potentially some older single uncles, aunts living in the same large household as well. A "Ration Card" that lists the names of people in the household is really the license to many other benefits - most people in India don't even apply or have a marriage license from the government! Truth is most of us are going to remain wedded, and live with our spouses, regardless of whether the government issues us a license or not.

I think there is a way to redefine the way we form these associations, and how we let the government and law deal with them, and not get caught up whether the check box should read bride & groom or bride & bride or whatever. Maybe we should just call everything a civil union and the problem will go away. I just don't think a proposition that we can't call marriage as a as civil union will gather support.

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