Editors' Note: Guest blogger Andrew Syrios graduated from the University of Oregon and is currently a staff writer for Swifteconomics.com. A straight man, he comes from the libertarian side of the aisle, which is relatively empty, so he attempts to go back and forth between infuriating liberals and conservatives. But on this issue, he is a decided friend of the gay community.
"I am totally against straight marriage, even though I'm married. I don't think heterosexual marriage is any of the government's business. I think you should make any contract you want." - Penn Jillette
Gay marriage has been a contentious issue in the United States over the last decade. Currently, six states allow for gay marriage and several others allow for civil unions. In other words, people who believe in freedom of contract, (listening free-market conservatives?), have completely succeeded in only 12% of the states. Furthermore, Proposition 8 in California, and similar legislation in other states, has officially outlawed gay marriage. George Bush even proposed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman (whatever happened to federalism, conservatives? Then again, George Bush was no conservative).
Arguments against gay marriage typically fall into three categories: 1) The Bible says it is bad, 2) we have to preserve the "sanctity" of the institution and 3) gay marriage will lead down a slippery slope, where if we allow gay people to marry, soon enough polygamy, or even 'man and goat' will become common place.
Let's start with the Bible. The Bible does say "do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable." However, the Bible also says:
"If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.' Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death."
Good Lord, talk about a vicious non sequitur! Are you going to feel all warm and fuzzy while enforcing that? I think it's fair to say that regardless of whether or not you believe in God, the Bible was written by fallible human beings about God. Remember, here's what passed for marriage back in the Old Testament:
"King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh's daughter - Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, "You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods." Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines..."
I think Warren Jeffs might even find this arrangement a bit outlandish. And is it really any mystery why Solomon eventually went off the deep end? Multiply standard spousal nagging by a factor of 1000 and the guy never really had a chance. But I digress, let's turn to Saint Paul and the New Testament:
"Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion."
Or in other words, marriage is not an essential covenant of divine importance, but instead, a fail-safe, in case your will power fails and you simply have to get your rocks off.
Oh, but the sanctity of marriage must be maintained. It is an institution of historical consistency and importance. Well, if marriage must remain consistent, perhaps we should adjust the modern institution to return it to what it used to be. We should go back to the days of polygamy and concubines. We should bring back arranged marriages. We should reinstate dowries and have the bride-to-be's family pay the groom-to-be's family for the "privilege" to marry him. Interracial marriage should be banned again in southern states. India should reinstate suttee (where a widow is expected to commit suicide), China should bring back foot binding and many Islamic countries should just hold onto their Sharia Law. Sharia Law is after all, quite reasonable. Say my hypothetical wife cheats on me; she should be stoned to death. And if I cheat on my hypothetical wife; she should be stoned to death, for sleeping with an adulter (namely me). I think that's fair.*
As far as the slippery slope argument goes, polygamy already exists, especially among some fundamental elements of the Mormon Church. Currently, in some cases there is a scam where every wife, except the first, applies for welfare claiming to be a single mother. Is much going to change even if we fall all the way down this slope? That scam would at least come to light. Regardless though, people are still going to do what they do, and some crazy person would likely try and marry a goat. The thing is, he's probably already de facto done it. If we bring him out into the open, it would make it that much easier to laugh at him (and laughter is good for your health). Still, if it's that big of a deal, change the law to state that marriage is between two people, regardless of gender. Although, I'd personally prefer to just remove government from the institution of marriage entirely.
Regardless of the slippery slope, it's needless to say that the sometimes racist, frequently misogynistic and often completely ridiculous history behind the institution of marriage warrants little to sanctify. Of course, that's not to say marriage and the family are not important. I certainly wouldn't want the state to take over raising children in some sort of dystopian tyranny reminiscent of George Orwell or Aldous Huxley. It's simply to say that the institution itself is irrelevant. What it means to you, individually, is all that really matters.
So far, gay marriage activists have focused on winning votes and pressuring supreme courts to legalize gay marriage. However, democracy at its best, is painfully slow; democracy at its worst is, as Thomas Jefferson put it, "two wolves and a lamb voting on what's for dinner." Sometimes, with these sorts of things, (consensual arrangements that don't affect other people), you've just got to slip it through the back door.
The first thing to figure out is the definition of "marriage." I was at a wedding recently where the pastor said, "marriage is not a contract, but a covenant." Well that's fine, as I've already said, marriage can mean whatever you'd like it to and a covenant sounds good to me. However, legally speaking, marriage is just a contract. So couldn't any other contract represent something more than what it is legally speaking, like say, a covenant?
For example, let's say John Johnson owns a successful business that he keeps in an LLC (Limited Liability Company). He is also an overweight alcoholic with a bleeding ulcer and intermittent bouts of explosive diarrhea. He lives in a loveless marriage with his chronically-depressed, pill popping, philandering wife, Joanne. His daughter is a tramp, his first son has been in and out of the penal system since he was 15 and his second son just came out of the closet and is now a gay marriage activist, despite John's bitterly held homophobia. Basically, John's life sucks. He does, however, have a successful business. He defines himself with it, keeps himself sane with it and derives any self-esteem he can muster from it. This LLC is more than a legal entity to John; it is the embodiment of John Johnson. Yet technically, his business is nothing more than a legal entity created for tax and accounting purposes.
Marriage may be a covenant, but legally speaking, it is nothing more than a contract.Thus, since any entity or contract can contain more meaning to the people involved than the actual contractual arrangement written up and filed at the local courthouse, anything that gets the job done can do. Perhaps the very institution of marriage should be opened up to a little bit of healthy market competition from other contractual arrangements.
Most other legal entities are business entities: they include LLC's, trusts, S-corporations, C-corporations, non-profits and partnerships. So let's say Lisa Smith and Meagan Fischer want to get married. They should just go open Lisa and Meagan Smith-Fischer LLC and voila, they're as good as married. And you can still have a boring ceremony and then get blitzed at the reception afterward. Hell, you could do that without signing any contract.
There is one problem though: marriage comes with tax benefits. Can you receive tax benefits without actually operating a business? In an interview with an accountant, who's also a good friend of mine, he described the feasibility of such an undertaking as follows:
"Andrew, this is probably the stupidest idea I've ever heard. Whatever drugs you're currently taking, well, you desperately need to stop! I seriously start to worry about your sanity when you spew out ridiculous crap like this. And why the hell are you calling me about this? Do you not think I'm busy? Do you really think I don't have anything better to do? I'm a Goddamn accountant! I mean, honestly, what the hell is wrong with you? But, to answer your question, yeah, you could open up a partnership or LLC without a business. However, to accrue any tax benefits, you would have to prove that there were actual business profits and expenses."
What's key to note here, is the tax advantages akin to those of a traditional marriage contract could be accrued through other legal entities, despite the original function of such entities having been initially designed to solely facilitate the undertaking of entrepreneurial endeavors. What we need is to discover a method in which normal expenses can be justified as business expenses, even if both partners are not actually running a business.
Here's an option: one gay couple, looking to get married, need only find another gay couple looking to do the same. Both open an LLC or partnership. Then they simply sell stuff back and forth to each other in a way that will equalize the original income each couple receives from their jobs. It would be a bit of a hassle, but you would get many of the tax benefits of marriage, plus a few more (you can write off gas mileage for instance). This very well may be flirting with fraud, but if there are actual profits and expenses, what does the intent matter? Hopefully, it would all just go under the radar anyways. Regardless, what right does the government have to tell you who you can and can't marry (or who you can and can't sell and buy stuff from for whatever reasons)? The government is the one committing fraud here.
If nothing else, it's something to think about. In my humble opinion, to legalize gay marriage we may just have to give a reach around to the legal system.
Note: I am not offering legal advice. If you are interested in opening an LLC, see here. But talk to an attorney if you actually want to try this.
*This is technically not true, Sharia Law's Draconian penalties are supposed to apply to married men who commit adultery as well. Although, the Qur'an states both men and women should 'only' receive 100 lashes:
PICKTHAL: The adulterer and the adulteress, scourge ye each one of them (with) a hundred stripes. And let not pity for the twain withhold you from obedience to Allah, if ye believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a party of believers witness their punishment.
The death penalty is what appears to be used much of the time, though. And in practice, it doesn't seem be administered in an equal way. The allusion I'm making is to "honor killings," where a woman who is raped (or "steps out of line" in some other way) is often killed by her husband or father in some insane attempt to save her "honor." I don't believe Sharia Law sanctions this, but the practice is tolerated in many Muslim countries.