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Legal Marriage, Civil Unions, and Slippery Slopes

Ok, one more article about gayness. One of the favorite arguments against same-sex marriage is that if same-sex marriage or civil unions are allowed, it's a slippery slope: allow it and then other forms of marriage must be allowed too. Things like sibling and group marriage. That what this article is about. Some really go for gold and make arguments like "If two guys can get married, I could marry my dog!" Since a dog is not person or capable of consenting to agreements much less signing contracts, I'm going to chuck all those who make that argument in the dustbin and call it a day.

But, does allowing gay marriage mean we have to allow the various forms of group marriage? Does it mean we can't prevent a brother and sister from marrying?

I've seen arguments that say those are inevitable. I've seen arguments that say one or both are completely different and don't follow at all. Which is it? I don't know that it matters.

The first thing to think about is why gays want to get married. Is it to wreak havoc on traditional marriage? Is it to make overly socially conservative people angry? Possibly. But I'd bet most gay people would give answers like "To show our commitment." or "Because we love each other." But some would add things like "So we can visit each other in the hospital with no problems," and "So we can figure out things like inheritance and property transfers." There's probably one or two more, give or take several hundred. But let's not quibble.

So will allowing gay-marriage automatically mean we must allow group marriage? Must we also allow sibling marriage?

As far as group marriage goes, it is a bit different. Most laws regarding marriage deal with it as a contract between exactly two parties, which in legal-land is a very different beast than three or more. Since marriage is implicitly a contract between two people to settle problems involving property, money, and children, it's OK to treat it differently. A good case can be made for treating them completely differently, and many have. But, I'm not sure I buy those arguments. More on this later.

What about sibling marriage? Should it be legal for, say, a woman to marry her brother? Or a man to marry his aunt? That's incest! That's gross! Think of the children!

Ok, take a breath, and think for a minute: Preventing gay marriage has not prevented gay sex. Right? Like, at all. Likewise, preventing group marriage has not prevented polyamory, and, most importantly, preventing sibling marriage has not prevented incest.

So, family members who want to party it all up will already be doing that. So banning sibling marriage is not really about preventing incest. The legal and health issues of incest would be dealt with separately. But, should they be allowed to marry? Good question…

What's my solution to all this? Well, it's not mine: many others have said similar things, but here goes…

Remove the concept of "marriage" from all the laws. Replace it with simple legal contracts. Call them civil unions, call them Shirley, doesn't matter. The point is they are simple, standardized legal contracts which spell out legal rights and responsibilities of the undersigned. Any references to "marriage" in the current laws are either removed or now refer to "civil unions".

All these problems are solved.

  • Your church can still have "marriage" anyway it wants, even limited. If you sign some papers, the state will recognize a civil contract which settles all the legal issues of inheritance, taxes, child custody, hospital visits, etc.
  • Gay marriage contract between individuals? Go ahead! Go ahead! Just sign the papers. As before, no religion is forced to recognize that union, but now there is a nice neat contract for legal issues.
  • Sibling marriage contract between individuals? My sister-in-law pointed out that, for example, two elderly siblings who already live together may, in fact, choose to join in a civil union to make property transfers, and medical situations easier to deal with. The civil contract covers that without making it into a "scandalous" marriage.
  • Group marriage contract between individuals? Go ahead. From the legal side, it's trickier, yes, but surely it's better to have a contract explaining the precedence of inheritance, etc than not. Group unions do provide the most questions, like can an entire town sign up and gather benefits currently reserved for marriage? Some limitations will have to apply, obviously, like maximum number of contract signers and proof of an actual relationship, but for most realistic situations, it would improve matters rather than make them worse.

Inevitable? I don't know if they truly follow from gay marriage, but I do know I support open civil contracts, regardless.