Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain. Easton Press binding. by Jemimus
I always longed to play the part of Huck Finn, living by my own code outside the social sandbox. I, admittedly, have always played more the Tom Sawyer role -- playing the rebel, but the rebel in the sandbox, secretly afraid to brave the wild world outside polite society.
I finally feel like a Huck outsider, watching the gay marriage drama unfold.
I am not married. I am not gay (contrary to what the ex-spouse from my inter-gender marriage might allege). I have no desire for society to sanction my relationships. I, however, do feel like a step-citizen, because I do not share in the social and economic benefits that society grants to those who obtain State-issued marriage licenses.
If I had more faith in (or is it more fear of?) the strategic genius of social conservatives, I would have bet big money on the theory that social conservatives orchestrated the skirmish "against gay marriage" as a false front in a bigger war "for marriage." I remember when many in the liberal left mocked marriage as an institution. Now it seems to be a given that marriage is a social good, and the only question is how wide to throw the definitional net and the benefits that come once trapped inside that net.
I see why social and economic conservatives might both support State-sanctioned marriage, broadly defined. Marriage, in part, means that the spouse, not the State, takes primary responsibility to care for the individual. In incentivizing one individual to take responsibility for the health and happiness of another individual, however, government actually bestows upon the couple many additional benefits (e.g., hospital visitation rights; medical decision-making authority; spousal employment sick leave and bereavement leave; access to health insurance and pensions; unlimited tax-free gifting to each other; and creditor protection of the marital home), undermining what I thought was an economic conservative's inclination towards laissez-faire economic policy.
Gay couples should be entitled to all the rights that the State grants straight couples, but why should the unloved subsidize the economic and social safety net for those who have been fortunate enough to find their mutual, eternal love? Shouldn't the loved subsidize the unloved, with the safety net serving as a consolation prize for failing to find one's eternal love?
Those who have paired off do not need the love and support of the State as much as those who are alone. The loved have one another. The unloved have no one but the State. Our partner to hold our hand and support us during hardship should be the State, in the absence of a loving partner.
I always figured that the LGBT community would be the one group I could count on to wage the campaign against the State's goal -- and incentive program -- that we all pair up. Those who are unpaired, by choice or circumstance, have lost our last, best ally in the fight against state-sanctioned pairing. The LGBT (assuming the net is thrown wide enough to accommodate transgenders) community has been co-opted by the promise of admission to the socially conservative institution of marriage, and all the social and economic benefits that come with State-sanctioned marriage.
The fight over gay marriage obscures the core issues that I think we once debated: (1) whether government should play any role in personal relations; (2) whether society would be better off if we did not incentivize pairing up; and (3) whether the isolated citizens should receive an economic and social safety because they do not have any individuals legally committed to them. As Jim reckons to Huck during their unpaid leave on the Mississippi, "Just because you're taught that something's right and everyone believes it's right, it don't make it right."
I harbor some fear that this column might be misconstrued as anti-gay rights, and become my "Christopher Hitchens moment"
(when the peacenik left broadly reviled Hitchens for his early support of the Iraq War). I do not believe this piece is anti-gay. It merely serves as a coming out against marriage, at least as a state-supported institution.
Huck Finn would have laughed from his perch outside the sandbox as Tom Sawyer conned the suckers into painting the picket fence. Like the suckers painting Tom's fence, gay marriage advocates are playing right into the hands of the social engineers extolling and promoting the virtues of a paired off country.
Huck Finn, however, might have been saddened to discover that, in the final analysis, he was legally alone in a cold world without the safety net to catch him falling from his perch. Perhaps if Huck had married Tom Sawyer, instead of just having Tom as a non-government-defined playmate and traveling companion, the State might have broken Huck's fall. But, then again, if Huck had married Tom and joined polite society, he would be less likely to have become the lovable, but unloved, hero of our collective mythology.
Professor, Brooklyn Law School.
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