So, in North Carolina we’ll be voting on this measure for an amendment to our state Constitution, which has somehow survived for many years without it:

Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.

See, if I was in the state legislature, I would have voted to amend that measure as follows:

Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman, for life, is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.

(Also, each time a person referred to the amendment measure in public, they’d need to do the “4 Life” hand sign. Marriage would be just like the N…W…O….)

If we’re going to legislate marriage as defined in the churches in which I grew up, let’s go all the way. Let’s see how many of our state legislators would vote for that one. Or Republican Presidential candidates would. I know one who wouldn’t, because of principle; one who couldn’t, because he’d be laughing too hard; and one who wouldn’t, because it says “one woman.” (Sorry, bad Mormon joke.) Oh, and one who would, because of principle — that would be the Catholic guy who was successfully convincing a bunch of Protestants that the Mormon guy was the scarier option. What happened to my Baptists, folks? Nobody read those freaky Jack Chick Crusaders Comics from the ’70s? 😉

When you’re going to the polls in May, think about this: Do you really want the state to completely legislate based on man’s interpretation of God’s words…because I think you’ll notice if we start putting in all of the stuff that the pastors of my youth conveniently decided was overridden by grace, or just plain ignored, we won’t really need to worry about Sharia law. We’ll be used to something quite like it, whenever we have enough radical fundamentalist Muslims to somehow override the voting preferences of ~350 million people. (Look out, women of 2525!)

I’m still not exactly sure what the purpose of this amendment even is for its proponents. To protect the sanctity of marriage? I didn’t realize the strength of my marriage had anything to do with anyone else’s, but if that’s the case, the couple who were getting their marriage license next to us in Pigeon Forge, TN, didn’t get us off to an auspicious start. (“And this will be your…?” “Fifth marriage, ma’am.”) Marriage doesn’t seem to be tied to children in this state, so I’m not sure what it’s supposed to do there, other than remove a possible avenue of stability for them. Does it somehow encourage people not to be gay? I’d think the last 250 years of non-gay marriage are evidence that wouldn’t work. Heck, as near as I can tell, it’s not doing anything except lessening the possibility that some other generation will be able to disagree with us without having to first pass Amendment Minus One.

I’m not a very good Libertarian, even though I voted for Munger in the last governor’s race. I’d probably be called a Liberaltarian in the commenter’s section in Reason, and I couldn’t really argue with that. But, I do believe in it enough to ask: Why is the State in the Marriage business?

The state government of North Carolina is partially here to provide services a majority of us, at one point or another, implicitly agreed would be better supplied by the collective. It’s also here to enforce laws that we agreed we didn’t want to live without, for one reason or another. (It’s part of that social contract you didn’t even realize you were agreeing to, just by being born into it and not leaving.) Just as importantly, to my view, NC is here to enforce agreements between private parties. Those contracts often take commonly used shapes for commonly desired outcomes. Business incorporation, for instance, serves as an agreement about liability between you, the State, and your customers.

This is what the marriage license means to the state: It’s a legal agreement, a contract between two parties that confers certain rights and responsibilities, so commonly understood and established in precedent we don’t even have to sign a real contract with every clause listed. If you want to dissolve that contract, we have a nice large body of law and standard rules that allow you to do so. If you want to override that behavior, then you draw up a legal agreement beforehand that will take precedence. If one partner dies, that contract conveys certain privileges to the survivor. If one partner is sick, or disabled, that contract also conveys certain privileges. It’s shorthand for a very complex legal contract between two parties. And, as far as the State is concerned, that’s it.

My marriage, much like yours probably, was also a religious ceremony. We found a pastor who we’d never met before who was willing to marry us on a mountain in Tennessee as part of a complete paid wedding package, and committed to each other before God and our families. That part was important to us as a symbol of our commitment. You know the State’s concern about all of that? They cared whether the pastor was qualified to sign the wedding license. In other words, for the State, we got married by a special kind of Notary Public. We could have been married by the Pope in Times Square, or an atheist ship captain on a gambling cruise, and the State would have been good with it.

Why do we continue to act like the religious part has anything to do with the legal part? The marriage you have right now, to the State, is a recognized form of civil union, certified by that license, recorded in a courthouse somewhere. You can have all of the religious ceremony you want, and all the faith in the world, and if you don’t get that license, you’ll only be legally married by coincidence after you fall under common law.

If keeping a particular religious belief about marriage and the legal definition of marriage synced is so important, I’m wondering why we don’t seem to pay much attention to these milestones and what they could be linked to as far as legal status:

  • Christening
  • Bar Mitzvah
  • Immersion baptism
  • Church membership

Perhaps legal personhood? Voting? Driving? Drinking age? Heck, at least one or two of those have often been required for full rights — such as they were — in various places in various times. (I grew up a fundamentalist country Baptist. You know what we liked? Separation of church and state, because we were suspicious of the State and anyone who wanted to gain power through it. A bunch of years being killed by the various State Churches after the Reformation kind of guaranteed that reaction.)

So, my preference? We start treating the State part like what it is, a civil contract between consenting adults. Not part of our religion…I suspect there are some sects out there that have a problem with the idea of my marriage. (Heck, to a couple of guys who were wandering around the neighborhood the other day, I’m going to Hell because I’m a Baptist, so I doubt being yoked to a Presbyterian would make them happy — and I’d sure hate for them to start trying to impose that through the state.) We can all have our religious parts, and continue gossiping about the quality of other’s unions and the states of their souls, but for the State, I do not want to start restricting the kinds of private contracts into which consenting adults can enter. Particularly not the kind of contract that conveys rights helpful to stability, care, and companionship.

Before you mention it, yep, that would apply to groups of more than two people as well. I get your slippery slope argument, and still say free agreements between individuals are still very seldom going to be my business or yours. My reluctance there is the fact that our body of law and precedence actually doesn’t have much to say about dissolving those unions, or priority of rights amongst the individuals in the case of sickness, death, and children. But to pretend, like one of our illustrious state representatives, that we don’t know how to divorce two gay people married in other states? Really? We divorce couples every day without asking if either of them has a penis.

So, if any of this sounded right to you, go out and vote against Amendment One on May 8th. Or before. Early voting, you know.

Further details:
Carolina Review: Conservatives, Vote Against the NC Marriage Amendment

The News & Observer: Leading NC conservative opposes marriage amendment

Charlotte Observer: N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis: Gay marriage ban likely to be reversed

Update: Further articles on the topic, better said than I am able.

Mike Munger: Federalist Society Debate

Chris Knight: I’m Christian. I’m called “conservative”. I’m not voting for Amendment One.

By the way, Chris’s mention of Ron Baity surprised me, since I didn’t realize he is as involved in Amendment One as he apparently is. The only thing I have to say is that, if I find myself on the same side of any issue as Dr. Baity nowadays, I take that as a warning sign I might need to reexamine my opinion.