In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

G.K. Chesterton

A while back I made a post about marriage and the relevance of children to it.  It was a bit of a rough sketch, but I thought the essence was enough to allow people to draw the relevant consequent connections that arise from the general rule that children should be raised by their natural parents.

However, over at Wadders’, The Stigler made a post in response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invocation of the concept:

So, presumably the Archbishop is going to object to Angelina Jolie’s marriage, then? Which is going to take place around the same time as her hysterectomy. Or post-menopausal little old ladies getting married to old gentlemen.

There are many things I find objectionable about Angelina Jolie, but her upcoming marriage is not one of them.  Nor do I believe that geriatric marriage undermines the parenting paradigm.

To understand why, let’s delve a little deeper into the core question at the heart of all this: Why does the state care at all?  Why does government favour some people over others?  Because in essence that’s what marriage does in a civil sense.  It privileges those who enter into it over those who don’t.  Note that the principle of privileging married couples does not prevent others from arranging their own households however they see fit.  They simply aren’t privileged above others due to making those arrangements.  Not being privileged is not the same as being oppressed.

Of course, it certainly matters what those privileges are.  If those privileges include things that should, in fact, reasonably be expected to be universal, then that is oppression, and must be opposed.  It is the right of the patient, for example, to establish who gets priority of visitation.  Restricting visits to immediate family only while denying the patient visits from those whom, to them, are their immediate family is not an acceptable consequence of marriage law.  Situations like these make a good case for some form of civil/domestic partnership.  What they don’t explain, is why they should only apply to sexual relationships, nor do they make a case for the extension of marriage.  If all the rightful privileges of marriage are not unique then the extension of marriage is in reality its abolition and replacement with something that meets the criteria.

To recap: Why does the state privilege a married heterosexual household arrangement over a non-married one?  over a homosexual one?  over a fraternal/sororital one? over a platonic one? over a monohabitual (single person – although I just made that word up!) one?  The problem with the current debate is that it seeks not to establish whether and which privileges should be unique to marriage, but rather that all privileges currently given to a particular class should be open to another particular class and not others while resolutely not considering this core question.

In Part 2 I’ll go into more detail about this question and how it informs our understanding of what form marriage needs to take to achieve its purpose.