Every year when I go to file my taxes as a proud resident of the state of Kansas I am asked at the end of the process whether I might be eligible for any of a number of tax credits. It seems like I remember there being a credit for plugging a well or improving a swine facility. I also seem to remember something about soybeans. There was some kind of a credit for raising soybeans. Now you might wonder, “Why soybeans and not wheat?” The answer is, “I don’t know.” Maybe we have all the wheat we can handle in Kansas and what we really need are soybeans. Maybe soybeans are endangered. I don’t know the exact reason, but for some reason the state of Kansas has chosen to offer an incentive for those who grow soybeans…or plug wells.
Things may be different in your state, but there are probably some kind of tax credits for engaging in various activities. By creating tax credits for some things and not others, what the government has done is to create what we call an “incentive.” In my personal opinion, I don’t actually like the way this whole tax system works, but that’s another story. For the most part, people seem to be fine with tax credits and creating incentives to do certain things.
Now suppose that people in Kansas who improve cattle facilities get upset there is only a tax credit for improving swine facilities. What if the well diggers get jealous of the well pluggers and their tax credit? What if corn growers get so upset that they occupy the statehouse in Topeka demanding the same tax credit the soybean farmers get? In a democracy like ours they are all free to make their request known.
Now, suppose that in the name of “equality” and “fairness” the legislature agreed with the corn farmers that it wasn’t fair that the soybean farmers get a tax credit and they don’t, so they add corn growing to the soybean credit. Now the wheat farmers are in shock and demand equal treatment, so the wheat farmers get bundled in with the rest. Eventually there are alfalfa riots and milo demonstrations…and the result is that they too get added into the soybean tax credit in the name of “equality.”
What is the result of all this? What happens to the original “soybean credit?” One might argue that the soybean farmers still get their credit, so why should they care if corn and wheat and other farmers are included. What should be obvious here is that if everything is “incentivized” then nothing is. There was a reason people were choosing corn all on their own and some “incentive” was needed to choose soybeans. If the soybean credit is now open to anyone, even if they don’t grow soybeans, then while it may be true that everyone is now “equal,” it’s also true that what was once a soybean credit is now completely meaningless.
While things seem to be fairly quiet on the soybean front in Kansas, something analogous to the situation just described is raising quite a debate concerning the civil aspects of the institution of marriage. For over 5000 years cultures have found it advantageous to try to ensure that when men and women engage with each other in the act of reproduction that they do so only when they are permanently committed to each other and to the children that could result from their activity. We have traditionally used the word “marriage” to describe this stable family structure.
What we are seeing now with the debate regarding so-called “gay marriage” is something very similar to the corn farmers demanding a soybean credit in the name of equality. Notice that a soybean credit doesn’t say anything negative about corn growers; it simply says that the people of Kansas have voted that the state has a reason to incentivize soybeans. In the case of Kansas I don’t know exactly what that reason was, but in the case of marriage we do know the reason.
The state has an interest in opposite sex couples engaging in reproductive behavior because children may result from this activity. If the mother and father are not stably committed to each other, then ultimately the state could become responsible for those children.
Now obviously we rightly understand marriage to be much more than this, but as far as the state’s interest, that there is what it’s about. Note that the state has absolutely no interest in who loves whom or even in the notion of love…and that’s a very good thing! Do you really want the government deciding what constitutes love and who is sufficiently attracted to whom? It’s none of their business. What is the state’s business is making sure that children are raised by their mom and dad whenever possible.
Sadly, most of the debate surrounding gay marriage is not focused on children at all; it’s focused on the desires and “rights” of adults. Proponents of gay marriage claim that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment means that two people of the same sex should have the same “right” to marry that a man and a woman do. This is like corn farmers claiming they should have a right to a soybean credit. And you know what? I actually do think that corn farmers should have a right to the soybean credit.
I think corn farmers should have a right to a soybean credit the same way I think that gay people should have the right to marry. There’s just one requirement. If you want the soybean credit, you have to raise soybeans. You don’t get to redefine the soybean credit to include those who raise corn. Kansas doesn’t want corn; we want soybeans. If you’re gay and want to get married, you have the right to get married. There’s just one requirement. You have to choose to engage in marriage, not redefine marriage to include what you want it to be.
Maybe the corn farmers protest that they don’t want to raise soybeans. They just have no desire for soybeans. Raising corn is what makes them happy. That’s fine, but don’t expect a soybean credit. I’m not particularly attracted to well-plugging, swine, or their facilities, but I don’t go around complaining that I’m being discriminated against because I don’t get those tax credits. Maybe you think there should be a tax break for two people in a same-sex relationship. Fine. Go out and convince people. Demonstrate to all your fellow citizens why the state should incentivize people to engage in homosexual activity. If the corn growers convince enough people, then next year on my taxes there will be a corn credit right next to the soybean credit. That’s how democracy works.
Obviously all analogies limp, and here’s the most important point where the agricultural references just can’t cut it: Marriage exists apart from any civil laws whatsoever. The state does not create marriage by its laws; it can only try to regulate something that exists already on its own. If the state tells a man and a woman that they can’t get married, they can still get married. If the state tells a married couple that they are no longer married, they’re still married. And if the state tells two people of the same sex that they are married, they are still not married.
If the state, and really all of us, continue to pretend that marriage means anything that we want it to mean, then ultimately the word “marriage” will be meaningless. In some way, we are only able to have a debate about gay marriage because this has already happened in large part. It was sad to listen to the solicitor general from Michigan try to explain to the Supreme Court that marriage is supposed to be about children. He almost got laughed out of the room by the liberal justices. Similarly, the state supposedly has an interest in permanence in marriage and yet we allow no-fault divorce.
Yes, to some extent our civil notion of marriage is already meaningless. But why choose to go further down this path? To be clear, homosexuals are not responsible for the sad state of marriage today; heterosexuals are. We’ve reduced marriage down to a relationship of convenience between two consenting adults who consent only to mutually pleasure each other in sterile acts of intimacy for as long as it pleases them. If we call this marriage, it’s no wonder that gay people ask why they can’t do this too. Rather than continuing charging blindly ahead, why not instead see this as a chance to face just how far we’ve fallen. Rather than legalizing gay marriage, why don’t we outlaw no-fault divorce? Why don’t we try to back the train up from the cliff?
The real meaning of marriage exists apart from any civil definitions. No matter what the Supreme Court does, the truth about marriage will not change. Men and women willing to sacrifice their own desires for the good of their family will still get married. What’s really at stake here is whether we as a country still see the value in what marriage really means or whether we will continue to play with words and definitions to fit our own desires until our language is completely separated from truth and the word “marriage” is meaningless.