But marriage, it soon becomes evident, is no single thing. The institution of marriage houses and supports several distinct aspects of human life: sexual relations, friendship and companionship, love, conversation, procreation and child-rearing, mutual responsibility. (We have always granted marriage licenses to sterile people, people too old to have children, irresponsible people, and people incapable of love and friendship.
Impotence, lack of interest in sex, and refusal to allow intercourse may count as grounds for divorce, but they don’t preclude marriage.) Marriages can exist even in cases where none of these is present, though such marriages are probably unhappy.
Being able to make it, and to make it freely (not under duress) is taken to be definitive of adult human freedom.
The statement made by the marrying couple is usually seen as involving an answering statement on the part of society: we declare our love and commitment, and society, in response, recognizes and dignifies that commitment. For many people, a marriage is not complete unless it has been solemnized by the relevant authorities in their religion, according to the rules of the religion.
Given all this, it seems odd to suggest that in marrying people the state affirmatively expresses its approval or confers dignity.
There is indeed something odd about the mixture of casualness and solemnity with which the state behaves as a marrying agent.Analyzing this issue will help us understand what is happening in our country, and where we might go from here.Before we approach the issue of same-sex marriage, we must define marriage.To get this privileged treatment under law people do not have to show that they are good people.Convicted felons, divorced parents who fail to pay child support, people with a record of domestic violence or emotional abuse, delinquent taxpayers, drug abusers, rapists, murderers, racists, anti-Semites, other bigots, all can marry if they choose, and indeed are held to have a fundamental constitutional right to do so—so long as they want to marry someone of the opposite sex.Although some religions urge premarital counseling and refuse to marry people who seem ill-prepared for marriage, the state does not turn such people away.The most casual whim may become a marriage with no impediment but for the time it takes to get a license.The keys to the kingdom of the married might have been held only by private citizens—religious bodies and their leaders, families, other parts of civil society.So it has been in many societies throughout history.Finally, the debate is not about the religious aspects of marriage.Most of the major religions have their own internal debates, frequently heated, over the status of same-sex unions.