On Domestic Partnerships,

Civil Unions, and Marriage

 

 

An Essay

by

Jim Michie

 

 

Introduction to the Electronic Version

 

The original version of this essay is collected in a Microsoft Publisher document, which many people might not be able to view on their computers. I have modified the format to suit the limitations of the Web. There are no page breaks.

As you can see from the bottom of this page, the essay is protected by copyright, but feel free to disseminate it in its printed or electronic form to others as long as it is given freely, which was the spirit in which it was written.

 

Copyright © 2005 and 2012 by James C. Michie

 

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Door Into Summer Press

Waves, North Carolina, USA

mail@jimmichie.com

 

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Socially Defined Unions and Commitments

Mankind has seen an unending change in societal rules throughout all of history. There have been matriarchal societies as well as patriarchal societies. There have been societies where the roles of males and females were roughly equivalent in authority and those where women were little more than slaves. There have been societies where open displays of sexual activity were encouraged and those where sexual activity was reserved strictly for the purpose of procreation. There have been societies where the bodily mutilation of children was a ritualized mode of social acceptance and those that found any physical alteration of the body abhorrent. In short, acceptable social behavior and rules are as mutable as the imaginations that led to their adoption.

The Early American Experience

The American colonies were assembled with a large influx of fundamental Christian groups that were as ideal for the rugged life of the frontier as they were a thorn in the side of European society. These societal groups were really tightly controlled mini-theocracies that were very communistic in their early agrarian forms. While their sense of community and the sharing of both work and the fruits of that work were essential for survival in the New World, they also brought a boatload of societal rules that plagues us even today. These religious groups were strong patriarchies and these rules evolved primarily to subjugate the female to a role of child bearing and drudgery bordering on slavery. The authority for the imposition of these rules was found in the Word of God.

If one disregards the individual members of these groups, it can be said that they did well in the New World, that is they prospered as groups, particularly when the economy stayed closely tuned to agronomy and when they comprised the entire societal body. As larger communities formed and industry and commerce began, they had difficulty fitting their rules into the demands of this new and more robust society. Nevertheless, their influence on societal rules was large, from the wording of the Constitution to the incorporation into common law of many of their religious interpretations for moral behavior.

All of the early religious groups of significance in America were patriarchal and monogamous, unlike many of the societies of the Bible on which they supposedly relied for their guidance. Of course, the natives of America were a curious mix of monogamy and polygamy (another reason to consider them expendable savages), and we solved that problem by one of the worst genocides in the history of mankind. Then the Mormon Church came along wanting to include the polygamy of the Old Testament as part of their societal rules, and we drove them into the wilderness of Utah. So while the Constitution was framed based on the concepts of human rights adopted from the European enlightenment (although frequently worded in Christian phraseology for primarily political reasons), the people weren’t all that tolerant. If you were both white and Christian, you were accepted. If you were black, brown, yellow, or red, or if you had non-Christian or no religious beliefs, you were a heathen—deserving of no respect and few human rights.

The Legacy That Survived

From all of this early and now ingrained moral piety we have inherited both moral strictures and common law which still asserts that the primary function of sexuality is procreation, that the rightful place of women is subservience to men, that marriage is a bonding by God of a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation and subsequent nurture of the family (primarily by the woman), and so on. But as usual, society marches on, and the demands of newly morphed societies are rarely identical to those of the past.

We now have a society where some recognition of the reality of, and even tolerance for, homosexuality is beginning to take root. Paradoxically, we have even legislated some of this tolerance at the national level, while many states are still enforcing laws put in place in our Puritan past. We are still prosecuting polygamists in Utah (or killing them in shoot-outs with the law). We are still withholding the legal and social rights of those in social unions that do not meet the criteria of our Puritan Christian origins. Societal change is relentless and as inevitable as taxes, but it is never easy.

Definitions

So let’s examine the concept of unions and life commitments. First of all let me say that what we need in this country, and indeed in the whole world, is a more realistic approach to socially necessary relationships—no matter what you call them. And what we call them should be as neutral a phrase as possible, because what we don’t need is the historical, social, and religious baggage that goes along with most of the current descriptors. That baggage is so out of touch with social reality as to be meaningless if viewed with logic and not dogma.

Second, I would like to make it clear that I have no interest in religiously defined relationships as they should not be allowed as legally binding in this country, which is dedicated to the separation of church and state. Religion and religious relationships are a matter of personal choice, and all citizens should be allowed to engage in such choices as they see fit. I am interested in defining social relationships that are essential to the ordered conduct of our society and the continuing social evolution of our specie.

Third, I would like to make it clear that I will not make any effort at euphemisms and politically correct phrases, as it is a monumental waste of time and a linguistic trap for essayists who fall into it. Instead, I will employ phrases that are as accurate and neutral as possible. Consequently, I have chosen to use the phrase “social union” when talking about formalized personal, social, and familial commitments that may be made by adult citizens.

Defining the social union is probably easier if we first define what it is not. It is not a union granted by God, that’s a different issue altogether, even though it is an issue at the root of the problem plaguing us today in America. At its minimum, a social union today is any domestic partnership of two consenting adults of any sex that provides a legally contractual basis for the sharing of common property. At its maximum, it is a union that, beyond the personal reasons of convenience and expression of care and mutual responsibility, provides a legally contractual basis for the sharing of common property among consulting adults and a guarantee of additional rights and benefits our society provides to encourage the formation of such a group entity.

A minimum social union is available in only a few states at the moment, but it is inescapable in many states where common law provides precedence for dealing with common property that has been shared in a domestic relationship by any parties, regardless of sex or even number. Such is the beauty of common law where societal practicality demands solutions of real problems and thereby sets the stage for change of the more idealistic rules of society, bringing them ultimately more in line with reality.

Only a few states have managed to pass homosexual marriage legislation, and that legislation has frequently been struck-down by the courts or rescinded or might soon become struck-down or rescinded. Federal mandates bringing any type of social unions other than those with the legal name of “marriage” to the level of rights and benefits traditionally bestowed upon such a legal marriage have not yet been enacted, but should be as transitions to the more rational proposals for social unions in this essay.

Consequently, the only consistently available maximum social union in America today is called marriage, and this is defined (with few exceptions) as the union of one male and one female consenting adult in a domestic relationship. This union provides for the legal disposition of common property, the legal assumption of responsibility by one party in matters of physical emergency to the other party, and legal entitlement to financial and other benefits legislated (local, state, and federal) for those in the social union of marriage (no religious ceremony is required.)

Of course, many of these marriages include unacknowledged or unrecognized bisexual or even homosexual members, but the law seems to ignore this fact even when it becomes known. That is, the actual sexuality of the participants is disregarded as long as the union is between a male and a female. Does this defy all logic? Yes!

Cachet and Shortfall

So it could be said that the law of the land guarantees civil rights to all citizens but allows this guarantee to be eroded by arcane laws lingering from our Puritan past. It allows one kind of social union but essentially denies all others. It accepts the reality of homosexuality when it is convenient but denies it when it conflicts with our Puritan sense of societal rules. Then again, this is quite consistent with a society that is comfortable, even intimate, with hypocrisy.

It is obvious that the word “marriage” has the cachet of social acceptability for consenting adults in a domestic, sexual, and familial relationship. It gained this social acceptability because it served the survival of early patriarchal and sexist societies by ensuring that one of the parties (mostly the man) would not shirk his nurturing responsibilities and thereby add to the general burden of the society at large. To make this contract even stronger, we added the sanctity of God (or the Gods, in some societies,) and no matter how hard we godless try, the married in the eyes of God tradition will not just roll over—not as long as the truly religious and the hypocritically religious retain a majority in the electorate. Consequently, the term “marriage” carries the baggage of sexual and religious prejudice and social injustice of those early societies that makes its continued use more than it is worth to those citizens previously and currently being denied their equal rights in today’s society.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (thank you, Will). So why bother with trying to call all forms of social union marriage? To do so is to uselessly burden the new forms of social union with the social and religious baggage of the past. What we need are new forms of social union that will transcend the antiquated concepts inherent in the traditional social union of marriage, forms that will serve the original purposes but do it in the very different society of today.

Necessity for Change

Death of the old definition of the family unit was preordained with the emancipation of the woman in Western society. A key to which was the science of practical birth control, which succeeded in freeing many women from the tyranny of childbirth demanded by the then accepted rules of society. For all of the hoopla created on the patriarchal side of society (like wars) the family has always been matriarchal at its core. The physical and the psychological care of the family’s children have been overwhelmingly left to the women. The teaching of societal rules and the transfer of values to the children has been predominantly accomplished by the women.

Social freedom for women simultaneously started us down the road to the current economic reality of the two income household and the restructuring of sexual morays. Since this has consequently doomed the old concept of family, did we do the wrong thing by giving women their freedom? Absolutely not. To think so is the same as believing that doing away with slavery in this country was wrong because it caused an upheaval in the economic structure of the South. We did both because it was the right thing to do—because it fit the basic precepts of our society to provide equality and opportunity for all, not just some.

The simple fact is that the functioning of the family unit in our society is failing to provide the benefits it was designed to produce. The nurturing of the children has too frequently been given over to caretakers of either choice (one or more of the parents pays for it) or necessity (the state pays for it). The passing on of values (if the parents have any) has been given over to the media. Knowledge of and adherence to the rules of acceptable social behavior are no longer passed on by the nurturing family, causing a breakdown in civil society and the virtual destruction of the national education system as we dilute the ability of our nations schools to teach by forcing them to spend most of their efforts on social services.

Today’s Realities

Except for adoption, the only way of securing progeny was, until modern times, strictly a matter of male and female copulation to produce offspring. This is no longer true. Artificial insemination negates the need for a male’s presence in fertilizing the egg of the female. In vitro fertilization negates the need for either sex to be present at the time of fertilization. In the future, cloning (yes, the Puritanistic restrictions will eventually fade on this issue as well) will make it possible for either sex to procreate without any participation from the other. In the farther future, we can expect artificial wombs that would put even the women out of the equation.

Add to this scientific reality the social reality that Western cultures are well down the road in providing equal economic opportunity to women, and even providing special benefits to them in regard to familial responsibilities, regardless of marital status. This fact alone allows society’s need for familial nurturing to be fulfilled by sources other than the traditional male-female social union. When coupled with the varied ways in which a family group can now be created, it makes socially practical sense to move on with formulating new modes of social union that will more completely fill our needs.

Beyond Equality

It’s time for us to consider new forms of social union, not just to provide equality and an opportunity to pursue happiness that is now being denied to a significant number of the electorate, but also because we need a solid answer to the disintegration of the family unit. We need a practical way to provide food, shelter, protection, guidance, and compassion for children that still works in the new realities of our society.

We need a nationally recognized, non-religious, social union that allows the domestic partnership of both heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals, and that is flexible enough to allow domestic partnerships of any type and size of mixed group that is capable of providing a stable and nurturing environment for children (thank you Mr. Heinlein). While doing this, we need to take that opportunity to excise the whole concept of “married in the eyes of God” from government at all levels as called for by the separation of church and state language in our constitution. Hopefully, some group like the ACLU will take this currently illegal coupling to a rational rather than political (one would hope) Supreme Court. Thus, the state of marriage and the state of social union would be two totally separate entities, with social unions being the only legal vehicle for all levels of government and marriage and its strictures to the choice of the parties’ religious faith, if at all.

To sum it up, social unions of all types should only be matters of convenience, expressions of caring and mutual responsibility, and environments for the nurturing of children. The first two items are personal matters of individual freedom. Only the last item is of any concern to the state and only then when it fails to function properly and increases the burden of the state.

Out of the belief that a state of marriage would offer adequate nurturing for children (which it did for a long time but not so much today,) the state has granted certain economic and social concessions to such a social union in order to reduce the risk to the state of having to assume these duties. Clearly, these concessions should be equally available to all social unions creating such risk lowering environments or the state should rescind these concessions. In either case, the state should utilize science (currently DNA matching) to assure that ALL parents bear as much of the financial responsibility (since there is no practical way to enforce social responsibility) for their progeny as possible and use other scientific advances to lower the reality of the millions of children being born each year into environments without adequate nurture—but that’s another, and even more controversial essay.

Finally

For those citizens that desire a domestic, sexual, and familial union sanctioned by the government for whatever benefits that might provide, there should be a nationally recognized social union. For those citizens that desire a domestic, sexual, and familial union sanctioned by their chosen religious faith for whatever benefits that might provide and have been denied it, that is a tragedy of religious hypocrisy for which they must seek resolution within their faith. As for the term “marriage,” who needs its sexist connotations in a society finally freeing itself of such stupidities? Let the religious extremists have it along with all of its baggage and their other hypocrisies.

 

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