In the ongoing debate about "same-sex marriage" there appears to be little time spent on answering a very basic question: "What is it?" The term is tossed about. It litters the landscape. You will hear about "gay marriage" and "marriage equity" and the like and the arguments will rage around these concepts, but almost no one is asking, "What is it?" I mean, before you can answer what is right or wrong on the question, don't you need to know what the question involves?
Here is the primary question: Who should the government allow to be married? Stop. Wait. The primary question demands clarifying questions. First and most basic, what is this thing called "marriage"? Second and absolutely necessary, why does the government care? If you'd like to buy a gallon of milk, the government isn't going to regulate your milk usage. It doesn't care. If you're going to go next door and shoot your neighbor, it certainly regulates that. It does care. That is, matters that do not affect society are not the government's concern. Maintaining a healthy society is the government's concern.So why would the government have any input on marriage?
The first question you need to answer, then, is what marriage is. Debating whether a man and a woman, a man and a man, a man and a dog, or a wall and a woman can get married would preempt the question. You need to define what you mean by "marriage" before you can answer what's equitable in marriage.
Today there are two prevalent views. The traditional, historical, longstanding definition of marriage is the union of a man and a woman in a permanent commitment to each other with the natural aim of producing and raising children. It is the only definition found in the Bible. It is the only definition found in history (until the last century or less). The more modern, revised version is the union of two people (without regard to gender) who commit to love each other romantically and share life's burdens together. I would suspect that for a large number of people today that's the only definition that springs to mind. Children? Perhaps. Lifetime commitment? Maybe. Man and woman? Well, sure ... but ... maybe not.
Your definition of "marriage", you see, will determine a lot in the questions of "same-sex marriage" and "marriage equity". If you go with the only definition that anyone knew from the start of humanity, "same-sex marriage" is a non sequitur. It isn't "wrong" or "immoral" or "evil"; it simply doesn't make sense, like a "square circle" or a "silent yell". If marriage is "the union of a man and a woman" (for starters), then calling the union of a man and a man or a woman and a woman a "marriage" would be a violation of the definition. You can call it something else, but not a "marriage". And, of course, if that first definition is the definition you're going with, then the question of "marriage equity" also changes. No one is saying that same-sex people can't get "married" when "married" means "the union of a man and a woman". Everyone is given the same right to be involved in that union.
You need, then, to ask yourself what your definition is. You need to get that nailed down first. Most people involved in the debate are not asking that question. Most people are operating on a feeling-level definition without actually looking at the word and what it means. They know how they feel about "marriage", but do they examine what it actually means? Most do not.
In nailing down that definition, then, you may want to consider the other question. What does the government care? Why is civil authority involved in "marriage" (by whatever definition you choose)? If you choose the first, the government would be involved in regulating "the union of a man and a woman in a permanent commitment to each other with the natural aim of producing and raising children" because this is the cornerstone of society. The union is necessary. The permanence is important. The children are fundamental. Government, in order to insure a continued and orderly society, would have a vested interest in unions that produce offspring and the proper care of those offspring. And there really is no doubt whatsoever that a permanent union of a man and a woman as parents of offspring is the best platform for the proper care of that offspring. Thus, government regulation makes sense.
Does it make sense if you go with the new version of marriage? Well, first, the union of "two people" seems random. Why two? Why not more? If the aim is love and sharing burdens together, can't you love more than one and certainly isn't it best to have many hands to share life's burdens? So, why "two"? Second, the new definition has eliminated both any real need for permanence or children. Indeed, the CDC reports that in 2010 nearly 41% of all children were born to unwed mothers. No "union", no "commitment", no "marriage". The USA Today last year reported that the numbers of kids born out of wedlock are increasing, tripling from 2003 to 2010. Something around 80% of first children born to black women were outside of marriage with only 18% of these even cohabiting. For Hispanics the number was 53%. Look, "children" used to go with "mom and dad" like "glove" went with "hand", but no longer. Society as a whole is deciding to intentionally and repeatedly shortchange children to provide no "mother" and "father" let alone any sort of permanent relationship. And we're all aware that permanence is not part of marriage. Again, the CDC reports that, on the whole, something around 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Now, be careful with that. About 41% of first marriages (less than half) end in divorce. From there the numbers go up. Some 60% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. Other factors seem to include such things as the age at which a couple marries (20-24 appears to be the worst at just under 40% while 35-39 is way down below 10%) and their level of education when they marry. Living together increases the likelihood by some 40% and having children decreases the likelihood by 40%. (Think about that when you're defining "marriage" without children.)
Welcome, then, to the new "marriage". What was a lifelong commitment, a genuine union, and aimed necessarily at offspring (requiring, then, a man and a woman) is now a commitment of no time frame without a genuine union with or without children. So I ask why the government would care about regulating that? If this is the new "marriage", then the government should probably just stop. They don't need to regulate something without form or purpose to society like that. They aren't telling you to eat pancakes. Why are they passing laws on who you can be related to? How is it their problem?
My primary aim here is not to prove a point, but to ask questions. What is marriage? If your answer is "We should all be able to marry the person we love," you're not paying attention. Because we can't. We can't marry siblings. We can't marry parents. We can't marry multiple people. We can't marry non-human entities. That answer is naive. You need to ask yourself what marriage is. If it is what is commonly viewed today, then the question of "marriage equity" is pointless. The real question is "Why should the government be involved at all?" If your definition is the new definition, then let them get out of the equation. They're not needed there. But, of course, if your answer is the new definition, then the further question is about social justice, what the children need, proper parenting, the effects of failures of parenting on society as a whole, the increase of the welfare state ... oh, this just gets really, really big. So answering the question "What is marriage?" is essential before you head down the road of demanding government intervention in "marriage equity". There are meanings and there are ramifications. They need to be considered.