Genderless Marriage: Redefining the Debate

The contending premises in the debate over gay marriage have thus far been "Same sex couples deserve the same rights and recognition as heterosexual couples" versus "Marriage is only between a man and a woman". Essentially, the question has been whether or not to endorse these relationships as valid.

It seems evident now that this somewhat restrictive framing of the argument helped cost California its fleeting glimpse of progress last November, many voters feeling forced to register their approval or disapproval of homosexuality itself -- and understandably confusing moral convictions with their constitutional counterparts.

Subsequently, the national portrait of advocates has been largely oversimplified: gay men and women working to secure their rights. This is in great part what the movement is about, of course, but there is in reality far too diverse a spectrum of proponents working alongside these men and women for everyone to be agglomerated into one demographic. The portrait is, as every family member and heterosexual advocate for gay rights knows (and here I include myself), a gross misrepresentation.

This must change.

If we strip away the layers of debate that obfuscate the fundamental principles in play, we arrive at a simple premise: that legal marriage ought to be blind to gender. No more change in law need be affected beyond the alteration of select pronouns. Marriage is, after all, a legal partnership -- a civil union, if you will -- between two consenting adults of a reasonable age, which receives tangible rights and benefits at the local, state, and federal levels.

The question then becomes: On what basis do we exclude certain persons or arrangements from this institution? After the Iowa Supreme Court overturned the state's ban on same sex marriage, Justice Mark Cady put it simply: "We are firmly convinced that the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important governmental objective." Granting marriage to same sex couples? Yes, but also rendering marriage a genderless institution.

Re-branding the movement as such not only widens its scope, but does so in a way that puts it more squarely in line with the two biggest rights struggles of the twentieth century. These are not just fights for the equal treatment of racial minorities, women, or the LGBT community, but more broadly for our national definition of civil rights. It illuminates all of these as issues that speak to our national character, something in which every citizen has a vested interest - not just those groups who are directly affected by a given piece of legislation or court decision.

Further, calling it genderless marriage changes the focus from demanding new rights be granted, to obliging opponents to explain why they shouldn't already be granted. If no evidence can be shown that same sex couples impede governmental objectives, than the argument is over before it has begun. Tradition, religion, and morality need not even enter the conversation, nor in this instance should matters of anatomy.