Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave a speech at the CPAC gathering where he got a little defensive about his views on marriage equality: “Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot.”
No, probably not to the full extent of bigotry that some of his fellow travelers go to, but that’s not a surprise. But I do want to find out exactly what he means when he talks about marriage in the traditional way. Just exactly what traditions is he talking about?
If he means the biblical traditions, then he’s talking about a man having as many wives as he can afford. He’s talking about marrying off his daughters in a land swap deal, and he’s talking about killing anyone who dares to marry outside of their faith. Those Old Testament folks knew how to get down with marriage.
Those traditions weren’t limited to just the bible. Many cultures around the world saw marriage as a business proposition, pure and simple. The church didn’t really get in on it until they saw that there was money to be made and people to be controlled by turning it into a sacred ritual. So, like the pagan Yuletide festivals and other non-Christian events, they co-opted it, claimed it as their own, and set themselves up as the final source authority on all things matrimonial.
If we’re talking about the traditional marriage where two people fall in love, get married, and go off to their happy future, that’s a relatively new concept in the history of civilization. Most of Shakespeare’s plays that revolve around love are based on the fact that the young lovers are defying the tradition of arranged marriages. That’s where the drama comes in: how dare these children destroy the sacred right of the father to raffle off his daughter. And lest you think that it’s a throwback to Renaissance England for western civilization to think like that, it’s still done today. We just like to make it sound like a match made in heaven, not in the board room. (I still remember wrestling to get into my tux to go to the Junior Cotillion in high school where I was displayed, along with all my friends, as the cream of the eligible young bachelors looking to make the next generation of the 1%. Hmm. Didn’t go as planned.)
The true traditional marriage is where two people fall in love and decide to commit themselves to each other to share a life of mutual responsibility and respect, and promising to do so with a state-sanctioned contract: a marriage license. (The goal is not necessarily procreation: we have plenty of examples where that happens without benefit of the state intervention.) In exchange for this promise of implied stability — and a reliable source of tax revenue — the state has agreed to provide those who enter into this contract with certain benefits that they wouldn’t get if they were just shacking up: tax breaks, survivors benefits, even something as simple and humane as hospital visitation rights. It can limit a contract to the number of people in it, thereby preventing the more adventurous from having multiple spouses. (That’s a discussion for another post.) But it should not define marriage by specifying the genitalia of the parties to a contract and deciding what they can or cannot do with them any more than it can limit the contract to people with the same color of skin. It is fundamentally unjust to limit a contract based solely on an innate quality of the participant. To quote the immortal Shakespeare, “Love looks not with the eye but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”
Mr. Rubio’s definition of traditional marriage is rooted in his faith and culture. That’s great; I’m delighted that he’s found happiness and comfort in it. But neither he nor the state has the right to dictate to other people of other faiths and cultures what their idea of tradition should be. That does make you a bigot, Senator.