Just what is the definition of marriage?
Conservatives have made a lot of hay over the so-called attempt to “re-define” marriage. Marriage between a man and a woman has always been the law of our country, they argue. (Then of course they discovered that wasn’t technically true, which is why 37 states had to pass same-sex marriage bans and why they want to amend the Constitution.) But when pressed to actually define marriage, conservatives ran into trouble.
In Washington State last year, the top court ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was constitutional because “the legislature was entitled to believe that providing that only opposite-sex couples may marry will encourage procreation and child-rearing in a “traditional” nuclear family where children tend to thrive.” They rejected lower court arguments that procreation was not the central, defining element of civil marriage, saying, “marriage is traditionally linked to procreation and survival of the human race.”
Now an enterprising group of Washingtonians, calling themselves the Defense of Marriage Alliance, are attempting to tar conservatives with their own stick by putting an initiative on the ballot to legislate the court’s rulings.
The initiative, which has been accepted by the Washington Secretary of State, would make “procreation a requirement for valid marriage” in the state. It would also “add the phrase, “who are capable of having children with one another” to the legal definition of marriage; require that couples married in Washington file proof of procreation within three years of the date of marriage or have their marriage automatically annulled; require that couples married out of state file proof of procreation within three years of the date of marriage or have their marriage classed as “unrecognized;” establish a process for filing proof of procreation; and make it a criminal act for people in an unrecognized marriage to receive marriage benefits.”
All of these requirements have been advanced either as reasons why same-sex couples are not entitled to marriage or as ways to disadvantage them. They can be found, verbatim, in laws and court rulings from one end of the country to the other. So far, however, they have only been used against same-sex couples, and no one has ever before attempted to hold heterosexuals to their own impossible standards. The hope is that, should the initiatives pass, the Washington court will have to review its own assumptions about what constitutes a civil marriage and strike down the law as unconstitutional. At the very least, the effort will provoke further discussion about what marriage means and create additional awareness of the hardships and indignities faced by committed same-sex couples.