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A Most Modest Proposal

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The news these past few days on the gay marriage front has been, as usual, mixed and muddled. In New York, the state senate rejected a proposal to legalize marriage between two people regardless of sex by a vote of 38 to 24. In Washington, DC, the city council voted initial support to legalize same sex marriage by a vote of 11 to 2. Five states have legalized gay marriage through their legislatures, while states that have put the question to a popular vote as a constitutional amendment have universally seen it defeated.

Supporters of legalization point to the discrimination that denies gays in committed relationships the rights granted to heterosexual couples. Opponents insist that marriage is a status defined as the union of one man and one woman. Supporters counter that a loving relationship is a loving relationship regardless of the sex of the people involved. Opponents argue that legalization would start the country down a slippery slope that would eventually lead to polygamy and who knows what other abomination.

There seems to be a general agreement, however, that same sex couples should have the same general rights and privileges accorded by the government, state as well as federal, to married heterosexuals. This suggests a simple solution. The real problem is not the union of members of the same sex. That is happening, and no one really seems to suggest seriously that it would be possible, in this day and age, to eliminate it, even if there were a majority in support.

The real problem would seem to be marriage.

Let me suggest a modest solution. The one thing needful is not to legalize same sex marriage; the one thing needful is to get rid of marriage. We don't need a defense of marriage. We need an attack on marriage. In an age with a divorce rate between 40 and 50 percent, marriage doesn't seem to be an institution that promises the kind of stability that is necessary to a modern society. Marriage is, after all is said and done, only a word.

There is no marriage in Germany; there is die Ehe. There is no marriage In Portugal; there is casamento. Lord knows what it is in Russia or China, Israel, Egypt or Japan. Even in Spain, Italy and France, although you have something close, you don't have marriage. Why then, must, we in the United States be saddled with it?

Here then is my proposal: let us pass a constitutional amendment outlawing marriage between any of the sexes — same or not so same. Let us create a new kind of union in its stead, a more perfect union, a union open to members of all sexes. Let us endow this union with all the benefits and privileges currently enjoyed by those locked in the wed of marriage. Let us recognize that in the vagaries of human existence, there is little if anything that is lasting and let us make provision for a possible disunion. In short let us create something with all the advantages and disadvantages of what we now call marriage.

But, let's call it something else. Let's call it — well, what's the difference what we call it, just so long as we don't call it marriage.

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About Jack Goodstein

  • Dr Dreadful

    Sounds like a plan, Jack. Good, provocative piece.

    You’re absolutely correct that marriage (at least the ‘divinely-sanctioned’ version – is not recognised on the statute books of many countries. In France, for example, a marriage is only official if you register the partnership at the town hall (at least, this used to be the case). Then, if you wish, you can get it blessed or solemnised by the religious denomination of your choice. But if a church wedding is all you do, you ain’t married in the eyes of the law.

  • roger nowosielski

    So you did not intend it, Jack, as a variation on Jonathan Swift’s theme.

  • Jack Goodstein

    Afraid, I did so intend it. Not everyone got it that way, however.

  • roger nowosielski
  • roger nowosielski

    Personally, I don’t think you can overthrow a concept, such as marriage, by legislation. That’s not how the usage and/or meaning of ordinary language terms change.

  • Dr Dreadful

    As the Académie Française continues to discover, to its chagrin.

  • roger nowosielski

    How’s that?

  • Dr Dreadful

    Well, they’ve been trying frantically to eliminate English incursions into the French language for years. Terms such as le week-end and le parking are lost causes by now, but the latest enemies are tech terms like computer and e-mail. The Académie has decreed that the French coinages ordinateur and courriel must be used instead.

    But everyone ignores them and continues happily using the English words.

  • roger nowosielski

    Such are the vagaries of a natural language. But you can expect nothing else from the French whose chauvinism about their language exceeds none.

    They have good reasons, of course, but still . . .

  • Dr Dreadful

    Of course, there are just as many French words which have made the journey in the opposite direction.

    See my #6 – irony absolutely intended…

  • roger nowosielski

    Of course, the irony hasn’t been lost.

    And a person should consider themselves au courant for mastering such a vocabulary. And I don’t mean “french fries.”

  • Matthew T. Sussman

    It may be time to retire the headline variants of:

    “A Modest Proposal”
    “The Curious Case Of…”
    “An Open Letter To…”
    “How Do You Solve A Problem Like…”
    “Rush Limbaugh Says…”

    Okay, I’m almost done finishing the prototype of my new economical food refuse shredder. It’s called “A Modest Disposal.”

  • roger nowosielski

    That is clever, and I mean it.

  • Dave Nalle

    Matt, I’ve never seen anyone title an article with “Rush Limbaugh Says…”


  • Jeff

    @Dr. Dreadful – Thank you very much for supplying us with our RDA/MDR/LSMFT of irony. As for the French war against mixed language, c’est la vie.

  • FCEtier

    Good luck changing all the laws involved, especially with all the lawyers lobbying for their own interests.
    Did I read correctly that your proposal includes a way out from the beginning? You want to eliminate divorce, too? The legal profession would be all over that regardless of their opinions on the sexes of the participants.

  • Ted

    To the author: If, as you say above, this was supposed to be a satire, what was the purpose of the piece? What are you trying to satirize?

  • Jack Goodstein

    Ted raises an interesting question, which I am going to try not to answer in another essay which I am working on as we comment.

  • Matan

    this was an editor’s pick?