Speak Out Against Single-ism, Or, What If We Had a Wedding and No One Came?


The California Supreme Court has 86 days and counting to rule on the Proposition 8 debacle. As Senior Editor Jacob Sullum noted on Friday, most observers expect the court will try to make everyone happy (or just equally upset) by upholding the ban while also declaring that those married before the ban are, indeed, valid spouses.

But what about the one group that has been ignored—even discriminated against—throughout the whole mess: the singles' crowd. What about Bachelor Ben and Eligible Ellen? What about their rights?

There was one person who spoke up for the lonely. That would be Terry J. Allen from (cue the hissing) the left-wing magazine In These Times. In the February issue, she makes quite an interesting argument for turning the whole system on its head. Take it away, you nutty liberal, you:

America's current marriage system, even when it includes same-sex couples, inherently discriminates against millions of people who are not in a sexual relationship. … Ensuring equal rights for all requires relegating or elevating (however you look at it) marriage to the realm of religion. Kind of like christenings, bar mitzvahs and chicken sacrifice.

The state's job, then, would be to assign benefits, if any, to couples, but not to define who can enter into coupledom. There is no rational, as opposed to religious, reason why any two people shouldn't be able to form a civil union that carries the same rights as marriage: to pass on and inherit property, make decisions for the sick, visit inmates and get discounts on Carnival cruises.

The only, proper response to this idea:

Woah indeed, Ted. Woah. In. Deed.

That's right. Ban marriage from the law books, recognize only civil unions, turn black into white. Allen takes her proposal to its logical extreme, and while she sweeps over objections quickly, she makes some decent preemptive strikes:

But really, would the legal right to shared Social Security benefits so excite two heterosexual women that they would turn lesbian? Would allowing two brothers to share medical benefits inspire them to acts of incest?…

Tradition is another bulwark against change. But even traditions that appear carved in stone or mandated by God evolve over time… "Traditional" marriage used to be a business contract between families. It legitimized procreative sex and formalized property and inheritance. It was often polygamous and included child spouses. Men's conjugal rights included rape and the rule of thumb

Allen's proposal—call it "Prop. 6 or 9"—would guarantee legal and human rights to every combination of two (consenting) adults. With the state out of the picture, it would be easier for religious groups and private organizations to discriminate against anyone they damn well please, making it harder for some whinny F.O.D. to sue because his feelings were hurt.

The idea's so crazy it just might work, which means it'll never be taken seriously. Besides, it's a slippery slope, which could lead to unions that are destined to fail.

In a post last month, Sullum gave one thumb up to a op-ed by David Blankenhorn and Reason contributor Jonathan Rauch that proposes a very reasonable policy. Earlier today, Steve Chapman discussed the troubles with Prop. 8 and democracy. More coverage of Prop. 8 and gay marriage here.