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The marriage trap: ‘Small government’ conservatives would like to make all heteros marry

By Megan Carpentier
Monday, April 9, 2012 12:37 EDT
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Among the myriad reasons that LGBT Americans want the right to marry — which includes an end to their second-class status in society and, as Jessica Arnold told me, “People not recognizing that I’m a human being and that I know what it is to love and what I want was offensive” — are the scads of state and federal benefits conferred automatically by the act. Whether it’s a green card for a non-American spouse or Social Security benefits for the surviving partner, it’s estimated that the federal government confers more than 1,100 separate rights on spouses once they marry — unless those spouses are the same gender, in which case they get none. States confer anywhere from a few hundred to over a thousand different additional rights and protections when couples choose to marry — though only states that recognize same sex marriage offer those rights.

In the states that don’t just not recognize same sex marriage but have taken active steps to ban it as part of their constitutions, the situation only gets worse. Many of those states don’t simply deny same sex couples the right to marry the spouses of their choosing, they actively go back over their laws to attempt to restrict anything resembling the rights conferred by marriages. From Virginia’s early efforts to ban any contract “to bestow the privileges and obligations of marriage” to widespread efforts to bar same sex couples from adopting — even in cases of second parent adoptions, in which a second parent petitions to take responsibility for a child — some state politicians don’t just want to bar same sex couples from marriage. They want to bar same sex couples from as much participation in public life as they can use the power of the state to prohibit.

So much for limited government.

And, of course, they are not too concerned with limiting those bans to same sex couples, if doing so will mean they run afoul of gender discrimination bans. That’s clear when looking at a state like North Carolina, where efforts to stamp out any trace of same sex marriage means that any locality or company in the state that recognizes domestic partnerships — including hetero ones — will have to stop doing so. But, as Lila Shapiro of the Huffington Post noted, the conservatives behind the plan have a solution:

Unmarried straight couples living together would also lose any domestic partner benefits they might have if the measure is passed. But they have a potential solution: getting married.

As if 1,100 separate benefits automatically conferred by the federal government if heteros choose to marry weren’t enough to incentivize and subsidize an act that anti-marriage equality conservatives claim is so religious in nature that the right to it should not be extended to people if certain religions object to their relationships?

Although the federal government and various states already offer significant financial incentives to straight people to marry, some still choose not to. And yet some conservatives who claim they want to reduce the size of government and the impact on people’s lives do stuff like authorize the federal government to spend $150 million each year to try to convince people they ought to get married, mostly for The Children — unless they are gay, of course, in which case they shouldn’t be allowed to marry and the second parent ought not be allowed to adopt. And even former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), who has explicitly compared Obama’s presidency to both Mussolini and Hitler because of the Affordable Care Act’s supposed intrusion on people’s personal choices and once compared the legalization of same sex marriage to federal acceptance of pedophilia and “man on dog”, told me last year that he wants to spend more money and effort trying to convince the few hetero hold-outs — and, you know, all those unwed mothers for whom marriage might not be an option, let alone a safe one — to finally tie the knot.

He said during the Dartmouth debate:

You can’t have limited government — you can’t have a wealthy society if the family breaks down, that basic unit of society.

You can’t have limited government if the government does a “bad” job at trying to force people to make the personal choices their elected officials have determined are “better”? From the man who decries Obama’s health care reform legislation — and the individual mandate — as tantamount to fascism? Pushing people to marry is just a teeny bit more intrusive than forcing them to buy health insurance.

But conservative opposition to marriage equality isn’t (and never has been) limited to a homophobic desire to exclude LGBT people from a major social institution and deny them the benefits the federal government has seen fit to confer upon straight people participating in that institution. It’s part of a much larger push to get the government to limit the choices of anyone who doesn’t believe in or live by their particular proscribed moralities — whether it’s opposite sex couples who don’t want to get married, women who don’t believe life begins at conception or that abortion is akin to murder, people who are out and proud or any of the various people who don’t believe sex is strictly for procreation (which includes both plenty of hetero- and LGBT Americans). Social conservatives are out to make all of us subject to their belief systems as a matter of law, since they can’t make us believe in the same things as a matter of choice.

And, of course, they’re more than happy on the one hand to decry mandatory health insurance as a dictatorial, fascist interference with Americans’ lives while declaring choices involving people’s more intimate personal decisions — with whom to have sex, how and when to bear children, with whom to build a life, among others — subject to the discretion of and oversight by the government.

["Shotgun Hillbilly Wedding" on Shutterstock]

Megan Carpentier
Megan Carpentier is the executive editor of Raw Story. She previously served as an associate editor at Talking Points Memo; the editor of news and politics at Air America; an editor at Jezebel.com; and an associate editor at Wonkette. Her published works include pieces for the Washington Post, the Washington Independent, Ms Magazine, RH Reality Check, the Women's Media Center, On the Issues, the New York Press, Bitch and Women's eNews.
 
 
 
 
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