I recently picked up a book called “Excel for Chemists” by E. Joseph Billo.  The book is written for simpletons like myself who use MS Excel but, for one reason or another, haven’t invested the time to become “Power Users”. The book has a chapter on the deconvolution of data.  For those who may not know what this is, it is a technique of extracting individual signals from coincident signals that are overlapped and therefore summed in the detected signal. 

Thinking about this concept of apparent signals as actually consisting of summed components got me to consider how the concept shows up in nonscientific aspects of our lives as well.  In particular, the controversial matters of the evolution of life and the definition of marriage come to mind as separate examples of convoluted “signals”.

One of the more strident voices out there on the topic of marriage is Rep. (R-CO) Marilyn Musgrave.  Musgrave is doggedly pursuing a Marriage Amendment for the US Constitution.  She and her party are concerned that the granting of marriage rights to same sex partners somehow threatens the sanctity and stability of marriage. This issue of same sex marriage is a sure-fire initiator of moral outrage and blowtorch sermonizing by the evangelical Visigoths of the airwaves.

I have heard no public discourse taking into account the fact that in the US, marriage is typically sanctioned under two spheres of influence. Parenthetically, it is along the lines of what Stephen Jay Gould has called “non-overlapping magisteria“. 

(Note: try to ignore for a moment the fact that divorce is the biggest threat to marriage and instead focus on what marriage actually is so we can move forward with this argument.)

Here is the deconvolution part. There are really two domains of marriage- 1) Marriage under the state, and 2) Marriage under the church.  In domain 1) , the state has a compelling interest in regulating marriage in part because it will likely be called on to intervene in the dissolution of the marriage agreement.  The interest of the state is in the disposition of minor children, property, debt, and other aspects of settlement. It is called divorce. Marriage is a type of partnership that almost always entangles others in a community, so the state has imposed its presence in the matter.

In domain 2), the realm of the supernatural interface, women and men are married by exchanging vows in the presence of the community and in plain view of the diety. In the end, as the doctrine goes, persons are accountable only to their creator in regard to their marital conduct on earth. Rules of conduct have been rendered liturgical and passed down through this formalism we call religion.  The dominant religion in the US is obviously Christianity and it is widely interpreted that marriage specifies the union of a woman and a man to be united in a bonding under the all-seeing, unblinking eye of the creator. 

The taxonomy that has shaken out over the millenia is that the term “marriage” has been widely accepted to mean the union of male & female. It conveniently aligns with the biological imperative for reproduction.  Centuries of precedent have made a strong case for a fixed definition of “marriage”.

However, in modern times there is growing interest in sanctioned same-sex pairings. Proponents argue that same sex partners should be accorded the same rights that are taken for granted with partners in conventional marriage. The more politically astute have advanced the term”civil union” and have argued that the state should construct a statutory or constitutional safe harbor. 

In the domain of the state, marriage is a type of partnership not unlike business partnerships.  A civil union can be thought of as a type of partnership, but with spousal rights that might be a bit more far reaching than that found in business.

Use of the term “marriage” when applied to same sex pairing will drive some religious citizens barking mad. Conversely, use of the term “civil union” is cynically dismissed as a transparent ruse to demolish the meaning of marriage by application of a sly semantic subterfuge.

By deconvoluting the problem, we’re left with two domains that historically have input on the issue of same-sex marriage- The state and the church. The states authority is backed by the courts and the penal code for enforcement and punishment.  The church can offer excommunication or other forms of dis-affiliation as earthly punishment and threats of punishment by searing hellfire in the afterlife.  

Conclusion.  At the very best, this is an issue that affects only a small fraction of the population of citizens. I have seen nothing that serves as a tangible threat to married citizens.  While I think that reserving the term “marriage” for opposite sex pairings is justified on the basis of precedent, I do think it is reasonable to codify similar rights and priviledges into an analogous partnership between same sex partners. It would be interesting to see if the Equal Protection clause applies. 

Note: This essay is a work in progress. Like a block of marble where the figure is inside waiting to be found by the artist, the rhetorical form of the point I’m trying to make is still partially buried in the marble. It takes me a while to find the form.  -Th’ Gaussling

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