Current generation has seen too much divorce (especially as divorce became accessible and popular during their parents' generation) and therefore has some sympathy for gays wanting to get married; a sort of "I wish our parents had cared that much" sort of thing.
Marriage has been the relocation of a woman from her father's realm of responsibility, liability, and care to her new husband's. The home is a structure of responsibility, and the woman must leave her home to join a new one. A young man must create his own, become a host for a woman and children. Marriages included the paying of fees as part of the transfer, almost like a transfer of ownership. Women never because their own heads of household, never fully responsible for themselves -- like children, they simply moved from one guardian, one caretaker, to another.
Marriage is seen as useful to society in that (not that long ago) men were the caretakers of women; they were expected to feed and clothe them. Marriage kept women from becoming a state problem; welfare was not needed if women will just go ahead and join a self-sustaining home. So long as everyone belonged to a family unit (and everyone always did, by keeping daughters around until wed) then everyone was self-sufficient. Handy.
When parents are refused benefits (particularly because of non-marriage), children suffer from reduced resources. Is that reason enough to give them benefits? That logic requires laws to be made based on end-benefits: while that seems to often be the case (people are short-sighted and goal-oriented), I still disagree with it.
The ketubah is an ancient jewish marriage contract, still present today. It is specifically a contract. This notion of marriage as something more than contract is rather new, not old as some claim.
You haven't even been able to pick your marriage partner for all that long, culturally. How can we regard what we have today as a direct legacy of old marriages which were arranged, forced, bought, etc.? Or some, say, eastern-european cultures in which you went out and "found" a wife for yourself, more or less by raping her? It seems entirely different, except for the "man, woman, sex" concept.
Governments have a bad habit of deciding that you're married for you; in Australia, leaving a toothbrush at a girl's house could get you married, for example. Is this just an extension of oral contracts, or something more dangerous? It's one thing to defend a woman (or man) who was lured into bed on false pretenses -- but ... isn't it up to citizens to not be stupid?
Our federal-level sense of importance of marriage derives from the colonial idea that a marriage will naturally educate children to become useful citizens (and particularly, to become usefully patriotic), but assumes a very particular type of marriage that isn't necessarily the case. That is, marriage itself does not result in perfectly-pre-brainwashed citizens. Regardless, should we have this structure semi-imposed on us because someone thought a long time ago that it would naturally result in something useful to us in general? (But is that any different from capitalism?) (Again, we like to impose our idea of "useful", "proper", or "ideal" on everyone else.)
Shotgun marriages make sense from the perspective of the daughter's father: you want the daughter and her new child to be gone from your responsibility, into that of some other guy. Let him deal with the extra cost of a child. And you want to send a message to every guy out there -- that he'll have to pay for sex, one way or another.
Traditional marriage died with no-fault divorce laws (1970's?) In fact, the government retroactively changed the terms of existing marriages to allow for no-fault divorce, even among people who had not agreed to it. Shouldn't that have voided the marriages, as the contract no longer represented the agreement of the parties involved? What right does the government have to do such a thing? How would you feel about the government simply changing the terms of your agreement with someone else, when neither of you have requested (nor desired) a change?
Marriage contracts, unlike other contracts, seemingly become unenforced/unenforceable when you cross state lines if the local government doesn't think you're married according to their own laws. Just because your contract is deemed to be a "marriage" contract means that it may be re-evaluated in a local context to see if it matches the local sense of marriage; if not, it is not valid at all. "Full faith" doesn't apply to, say, common-law marriages, civil unions, oral contracts between gays, etc. These are contracts, but because they carry the title of "marriage contract", they are at the mercy of the government's whims -- in defining their effect as well as who can contract.
By disallowing gay marriage, we do not disallow the gay "lifestyle", we simply make it less pleasant. But we do define a whole class of contracts that cannot be made, when we have few such restrictions on the whole (not when unable to consent, not when someone gets nothing out of it, not when someone doesn't understand, not when it involves doing something illegal, etc.) You don't see the government saying that a car can only be sold from a person of one gender to a person of a different gender, do you? Actually, we have a lot of such cases ... we disallow prostitution (or "sex work") even though it's the consensual agreement between a service-provider and a service-customer. Heck, we disallow the sale of drugs on the basis that you will harm yourself by taking the drugs -- but we don't disallow the sales of knives, guns, or medicine?
How does gay marriage cheapen existing marriages? Why do people feel this way? Isn't divorce a worse cheapener? Shouldn't it be a much greater concern? How many people will gay marriage affect? Will the marriage of a few hundred couples per state bring about a downfall of society not already initiated otherwise? Does the slippery slope even matter? If gays want to marry because they actually love each other and simply want to have the same type of loving relationship you have come to assume for yourself, doesn't it strengthen marriage (as an institution) to allow people to get married who want to be married, and encourage people who don't want to get married to not get married?
Catholic canon requires that you marry only if you are not impotent; it requires that you be "open to childbearing", that is, not opposed. Children are a big part of marriage in catholicism; if you do not want them, do not bother marrying.
Marriage is very imprecisely defined. Even Bush's last round defines it by exclusion: it must be something between a man and a woman. That doesn't say what it is, it only says what it is not. Families believing you're not married unless a church is involved, others caring more about the government being involved; some require clergy, some think witnesses are needed ... but what is it? Common property? Responsibility for children? What about the marriage is it that defines it as such? Or is it any "union" (without attached meaning) between two people and observed by society? In Colorado, you don't need witnesses, nor clergy; you fill out a form and have it recorded in the log for future reference should there be any issue over whether or not it happened. Different states define the rules and benefits of marriage differently, such that what you agreed to varies by where you are?
Laura seems to think that marriage requires clergy (rather than government); but it seems like a throwback to Catholic rule, where the clergy were required in order to talk to God, to really communicate with him. What of the priesthood of the believer, of the ability of individuals to directly communicate with God without the help of clergy? Why do we need a priest or minister or pastor or what-have-you present to make things official in the eyes of God?
Marriage is easily foiled; a prenuptial contract could void most (or all) automatic clauses of the marriage, but still get you benefits. Partners need not ever see each other again. The structure, the effect of marriage is not there, but the paper is, and that's enough. [See article on callbacks.]
Marriage is oft defined as a "socially-sanctioned" act; that is, it is a public act, not a private one. It's got more to do with the outside world than the (usually) two people involved. Why? What?
If we assume that marriage is about making a promise that someone else (God, or society, or both -- you get to pick which one you think people are doing) will hold you to, shouldn't we have to make all promises publicly? Shouldn't we require a witness when signing any contract? Are we such a sick society that we can't trust someone's word without a written, signed, notaried, witnessed contract with society as its guarantor? Do you really want to spend your life with someone you can't trust to stay true to his or her own word without the full weight of society and god on his or her back?
If a marriage is a contract before God (not society?), why do so many people not seem to be bothered by having a no-fault divorce because they just don't feel like being together anymore? (Have we lost the desire to force people to deal with their problems? Did it just never work out as planned, such that they would just have bad marriages rather than make the marriage work? At least now they can be happy, or something like it.)
Gary Chapman, "covenant marriage" as more than a contract -- a promise to self to do everything in one's power to make the other person happy, to make things work. Not a promise to the other person, not something they can sue you for not doing, but something you (both) promise yourselves.
As nice as it is to say that marriage is more than the contract, this doesn't chagne the outward-facing aspect of the marriage, the aspect that the rest of us care about. Whether or not you and your wife have a covenant marriage in which you've both sworn to yourselves to go above and beyond -- that's not useful to us when we have to deal with your relationship. If we have to intervene for any reason, it's going to be based on the contract you have, to settle a dispute. If there's no dispute, we have no business caring what your relationship is. So a covenant marriage is a great idea, a great thing -- but it's not something that applies, that is visible in the greater societal realm. It's a personal thing.
My dad says marriage is about committment. My mom says it's also about telling other people (just telling her is insufficient, but having a piece of paper recorded at the county is plenty?) They disagree, apparently, on the exact definition. Most people do. The most we can come up with is Bush's "marriage is between a man and a woman" (excludes any non-humans, any man/man or woman/woman relationships, and polygamy or polyginy or poly anything.) If we can only define through exclusion, we're not doing a good job. Benefits? Property? "Forever"? Love? What is marriage about, that we are so bad at defining it? It even varies by state, can be modified by contract, exists by common-law ... It's just a terrible mess.
In other words ... before you get married, and before you tell anyone to get married, you should really think about what marriage is. This is a public thing, apparently -- concensus matters. This isn't just about "deciding in your heart" what you think it means to you.
Canada, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands ... they're not lacking in religious fervor either. Particularly Spain. But their politicians seem to understand that there's a difference between what you want of and for yourself, and what you'll make into law for your neighbor. Maybe there's hope after all.
I'm attaching a link to an interview with the author of a book on facts about the history of marriage. Much more comprehensive, I would imagine, than I could ever be -- and knowing me, I wouldn't even try. I recommend that someone, somewhere, bother buying the book and reading it. I'm sure there will be other books, soon, trying to prove that marriage always has been and always shall be exactly what some conservatives (fundamentalists, actually) want to believe it is. In the mean time, enjoy, I guess.