Note: This commentary was delivered by PFM President Mark Earley.
The Boston Globe recently reported that “a number of scholars are seeking to shore up friendship in a surprising way: by granting it legal recognition.” The article posits a couple of different ways this could be done. One is “on a case-by-case basis — eligibility to take time off to care for a sick friend under an equivalent of the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example.”
Yet another might be “an official legal arrangement between two friends, designating a bundle of mutual rights and privileges.” The article points out that such arrangements are already permitted in Hawaii. In any case, the idea would be that friends could get the kind of rights and benefits traditionally granted to married couples.
As our writers at The Point commented about this story, this was bound to happen. You see, the relentless push for benefits for same-sex partners has eroded the status of marriage in our society. Instead of being honored as the bedrock of healthy families and civilization, marriage has come to be seen as just one more relationship, no different than any other, with no particular benefits, and no more deserving of privileges than any other.
So if a same-sex couple can have benefits, why can’t two friends? Why couldn’t a whole group of friends?
Already this line of thinking has created some ludicrous situations. A couple of years ago, University of Florida employees wanting to qualify for domestic partner health benefits had to pledge that they were actually having sexual relations with their partner! The irony is hard to miss. The same people that have clamored for years for the authorities to stay out of their bedrooms; and they’re now creating situations where employers are forced to intrude.
The University of Florida situation was ridiculous — but it was the logical result of employers realizing how much they’d have to shell out if domestic partnerships became widespread. How else could they be fair and politically correct and not go bankrupt?
Of course, there’s even more to worry about here than companies bearing a heavier financial burden, or being forced to pry into their employees’ most intimate lives. As the Globe puts it, “Skeptics hold that friendship should stay outside the law for its own sake — do we really want friends with red tape?”
Advocates of friendship benefits contend that friendships are increasingly important and beneficial in our modern society, where so many other ties seem to be weakening. And they have a point.
But not every important relationship in our lives needs government involvement to show its importance. And such involvement would be likely to lead to major headaches and entanglements for the participants themselves. Law professor Laura Rosenbury told the Globe, “There is a danger that the state could go from recognizing to regulating friendship.” Well, you can bet on that.
All of this shows just how clueless we’ve become about the true nature of marriage. Instead of a divinely ordained institution that forms the foundation of a healthy society, marriage has simply become a government-subsidized arrangement. And in the name of tolerance and fairness, that arrangement and its legal benefits might one day be extended to all kinds of human relationships.
The result would be not to make friendship stronger, but to continue to make marriage-and all of society-weaker. And, not to mention, government far larger than we could tolerate.