Is marriage a right?

Is marriage a right? I suppose it depends on what definition of marriage is used. If marriage is a religious/spiritual institution, then it is a right because we believe that all people have the right to exercise whichever religion they choose. If it is merely the expression of love and commitment that two people will dedicate their lives to each other, then I believe this is also one of the fundamental human rights. In my opinion, it is only a legal/political definition of marriage where its status as a right may be called into question. In our society, couples who are legally married enjoy certain benefits that two people who are not married do not enjoy, such as inheritance rights upon the death of one spouse. For this reason, I assert that this definition of marriage is not a right but a privilege. 

What is the difference and why does it matter? A privilege is something that is granted only upon meeting certain criteria. For example, upon completing education at a university a person is awarded a diploma and the privilege of appending a suffix or prefix go his name (eg, Dr or PhD). A right is something granted not by other people but by nature itself. That is, it is a privilege where the only criterion for being given the privilege is existence. In the Declaration of Independence, the assertion is made that all people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, among other rights. The Bill of Rights enumerates other basic human rights granted not by the Constitution itself, nor by the government nor any other mortal being or institution, but by Nature. All humans who are born into this Earth inherit those rights, apart from any action on their part or on the part of anyone else. Therefore, if marriage is a right then no one has the authority to prevent anyone else from marrying (assuming, of course, that both--or all, in the case of polygamy--parties entering the marriage do so of their own consent). If marriage is a privilege then the requirements to be granted that privilege must be agreed upon, established, and clearly stated. 

I have already asserted that the religious and the personal definitions of marriage both would make marriage be a right. Certainly two people have the right to dedicate their lives to each other, regardless of what other people may call their relationship, and fortunately (as far as I am aware) this right is not questioned in modern America. The right of a particular religion to perform ceremonies that they wish to call marriage, uniting together two people in love and holiness, however is called into question and is not (except where marriage is legal) granted to those religions who wish to perform same-sex marriage. This should not be the case. 

Finally, the legal definition. I do not believe that it is a right for two people to decide that they should be allowed certain legal benefits unless the government grants those benefits to all. That is to say, if the government wishes to grant certain benefits to a certain class of people and it wishes to call that class of people "married" then it should be allowed to do so, but it should be in the interest of the state and not merely arbitrarily assigned. That is, if the state has reason to grant privileges to straight couples that it wishes to call married but deny those privileges to gay couples, then it should have cause for such action. Let us examine some specific privileges, starting with the privilege of adoption. Straight couples are allowed to adopt children. This is in the interest of the state because there is reasonable evidence go support the claim that the child will have a better chance at living a respectable life if he is raised in a home with loving parents. So, the criterion for this privilege should be that one or more adult(s) who are capable of providing a healthy environment for the child to grow up in should be allowed to adopt. That is, the state has an interest in maximizing the child's probability of becoming a respectable citizen and thereby helping reduce future crime rates. Therefore, the state should allow parentless children to be adopted by those adults who show promise in being a positive role model in the child's life. Whether that is a single adult or a straight couple or a gay couple or a group of more than two adults should be largely irrelevant. What should be the matter of concern is who will be most likely to raise the child well. What interest does the state have in allowing the number of orphans to increase when there are loving gay couples who are willing and able to provide a loving environment in which a child may be raised? There is none, since studies show that orphans are less likely to become contributing members of society. Therefore, it stands to reason that it is in the interest of the state to allow gay couples to adopt. 

At any rate, the point is that all of the legal benefits that are granted to married couples should be examined one by one. Of each of these benefits granted, is it truly in the interest of the state to grant them only to heterosexual couples or is there an interest in the state to grant them to any couple (or group) wishing to be granted the benefit? There are tax benefits granted to married couples. How is this in the interest of the state? Granting tax benefits for an act promotes that act, so it stands to reason that the government grants tax benefits to marries couples in order to encourage peope to marry. How does the state benefit from more people being married? I believe it has been shown that most people are happier and perform better in life when they have a companion. Most people are social beings. We need interaction with other humans and most importantly we need companionship to have someone to love and cherish. However, many gay people do not get this benefit of companionship with a member of the opposite sex. Therefore, in order for them to have that same feeling of companionship they must be allowed to partner with a member of the same sex. So, if the reason for granting tax benefits to married people is to promote the well-being of society by encouraging people to have that feeling of companionship (and I'm not saying that is the reason, I'm just proposing the possibility that it could be one such reason) then it would be in the interest of the state to grant the same privilege to gay couples in order to maximize the benefit of a happy society wrought by its members enjoying companionship.