Before we approach the issue of same-sex marriage, we must define marriage.Each of these important aspects of human life, in turn, can exist outside of marriage, and they can even exist all together outside of marriage, as is evident from the fact that many unmarried couples live lives of intimacy, friendship, and mutual responsibility, and have and raise children. Married people get a lot of government benefits that the unmarried usually do not get: favorable treatment in tax, inheritance, and insurance status; immigration rights; rights in adoption and custody; decisional and visitation rights in health care and burial; the spousal privilege exemption when giving testimony in court; and yet others. When people get married, they typically make a statement of love and commitment in front of witnesses.Nonetheless, when people ask themselves what the content of marriage is, they typically think of this cluster of things. Most people who get married view that statement as a very important part of their lives.But marriage, it soon becomes evident, is no single thing. The institution of marriage houses and supports several distinct aspects of human life: sexual relations, friendship and companionship, love, conversation, procreation and child-rearing, mutual responsibility. (We have always granted marriage licenses to sterile people, people too old to have children, irresponsible people, and people incapable of love and friendship.Impotence, lack of interest in sex, and refusal to allow intercourse may count as grounds for divorce, but they don’t preclude marriage.) Marriages can exist even in cases where none of these is present, though such marriages are probably unhappy.Same-sex marriage is currently one of the most divisive political issues in our nation.In November 2008, Californians passed Proposition 8, a referendum that removed the right to marry from same-sex couples who had been granted that right by the courts.But much of the officially sanctioned marrying currently done in the United States is done on religious premises by religious personnel.What they are solemnizing (when there is a license granted by the state) is, however, not only a religious ritual, but also a public rite of passage, the entry into a privileged civic status.Given all this, it seems odd to suggest that in marrying people the state affirmatively expresses its approval or confers dignity.There is indeed something odd about the mixture of casualness and solemnity with which the state behaves as a marrying agent.