The Null Device

Database schemas as social policy

Gay marriage: the database engineering perspective, or how different definitions of the institution of marriage would be reflected in different (relational) database schemas. Not surprisingly, the strictly traditionalist schemas do hideously inelegant things like have different tables for men and women, or mark one gender as subordinate to the other (i.e., have the males table contain a wife_id column), while the most elegant ones reduce marriage to a type of edge in generalised social networking, leaving policy (can you marry yourself for tax reasons? can more than two people be married?) outside of the schema.

I wouldn't be surprised if, at some point, some technically ignorant legislator in some conservative backwater proposed a law requiring databases to have separate tables for men and women or something similarly brain-damaged.

There are 2 comments on "Database schemas as social policy":

Posted by: Greg Thu Mar 25 12:43:14 2010

To be fair, as one of the commenters points out, no data modeler would create Male and Female tables. So the early stages of this story could be a described as a "straw man" or pedagogical fiction. In fact the piece reads like a (rather good) data-modeling lesson. I once used the "friend-of" relationship as a teaching example. This marriage one is pretty good and I might use it one day.

Posted by: acb Thu Mar 25 14:19:09 2010

If legislators in, say, Afghanistan or Alabama or somewhere hear about the inherently sinful architecture of unisex database tables, there may well be laws mandating certain types of brain damage in database architectures. Clueless alpha-males have done similar things in the past.