Friday, June 19, 2015

An Argument Against Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage

Because of the highly sensitive nature of this issue, the highest levels of respectful communication between all parties who choose to comment is expected. No trolls will be allowed. This is a post for thoughtful, contemplative interaction, not shoot-from-the-hip polemics. Your comments are welcome - please allow extra time for my travel schedule this weekend. 

One of my great fears is that we are reaching a place in American discourse where people who disagree with each other cannot even understand one another, much less truly reason with each other. My modest goal in this post is to offer an argument that same-sex marriage is not a good idea for public policy reasons. I will not be making this case on religious grounds. That isn’t because religion is unimportant to me. I am a Christian, and the central confession of my faith is that “Jesus is Lord.” That is a confession I cheerfully make, and very imperfectly follow. But the argument I will be laying out is not specific to Christianity, or to any religion. Indeed, this issue does not always follow cookie-cutter stereotypes. I have gay friends who oppose SSM because “marriage” is too conventional, and I have extremely conservative Christian friends who support SSM on libertarian political grounds. In my case, the argument I am going to make comes from millennia of philosophical reflection on the meaning of marriage itself.

In a matter of days the Supreme Court will hand down a ruling that may overturn the laws of 37 states that have defined marriage as between a man and a woman. While no one can know for certain how the Court will rule, it is clear that the tide of public opinion is shifting strongly in favor of legal recognition of same-sex marriage (hereafter SSM). And I think there are many reasons why. The notions of freedom and equality are central to the American experience. "Equality under the law" is a bedrock principle of justice. Further, there is a powerful emotional component to this groundswell of support. Many homosexuals have been subjected to vile forms of bullying and hatred (often in the guise of "Christianity"). And besides, we can all sympathize with the longing to be loved. As Will Smith said in his support of SSM, "If anybody can find someone to love them and to help them through this difficult thing that we call life, I support that in any shape or form." It's hard to argue with the Fresh Prince!

Except, as a matter of public policy, NOBODY believes that "marriage" should be legal between "anybody" in "any shape or form." At least, I have never met anyone who believes that there should be absolutely no legal restrictions regarding marriage. Most people I know believe that it is in the public interest to have laws that say things like, "You are too young to get married." Or, "You are too closely related to get married" (even in Kentucky!). Or, "You can only marry one person at a time." 

And what I would like to argue in this post is that the same sort of public policy concerns provide strong reasons to oppose legal acceptance of SSM, and that there is no intellectually coherent way to argue for the legal acceptance of SSM without undermining all public policy interests in marriage law generally.

The key to this debate, as in all debates, is the definition of terms. And in this regard, the proponents of SSM have framed the argument very strategically in terms of "marriage equality." But while this phraseology is excellent from a rhetorical viewpoint, it simply begs the question. The entire debate hinges on just exactly what "marriage" is. No one opposes "marriage equality." Everyone believes that all marriages should be treated equally under the law. The real issue is, what is "marriage"? What is at issue here is not "marriage equality" but marriage redefinition.

I have on my desk the dictionary I have used since I was in junior high school (the 1981 Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary). Here is how it defines "marriage” –  “the institution whereby men and women are joined in a special kind of social and legal dependence for the purpose of founding and maintaining a family.” Was "marriage" defined this way because the editors of the Webster's Dictionary were virulent homophobes? Bible-thumping bigots? Of course not. This is how marriage was defined in most parts of the world until 2001, when The Netherlands became the first nation in the modern era to grant legal recognition to SSM. Taking a look at the current, online version of the dictionary, the definition has been revised to include this: “(2) the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage.”

So the issue is, how do we define “marriage”? Why was marriage traditionally understood to be between a man and woman? And on what basis has this definition been modified?

We can quickly dispel the notion that the traditional definition of marriage is simply the product of centuries of coercive power wielded by the Church. That simplistic understanding fails to account for the broad classical understanding of marriage as between a man and woman that can be found in such thinkers as Aristotle and the Stoics, centuries before Christianity began. Nor can this traditional definition be accounted for simply on the basis of cultural prejudice, since many of the ancient pagan thinkers who clearly defined marriage as between a man and woman wrote in periods that were otherwise very tolerant of same-sex relationships.

So where did this notion come from? Here is a very simplified presentation of how centuries of philosophical reflection have come to define marriage.

1.    Men and women are different.
2.    By virtue of this difference, men and women can reproduce. In the jargon of Aristotle, just as the eyes are ordered toward seeing, and the ears are ordered toward hearing, the reproductive organs are ordered toward reproduction.
3.    And the reproductive system, unlike other natural bodily systems (respiratory, digestive, nervous), inherently requires two people to be a working unity. And not just any two people, but a man and a woman. It is naturally ordered by male/female sexual complementarity.
4.    For human beings, though, reproduction is far more than simple procreation. Since humans are rational beings, having offspring involves providing for their rational as well as their physical well-being. It includes teaching and nurturing, and over a fairly long period of time.
5.    Because men and women are different, they have unique gifts to contribute in the rearing of their children.
6.    And because the civil government has a vested interest in the common good in the care of children by their parents, it is important for the state to regulate these relationships.
7.    The same act that unites a man and woman to create the unity of reproduction does far more than that. It is intensely pleasurable, and stirs deep feelings of intimacy and closeness. It creates a profound unity of persons, joining the man and woman emotionally as well as physically. It is therefore also ordered toward creating a comprehensive union. So in addition to the reproductive aspect to male/female sexual complementarity, there is also a unitive aspect.
8.    To be a comprehensive union - joining a man and woman in all facets of personality as well as physically - it must be mutual, exclusive, and permanent. It must be mutual because a comprehensive union is one in which both parties consent. It must be exclusive, or else the union is not truly comprehensive – a part of you belongs to someone other than the spouse. And it must be permanent, or else it is not a genuine union.
9.    Taken together, these key points - male/female sexual complementarity; the naturally ordered direction of reproduction/child rearing; the long-term commitment required to raise children; the mutual, permanent, and exclusive nature of the comprehensive union – all of these factors point to the traditional concept of marriage.

What I have just done is summarize in a few key bullet points the work of many hundreds of years of reflection on these issues. Each contention rests on deeper metaphysical premises (such as the ideas of formal and final causes, act and potency, and moderate realism). But this trajectory of thought is at the heart of the concept of traditional marriage.

How could a proponent of SSM try to counter this argument? One approach might be to challenge the consistency of this rationale for marriage. If marriage is built on the premise of male/female sexual complementarity that is naturally ordered toward producing children, then wouldn’t that mean that couples who could not have children because of infertility or advanced age should not be allowed to marry? And the answer is no – for two reasons. First, the argument regarding what sexual complementarity is naturally ordered toward has to do with nature’s general purposes, not specific individual performance. The eye is generally ordered toward sight regardless of whether my particular eye is diseased with glaucoma and can no longer see. An infertile heterosexual couple is still naturally ordered toward reproduction by virtue of general male/female sexual complementarity, even if in their specific case they will not be able to have children. Second, while such a couple may not be able to have children, they can still enjoy the other naturally ordered purpose of male/female sexual complementarity – the comprehensive union.

But what about a heterosexual couple that is so old they can no longer even engage in sexual intercourse. By the traditional reasoning I outlined above, wouldn’t that mean that they should not be permitted to marry? Not at all. For centuries of common law, marriage has been understood to be consummated by intercourse. But because of personal privacy, the state has not intruded to ask whether the marriage was in fact consummated. Only in the case where one party no longer consented to the marriage could the issue be raised and the state then “annul” the marriage. So from a practical matter, such an aged couple’s marriage could not be subject to state interference. And from a traditional point of view, it would fall in line with the trajectory of male/female complementarity and the spirit of the comprehensive union, even if not the “letter of the [natural] law.”

But this hypothetical scenario raises a crucial point at the heart of what I believe is the incoherence of the legal recognition of SSM. Suppose John and Jeff are two gay elderly men, but are no longer sexually active, and would like to be married. Should they be able to?

I would imagine that advocates of SSM would say they of course should. But think this through – without the male/female sexual complementarity of the traditional view and its reproductive/unitive aspects, what is the basis of this version of marriage? Other than their consent, what is the basis of John and Jeff’s marriage? Maybe we could say they should be able to marry because they consent to marry and because they feel affection for each other. But how can the state possibly regulate something on the basis of “affection”? Since their marriage cannot be defined on traditional grounds, and since it is unfeasible to define it on the grounds of simply what they feel for each other, the only thing that is left as a legal basis for its recognition is consent. And if gay John and Jeff can be recognized as “married” on no other basis than mere consent, then why can’t straight John and Jeff, two old bachelor brothers who simply want the economic benefits of “marriage”?

Further, if marriage is no longer to be defined in terms of the natural ordering implied by male/female sexual complementarity, then on what principled basis should it be limited to couples of the same sex? Why not throuples? Why not any number of consenting adults? 

So here is my question for those who support legal acceptance of SSM: on what principled basis can you define “marriage”? It is difficult to see how the logic of SSM leads to any conclusion other than that marriage is nothing more than contract law. And if it is contract law, then – just as in the case of any other contract – any number of people for any number of reasons can enter into a “marriage.” And if “marriage” can mean anything, it means nothing.

Don’t misunderstand. I am not accusing all of those in favor of SSM of intending to dissolve the very concept of marriage itself (though some revisionists intend exactly that). But what I am suggesting is that the logic undergirding SSM does threaten the concept of “marriage.” And what I am asking my friends who support legalization of SSM to demonstrate is how they can coherently define marriage without allowing for throuples, "monagamish" unions, and non-sexual domestic partnerships.

If “marriage” cannot be coherently defined apart from its traditional moorings in male/female sexual complementarity, then it is not discriminatory to say that a man cannot legally marry a man, or that a woman cannot marry a woman. Nor does it redound against their dignity or humanity. A mother and son cannot attend a father/daughter dance because that event is – by definition – not one for which they are eligible. That is not discrimination, and it doesn’t mean they are inferior to the father and daughter. It just means that the very definition of the event precludes their participation. And by the same token, if a man or woman chooses not to enter into the event defined as “marriage” in the way I have argued, then it is not discrimination. It is their choice.

This doesn’t mean I am unsympathetic to the real concerns many people in same-sex relationships have regarding issues like tax and inheritance laws, hospital visitation, and end-of-life care. The same sort of “natural law” reasoning I employed to argue against the redefinition of marriage also strongly points toward the right to personal property. And I believe laws should be made such that individuals can handle these matters in a way consistent with this fundamental right. But that would be true for all people, whether straight or gay. This is a matter of human rights. But those concerns do not justify the redefinition of marriage itself.

Several years ago, Wendy’s had a commercial touting their chicken sandwiches by contrasting them with the weird looking “chicken” sandwiches of their competitors. Wendy’s made theirs from real chicken breasts, but everyone else just used mashed up chicken parts wedged into a form. And in the ads, Wendy’s portrayed their competition as justifying these weird looking sandwiches like this: “Parts is parts!” 

The current debate over SSM is really a reflection of a much deeper philosophical issue. Does nature have order that we can rationally observe, or is nature simply the random collection of parts? If “parts is parts,” then there is no natural ordering, and people can be seen to be as interchangeable as the parts of a machine, and “marriage” can be any combination of parts we want it to be.

But this "parts is parts!" outlook doesn’t reflect what I think most of us find to be common sense. Consider this statement by an American politician: “We’re going to support efforts to build healthy relationships between parents as well -- because we know that children benefit not just from loving mothers and loving fathers, but from strong and loving marriages as well.”

Who do you think said this? Ben Carson? Ted Cruz? The answer is President Obama, on Father’s Day five years ago. Since then the President has made clear his change of heart in support of SSM, but in this Father's Day address he summarized as ably as anyone the case for traditional marriage, the union of a man and woman ordered toward raising children.

And that brings me to my last point. I have written this article on Father’s Day weekend. By definition, a “father” is a male parent, and a “mother” is the “female” parent. The traditional understanding of marriage places great value on both mothers and fathers. This is especially important in our society when so many social pathologies can be traced to the problem of fatherlessness (and I say this as someone born to an unwed mother). All things being equal, I agree with President Obama that children benefit “from loving mothers and fathers.” But the legal acceptance of SSM means that if there is no “husband and wife” there is also no “mother and father.” There are simply spousal units and parental units. “Parts is parts!” But I strongly disagree with this concept. I believe fathers and mothers are very important as fathers and mothers, that each has unique gifts to bring to children, and that as the President said just five years ago, strong marriages are the best environment in which children should be raised. This was President Obama's unintended argument against SSM.

If you have actually managed to stay awake through this entire essay, I am amazed! And if you disagree with me and yet gave me the courtesy of such extended time and attention as to read my thoughts all the way through, I really appreciate it. And whether you are straight or gay, or whether you agree with me or think I am a hopelessly misguided, the same fundamental premises that lead me to oppose SSM also lead me to love and respect all human beings. 

(Many of my thoughts in this article were inspired by What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense)



  1. I read the whole thing and stayed mostly awake! Thank you for being rational and calm while speaking about such a sensitive topic. Side note... I know many SSM supporters who ARE, in fact, supportive of defining marriage as openly as possible. Multiple wives? Sure. Monogomish relationships? That's your own business. Polyamory? Just as valid as monogamy. The redefining of marriage seems to be primarily based on giving everyone equal access to a public, government-supported process by which they can be recognized as a committed family equal in privilege (respect, taxes, rights, etc). If it were just a matter of rights, a properly executed domestic partnership arrangement would have solved the issue. But it's an emotional issue, and it's about equal rights, so nothing less than marriage will satisfy.

  2. Well written and well thought out. I definitely appreciate this article. However, I have two thoughts that I'd like to hear your opinion on.

    First, another argument that I think a lot of supporters of SSM could use: just because both parents are physically the same sex doesn't mean they both have to play the same role. Why can't a parenthood consist of a father-figure who is male and also a mother-figure who is male? In this instance, do we still need to redefine the definition of "marriage," or can we redefine the definitions of "mother, father" or "husband, wife" or "male, female" instead? Would that be more or less beneficial in regards to public policy?

    Second, rather than looking at how this effects public policy, let's ask ourselves if government should even be a part of this issue. Even if you don't consider marriage between anything other than a man and woman "naturally ordered," why is it the government's job to tell someone what they can and can't do? Especially when it doesn't hurt anyone other than those willingly involved! I'm a heterosexual, white male. For all I know, there could be a homosexual couple living two doors down from me. But either way, it doesn't effect me. If they're married, if they're not; if they're sexual active or not; if they have kids or not; none of those effect my life any more so than you and your wife in those same situations effect my life. So why do those opposed to SSM want there to be law against something that doesn't effect them?

    1. I can't speak for everyone. However, for my part, I'm not necessarily interested in a law against something that doesn't affect me. In other words, I'm not beating the drum for a law that prohibits same gender relationships or marriage.

      What I don't want is a law that does affect me. I don't want a law passed that can then be used to browbeat the congregation of which I'm a part, the college which my children want to attend, the businesses of my friends. I am opposed to passing a law that will then allow the government to start meddling in the affairs of churches, punishing them if they teach what they believe on this matter.

      For instance, no one is threatening to take away the tax-exempt status of churches for speaking against sex outside of marriage or for refusing to allow someone on staff who is "shacking up." But that stick will be wielded if the Supreme Court rules in favor of same gender marriage.

      That is what concerns me.

    2. I totally understand what you're saying. I'd love to believe that allowing SSM to be legalized and forcing churches, schools and businesses to support SSM are far apart and won't lead from one to the other... But we've already seen the government or society step in and tell people they have to support it.

      Look at the stories of bakeries who simply didn't want to make a cake for a SSM. It should have never even made it to the news, and the couple should have just gone somewhere else. But instead, the media picked it up and the bakery got so much backlash from local supporters of SSM that they had to close up shop. This is completely inappropriate! Just let them be! They aren't hurting anyone by choosing to not do something against what they believe.

      So you maybe you're right. I don't know. I suppose no one does at this point.

    3. I wonder if you would still say "Just let them be!" if the bakery had refused service to a black or mixed race couple?

    4. Scoot, thanks for your questions, and so sorry it has taken me this long to find time to read and respond. Regarding your first question, there is no dispute that parents can assume roles they are not naturally ordered to. My mom as a single mother had to assume the role of mom and dad at times, for instance. But this was not optimum, either for her or for me. The issue is what is best for children on average. That's why the comment from President Obama that I quoted is so telling. When we are not specifically debating a hot-button issue like SSM, most people take as common sense that on the whole children deserve to be raised by a mother and father, not parental units.

      As to the second question, what the government decides to do does have a public policy impact for the reasons I suggested - namely, without defining "marriage" in connection with the traditional grounding of male/female sexual complementarity, there is no coherent way to define marriage as anything other than contract law, an agreement between consenting adults. And there is no principled reason to therefore limit marriage to two people. It could be three, four, or more. And it would not have to be permament and exclusive. And if "marriage" can mean anything, it therefore means nothing. The logical progression here is that "marriage" will essentially be replaced by various contracts. And I think that would be catastrophic to society.

    5. LB, the effort to interject race into this argument is completely off the mark. No one I have read has suggested that businesses have the right to refuse service to someone simply because they are gay, any more than because they are black. But some people are concerned that they might beforced to provide services to events that are against their beliefs. Here's a better illustration. A black baker should not have the right to withhold business to someone who comes in to buy a muffin simply because that person is a racist. But that black baker should not be forced to cater a KKK meeting. That is the kind of distinction that needs to be made - providing business to a person and providing service to an event that in and of itself is objectionable on conscientious moral or religious grounds.

  3. Interesting read, Shane. I'm glad you avoided the religious and emotional aspects to focus on the legal and governmental aspects.

    Legally, it could be far easier for gay marriage advocates to approach this issue with the following:
    #1: Get a law passed that defines a "civil union" (or similar phrase) as an arrangement between any two consenting adults
    #2: Get a law passed stating that a civil union is legally identical to a marriage. Anywhere a law, statute or contract states "marriage" or "married," a civil union is equally and undeniably applicable.

    This completely avoids the emotional hotbutton of "redefining marriage," but I perceive two disadvantages to the approach. First, it sets up a "separate but equal" situation, where legality is one thing but day-to-day interaction and societal acceptance could be completely different. Second, it would be likely that both these laws would have to pass in every state and at the federal level to be universally applicable, which is uncertain in the current political environment. Thus, one or more Supreme Court cases could be far more expedient than the time and cost of executing those laws.

    From my external viewpoint, the most important aspects of this struggle for equality and societal acceptance are legal: survivorship, inheritance, visitation, healthcare coverage, etc. It is abhorrent to me that someone who has dedicated his/her life to another can be denied these fundamental advantages and obligations.

    Society obviously puts value on monogamy, though that value has changed significantly even within the last 150 years. (Google "definition of marriage through history".) Some argue that expanding legal definitions to extend marriage rights to any two consenting adults will generate a slipperly slope towards polyandry, pedophilia and bestiality. I believe that argument is complete hogwash designed only to add more emotional response.

    If two consenting adults choose to dedicate their life to each other, let them - with all the legal advantages and obligations implied by that decision. If the most legally expedient way to achieve legal equality and societal acceptance is to challenge the definition of marriage and expand it to include a legal arrangement between any two consenting adults, so be it. Societal definitions of marriage have changed before; they can change again.

    1. Thanks for your reply. But I must ask you, on what principled basis did you limit your revised definition of "marriage" to "two consenting adults"? If consent is the only issue, then couldn't three adults consent to dedicate their lives to each other with all the legal advantages and obligations? This is the key issue that I think is at the heart of the problem with SSM. It is not that I am arguing a "slippery slope" - today SSM, tomorrow group marriages. But I am arguing for the incoherence of SSM. It turns "marriage" into contract law based purely on consent, and there is no principled reason to deny that to as many consenting adults as wish to be obligated.

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  5. An interesting approach Shane. The Supreme Court must look at the law as written. The Constitutional area they are considering is the one dealing with equal treatment based on things such as race, age, sex etc. The issue they have is the definition of "sex"... does it mean gender or the act?

    If gender, then there are only two, and as long as both are treated equally under the law, then there is no discrimination. That means, can a women get married in a particular location? Can a man get married there as well? Do they both have to meet the same things? That is equality.

    If the act, then that means that the genders do not have to be treated equally any longer. It also means that laws controlling pedophiles (based on age) are unconstitutional because the act is a constitutional right... and has no other constitutional definition as to age, etc.

    It also would mean that the states do not have any control over sexual acts... those being trumped by the constitution.

    Either way, its going to be interesting....

  6. I'll try and organize these responses so they're easier to digest, but there's really a lot to cover here.
    First off I want to thank you for keeping the discourse really civilized and staying focused, for the most part, on ideas. As Elanor Roosevelt said, small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, great minds discuss ideas. I will try and stick to the same level of discourse myself.
    1. I agree with your statement that "Equality under the law" is a bedrock principle of justice. The Merrian-Webster dictionary defines equality as "the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities." So it's not just a technical term for identical treatment; it's a concept of making sure people have the same opportunities in their lives. Telling a heterosexual woman they can marry a man is not the same as telling a homosexual woman she can marry a man. She doesn't fall in love with men. She isn't sexually unitive with men. The heterosexual woman is given an opportunity the homosexual woman is not. So that isn't equality. And it certainly isn't equality's big brother, equity. That's like putting food on top of a very tall tree, telling both a monkey and a hippo that the food is for them, then claiming they are being treated "equally" because they both have access to the same food in the same location. It's a sham. Your problems with the term "marriage equality" stem from this same difference of understanding when it comes to what counts as "equality."
    2. Using a dictionary to define terms is nothing more than a limited exercise in expressing the cultural zeitgeist of the time period that dictionary was published in. Linguists who write dictionaries are trying to make them as useful as possible for the time period they're published in, and definitions change over time. This is why the definition of everything from "gay" to "intercourse" has changed, and dictionaries have published newer and newer editions to keep up with these changes. It's like the difference between a proscriptive law and a descriptive law. Dictionaries are descriptive. If you looked up the definition of marriage a century ago, it would be defined as an institution by which men had control over their wives. Go further back in history, and you'd find a definition in which a woman is transferred from being the property of her father to being the property of her husband (this is why traditionally a woman changes her last name from her father's to her husband's; her last name identifies who she is the property of). So just as we have changed the definition of marriage pretty radically several times in the past few centuries, defining marriage has changed and there's no reason to think this won't continue as human culture changes and we find ourselves with different needs and a different perception of reality.

    1. Matt, thanks for your replies, and my apologies for only now having a chance to really read and respond. 1. When you say this, "The heterosexual woman is given an opportunity the homosexual woman is not," you are very eloquently begging the actual question we are discussing, namely, is "marriage" an right/privilege/opportunity that those of the same-sex can participate in.
      2. You are right that definitions can change over time, as I pointed out. So we must decide how to define things, thus my argument for defining marriage on the basis of the natural order (which you of course reject).

    2. 1. Equality/equity problem again. A straight woman and a gay woman aren't starting from the same place. So while they technically have access to the same thing, as a practical means to exercise the central purpose of marriage (strengthening pair bonds, intimate caregiving, legal protections), they don't have access to the same thing.

      2. It's not that I reject ALL natural order. I just think some of what you think is "natural" is actually cultural. Humans absolutely have natural ways of behaving and feeling. Sexual orientation being one of them that we need to recognize and be sensitive to.

    3. I understand what you are saying about equality/equity, but it is impossible to make this claim without assuming that "marriage" can logically be between people of the same sex, when the entire debate here is whether "marriage" can in fact mean that. Further, I notice that you once again defined marriage in terms of TWO - "pair bonds." But on what principled basis would you limit marriage to two people, if three or more want to consent to intimate caregiving and legal protections?

    4. The debate over whether or not marriage can logically be between two people of the same sex is what they call the definitional objection to SSM. It's Rick Santorum's favorite argument. But it's perfectly circular, and it's just an assertion that fails to engage a debate.

      "Why can't same-sex couples get married?"
      "Because marriage is a union of two opposite sex people."
      "Why is marriage only between opposite sex people."
      "Because that's the definition of marriage?"

      Circular logic.

      Also irrelevant since marriage is a political institution, a legal set of principles, and something we've tinkered with the definition of multiple times in the past (with social conservatives always crying that it will lead to the end of the world if we change it).

  7. 3. It's rather refreshing to hear someone state the truth: that marriage is not the product of centuries of coercive power of The Church. I wish more people understood why this isn't true. Marriage was a political institution in its very origins, and was only co-opted by religions after a centuries-long process of power consolidation out of necessity as civic institutions failed and the church stepped in as the de facto civic institutions.
    Anthropologists have discovered that Paleolithic and Mesolithic humans were actually collective child-raisers. They lived in bands of between 20-100 and everyone pitched in. Marriage didn't really exist as an institution, it was really just co-habitation. It didn't need to exist. Since every child had an equal claim on the resources of every adult, paternity/maternity wasn't a pressing issue. It just didn't matter much who's child belonged to whom. But when we became an agricultural species and settled into permanent communities, humans began to amass vast differences in wealth, status and property. Marriage was invented in order to ensure the proper transfer of these things from one generation to the next, to preserve existing social classes and economic inequalities. People needed recognized heirs to make sure that distant relatives and ambitious upstarts couldn't lay claim to their title and power when they died. Ensuring that a child was legitimate became INCREDIBLY important and since maternity is obvious but paternity isn't (pre-DNA testing), we needed ways to control how many sexual partners a woman had and how many men could father children with her. All of this pre-dates even the earliest organized religions (yes, even Judaism), but people are radically underinformed about the political origins of marriage.
    4. You state that a bedrock concept of marriage is that men and women are different. This came about as a strong cultural assumption during the Victorian era as a response to changing cultural norms surrounding marriage, specifically the Enlightenment idea that marriage should be to somebody you love. Prior to the Renaissance this was not thought to be important in marriages. You married someone you thought would be a good WORK partner, or someone from a family with whom it was advantageous to align with. People often took lovers on the side for the romantic stuff, and for men this was acceptable since they didn't get pregnant. That's why illegitimate children were originally called "love children." Additionally, the Medieval view of women was that they were the MORE sexual gender and were always finding ways to cunningly tempt and corrupt men through sexual prowess. Scriptures of all religions reflect this. Anyway, when the love match came along, social conservatives panicked. They said it would result in a disaster. How would we keep our kids from marrying the WRONG person? How could we force them to marry the RIGHT person if they were going to say "I don't love him, I'm not marrying him!" How could we prevent husbands from relenting to their wives? It was at this point (in the mid 18th Century) that the concept of the "separation of spheres" became really popular. It became fashionable to say that men and women were just so different from one another that they couldn't live without the other half. This also created problems of its own, with women experiencing culturally-created disgust and discomfort being around "the grosser sex" and men expressing CONSIDERABLE discomfort about spending all their time with these virginal, innocent and naive women. Many men found prostitutes to be better company than their wives, and the various epidemics of venereal disease in the 18th and 19th centuries show how often husbands were engaging in these extracurricular activities.

    1. 3. I disagree that marriage originated as a political institution. Quite the opposite, since families formed polities, marriages created political institutions. In Aristotle's discussion of politics, he begins with...marriage. That raises another important point. You raise interesting anthropological information, but it largely misses the point. The argument from natural order is not, "Let's look and see what people have always done." Instead, it is, "Let's carefully think about what we observe in the natural order and determine what conclusions we can draw."
      4. My bedrock point that men and women are different is really driven by biology, not cultural considerations. So I don't think we really disagree there - sorry I didn't make that point more explicit in the original post. And further, I think you and I share agreement on a key point in this broader philsophical discussion, i.e. "The Enlightenment idea that marriage should be to somebody you love." I agree with you about the important (and it won't surprise you to know from my point of view catastrophic) change in understanding the primacy of passion over reason when it comes to marriage specifically and ethics generally that took place in the Enlightenment. It would be easy for us to caricature the other side, so I will avoid that. But prior to the Enlightement (when Aristotle was abandoned), the passions were seen to be subject to the rational side of us, and commitment in marriage superseded the ebb and flow of romantic love. But that changed with the Enlightenment, and the current issue of SSM is just one more manifestation.

    2. 5. It is true that male/female complementarity is naturally ordered toward procreation. However homosexuals are not sexually attracted to members of the other sex, some people are attracted to both sexes, and some people ARE both sexes (or something in between). So procreative-type sex (coitus) is only one of a wide variety of ways humans use sexuality to connect with one another. Even within a heterosexual marriage it isn't the only sexual behavior we engage in. The concept of marriage only including coitus and coitus only taking place within a marriage is based on those political needs I discussed earlier. Men needed to control female sexuality to make sure they had recognized heirs and their bloodline passed down with absolute certainty. For most of human history, males weren't even required to remain monogamous within marriage as a cultural norm. That's actually a pretty recent phenomenon and some would say that is why more marriages end in divorce than a hundred years ago. I don't think it's anywhere near that simple, but it may play a small part.

      6. For the purposes of this discussion, I'll assume for a minute that marriage is primarily about child-rearing and not partnership, even though history shows this not to be the case. I didn't know about your childhood, and I'm glad you feel ok about sharing! I was lucky enough to have a father growing up, both parents in fact. I'd say that each individual father doesn't bring the same thing to raising kids. Everyone is different. Same with mothers. Or intersex parents who are neither fathers nor mothers (or maybe they're both?) Some mothers offer more of what we traditionally assign to fathers. Some fathers offer more of what we traditionally assign to mothers. Sometimes a heterosexual marriage results in a family with two nurturers, or two father figures, regardless of what is between the legs of each parent. SSM also does not take children AWAY from households with a mother and father and place them in another situation. Studies show that children with two same-sex parents do just as well as children with two opposite-sex parents. So it seems like they're getting everything they need. But even IF studies showed children of same-sex couples had less-well outcomes, that's making the perfect the enemy of the good. Children do better when their grandparents are in their lives, but we don't ban marriage to people who's parents have died. Children do better with parents who have a college degree, but we don't ban marriage to people because they didn't attend college. Children do much better in higher-income households, but we don't ban marriage to people below a certain income threshold.

    3. 3. Aristotle's views on marriage were reflective of the culture he grew up in, and he didn't have any knowledge of early human anthropology as it didn't become a science until the 17th Century. He knew nothing of our early history as collective child-raisers. A lot of philosophers and theologians, while wise in their words, lacked knowledge or insight into the early history of marriage in civilizations like the Sumerians, the Indus Valley Civilization, the various Mesoamerican societies, etc.

      4. My point is that every individual human being is biologically different, not just men and women. There are also intersex people who are neither fully male nor fully female, so according to biology the line between men and women is blurry. On either side of that blurry line are more feminine men and more masculine women. So there is considerable variation even within the artificial binary gender spectrum we've developed culturally. And it's great to see that you have some historical insight into marriage having been based more on reason in the past and now being based more on emotion and intention. That's part of how our culture has changed and marriage changes in order to better accommodate our needs at any point in time. Since our understanding of human sexuality has become more clear and scientific in the past century, our culture has changed to reflect that increased understanding.

    4. Great discussion, Matt. I really appreciate it. I am weary tonight so I just want to make one brief comment. You are correct that in many instances men have been abusive, exploitive, and otherwise demeaning in their treatment of women in the context of what would be called "traditional" marriage. But as I said in response to an earlier comment, the argument from natural order does not argue simply that what IS is what OUGHT to be. So the fact that many people have been abusive, or many tribes have practiced polygamy, etc. isn't really the point. Rather, the issue is, what does rational reflection on the natural order point to. Since I have argued that it points not only to procreative but also to unitive purposes for coitus, and since that unitive purpose is a comprehensive union that is mutual as well as exclusive and permanent, then any husband who is abusive or exploitive toward his wife is acting contrary to the unitive intent nature points to. I realize you don't see the natural order precisely as I do - I just wanted to explain how a person from a more traditional "natural law" point of view looks at the sadly all-too-common ugly realities you brought up.

    5. And explain it you did. Very calmly and rationally. We just agree to disagree on whether or not that's the ONLY story going on when it comes to marriage and relationships.

  8. 5. You then tie marriage to reproduction. Historically it is true that mutually interested fathers and mothers were married to provide support for the first circle of care for a child. But historically this was only one of many purposes for marriage, and procreation has never been a precondition for marriage eligibility in any culture I've ever researched. Although there is one society, the Na people of China who have organized sexuality, procreation and child-rearing entirely without marriage. I spent much of my college years studying debates between feminists and cultural conservatives about marriage. Many of these debates were about whether marriage was created to protect women, or to oppress women. I've come to believe that marriage originally had virtually nothing to do with the actual relationship between the partners, especially early on. It was invented to get in-laws. To recruit allies and create solidarity among different families who might otherwise be strangers to one another or even adversarial. That is it's most common recurring function through the ages. In band socities, marriage brought together people of different backgrounds and sometimes far-flung social groupings to turn strangers into relatives. To ensure cooperation over time and space. That's why there are so many countries in the world whose ancient words for "wife" (from the Anglo-Saxon wiif) are synonymous with "peaceweavers." People who weave ties between different groups.
    6. People forget is that the flip side of a strong institution of marriage has always been the institutionalization of illegitimacy. A way of DENYING many children a claim on either their mother or their father. Turning blood relatives into legal strangers. In Anglo-American law, a child born out of wedlock was a philius nullius, literally a child of nobody with a claim on nothing. Even as recently as the late 1960s an illegitimate child could not collect debts owed to their deceased mother, claim support from her family, or sue for her wrongful death. And illegitimacy was not a minor problem in past centuries, contrary to popular mythology about it. In 1850 half of all births in Vienna and Munich were out of wedlock. In late 19-Century Paris, fully a third of all births were out of wedlock. And this resulted in thousands of children, 25,000 a year in 1880s Moscow and St. Petersburg alone, being abandoned to foundling homes and hospitals where most of them eventually died of neglect. So for thousands of years, a central purpose of marriage was to protect the property rights of adults by denying millions of children access to their mothers and fathers.

    1. 5. Allow me to clarify one point. My argument was not that "procreation was a precondition for marriage eligibility." It was that male/female sexual complementarity, which is naturally ordered toward procreation AND the comprehensive union, is. And that's why I tried to address various scenarios where procreation wasn't possible in a traditional marriage viewpoint.
      6. Well, illegitimacy is a subject I can speak with some authority on, since I was born out of wedlock! :-) And in a time when there was still a serious stigma attached both to the mother and the child. But the flip-flip side of this is the problem of fatherlessness. A broad spectrum of social scientists agree that fatherlessness is an enormous problem in our culture, connected to every social pathology we are dealing with. It is the reason President Obama has made so many statements like the one I quoted, since the African-American community in particular suffers. And it is one more reason why I think redefining marriage is a mistake, since as I said toward the end of the article it also trivializes the importance of fathers as fathers.

  9. 7. Of course for most marriages throughout history, marriage has been closely correlated with procreation and child-rearing. In some cultures (thought not the Christian West), failure to procreate was legitimate grounds for divorce. But the public or state interest in procreation or marriage was quite different than that individual interest. For centuries marriage was a private contract between families. In the Roman Catholic tradition, the difference between cohabitation and marriage was merely a question of intent and ceremony, literally saying a few words in the presence of a clergyman. The Protestant churches set more binding rules in the 16th Century, but it was still not until 1754 that the English government required a license to get married. Once the state DID get involved in sanctioning marriage, its interest was shaped not originally by the goal of giving every child a mother and a father, but by the goal of preserving existing property rights and social inequalities. Historically this is why most governments forbade marriage to slaves, to servants, very often to poor people, or to people who desired to marry across religious, racial or class boundaries. The European-American marriage tradition clearly subordinated the goal of procreation to these other purposes. By the 9th Century the Catholic Church had ruled definitively that they would not grant divorce on grounds of sterility. On grounds of impotence you could annul a marriage, but not sterility. Never have Western governments ever defined marriage on the ability or even the desire to have children. Sometimes courts have granted divorces when one party MISREPRESENTED their procreative intentions or ability to the other party, but this along with the impotence rule suggest that the partner relationship was more central to the importance of marriage than most of the opponents of same-sex marriage would concede.
    8. Male-female difference is complicated by our own biological realities. Over 100,000 human beings are born intersex every year in the world. Some are boys with XX chromosomes. Some are girls with XY chromosomes. Some have ambiguous genitalia because of chemical differences and epigenetic glitches in utero. Biological sex is not an on/off switch, and never has been. It's a complex combination of your genes, the chemical bath you're in when you're in the womb, and epigenetics. Similarly, gender is the same only from a cultural perspective. There are men who are more feminine than most women and women who are more masculine than most men. There are men who are weaker than many women and woman who are stronger than many men. There's significant overlap. Humans are individuals first and a gender second. Putting all humans with a penis into one column, all humans with a vagina into another, and then saying that one from column A and one from column B will provide all the difference and variety needed isn't at all reflective of the reality of the human experience. Every single parent brings something unique to the children they find themselves caring for. A feminine man married to a feminine woman would be problematic under your assumptions. So would a masculine man who marries a masculine woman. It happens. We've all seen it. We also see plenty of same-sex couples where one is more nurturing and one is more strict. We see couples of all orientations where both parents are a blend and so the kids are still getting some of both approaches. What hardware exists between your legs doesn't tell the world much about what kind of parent you're going to be unless we force people who don't gender-conform to change who they are for the sake of society, and that has all kinds of negative mental health consequences.

    1. 7. I don't have much to say by way of diagreement with this paragraph, since it assumes a couple of basic points: a general understanding of marriage based on male/female sexual complementarity, and the existence of "marriage" on that basis before the recognition by the state. I just want to make sure to emphasize that no one is arguing that marriage has been defined on the basis of the ability to have children. As I said in my original post, the argument from natural order has to do with nature's general order, not specific individual performance. And the procreative aspect is only one part of the argument from natural order I discussed - the unitive aspect is another crucial component.
      8. Aside from the rare instances of sex chromosome abberations, I think we actually agree that from a biolgical point of view there are males and females. Personality is another matter, and is affected by a wide array of complicated factors, as you said. But even you could talk about a "feminine MAN" and "masculine WOMAN." And of course we agree that mere physical anatomical hardware says nothing about the kind of parent a specific person will be. But I am happy to agree with President Obama's statement that children do best when raised in a strong marriage by good mothers and fathers.

    2. 7. I guess the only place where we disagree is that I think marriage is about the unitive aspect first, and the procreative/complementarity aspect is an adjunct component, not one that makes or breaks whether something is a marriage or not.

      8. I'd say that children do best with parents/role models who teach them good values like empathy, responsibility, honesty, integrity, kindness, etc. The STRUCTURE of a family is not what determines the outcomes for children, it's the PROCESSES of a family that determine outcomes.

  10. 9. You note that "The eye is generally ordered toward sight regardless of whether my particular eye is diseased with glaucoma and can no longer see." However if an eye cannot see well enough, we DO limit that person's freedom to engage in certain activities. For example, someone who is severely myopic or has double vision is not allowed to obtain a driver's license to operate a motor vehicle, and for good reason. If infertile couples want to get married in a society where procreation is the sole central purpose of marriage, then they shouldn't be allowed to get a marriage license any more than a blind person should be allowed to get a driver's license. After all, the blind person can still operate a motor vehicle just like an infertile couple can still engage in procreative TYPE acts. But procreation, like driving in a car, is a results-driven equation, not a process-driven one. So I have to sadly point out that you're being inconsistent here. Additionally your definition of marriage would deny marriage to a soldier who comes home from war paralyzed from the waist down and unable to engage in intercourse at all. I say let him get married, he's been through enough. You yourself note that an infertile couple, while not able to procreate, can enjoy other aspects of marriage. This is no different from the position of proponents of SSM who posit that marriage has partnership and caregiving qualities that can be enjoyed even amongst humans who cannot procreate with one another.
    10. I do think John and Jeff, the elderly gay couple who cannot have sex anymore, should be allowed to enter a marriage. Marriage has its basis in other dependencies than just parents and children. People can become dependent through illness, old age, and accident. The state recognizes that it is in our best interest for people to have the rights and benefits they need in order to perform that caregiving which the public would otherwise have to pay for. We could also get into the moral purposes of marriage and the positive qualities it produces among couples like delayed gratification, following through on your commitments, empathy, sacrifice, solidarity and dealing with disagreements gracefully.
    11. You note that John and Jeff shouldn't be married merely on the basis of free consent. People who know their history can talk about how recent a change free consent is, and how radically it changed the institution of marriage. Until relatively recently, most US states and western countries defined marriage in terms of husbands having power over their wives (and even in terms of the wife being property OF her husband). In fact, ever since the rise of ancient civilizations, the notion of men having power over women has been the single most universal and central feature of the marriage relationship. In medieval Europe a wife's disobedience to the commands of her husband was equivalent to treason, and carried penalties up to and including execution. The right of a husband to physically restrain or reprimand his wife remained a central legal principle right up until the early 20th Century in the West (and still exists in many conservative countries like Saudi Arabia or Guatemala). Anglo-American law specifically used marriage as a device to strip women of their property and representational rights. An unmarried woman could sue and be sued, and represent herself in a court of law; a married woman could not. Once she was married she became a "covered woman," a femme cousvert. Not only did the law allow husbands to take over the property, the legal indemnity and the holdings of their wife, it compelled them to do so. As Lord Blackstone wrote, "A man cannot grant anything to his wife, or make any enforceable agreement with her, for this would suppose her separate existence." In 1863, the Supreme Court declared that "recognizing the separate rights of a wife would sow the seeds of discord in America." Exactly the same threat that opponents of SSM levy on our cause.

    1. 9. I'll just refer you to the section in my original post where I discuss the possible objected against an aged couple, which would also apply to paralysis. The key here is your assumption that I have argued that the "sole purpose" of marriage is procreation. As I said repeatedly, it is also unitive, but this unitive purpose is organically grounded in male/female sexual complementarity.
      10. If marriage is state recognition of relationships for caregiving purposes, then I ask you on what principled basis if could be denied to straight John and Jeff? Or to three people? Or to four?
      11. I appreciate your passion for human rights in your lengthy discussion of "consent." But it largely missed my point. Once marriage is defined only in terms of consent for the purposes you listed, how is it different from simple contract law?

    2. 10. As our culture currently views things, most humans form pair bonds with one other person. That may change in the future, but polygamy brings with it a whole host of other social problems that I view as legitimate enough to oppose any sort of legal basis for supporting those kinds of arrangements. Even though that has nothing to do with SSM and every change to the composition of our marriage laws should be judged on their own relative merits. Intimate caregiving requires a minimum of one partner and the government should support the minimum as a basic privilege for all citizens. If people want to have private contracts that go beyond that, they can do what they want.

      11. It's different from simple contract law because the legal institution of marriage brings with it a whole host of other benefits, 1,139 alone from the federal government. A private contract between two people does not have to be honored by a hospital, a movie theater, the police, any place of business, family members of each spouse, etc. In order to ensure those kinds of protections the contract must have the backing of an entity to which everyone in society is accountable. A government. That's why I defend the idea of the government being involved in marriage, because I think it's important. When one of my more libertarian friends tells me the government shouldn't be involved in marriage, I tell them to live up to their own principles. Go get a legal divorce from their spouse and just keep their marriage between the two of them as a private agreement. And see how that works out.

    3. I appreciate your point of view about polygamy. Let's change the term to polyamory. Instead of one-man exploiting several women, let's think of a group relationship in which all parties are equal, like the "throuples" I linked in my original article. Do you think throuples should be given legal recognition as married?

      And by the way, we agree when it comes to the libertarians. As I told one of them in another thread, if you don't think the govt has any say in marriage, stay away from my wife! :-)

  11. Even right up into the 1970s in most American states and many western European countries, even after the repeal of Coverture laws, governments maintained Head and Master laws which gave the husband the final say in community property, and to make family decisions such as where the family could live or if the wife could take a job, without anybody else's consent. It was also the courts who upheld a rigid division of labor that stated the husband, not the wife, was obligated to support the family, and that the wife, not the husband, was obligated to take care of the housework, take care of the children, and provide sexual services. This legal imposition of asymmetrical roles was the basis on which courts would rule that husbands, but not wives, were allowed to sue for loss of consortium (because it was wives and not husbands who were contractually obligated to provide these sexual services). It also meant that husbands could not be charged with rape for forcing themselves upon their wives, because when a woman said "I do," she also was legally saying "I will" for the rest of her marital existence.
    In the 1970s and 80s, courts in America and Western Europe began to radically overturn these laws, introducing such radical concepts as free consent. They abolished the millenia-old institution of illegitimacy. They decreed that married partners were separate individuals, with personal rights. They declared that the division of labor within marriage was no longer predetermined by gender, but could be negotiated by two individuals based on their own needs and desires. They even decreed that a husband could be charged with spousal rape, that he did not have a lease-hold on his wife's body as the medieval theologians had claimed.
    This wave of judicial activism was far more revolutionary and far-reaching in its challenges to traditional marriage than any changes to marriage that have since been proposed. But it was pioneered by HETEROSEXUALS, not LGBT activists. It was heterosexuals who turned marriage into a voluntary love relationship based on personal choice instead of an economic and political institution some people were forced to enter while some did not have the right to enter. It was heterosexuals who liberalized divorce laws so that if a marriage was not based on mutual consideration and satisfaction, it could be ended. It was the demands of heterosexual couples to choose whether or not to have children that led courts to accept their right to use contraception and to control their own reproduction, as well as to later on take advantage of assisted reproduction technology so they could have children even if they were not naturally capable of doing so. The courts were also caving to the demands of modern heterosexual couples when they repealed laws that mandated husbands play one role in the household while wives played a completely different role.
    So in conclusion I'd like to say that if in defiance of every tradition that I have ever studied, we want the central purpose of marriage to be the organizing of procreative activities and ensuring that all children grow up in a family consisting of one man and one woman, then we must deny marriage to childless couples, we must prohibit divorce to couples with children except in extreme cases of abuse or neglect, and force single mother either to marry, to abort their children, or to put them up for adoption by married couples. If that is the agenda of the opponents of same-sex marriage, they should come right out and say it. If it is not, they should recognize that same-sex marriage is not a threat to the traditional purpose of marriage, but flows directly from the prior transformation of those traditional purposes and functions by heterosexuals in the past thirty years. Trying to reverse the changes that have taken place by prohibiting same-sex marriage is a classic case of locking the barn after the horses have already run out of it.

    1. Matt, as I conclude, I would like to find common ground (other than our mutual hatred of soccer!). And in your closing remarks, you struck upon an important point we can actually agree on. SSM is not really the issue. The real issue is a redefinition of how male/female sexuality complementarity is ordered. And that redefinition has been taking place long before now. Once passion was given precedence over reason, "the sexual revolution" inevitably occured. Sex outside of marriage was the first major move, and "no-fault" divorce was the second. SSM is just another chapter, and certainly not the last. Of course, from my point of view the solutions are not the draconian measures you mentioned, like forced abortion and abusive permanent marriages. But the underlying issue goes much deeper than SSM, as you said.

    2. Man, soccer DOES stink!

      The redefinition you speak of is an important part of our cultural evolution as we have come to understand that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. It's natural. It exists in almost all animal species. In human populations, it exists in the same proportion regardless of our cultural acceptance. The rate of homosexuality is about the same in Iran as it is in Sweden. It's a normal variation in nature.So imposing a code of male/female sexual complementarity on everyone is not natural, not fair, and not moral IMO.

      Sex outside of marriage has existed for the entirety of human history. The only thing that has changed is how we sanction it. We're better able to handle it nowadays with contraception and protection from STDs, but we still struggle with it because of how we socialize boys and girls. We may have to just agree to disagree on the subject of extramarital sex because I don't think it's immoral or unethical.

      As for no-fault divorce, I admit there may have been some problems with its implementation, but I don't think we really want to go back to the days before it. It meant that when desertion happened, women and children had no legal recourse to get support or restitution because after all, they were still married and agreeing to whatever circumstances came about during the marriage. And prior to no-fault divorce, there were some absolutely tragic and terrifying cases I found in my research from the 1930s and 40s when I studied Family Law in college. The courts used to hold that in order to get a divorce, both parties had to come to the marriage with 'clean hands', meaning the spouse wanting the divorce couldn't have done ANYTHING questionable at any point in the marriage, which was almost unheard of. One case I can think of off the top of my head was the Maurer case in 1940s Oregon, where the judge admitted that the husband was so violent the wife and child lived in constant fear, but the wife had twice thrown things across the room at her husband, and so because she didn't come to court with clean hands, neither of them deserved relief from the marriage. It's worth noting that in every state that introduced no-fault divorce, in the 5-year period afterward there was a 15-20% decline in the suicide rate of wives, and an even BIGGER decline in the rate at which wives murdered their husbands.

    3. This will be my final comment on the entire thread, so you can have the last word. Those are sad statistics indeed, stats that reflect real life horror stories. From the point of view of natural law that I have argued, sice marriage is about both a procreative and unitive purpose, and since that unitive purpose is a comprehensive union that is mutual as well as exclusive and permanent, then it is highly immoral for a man to abuse, neglect, abandon, or cheat on his wife. That's why most states before no-fault divorce permitted divorce in the case of the three A's: adultery, abuse, and abandonment. The proper balance (in my view of what the natural order entails) between the horrific abuses you mentioned and the no-fault culture of today is a return to respect for the comprehensive union, not only in its permanent aspects, but also in its mutual aspects. Abuse and exploitation defy that kind of view.

      This also explains who so many "conservative" politicians who are against SSM cannot voice a logical, rational argument for their position. The only course of argument that I can see that has validity is the kind of natural law argument I passed on from Aristotle and gang - but the same premises would argue against no-fault divorce, and few of them want to touch that issue, especially when so many of them (cough Donald Trump cough) have made a mockery out of what a comprehensive union actually is.

      Thanks again, Matt, for your thoughtful comments.

  12. Where is the policy argument? Aside from the examples of prohibiting incest or minors marrying, you didn't provide any policy arguments, rather, largely biological ones.

    One premise that is on shaky ground at best, is the nature of childbearing. Remember: marriage is not a license nor an examination to have children (although I'm not sure I'd be opposed to that). There is no legal or policy context that has to do with assessing children when issuing a marriage certificate.

    Second, the "parts is parts" argument has been used before in America to prevent a group of people from doing something the ruling class wanted to keep to itself. African Americans were not intelligent enough, it was said, to own land or vote (or sit with, go to school with, eat with, talk to, or marry white people, etc). 'It's not that we hate them, they just aren't smart enough. God never intended it.' People made policy on this basis and rationalized their actions (at least in their own heads) by using societal norms around what African Americans could or couldn't do. Now, it does take a man and a woman to make a child in the strictest sense, but with technology today, that norm is changing. Is this technology a gift from God, as many heterosexual couples I know have said it is, or is it a violation of the "parts is parts" credo?

    Back to the policy questions. What is the harm? What are the costs? What is most efficient? What is most equitable?

    A few more direct questions:
    What are we really losing by giving tax benefits to married couples? Do you know why those tax benefits were granted to married couples? Do those circumstances still apply? What is the incremental fiscal cost if we were to legalize SSM?

    I have some broader questions as well - why do governments need to be involved in marriage anyhow? Why do we have a tax system so convoluted and twisted that people are interested in gaming the system through marriage?

    As a Christian, I also wonder this: why do we think Government and regulation is the best way to share the love of Christ with people?

    1. 1. The policy argument was that since marriage is defined by the natural order as between a man and woman, it would be a huge mistake for the government to change this defintion, esp. since there is no coherent way to otherwise define "marriage" in a way that doesn't reduce it to mere contract law.
      2. You completely misunderstood the "parts is parts" argument. Please go back and read it.
      3. Tax benefits are usually given by the govt to encourage something. In this case, marriage. And if you are interested in limited government, supporting the traditional definition of marriage is vital, since the costs to the government of caring for children born and raised without both parents is enormous.
      4. If you don't honestly think the government should be involved at all in marriage, then please stay away from my wife.
      5. Where in the word did you assume that I remotely arguing that "Government and regulation is the best way to share the love of Christ with people"? This post had to do with a policy question. If that's what you came away with, you completely missed the point of the post, and made an absurd assumption about me.

  13. I think that most people who are not on the front lines on either side of this matter just feel that it is only an issue to those whose lives are affected by it. The rest of us are saying: Go do what you want and don't bother us. The don't bother us part means don't force us to bake your cakes or cater your weddings. Don't force us to have your ceremonies in our houses of worship. Don't force us to do anything connected with the subject that violates our personal values. JUST LEAVE US OUT OF YOUR AFFAIRS1

  14. Matthew 22:37-39. Pretty sure it means unconditionally, and we are NOT commended to judge. Free agency allows us all to make our own choices. To disagree is not hatred. As a race, we are imperfect. The only person for whom I can be responsible? Me.

    1. Thank you for your comment Denise. It is ironic that you quoted that particular passage, for a couple of reasons. First, the greatest commandment - to love God - is quoted from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the ancient confession of Israel which begins, "Hear, o Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one." That command is itself a highly "judgmental" command in the sense that the reason we are to love God with our entire being is because He is the only God that should be worshipped. There is ONE God, not many gods. That's a pretty judgmental statement. Further, to love God is to put His will above our own, and HIs will is very explicit in the Old and New Testaments about same-sex conduct.

      The other major irony here is that the very next chapter of Matthew is one of the most judgmental chapters in all of the Bible, and JESUS excoriates the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and corruption.

      The Bible does not forbid "judging" if by that you mean making distinctions between right and wrong conduct. It does forbid hypocritical judging, holding others to a much higher standard than we are willing to embrace ourselves, as Jesus makes clear in the larger context of Matthew 7:1-5.

      But of course, my post had nothing to do with what the Bible says about same-sex marriage. My post was an argument from the natural order itself, an argument that can be traced back to Aristotle, hardly a Christian. And I have great affection for many gay friends I have met through the years. But it is possible to disagree profoundly with people with love. At the end of the day, either the logical of the argument I made holds up or it does not. That's what needs to be addressed.

  15. Also, imo, marriage *is* a mere contract law. It wasn't a church-thing for years and years. It was a woman being handed from her father to her new husband. It was a non-romantic business transaction, mostly. All the romantic stuff is just Western culture fetishising love, as per usual.

    1. Beth, I think you may have tried to post a comment that did not come through on my end. So if you don't mind, I will copy and paste it from FB and respond here, in addition to your second point.

      On FB you asked, "But what about black people marrying white people?" And many people have tried to argue that opposition to SSM is no different than the misguided opposition to interracial marriage a generation ago. But if you followed the argument that I laid out, it should be obvious why this parallel is manifestly false. The ancient argument against SSM based on the natural order has to do with male/female sexual complementarity. That is why that for centuries of philosophical reflection on the subject of marriage, thinkers as diverse as Aristotle and Aquinas NEVER mentioned race as a factor. But they did start with the obvious premise that men and women are different, that the sexual organs are naturally ordered toward reproductive and unitive ends, and draw out the implications. One historian has suggested that it was the American colonies that were the first political body to legislate against interracial marriage in an effort to maintain race-based slavery. So opposition to interracial marriage is of very recent vintage, and driven by crass political concerns. But defining marriage as inherently male/female comes from millennia of reasoned argument drawn from the natural order.

      As to your comment that did post, I am glad to see that you conceded my my argument against the coherence of SSM - namely, that SSM inevitably redefines "marriage" as nothing more than contract law. And I pose the same question to you that I have to others: since marriage is nothing more than contract law, then on what principled basis would you oppose marriage for more than two parties? Maybe a throuple or quartet? On what basis would you propose limiting marriage to those who are sexually attracted to each other? Why couldn't two (or more) straight people of the same sex receive a "contract" simply in order to enjoy the legal and economic benefits of marriage? Or do you even oppose calling these contractual agreements "marriage"?