Monday, December 20, 2010

On the definition of marriage

I recently read a lengthy article entitled "What is Marriage?" by Sherif Girgis (Ph.D. candidate in philosophy from Princeton), Robert George (McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princetion) and Ryan Anderson (Ph.D. candidate in Political Science from Notre Dame).

They compare and contrast two views of marriage: 1) The Conjugal View, i.e. that "Marriage is the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other of the type that is naturally (inherently) fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together" and 2) The Revisionist View that "Marriage is the union of two people (whether of the same sex or of opposite sexes) who commit to romantically loving and caring for each other and to sharing the burdens and benefits of domestic life) (246).

The authors argue "for legally enshrining the conjugal view of marriage, using arguments that require no appeal to religious authority" (247). In part one, they convincingly argue that "the common good of our society crucially depends on legally enshrining the conjugal view of marriage and would be damaged by enshrining the revisionist view" (248).

Some of the issues the authors address include, 1) equality and justice (equating discrimination against gay marriage with discrimination based on race), 2) the definition of marriage, 3) "How would Gay Civil Marriage Affect You or Your Marriage", 4) Moral and religious freedom, 5) Isn't marriage whatever we say it is?" 6) Wouldn't legalizing same-sex marriage help to "spread traditional norms to the gay community?" 7) "What about partners concrete needs?" 8) Aren't same-sex relationships only natural?" and 9) "Doesn't Traditional Marriage Law Impose Controversial Moral and Religious Views on Everyone?"

The authors demonstrate that "according to the best available sociological evidence, children fare best on virtually every indicator of wellbeing when reared by their wedded biological parents" (257). This "advantage of marriage appears to exist primarily when the child is the biological offspring of both parents" (258).

Interestingly enough, this benefit to the children appears to hold true even if one of the partners in the heterosexual marriage is also attracted to those of the same sex (258). In other words, the issue is not the sexual orientation of the parents. The issue is that children need a biological father and a biological mother. Redefining marriage to include same sex relationships cannot provide that.

The authors admit that "social and legal developments have already worn the ties that bind spouses to something beyond themselves and thus more securely to each other. But recognizing same-sex unions would mean cutting the last remaining threads" (262). This is significant "Because children fare best on most indicators of health and wellbeing when reared by their wedded biological parents" and "the further erosion of marital norms would adversely affect children" (262). "If same-sex partnerships were recognized as marriages...the ideal would be abolished from our law: no civil institution would any longer reinforce the notion that children need both a mother and a father; that men and women on average bring different gifts to the parenting enterprise; and that boys and girls need and tend to benefit from fathers and mothers in different ways" (263).

Since it is impossible for the state to be value-neutral on the issue of marriage, the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions would force the state "to view conjugal-marriage supporters as bigots who make groundless and invidious distinctions" (263-264). Indeed, "The proposition that support for conjugal conception of marriage is nothing more than a form of bigotry has become so deeply entrenched among marriage revisionists" that such prominent newspapers as the Washington Times and New York Times have promoted the idea (264).

Some of the statistics provided by the article are enlightening. For example,
In the 1980's, Professors David McWhirther and Andrew Mattison, themselves in a romantic relationship, set out to disprove popular beliefs about gay partners' lack of adherence to sexual exclusivity. Of 156 gay couples that they surveyed, whose relationships had lasted from one to thirty-seven years, more than sixty percent had entered the relationship expecting sexual exclusivity, but not one couple stayed sexually exclusively longer than five years" (278).
And, "A 1990's U.K. survey of more than 5,000 men found that the median numbers of partners for men with exclusively heterosexual"...inclinations over the previous five years" was two. By contrast the number median number of partners for homosexual men was 10 (279).

The authors conclude with a thought experiment:  "imagine that human beings reproduced asexually and that human offspring were self-sufficient. In that case would any culture have developed an institution anything like what we know as marriage? It seems clear that the answer is no" (286-287). The reason is that "Marriage is the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other of the type that is naturally (inherently) fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together" (246).

Excellent article!  I've only skimmed the surface. Please take time to read all of it.


Phil said...

I've read this post of yours before, I didn't take and re-read the whole thing now so I'm not entirely sure if you made this comment in this post but it seems relevent none the less.

In one of your posts about homosexuality you comment on the idea that "it is not about orientation but about behavior", which is something I agree with. It also seems to be the thought that the predominant purpose for marriage is for the raising of children, which I also agree with. However I am simply posing the following question to play devil's advocate here. I have heard this question before and never heard a satifactory answer to it, thus it is a valid point. That question is:

If marriage is for the purpose of raising children, than should that exclude those beyond child bearing years or those who know they are barren from marriage?

I'm interested in your thoughts on that.

Dennis said...


I think the "primary" purpose of marriage is probably raising children, but that is not the only purpose of marriage.

Another purpose for marriage may be companionship (In Genesis, God created Eve because "it is not good that man should be alone).

And Paul wrote that "it is better to marry than to burn [with passion]. Apparently Paul thought marriage was good if for no other reason than to avoid immorality.

My primary reason for being against sex with someone of the same sex is that God condemns it, right along with a host of other sexual behaviors like adultery, sex with relatives or sex with animals.

Among my reasons for being against re-defining marriage to include same sex couples are

1) it involves government blessing on behavior that God calls so abominable that he "vomits" nations out for it.

2) We have already seen numerous cases in which freedom of conscience (freedom of religion/speech) have been trampled on by gay rights advocates. When gay marriage becomes legal, the instances of religious freedom being trampled will increase exponentially (that according to a group of law professors who said it would be a "train wreck."

3) Same-sex marriage is a slippery slope leading to polygamy, polyamory, etc., and none of that--as the article I posted points out--is good for children.

Good question. Thanks for your post.

Phil said...

Thanks for the response; your points are very valid points and are points I would agree with. However, your points still raise the question as to how to argue it from the standpoint of law. The fact of the matter is, we do not live in a theocracy (Heaven knows we'd screw that up if we did too....) thus it still raises the question as to how to argue this point from a legal standpoint.

Again, as I had previously mentioned I'm somewhat playing devil's advocate here; partly because I'm looking for some insite because it is a question that I have struggled to answer. So, based on what I am saying, my response is:

1. I have commented that government endorsement of homosexuality essentially means that in the perceptions of most of the world we all endorse it; guilty by association. Such an endorsement essentially "forces" me to accept something that I view as morally incomprehensible. However, the fact is that "because God comdemns it" does not hold up from a legal standpoint. For the citizen (congressman/woman etc) who does not believe in God, this is irrelevant.

2. I have found the example of gay rights advocate trampling on others' rights VERY enlightening. Realistically, you and I both know that if gay marriage is legalized that it will inevitably lead to that nation wide. However, from the standpoint of "this should/should not be law", what "might" happen or what we "believe" will happen as a result still does not hold up.

3. Argument of the "slippery slope" is also very true. I could use the EXACTLY SAME arguments used to favor gay marriage to favor polygamy or even beastiality. Who are you to say that I cannot love more than one person? I cannot help who I love, love is not a choice!! (I believe 100% that love is a choice because love is an action and not a feeling... if love is not a choice than the vows of marriage are meaningless in the first place [the promise to love someone til death do you part] as, how can you promise something you have no control over? That would be like promising I will not die for 5 years... even if I live for 5 years it has nothing to do with my promise, but I digress). However, the argument of the "slippery slope" is still relatively weak, in the context of "this should/should not be law".

If you EQUATE gay marriage to polygamy or beastiliaty (as opposed to relate them via slippery slope) there is some strength there (in my opinion). A "train wreck" is REALLY formed when you start questioning how to make tax brackets function for polygamy. Given the nature of "equal rights" it would be impossible to say "only men can marry multiple people" which leads to the polyamory which really creats a problem when a man is married to four women, one of which is married to three men, one of those is married to 5 women who is married to one of the wives of the first guy, etc.

However, it just seems that a good, strong argument (from a legal standpoint) is still lacking as, even the "slippery slope" or "equating" issue is "swept away" by saying, "fine, we'll pass laws to protect from that" (which of course you and I know will simply get overturned in court).

Again, I'm looking for insites here.

Dennis said...


First, you’re absolutely right that a religious perspective and a legal perspective are not always the same thing. From a purely legal standpoint, my concern is that when gay marriage is recognized it becomes public policy and is supported and enforced by government. This has several consequences.

First, what this has meant in Massachusetts is that the public schools promote the idea that homosexual behavior is a normal and acceptable alternative lifestyle [and that parents and religious leaders who say otherwise are intolerant bigots]. A judge in MA ruled that parents do not have the right to opt their children out of this brainwashing.

Second, anti-discrimination laws—which are already having an effect—will be pursued with a vengeance once gay marriage become national public policy. More and more churches, Christian organizations (charities, missions, etc.) and individual Christians will be sued for discriminating against those who openly practice a behavior which orthodox Christianity, Judaism and Islam view as an abomination.

In the words of one law professor: it will be a train wreck. In the word of one of Barack Obama’s appointees, Chai Feldblom, she can see no case in which religious freedom should trump sexual freedom.

The really issue is not whether Adam should be able to marry Steve. The real issues is someone’s idea of “discrimination” trumping the Constitutional protections of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion. This is not just a religious matter. It is a legal matter.

Dennis said...

I guess I’m not following your second point. We’re not talking about prosecuting people for having a homosexual relationship. We are talking about public policy. Responsible voters MUST look at the possible consequences of enacting certain laws and public policies. Both Republicans and Democrats regularly try to warn of the potential consequences of proposed legislation. It would be irresponsible not to do so.

Regarding your third point:

No one in the debate is saying you can’t love more than one person. This is red herring.

And, no, it is not a weak argument at all. No one can predict the future with 100% accuracy. But as I argued above, responsible voters MUST look at proposed laws and policies and make their best judgments about the possible consequences—and vote accordingly.

Phil said...

At the time, you are correct that we are not talking about a court case... YET!! But as we have also seen that, were it public policy, or law, the activists with the help of the ACLU would SURELY take this to court and then it IS a matter of a court case.

Now you DO have to look at it from a legal standpoint because right or wrong, the fact is that when left wing activists don't get their way in the ligislature they take it to court and typically win there. Given that we're in the same Federal Court of Appeals distrcit as teh likes of Chicago... unless teh evidence is almost unprovable in support of traditional marriage FROM A LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL STANDPOINT, we're gonna lose (and even if the evidence is crystal clear they still might rule however they want regardless of evidence and law).

That being said... when it eventually reaches that point the slippery slope argument falls short severely becase we know full well that they do not see nor do they care about "possible" future consequences.

Once the courts support gay marriage than the, "who are you to say I can't lvoe more than oen person" is NOT a red herring. One of the primary arugments of homosexuality is that "I acn't help who I loev," or "who are you to say that I as a man can't love another man." I guess what I am basically saying is that I am validating the idea of the "slippery slope" but I am putting it into a perspective of the legal conondrum that it would create with the next step beign polygamy. No, at the time noone is saying I can't love more than one person.. at the time. But what I am saying is that using essentially teh same arguements polygamy is next and is quite equivalent.

As you said, we cannot predit the future 100% but as I have argued and I think you know full well, unless serious reforms and changes happen with our federal justices and their influence, "responsible voters" can do all they want because the court will be where it will be decided next and than it is a legal issue.