Questions and Answers on Same-Sex Marriage

After some brawl-in-the-schoolyard circling, commenter Pragmatist and I have started up another round of the same-sex marriage dialog on Anchor Rising, thus far in the form of a question and answer exchange. Thinking the exercise worthwhile (and curious to see how far we’ll get with it this time), I considered a post of its own to be justified, beginning with his first question:

… why shouldn’t the state encourage monogamous homosexual relationships? Unless you are prepared to take the position of the president of Iran that homosexuals don’t exist, then aren’t strong, stable, monogamous homosexual relationships better for society than the opposite?

To which I replied:

I’m not opposed to states’ seeking to do so, as long as they structure the new institution of same-sex unions from the ground up, without reference to marriage. (When constitutional amendments have been proposed, I’ve always backed versions that would leave that possibility open.) My reasoning (on the secular/civil side) is that modifying the definition of marriage in order to encompass same-sex relationships will undermine the institution as it exists, thus diminishing the states’ encouragement of stable, monogamous relationships between heterosexual couples (which, after all, have the added consideration that they can produce children with minimal intention).
I’ve long said, by the way, that my calculation might change if the pro-SSM movement took up the cause of tighter divorce laws. No takers from your side, yet.

Response:

Yes, I have heard this argument many times. But I have never heard a convincing unbundling of this amorphous concern: “modifying the definition of marriage in order to encompass same-sex relationships will undermine the institution as it exists.” How? How does encouraging MORE stable relationships undermine the institution? Perhaps the struggle of homosexuals to establish this right despite overwhelming odds should reinforce the importance of the institution for heterosexuals? Maybe heterosexuals should be inspired by the struggle and value what they have already even more?

I’ll start by saying that I do think there’s likely been positive development among heterosexuals as the struggle over same-sex marriage has raged, but not because they are inspired by homosexuals’ striking belief in the institution. Rather, in formulating their own positions on the issue, at least those who don’t take their views directly from the oracles of popular culture are spurred to consider what marriage means to them. What the institution is for, and what that meaning requires of them.
That really is the central question: What is marriage about? Reformulated for use in discussion of public policy, the question is: What is the purpose of the government’s recognition of it? By changing the essence of what marriage is, and what it hopes to accomplish, same-sex marriage would undermine the institution in three interrelated ways:

  1. Equal rights abide no arbitrary boundaries. If we enshrine into law the principle that marriage is the recognition of intimate adult relationships, defined according to the proclivities of the individual, all subsequent distinctions are fundamentally arbitrary. Polygamy and adult incestuous relationships will follow. Marriage as the encouragement of a particularly stable form of grouping will become meaningless.
  2. We won’t abide the government in our bedrooms. Our culture still has strong presumptions about male-female relationships. Yeah, men and women can be friends, even roommates, but there are boundaries that begin to raise suspicions — notably, living together. For the most part, those suspicions have protected marriage from corruptive arrangements of pure self-interest. The gay rights movement has, to some extent, raised suspicion about platonic same-sex relationships, but were same-sex marriage to become available, I think it likely that heterosexuals would exploit the arrangement for economic reasons. And frankly, I don’t see why they shouldn’t. If the civil impetus for recognizing marriage is to encourage mutual care of independent citizens (allowing various assumptions of trust and rights such as the famous hospital visits), then there’s no reason pairings that don’t involve sex shouldn’t be included, whether they involve friends or relatives.
  3. Too many won’t abide their own children. The most important of the consequences of codifying the romantic, mutual-intimacy-centered vision of marriage into the law is the competing vision that it displaces: that marriage is fundamentally a desirable relationship between a man and a woman because their intimacy can result in the birth of children. Our society gives marriage weight in order to create a cultural expectation that will draw those who might be inclined to shirk their responsibility into stable families. If marriage and the potential of procreation aren’t intrinsically linked, then there is less pressure on a man to stick with the mother of his children (or a woman their father) for the family’s benefit, even if fleeting romantic feelings don’t fulfill his (or her) fantasies.
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Bobby Oliveira
Bobby Oliveira
13 years ago

Dear Justin,
The following is alternatively laughable and creepy:
Polygamy and adult incestuous relationships will follow
Let me guess, gay married couples will now roam the earth like vampires trying to convert everybody. The state has a defined health interest, and don’t abuse our courts interest, in keeping the incestuous and the “multiple” out of bounds.
2. Again, let me clue you in: when 2 folks over 70 years old get married, there’s not going to be a lot of sex. On the other side, when a 75 year old guy marries a 22 year old girl, what is that about?? MOst marriages for most of the history of the planet were arranged business deals.
3. Have you looked at the divorce rate?? No one’s feeling the pressure now. Nobody cares. If you wish to tighten divorce law so folks look at the decision a lot more thoroughly in the first place, I’m with you.
Let me really go out on a limb and offend people:
I think a child who grows up in a 2 parent gay household is better off than a child that grows up in a single parent household led by either sex.

smmtheory
smmtheory
13 years ago

I think a child who grows up in a 2 parent gay household is better off than a child that grows up in a single parent household led by either sex.

Why? Is it because that child was ripped from a 2 parent non-gay household and transplanted to the 2 parent gay household, whereas the other child wasn’t transplanted, just ripped from the 2 parent non-gay household?

msteven
msteven
13 years ago

This was a very interesting and well written post. First, let me respond to Bobby O’s last comment on the previous related post. Give me an example of a time and place where marriage was something other than opposite sex? The arrangement of marriages has nothing to do with the definition of it. That’s apples and oranges. Yes, there has been an evolution of the ‘voter’ and it has moved towards liberty. I am not saying there isn’t some merit to the argument that “marriage” or some legal acknowledgment should be given to same-sex couples. What I am saying is that it is not an entitlement based on liberty and that allowing same-sex people to marry is a significant and unprecedented change in the current definition. Also, what exactly constitutes unfairly “capturing” women? (or men, for that matter) Regarding this post, I have a few comments on the ways it would undermine the current institution. Equal rights abide no arbitrary boundaries: This does not work for me. The ban on incestuous relationships is already an arbitrary boundary within the current definition. It is a boundary based on moral grounds. Same-sex would be yet another arbitrary line removed but one that would significantly change the current definition. Also, I don’t think one can assert that an opposite-sex grouping is necessarily more stable than a same-sex one. We won’t abide the government in our bedrooms. I also don’t think is completely fair. It implies that arrangements that are not intimate would increase by allowing same-sex couples to marry by adding a reason to exploit the law for the purpose of mutual care. Yet the same impetus already exists for opposite-sex arrangements. To me, this is sort of a stereotypical ‘liberal’ argument in that something should not be allowed due to the possibility… Read more »

Bobby Oliveira
Bobby Oliveira
13 years ago

Dear Smmtheory, I’m adopted, my sister works for DSS in Massachusetts. Unless the situation is totally beyond the bounds, I don’t want anybody ripped from anywhere. What am I arguing is it is the roles that matter not the sexes. One time stressed parent playing both roles, not to some some don’t do an excellent job, has a much tougher road than 2 loving parents who both have a role. MSteven, There are all kinds of examples in the anchient world including the progression of Popes from gay man to gay lover. There are monuments and gay dowries. Ancient Greece is always the easiest example to site where sex between 2 males was considered perfect because men “were perfect forms” while sex between a man and a woman was considered imperfect because a woman is an “imperfect form”. My question of course becomes if I engage in romantic activity with two women, isn’t that perfect again because two imperfects equals a perfect?? Gay folks pay taxes, gay folks fight wars. The war argument was used to lower the voting age. If we finally get to a place where we reverse “marriage penalties” in the tax code, gay folks should have the same right to access those benefits. Anytime where you create a system where an abused partner, especially those suffering “financial abuse”, does not have the sames access to rights as the abuser, regardless of sex, you have captured the party. Go to any women’s resource center and they well tell you stories of women gathering up literally $1.37 out of their “allowance” every week just do they could eswcape some day. Lastly, thanks to advances in science, I’m thinking of a female signer who carried David Crosby’s child, that you need 2 different sexes to procreate thing is also… Read more »

Pragmatist
Pragmatist
13 years ago

Justin, My response. 1. “The Incest and Polygamy Alarm.” This argument seems like little more than fear mongering. There are very legitimate social policy reasons to oppose both of these things that have no relevance to the SSM argument. But before I address the specifics, I will make a more general distinction. The case for SSM is not about marrying ANYONE you love, it is about marrying SOMEONE you love. By referencing polygamy and incest, you are unfairly equating the two. Under current law, homosexuals are denied the right to marry anyone they love. The same is not true of polygamists and those seeking incestuous relationships (assuming they are heterosexual). While even now the Catholic Church admits that there are people who are constitutively homosexual, I have never heard of a genetically predisposed polygamist. Heterosexuals who seek polygamous or incestuous relationships are not otherwise denied all marriage possibilities, just the specific ones they seek. The same is not true of homosexuals, who are denied all marriage possibilities. (Unless one would like to make the most anti-family argument of them all, that homosexuals should force themselves into heterosexual relationships). There are strong policy reasons to oppose polygamy and incest that have nothing to do with SSM. Polygamy undermines the social structure because over time, high-status males will attract multiple partners while low-status men will have no options. Society is unwilling to create a permanent underclass of unmarried males. Incest is proscribed because of the harm it creates within families themselves. Children cannot develop normal relationships with immediate family members if they are in constant fear of being a marriage target. In both cases, the power dynamics also lead to the exploitation of women, especially young women. Our experience with the enclaves of polygamy in modern society have shown that the men… Read more »

Justin Katz
13 years ago

I’ve carried the discussion of point number 1 here.
By the way, nobody is forcing anybody to type into the comment box. Type wherever you like; just cut and paste into the comment form.

Justin Katz
13 years ago

Discussion of point number 2 has moved here.

Chairm
Chairm
13 years ago

Regarding incestuous marriage, related people can and do marry. However, the line drawing is based on the core of marriage, not on incestuous sexual acts per se. The core of marriage is 1) the integration of the sexes, 2) contingency for responsible procreation, and 3) these combined as a coherent whole (i.e. as a social institution). Polygamy does provided for the core of marriage but is an inferior form and does not merit the preferential status that is accorded one-man-one-woman in our society. The big religions which allow for polygamy do so on the basis of addressing social ills and on the basis of extending protections to women (usually) and their children. So if the SSM argumentation regarding dependant partners or regarding children is to be adopted in full measure, so must these polygamous principles. Incestuous marriage is not incestuous just because of actual acts of sexual behavior between closely related pairs. Such acts are incestuous within or outside of marriage. However, the conjugal relationship is a sexual relationship, in public terms, due to its both-sexed nature. And as such the conjugal relationship is protected, and endorsed, on an inter-generational basis. That is, marriage is not a one-off for this or that particular generation; it is something that takes the very long view across many generations. The line drawing on incestous marriage does intersect with the prohibitions on incestuous sexual acts. However, a marriage is incestuous, and invalid, even if the man and woman do not touch each other, even if they are not sexual attracted to each other, even if they publicly state they will never cohabitate, never engage in sexual acts, and never even do so much as show public signs of affection. No direct evidence of incestuous sexual behavior is required: to hold themselves out as married… Read more »

Justin Katz
13 years ago

Discussion of mechanism #3 proceeds here.

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