For Whom the Bell Chimes

Per his usual participation, msteven makes a fair and reasonable point:

The truth is that marriage is and always has been open to opposite-sex couples that are not open to children. I agree that the issue isn’t JUST about the acceptance of homosexuality, and that allowing SSM is a significant change to the historical definition of marriage. But, as you said, “… circumstances sometimes eliminate the ideal”, and I think it is reasonable for SSM advocates to argue that theirs is another circumstance that should be considered. I am NOT saying I totally agree with them or that SSM is ‘constitutional’, but that it is about drawing a line.

There is a broad, bold line that must be crossed in order to admit homosexuals as another exception to the marital norm. Indeed, I’ve already stressed that we oughtn’t belittle non-marital family forms. People do their best with what they’re given, and forcing them into molds that don’t fit as a condition of doing something good — such as caring for others’ children or pledging mutual care to another adult — could hardly be to their or society’s benefit. Those who incline toward admirable life structures oughtn’t be discouraged.
Certainly, there are people who incline toward marriage, and I’ve long maintained that heterosexuals who enter into matrimony for all the right reasons don’t need civil recognition, and changes to the civil institution will affect them not in the least. But such folks invest in the image of marriage in order to make the option as palatable, even as attractive, as it is responsible. The young man whose girlfriend discovers herself to be pregnant should have a clear social model encouraging him to associate his progeny with a stable household including their mother.
If marriage is all about “love,” then those whom marriage is meant to change can quite reasonably reject the notion that they should marry on the grounds that they do not love enough. Too be sure, we’re too far down this road, already, but same-sex marriage, as an accepted proposition, would solidify the principle as a matter of stark law.
Worse, however, is that “love” is ultimately a religious concept, and civil marriage, if disconnected from the purpose of encouraging potentially procreative pairs toward stable relationships, is really about benefits and mutual care, to which any number of family types could rightly lay claim. In that light, it should be clear that the “exception” of allowing non-procreative, heterosexual couplings to enter into marriage is hardly a compromise at all: It merely creates a simple definition of marriage toward a necessary purpose, without imposing arduous and implausible obstacles, such as fertility tests or procreation pledges as a condition of a marriage license.

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msteven
msteven
12 years ago

Thank you for the compliment, as I took it coming from an accomplished writer.
The only thing I disagreed with was where you said “… is that “love” is ultimately a religious concept”. But overall, you sort of make my point which is that this is about drawing lines with regard to legal acknowledgement. But you do make a strong argument against moving the line and, in this case, changing the definition.

Chairm
Chairm
12 years ago

mstevens, I also see it as line drawing. I responded to your earlier question in the previous discussion. See Chairm at November 21, 2008 7:42 AM. To elaborate further: SSM argumentation, when set apart from gay identity politics, is merely a call for protections which may be provided through a protective relationship status. Marriage is a preferential relationship status due to its core meaning. The lines drawn around it reflect both the core or the essentials that distinguish marriage from non-marriage AND the societal preference for its core or its nature. Gay union, on the other hand, is but one subset of the larger nonmarital category. That category is one-sexed and both-sexed. How woud gay union be distinguished from the rest? There already are provisions for designated beneficiaries — these have long-existed prior to the recent push form a merger of gay union with marriage. A relationship status, at law, could be established based on bundling such protections as a way of society adjusting for the nonmarital trends that have accompanied the decline of the social institution of marriage. But the priority ought to be to stop that decline, to strengthen the influence of marriage’s core meaning, and to reverse, longterm, the trajectory of the nonmarital trends throughut society. It is a society-wide concern that cuts across generations. The gay union thing is perhaps about some recognition of a segment of society that will remain outside of the marital category but also will not be dminished with a reversal of nonmarital trends. But such a relationship, if it is to be accorded a protective status in its own right, must be distinguishable from other unwed arrangements. I do not think that “love” does the trick. Nor does sexual attraction or sexual behavior. Not in terms of legal recognition and, given… Read more »

Chairm
Chairm
12 years ago

Here’s the link to a blogpost about Marvin Ellison’s lecture.
Polyamory as part of the “justice agenda” .

msteven
msteven
12 years ago

Chairm,
Why are you picking on me? I don’t really have the time or share the zeal you have for this. I agree with some of what you say but not all of it. I’ll just address this:
“Marriage is a preferential relationship status due to its core meaning. The lines drawn around it reflect both the core or the essentials that distinguish marriage from non-marriage AND the societal preference for its core or its nature.”
I don’t beleive marriage is based on being a ‘preferential relationship due to its core meaning’ as you say. I think it has become that for many over time and that is why many gay-rights advocates are so insistent on not having their relationships seen as less than ‘preferred’ in the legal context. Having said that, I see some of your points that a gay-union is not a ‘marriage’ – not at its current definition. I don’t really care what Mr. Ellison thinks. For me, the issue seems to be primarily about the normalizing of the gay-identity. I see both some pros and cons to that but mainly, what I think the pro-SSM movement should do to gain credibility is to acknowledge that SSM is a dramatic chnage to the definition of marriage which has existed since time began. That current marriage laws are not discriminatory. Having said that, I don’t agree with all anti-SSM arguments such as the religious liberty issue as I don’t think requiring all religions to accept a civil institution is part of the deal.

Chairm
Chairm
12 years ago

While I responded to your comments, mstevens, I did not think I had picked on you.
Marriage is not a preferential status based on a preference for “straights”.
The goal of the SSM movement is to use marriage to gain special status for gay identity, I agree with you on that.
But the merger of gay union and marriage is a replacement of marriage recognition, not an expansion of marital status.
Ellison’s views make of the merger a prelude to flattening marital status — extending SSM argumentation to its natural conclusion.
See, once society merges a subset of nonmarriage with marriage, it becomes hard to sustain a distinction between the now diluted meaning of marital status and the rest of the kidns of arrangements that are nonmarital.
Core meanings are what we draw boundaries around. But gay union, as put out there by SSMers, has no core meaning — apart from gay identity politics.
Gay union is not based on openness to gayness, to use an analogy with procreation. And while procreation is entailed in the consent to marry (i.e. the marital presumption of paternity), there is no such legal requirement for gayness. No legal presumption. Nada.
But if gay union is merged with marital status, on the basis that anything that does not fit gay union must not be essential to the merged status, then, that pretty much undermines, if not abolishes, the basis for the presumption of paternity. It would make of “marital status” a nonsexual concept. And that opens it to the entire range of nonmarital arrangements — sexual or not.

msteven
msteven
12 years ago

It just seems like you have a “bone to pick” re: SSM and I just happened to be the 1st dog that came along for you to “pick” on. Some of the comments you’ve made don’t seem in response to ones I’ve made.
I agree with you that marriage is not a preferential status based on a preference for “straights”. I’ve already said I don’t feel it is discriminatory.
My point was that within the context of the opposite-gendered definition, marriage is pretty much a civil right (albiet with a few caveats). And the argument that their relationships are just as or more worthy of having that preferential status as some opposite-gendered couples who are eligible to get it – is a reasonable point.

Pragmatist
Pragmatist
12 years ago

Justin, despite all of your spinning in circles, you have yet to demonstrate any evidence that marriage’s “purpose” (as you put it) is to promote stable childrearing couples. That is your invention. One could just as easily argue that marriage’s purpose is to promote stable couples, with or without children. But this argument isn’t really about definitions, it’s about policy.
Your emphasis on what marriage “means” is typical of a Catholic mindset (big C). And that’s fine for theology. But when debating civil marriage — policy and law matter, because definitions are always changeable in civil matters.
The policy arguments in favor of encouraging stable gay relationships seem to me to far outweigh your vague fears that the sight of gay marriages will result in fewer straight marriages.
How does gay marriage impact the decision of the “young man whose girlfriend discovers herself to be pregnant”? Because marriage is now about love and not stable childrearing straight couples?
Ok, how about allowing only gay couples who have children to marry?

Justin Katz
12 years ago

Pragmatist,
Calling the historical purpose and meaning of marriage “my invention” is patently absurd. It is clear in history, in social and cultural markers, and in the law.
It is similarly absurd to attempt to tease the meaning of marriage apart from its policy implications. The meaning determines the outcome of the policy. As I suggested, if the legally and culturally reinforced expectations around marriage are that couples that have created or intend to create new life will do so within the confines of the institution, then young couples will treat marriage, themselves, and their children differently than if marriage is a loose partnership founded on romantic notions.
The allowance of only gay parents into marriage would be an attractive compromise but for the difficulties of implementation. For one thing, if non-parental gays cannot marry, why should non-parental straights be able to? And if we exclude them, we foil the purpose of marriage, as I’ve presented it.
Marriage as traditionally defined is constructed simply and with a minimum of intrusion. There are no fertility tests, for example. That simplicity of message is critical to its utility.

Chairm
Chairm
12 years ago

There already are protections for nonmarital families with children. They kick-in when nonmarital arrangements include children.

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