The Basic Point on Marriage

Ross Douthat states well the essential argument for preservation of traditional marriage that I’ve been making:

So what are gay marriage’s opponents really defending, if not some universal, biologically inevitable institution? It’s a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.
This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.
The point of this ideal is not that other relationships have no value, or that only nuclear families can rear children successfully. Rather, it’s that lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable — a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations — that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support.

Douthat goes on to note the long deterioration of the ideal among heterosexuals, but he doesn’t present the specific relevance of same-sex marriage thereto. He’s right to decry serial polygamy (multiple marriage partners throughout life via the mechanism of divorce). However, same-sex marriage doesn’t stand in potential contrast to that trend; it locks into law the view of marriage that enables it: being primarily about mutual care and romantic affection between adults, with the binds of procreation secondary. Worse, it lays the foundation for further dissolution of the institution to an anything-goes practice centered on the benefits permitted to spouses.

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Swazool
Swazool
11 years ago

The majority of Americans support Gay Marriage. It is a trend that is growing.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_upshot/20100812/pl_yblog_upshot/poll-majority-of-americans-support-gay-marriage
You can talk in circles and until your face turns blue, but it is a loosing battle. Right or wrong, politicians respond to the will of the people, and the will of the people is to grant homos the right to marry. As I said before, by the time your children are your age it won’t even be called ssm, just marriage just like people don’t qualify inter-racial marriages any more, they just call them marriages.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

And yet, every time it’s come up for a popular vote, traditional marriage has won.
Whatever case, and in either direction, majorities can be egregiously wrong. That doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to make the case for that which is right, as we see it.

msteven
msteven
11 years ago

I would agree that the trend is certainly towards allowing same-sex marriage and also that this does not mean it is the right thing to do. Just because the government sanctions something does not validate it. I’ve always thought there is a legitimate debate about the pros and cons of allowing same-sex people to marry. There are fair and reasoned arguments on both sides.
What bother me is that this has been forced by the finding that current marriage laws have been found unconstitutional. In other words, the definition of marriage – in any historical or cultural context – has been deemed ‘incorrect’. To me that is unfathomable. How the State has defined marriage has not gone against the constitution regardless of what any judge has ruled. The issue is not about equality. It is about definition. Legislators deal with equality. Judges deal with interpretations and definitions.
SSM proponents should at least be honest enough to acknowledge that allowing same-sex couples to marry is a significant change in the definition of marriage as historically defined. But then again, in today’s social and culture the end always justifies the means. And this is used regardless of political affiliation or agenda. Because sadly, it is effective. And to use some Justin’s words – winning is not always righteous validation.

mangeek
mangeek
11 years ago

“…primarily about mutual care and romantic affection between adults, with the binds of procreation secondary.”
“…it lays the foundation for further dissolution of the institution to an anything-goes practice centered on the benefits permitted to spouses.”
I don’t see these as bad things, but I’m young, ‘living in sin’, and avoiding popping the question. Isn’t marriage about two people in love, and parenthood about raising kids?

Justin Katz
11 years ago

Mangeek,
That is what marriage is “about,” but it’s not quite why society has an interest in encouraging marriage. Folks inclined to that behavior don’t need state approval of their relationships; folks who can find themselves as parents without really intending to do need to be drawn into an institution aimed toward creating stable families. The ultimate objective of marriage as an institution, in other words, is to push people behaving in a way that might create children toward a family type that is best suited to raising them.
The problem with SSM is that it takes the natural ability of men and women to create children together out of the equation.

rhody
rhody
11 years ago

The whole “marriage is only to procreate” argument completely dismissed those heteros who marry past their childbearing or people who for medical reasons cannot bear children.
I’m encouraged to see that many young conservatives do not feel threatened by gay marriage. It may not happen as fast as we like (there are still the modern equivalents of George Wallace and Bull Connor that will stop at nothing to prevent it), but it will happen.
And the United States of America will not turn into a pillar of salt, either.

Swazool
Swazool
11 years ago

“marriage is only to procreate”
Since Justin is such a dogmatic Catholic, That was changed in Vatican II. Marriage is to foster love as well. The definition of marriage has changed numerous times over the history of mankind, no reason not to “redefine” it now.

msteven
msteven
11 years ago

Justin, your argument seems to be that the objective of marriage is to push people who unintentionally procreate into a stable family environment which is best suited to raising them. I’ll go so far as to agree that this is one of the positive outcomes of the institution of marriage. And yes, same-sex marriage does eliminate that from the equation. But I don’t see how government approval of a non-procreative circumstance affects the institution. It would if state marriage was applied ONLY for non-procreative cases – but that is not what is being suggested.
At the end of the day, I think this debate is about government approval on moral grounds. The government already does this – by the restrictions based on polygamy, incest & age. As I said above, my main beef is that all of a sudden, the definition of marriage as one man & one woman is unconstitutional. There is legit debate whether that definition should be changed. But I strongly disagree that that definition is and always has been ‘wrong’.

SAM
SAM
11 years ago

If majorities were reversed, would you want to put, YOUR rights up for a vote?
Funny how the opponents of equal rights for gays refuse to answer this question.

Sam
Sam
11 years ago

The reasons for supporting gay marriage from a societal standpoint, are very similar to the reasons for supporting traditional marriage.
Increased societal stability
The arguments put forth by justin are all long discredited, easily destroyed RW talking points
Bottom line is there are no rational arguments against gay marriage and there are plenty of good ones for

msteven
msteven
11 years ago

“Bottom line is there are no rational arguments against gay marriage and there are plenty of good ones for”
Please. That’s as lame as those that say there are no rational arguments in favor of SSM. Then why has no country on earth had SSM – even considered it until now? Are they all bigots? Is the definition of marriage equivalent to “slavery”? Polygamy has more of a history than SSM because of its opposite-sex nature and potential for procreation.
I’m not saying there are not valid reasons to legally recognize same-sex relationships. There are many. But the opposition to are far more complex and valid that just the “bigotry” assertion.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

Most of the arguments I have heard surrounding SSM are difficulties with other laws, inheritance, hospital visits, Social Security benefits, etc. These could all be fixed by changing the other laws without redefining marriage. SSM is a different animal, give it a different name.
I find difficulty in understanding why the decisions and laws upholding SSM do not apply to polygamous marriages. I have read the Massachusetts decision, I think that could easily be construed to permit polygamy.

Swazool
Swazool
11 years ago

“give it a different name”
I am sure we have been over this a bunch of times but that didn’t work in the south with drinking fountains I don’t think it would work with with something like marriage that gives rights to the things you mentioned like “inheritance, hospital visits, Social Security benefits, etc.”

Justin Katz
11 years ago

Rhody,
I really want to know: Is your habitual failure to acknowledge the actual arguments of your opposition in favor of the talking points of your allies deliberate or an indication of mental limits?
I’m pretty sure I’ve addressed the corrections to your points to you specifically in the past. Allowing older (and otherwise sterile) couples to marry does not change the inherent connection between male-female intimacy and the creation of children.
And the “threatened by gay marriage” line is banal to the point of gibberish.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

Swazool,
1. Catholic doctrine concerning moral sexual activity does not present love and procreation as an either/or. Moral sex is both unitive and procreative (in the sense of being open to conceiving children, even if it doesn’t happen in that instance).
2. Marriage may have changed over the course of humankind, but it has never been anything other than male-female (except in very isolated instances that shouldn’t be considered encouraging from gay-rights types). That is the core definition.
3. On a related point: the evolution of family types has contributed to the advancement of Western Society, which raises two points:
a. It has been an evolution, meaning long development, not quick insertion into the law.
b. Such evolution can have dead ends, and being sentient creatures, we’d do well to avoid them.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

msteven,

I don’t see how government approval of a non-procreative circumstance affects the institution. It would if state marriage was applied ONLY for non-procreative cases – but that is not what is being suggested.

Because government recognition is valuable mainly inasmuch as it affirms (and does not contradict) the cultural messaging of marriage. People who give irresponsible birth are not going to be lured into marriage by the prospect of sharing healthcare benefits or tax incentives with a love-interest in whom they don’t really have much interest, despite their shared parenthood. It’s a simple message: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in the baby carriage.”
By flooding the public square with some alternate definition of marriage, the government undermines the cultural understanding.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

SAM:

If majorities were reversed, would you want to put, YOUR rights up for a vote?

It’s difficult for me to relate, inasmuch as I’m not claiming any heretofore unheard-of rights.
On the specific case, though, I’ll say this: I do not require a government stamp on my relationship, and I certainly wouldn’t seek to undermine the political processes in which I believe in order to gain one.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

Swazool,

that didn’t work in the south with drinking fountains

A flawed and insulting analogy. The fluid that homosexuals are wishing to have pumped through the same fountain is substantially different. Water remains water.

msteven
msteven
11 years ago

I don’t believe that the purpose (or even value) of government recognition is primarily about affirming the cultural messaging of marriage. It is ‘a part’ of it but not a primary part. I also disagree about people being not lured into marriage by the prospect of sharing health benefits or tax incentives. Maybe not primarily or ideally, but it is part of the equation of getting married, even in the case of what you refer to as ‘irresponsible birth’. The old ditty you refer to is simply NOT the primary message of marriage. It may be a traditional message of responsible procreation.
You are correct that adding same-sex couples does change the definition of marriage and the cultural understanding of its opposite-sex nature. The question remains is whether the benefits of allowing same-sex couples government recognition is outweighed by the costs and consequences of changing the definition of marriage.
What I dismiss is the lack of acknowledgment of 1) any societal benefits of the legal recognition and 2) that it does indeed change the traditional and cultural definition of marriage.

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