Gay Man Makes the Underlying Argument for Traditional Marriage

To kick off an article with an adults-only title on Slate, Jesse Bering inadvertently establishes the core of the case for marriage’s remaining an opposite-sex institution (via Instapundit):

One of the best things about being a gay man is that one doesn’t have to worry about accidentally impregnating his partner, or, for that matter, getting knocked up.

To be sure, as a father I’m inclined to see Bering’s perceived blessing as a severe downside of homosexuality, but that’s a matter of perspective. In objective terms, though, we can all agree that the possibility of creating new human life is pretty much a definitive characteristic of relationships.
And it’s a definitive characteristic that same-sex marriage advocates hope to forbid our society to acknowledge in public policy — or, more precisely, hope to forbid our society from continuing to acknowledge after an unbroken history going back as far as it’s reasonable to conceive of there being any such thing as “public policy” in Western civilization.
Those of us on the other side would further argue that this one policy is central to the family structures that have enabled our society to advance as far as it has. Even if we presume ourselves to have evolved beyond the need of such traditions (which would be presumptuous, indeed), we cannot deny that children are necessary if our civilization and its unique virtues are to continue to exist.
I may disagree with Bering about fertility’s being a detriment, but it can hardly be argued that the power it imparts requires a high degree of responsibility… and that society has an interest in encouraging understanding of that fact… and that maximal liberty necessitates that understanding be fostered more by culture and by statute… and that culture operates such that the simple core idea that an intimate relationship between a man and a woman is unique cannot be contradicted in our shared law if it is to be effective.
Somehow, progressives see in this logical series of thoughts not just error, but bigotry. Be that as it may, Bering’s playful opening illustrates that the alternative is willful delusion. Clearly, he has no need to order his life as if he might impregnate his partner. And clearly, his society has no need to fear the consequences of his failing to make that sort of preparation.
That is not to say that there aren’t parallel interests that should suggest a preference for all intimate relationships to be stable and monogamous, but those who would rewrite our culture find it unacceptably insensitive to acknowledge that intimacy can differ in very profound ways.

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Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“In objective terms, though, it we can all agree that the possibility of creating new human life is pretty much a definitive characteristic of relationships.”
What a load of bs. Above all else, love and commitment are the defining characterists of relationships. I’m kind of shocked that’s not obvious to the religious right. I wouldn’t love my wife any less if she lost the ability to bear children (as all women eventually do).
Is it bigotry? Let’s see: should elderly opposite sex couples be allowed to marry?

Steve
Steve
9 years ago

What about opposite-sex couples who do not want children, and actively take measures to prevent pregnancy? Should they be prevented from marrying also?
I guess question #1 on a marriage license application should be: “Do you plan to have children?”

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

Russ:
It’s a defining characteristic of a type of relationship (e.g., male-female), not of a particular relationship. Society can’t make public policy targeted to the Russ household versus the Justin household.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

Posted by Russ:
“Above all else, love and commitment are the defining characterists of relationships.”
This is, of course, an argument for polygamy. If love and commitment are the only standards, I don’t know why polygamy should not be allowed.
Imagine this, a man has a government job with excellent benefits. He also has a brother and sister who are not doing so well. He marries them, and all become eligible for his benefits.
Why not? The “love and commitment” are there.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“It’s a defining characteristic of a type of relationship (e.g., male-female), not of a particular relationship.”
So infertile men are not truly male and infertile women are not truly female as you’d have it. I don’t define gender in those terms. One would think the “defining characteristic” of something should hold true in the vast majority of cases, but this one falls flat even with convoluted language employed to mask the religious objections (“the possibility of creating, etc.”.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“This is, of course, an argument for polygamy. If love and commitment are the only standards, I don’t know why polygamy should not be allowed.”
I could argue that plural marriage is not the same form of commitment. That said, if the majority of the people of a state felt as you do, I don’t see why not either. I also don’t see laws prohibiting polygamy as discrimination because they are not arbitrarily based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, etc.
It’s like saying why can’t a single person form an LLC? That used to be the case in many states (LLCs required at least two people). But that’s not discrimination. The states were free to decide as they like because it was not discriminatory. Now if you said only men, or straights, or Protestants can form single member LLCs…

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

Russ,
Understanding the full futility of doing so, I have to correct your erroneous insinuations. The vast majority of sexual male-female relationships are fertile. Only a very small percentage of people find themselves unable to have children, and an even smaller percentage turn out to be entirely sterile.
In case you aren’t as knowledgeable about rhetorical abbreviations as I thought you to be, I should also explain that “e.g.” is a shorthand way of saying “for example.” That is only one reason why your jump from my statement to “infertile men are not truly male” is among the dumber things you’ve ever written on this site. I will acknowledge, though, the achievement; you’ve set a high bar for yourself, in that regard.
Anyway, if you disagree that the defining characteristic of sexual male-female relationships is that they are procreative, there are some elementary-school text books that you might find of interesting.

Sammy in Arizona
Sammy in Arizona
9 years ago

I am totally comfortable with gay marriage.
I still don’t understand how anyone could be upset what other people are doing with their lives. Especially if what other people are doing will never ever effect their daily lives.
The right-wing-nuts want to invade personal lives and dictate to society what they can and cannot do.
Remember when Scissorhands Romney was running against Ted Kennedy for the Senate, He wrote in an editorial that he would be better on gay rights than Kennedy. Scissorhands decides his position on issues like gay marriage according to the electorate he is attempting to please. I don’t see how anyone could vote for him

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

Sammy,
Using marriage as a very loose regulation of sexual relationships is a means of avoiding the need for deeper regulations. It is by removing the plain, longstanding definition of marriage, which is worked deeply into our laws and our culture, that one opens the door to more government intrusion.
Of course, some might reasonably speculate that such is the underlying motivation of the left, on this issue.

mangeek
mangeek
9 years ago

“an argument for polygamy”
I don’t have a moral issue with polygamy, but I do admit that it has dangerous implications for society as a whole. A society where there’s a drastically uneven number of mean and women available for marriage leads to all sorts of Really Big Problems.
I don’t see how letting homosexuals sign-on to the two-person contract called ‘marriage’ would be at all harmful. It might even mitigate some harm in society by reducing financial risk and reliance on the social safety-net.
A quick perusal of craigslist and the census will show that not all marriages are monogamous, and not all children are born to married couples.
I want my gay friends to be able to enter the same stable arrangements for child-rearing, property rights, and government benefits that I can. The biology of how the babies are made is of little consequence.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

The biology of how the babies are made is of little consequence.

And so approaches the end…

mangeek
mangeek
9 years ago


Maybe it’s the end you’ve been waiting for… I know of at least one historical figure who came from an unwed mother, to an absentee father, in a multiple-partner relationship. Granted, it was 2000 years ago.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

Nope. It’s the end that comes when the generations are increasingly unwilling or unable to grow up and give due consideration to generations to come — that don’t understand that human society, just as it can advance, can deteriorate or that the advancement had largely to do with social structures that sometimes impose rules.

Monique
Monique(@monique-chartier)
Editor
9 years ago

“The biology of how the babies are made is of little consequence.”
The advances of technology do not necessarily make this statement true.
However, you’re missing the larger point here, Mangeek (sorry to pick on you). What matters is what is best for the child being brought into the world. And numerous studies all agree that the best situation is that the child be raised in a household by a man and a woman in a committed relationship.
To pre-empt the real and faux indignation that usually follows this statement, this does not refer to marriages that end in divorce or relationships that split for concrete reasons. Those couples started out committed and something happened.
It also does not reference the adoption of “older” children.
What it does reference is new baby situations deliberately set up not to involve a father or a mother. Any of the impetuses that might lead to this situation – biological urges, etc – still do not change that this is not the best situation for the child.
I don’t point this out happily; just the opposite. Part of me feels that I am not being open-minded for doing so. But there is no escaping the facts and the data here. And it’s especially important not to disregard the data when it involves a new-born child. The welfare of the child, not the desires of the parent, is and must be paramount.

Phil
Phil
9 years ago

Even better when the rules favor heterosexual males like pillars of the community, Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

And with that, the public debate descends into illogical, adolescent emotionalism. Now somebody opposing Phil may cite some high-profile case of same-sex sexual abuse… maybe even that of Sandusky.
Public policy as broad as marriage cannot prevent, nor should be formulated directly with reference to, such very rare but very disturbing cases, not the least because they are of dubious connection.

Phil
Phil
9 years ago

My comments are meant to be seen in response to Justin’s idea that the advancement of human society is tied to the imposition of rules governing social structures. Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky are two examples of highly successful men whose adherence to those social structures such as Christian worship and traditional marriage and family put them in the top levels of public perception. Judges in Pa. placed children into the hands of Sandusky and his foundation. Paterno through his incredible power and influence at Penn State protected a child molester for decades. His image as the ultimate family man and football coach melded two powerful parts of what many believe men should aspire to. Traditional faith and family valves were important components of the image of both of these men.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

Worship of athletics was the key to their prominence, though.
Be that as it may, I’m less concerned with the limited cases of unusually successful people (and even there, think of the great majority of men and women in similar positions who do no such thing… if you’re inclined to give the topic actual thought) than with the broader structure of society. Funny how people who purport to have the masses foremost in their mind seem most interested in the effects of economic and social structures on people who are decidedly not of the masses.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“…is among the dumber things you’ve ever written on this site.”
Oh, if only I were as smart as Justin! How difficult it must be for you. Notably you fail to answer my question, choosing instead to hurl insutls (what a shock coming from someone so smaht!). That says all I need to know.
Let’s try another one re: the thinly veiled bigotry of posts like this…
“The biology of how the babies are made is of little consequence.”
I agree with mangeek here. Justin has pretended that his objection is based on “the possibility of creating new human life.” I’ve pointed out that many, many married couples, arguably the majority, are either incapable or no longer capable of have children. That simple fact must be dismissed by Justin, lest we draw another conclusion about his true objections. Not to mention that the focus on procreation ignores the huge number of families that choose to adopt (infertility but one of the reasons), who we can assume also don’t need to be married like “normal” people.
So for fun, let’s try it again this way: If medical science progresses to allow same sex couples to create children would you support their marriage rights? That’s the problem with technology based ethic standards. Technology changes and so do Justin’s morals?

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“…numerous studies all agree that the best situation is that the child be raised in a household by a man and a woman in a committed relationship.”
So therefore it’s clearly best for same sex couples to raise children out of wedlock or is that part about “committed relationships” only applicable to heterosexuals? You’re actually making the argument that we should allow marriage for the sake of the children. I’m with you on that, unless you’re suggesting that unmarried couples should be allowed to have children (the logical implication of that statement).

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

er, unmarried couples shouldn’t be allowed…

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

You didn’t ask a question, Russ. You made a dumb inference. Also, I don’t consider myself especially smart, a fact that perhaps should concern you.
Look, we’ve been over this multiple times. The reason society needs a simple, general institution like marriage is as a loose control on behavior toward which human beings tend. If every child were intentionally begotten, the institution wouldn’t be as necessary, at least not with a unified definition.
That is, those of us who are responsible parents and spouses invest culturally in the institution to reinforce the idea that we should be committed to relationships that tend toward children. The people for whom the institution is most important, though, are those who engage in the behavior without the responsible intentions, to encourage them toward responsibility.
If it so happens that the intimate activities of homosexuals become capable of incidental generation of children, then, yes, the opposite-sex definition of marriage should change (not the least because the definition of same sex will have changed biologically.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“You didn’t ask a question, Russ. You made a dumb inference. Also, I don’t consider myself especially smart, a fact that perhaps should concern you.”
What a shock! Insults instead of arguments from the right. Apparently I’ve touched a nerve.
I’ve actually asked a couple questions now. When WF asked a tough question, I had the courage to answer. If I were the condescending type, I’d provide a definition of the word “question.”
“The reason society needs a simple, general institution like marriage is as a loose control on behavior toward which human beings tend.”
Ah, yes, keep the government out of my life but into your life. Nothing hypocritical about that. Libertarians here (and I know there are a couple) are oddly silent on this one.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

‘Round and ’round we go. I’ve already said that the reason for a strong opposite-sex marital institution is to reduce government involvement in lives. The government doesn’t have to get involved at all; it’s a cultural institution. What the government does have to do is not force a change of definition that contradicts the core traditional institution.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

Oh, and you actually answered one! Nicely done. btw, engineers tend to think that technologically based standards for ethics/morality are problematic because they are so malleable. An example on the left is the idea that abortion should be legal without restriction until the point of viability, which of course changes with technological advances.
“…not the least because the definition of same sex will have changed biologically.”
No, I’m thinking some variation of cloning here working with combinations of a couple’s sperm or eggs. Not out of the question in the not so distant future.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

Inadvertent cloning involving two people? I guess we’ll have to take that up when the time comes.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“I guess we’ll have to take that up when the time comes.”
My guess, you’re a clever guy; some other justification for your opposition to same sex marriage is bound to occur to you by then (perhaps Monique’s line about justifying discrimination to save the children).
btw, Monique, I can find studies claiming harm to children in mixed race families. Perhaps you should promote anti-miscegenation laws as well.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

At least I should thank you for finally making explicit the core of your bad faith, here. Can’t possibly be that I believe what I’ve been arguing since before same-sex marriage was a widely argued issue as a matter of logic and cultural health.
I’ve long wondered why people like you rely so heavily on the assumption of bigotry. I’ve come to suspect that it allows you to never have to reconsider your own position; if the great deity of fashionable thought has determined yours to be the one good and true opinion, then everything else is just debate class, with the assumption that nobody else is really trying deeply to understand the issue and its consequences.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

You seem to miss that those comments were specific to your particular and convoluted line of reasoning, and I of couse forgot what a deep thinker you are. Thankfully you’re here to remind us over and over.
I’ll admit, you’ve got me there. I believe discrimination is caused by bigotry. You’d argue that you’re especially tolerant of gay and lesbian marriage? LOL.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz(@justin)
9 years ago

There is nothing convoluted about my reasoning.
The core purpose of marriage as an institution is to maximize the likelihood that the two people who create a child will work together to raise that child. Social encouragement is most needed for those who are the least deliberate in creating the children and are likely to have the most difficulty being responsible (for one reason or another).
It will therefore be detrimental to change the irreducible idea of marriage from essentially procreative (male-female) to essentially about mutual care (male-whatever, female-whatever).
Agree with that or don’t, but you’re insisting that I’ll change an argument that I’ve been articulating for over a decade if circumstances somehow become such that non-male-female relationships can incidentally create children. That illustrates the bad faith that you have always brought to discussions with people with whom you disagree… at least insofar as I’ve observed those discussions, here.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

Posted by Russ
“Perhaps you should promote anti-miscegenation laws as well.”
My own opinions are unimportant, but there is ancient wisdom “Birds of a feather, flock together”.
I offer this only as an example of what many people think. So, without doubt, it requires social change.
Some will press for it, others will resist it. At least 20 years ago, Time did a cover sotry of the expected skin coloration of the “average American”. It doesn’t seem to have worked out. I think there is a very basic idea that people want their children to “look like them”. Reminds me of another ancient maxim “treated like a red headed step child”.

James
James
9 years ago

How is it not bigotry to demand that the definition of a religious institution be changed in order that a group of people can feel good about who they have sex with?

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