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The Difficult Position of Same-Sex Marriage Opponents

August 26, 2010

Peter Suderman articulates why he suspects opponents of same-sex marriage are bound to lose: their opposition is based on intuition rather than rational justification. At least his opposition was. Suderman has since changed his mind on the prospect of this social change. When he tried to find support for his intuition that same-sex marriage was wrong and ought to be illegal, he couldn’t do so. The arguments that came to mind he found wanting. He concludes:

Same-sex marriage opponents are no doubt failing in part because of their own inability to express a compelling rationale for their position, one that starts with the existing public understanding of what marriage is and should be and then argues that such an understanding is best served by keeping out same-sex couples. But in the long term, I suspect that the fight for equal marriage rights will succeed because millions of Americans will struggle with their intuitive opposition and decide, as I did, that they can not justify it to themselves.

I suspect Suderman will be proven right. It wasn’t long ago that Willow and Tara’s relationship in Buffy the Vampire Slayer marked U.S. television’s first depiction of a lesbian couple. Now same-sex couples are commonly presented and accepted, and with each passing day the idea of same-sex marriage seems less radical and unthinkable. The meta-narrative about the homosexual lifestyle has also developed from a story of licentiousness and promiscuity towards a tale of love, sacrifice, and life-long commitment.

These changes in culture and the changes in law that have accompanied them put same-sex marriage opponents in a difficult position, not the least of which is being in the position of arguing against a conception of marriage that no one has ever, until recently, proposed and defended. The cultural acceptance of homosexuality is as old as the ages, but the idea of same-sex marriage is very new. There’s no going back to the ancient Greeks or Romans to study how they philosophically argued against the notion of same-sex marriage as it’s presented today.

Aware of this difficulty, Ross Douthat recently made a philosophical case against same-sex marriage, arguing persuasively for the preservation of a particular and ideal vision of marriage:

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.

As many rebuttals have shown, Douthat’s argument fails to explain how the social recognition of same-sex marriage prevents the preservation and “celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate.” Andrew Sullivan, among the most vocal advocates for same-sex marriage, agrees with Douthat that lifelong heterosexual monogamy is unique, indispensable, and worthy of celebration. Sullivan’s position is that society can recognize both as equal while acknowledging their differences.

In addition to proving Douthat’s claim, opponents of same-sex marriage, if they want to have any chance of convincing their fellow citizens through rational argument, will in my estimation need to show, philosophically and persuasively, that the teleological meaning of human sexuality — procreation — is morally normative and that the difference between a heterosexual infertile couple and a homosexual couple is significant enough to justify allowing the former to marry while denying the right to marry to the latter. Proponents of same-sex marriage often note that we as a society recognize marriages of couples for whom procreation is a physical impossibility and that, therefore, the possibility for procreation is already not a definitive aspect of how we understand marriage. What same-sex marriage opponents need to do is show why the difference between a heterosexual couple’s inability to procreate and a same-sex couple’s inability to procreate matters.

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97 Comments
  1. Austin Ruse permalink
    August 26, 2010 7:43 am

    Suderman embarrasses himself. It is easy to see the secular arguments for man-woman marriage. Just go to Maggie Gallagher’s work, Pat Fagan’s work, Brad Wilcox’es work, David Blankenhorn’s work etc etc etc. They all make secular arguments.

    As to his claim we are losing ground. Also nonsense. Where ever this has been tested not by polling but by voting, we have won, even in liberal states.

    The piece is nonsense.

  2. Kyle R. Cupp permalink
    August 26, 2010 8:03 am

    I didn’t take Suderman as denying that there exist secular arguments against same-sex marriage, but that the secular arguments presented are not rationally compelling.

    I submit that the very fact that we are voting on same-sex marriage indicates that same-sex marriage opponents are losing ground.

  3. August 26, 2010 8:10 am

    I submit that the very fact that we are voting on same-sex marriage indicates that same-sex marriage opponents are losing ground.

    I think that’s right. Twenty years ago, ‘gay marriage’ was a fringy idea that very few people took seriously. Now it’s narrowly losing with almost 50 percent of the vote. There has been a dramatic shift in public opinion in a very short period of time. Austin, I am not sure how you could argue otherwise, given the polling trends.

  4. August 26, 2010 8:41 am

    Nowadays, I think there are two dynamics at work in this question. On the one hand, you have a radically differnt idea of marriage tied to romantic love; that is, a “Hollywood-ization” of what a marriage should look like. Really, marriage as an institution grew up over thousands of years attached to property and kinship ties. Thus, most marriages, it should be argued, were arranged, or at least there was considerable societal pressure to pick a specific mate. Love, at least what we think of as love, had nothing to do with it. Even when we read St. Paul’s exhortation for husbands to “love” their wives, we are probably reading too much of Hollywood into it. It is very likely in the ancient world (as is evident in the character of Socrates in the Platonic dialogues) that you would not consider your wife your “best friend” or even the primary source of sexual gratification. The blurring of all of these factors in the modern context only makes homosexual marriage all the more plausible. Perhaps it is ultimately due to the complete success of Western marital culture (Christus et Ecclesia – sponsus et sponsa) and the absolute triumph of “Christian monogamy” tied to romantic love.

    On the other hand, no one has compellingly come up with an explanation as to how “tolerance” can be effectively argued for in the midst of a regime of sexual apartheid. Richard Rodriguez wrote an essay on how his mother ultimately accepted him and his gay lover as part of her family in spite of the fact that she was a devout Catholic from an intensely homophobic culture (if you want to start a bar fight in Mexico, go ahead an insinuate about your opponent’s sexual preference). I cannot see such a woman, who could easily be my aunt, depriving her son’s “right” to marriage if he presses for it. How awkward would that be for a family on a micro-level? We all have family members who are gay now, or at least know people who have gay family members. Maybe that is a “feminine” weakness on our part; a moral cowardice to confront the “immorality” that goes on in our own homes, and a silent conspiracy to keep up appearances. On the other hand, we have what I consider the guy’s definition of a clean room: a place that doesn’t have anything in it that can bite me. It doesn’t matter if it’s filthy to the feminine eye: as long as I am not harmed, it’s clean enough for me.

    The moral burden of proof thus seems to be on the gay marriage opponents, and they have to somehow convince people to commit to perpetual war on the home front, and to the idea that homosexuals are indeed out to get us.

  5. David Nickol permalink
    August 26, 2010 8:46 am

    Where ever this has been tested not by polling but by voting, we have won, even in liberal states.

    Austin Ruse:

    Who is the “we” in “his claim that we are losing ground” or “we have won”?

    States in America are not the only test cases. Wikipedia tells us

    Same-sex marriage currently is legal in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden. In Mexico, same-sex marriages are only performed in Mexico City, but these marriages must be recognized by all Mexican states. Israel does not offer same-sex marriage licenses, but recognizes same-sex marriages licenses granted by foreign jurisdictions.

    If someone had told you ten or 20 years ago that in 2010 same-sex couples could marry in Argentina or Spain or Mexico, and that their marriages would be recognized by Israel, would you have believed it? I don’t see this trend being reversed, especially since each new generation that comes along is more accepting of gay marriage than the last.

    A blog post over at America tells us the following:

    A poll released last month by the Public Religion Research Institute sheds light on the impact of religion and the 2008 vote to abolish same-sex marriage rights in California. The poll finds that today, a slim majority of Roman Catholics, 51%, support same-sex marriage (interestingly, that number jumps to 57% when asking only Latino Catholics).

    It seems clear to me that opposition to same-sex marriage is losing ground.

  6. M.Z. permalink
    August 26, 2010 9:29 am

    What I came to realize before I went for vacation is that the question of whether gay marriage is socially good is irrelevant to the question of whether to support it except for a small minority of people. Each side will use social arguments if they are convenient, but neither side will generally be persuaded by them. Gay marriage supporters would be no more likely to change their position if evidence showed that same sex households were harmful to children – something current studies don’t show – than a racial or ethnic group would be likely to surrender their desire to form households recognized under law were such evidence mustered against them. As for gay marriage opponents, they for the most part have severed the bearing of children from the obligation to form natural households around them.

  7. brettsalkeld permalink*
    August 26, 2010 9:29 am

    Austin,
    To suggest that we have not or are not losing ground on this front is simply to indicate that you have started to believe your own propaganda. What was once simply taken for granted by the vast majority is now hotly debated in all quarters. Right now Andrew Sullivan’s simple admission that opposite-sex marriage is unique amounts to a victory. Many many people, and their numbers are much larger among the young, see no real difference between same-sex and opposite-sex relations.
    Kyle has not written nonsense. Burying your head in the sand will not help the cause. Facing the facts is at least a start. Those, like Kyle, who face the facts are your best allies. They are not the fifth column of the dreaded “left.”

  8. Austin Ruse permalink
    August 26, 2010 9:57 am

    Are we losing ground? Well, in some courts, yes. In some polls, yes. But, where it really has counted so far, in the polling booth, we have won in 31 states. It has won everywhere. It has won even in liberal states. It has even won in elections that are Democratic primaries. What the author wants us to believe is that the issue is lost so that we will all just go away and let it happen. To say the secular arguments of our side are not working is false in its face.

    David, what happens in other countries is relevant only insofar as Supreme Court justices find that compelling. Some will. Most won’t.

  9. David Nickol permalink
    August 26, 2010 9:59 am

    Burying your head in the sand will not help the cause. Facing the facts is at least a start.

    brett,

    I would suggest that what Austin Ruse is doing is not burying his head in the sand but rather doing what politicians routinely do — saying what is plainly not true but what suits their approach or strategy. It is a kind of “spinning.”

    Here was an exchange from Sunday’s Meet the Press that I found interesting:

    MR. GREGORY: Let me move on to something that seems to be related to this and has gotten a lot of attention this week, and this is the poll about the president’s own faith from the Pew Research Center. Eighteen percent of those polled believe that the president is a Muslim. Among Republicans, this is striking, 31 percent believe he’s a Muslim. Of course, he’s not. Why do you think these views prevail?

    SEN. McCONNELL: Well, look, I think the faith that most Americans are questioning is the president’s faith in the government to generate jobs. We’ve had an 18-month effort here on the part of this administration to prime the pump, borrow money, spend money hiring new federal government employees, sending money down to states so they don’t have to lay off state employees. People are looking around and saying, “Where’s the job?”

    McConnell simply takes the word “faith” and uses it for a totally preposterous seque to make a speech about the economy.

    It is difficult to discuss an issue when everyone is evading, posturing, working in their talking points, and so on, without making an honest attempt to actually stick to the topic at hand.

  10. Bruce in Kansas permalink
    August 26, 2010 10:03 am

    If the argument in support of traditional marriage is not rational, but the argument in support of same-sex marriage is rational, then how come human beings have not had same-sex marriage up to now? Even in societies where a man can marry more than one woman, for example, the women are not considered married to each other.

    So have all human societies been irrational about same-sex marriage for all of human history? The light bulb is just now coming on?

    It seems more reasonable that our society has navigated itself into a unique position of justifying something which human societies have always rejected.

  11. August 26, 2010 11:10 am

    The problem is not there are no rational argument against Same Sex Marraige. The problem is no one has been able to figure out how to make those arguemnts fit a 30 inot a 30 second soundbite in a five minute segement of a Cable Talking Head TV show

  12. August 26, 2010 11:17 am

    I think it’s a losing battle, but I would say that a same-sex couple is an explicit rejection of the procreative norm in a way that an (even obviously) infertile couple is not, in that it is always and everywhere obvious that it is not built on procreation.

    I don’t expect the public to be persuaded by this argument, and instead offer up hypotheticals like, “But what if it’s 2 90 year olds who always wear T-shirts that say ‘non-breeder’ on them?!”

    In short, it’s probably best that our political capital and efforts be invested elsewhere, since I think this is a sinking ship, given the direction we’ve allowed heterosexual marriage to drift.

  13. David Nickol permalink
    August 26, 2010 11:20 am

    So have all human societies been irrational about same-sex marriage for all of human history? The light bulb is just now coming on?

    Bruce,

    It seems to me that “gay people” are a relatively new phenomenon. It is not that all past societies have been irrational about same-sex marriage. It’s that the concept didn’t exist before, because there were no “gay people” who sought the right to marry.

    There seems scant evidence that same-sex marriage ever existed in previous societies, but not all human societies have rejected homosexual relationships.

  14. Jeremy permalink
    August 26, 2010 11:43 am

    Where is the rational compelling argument for SSM? Why should society give marital preferences to anyone?

  15. Bruce in Kansas permalink
    August 26, 2010 11:53 am

    Human societies have always had homosexuals, but “gay people” are a new phenomenon? How so?

  16. Jeremy permalink
    August 26, 2010 11:58 am

    Marriage is more than just procreation, although procreation is indispensable to the reason for marriage. I think the real divide seems to be how a person views marriage. Those who view marriage as a simple contract are likely to support SSM, and those who view marriage as much more than a contract oppose SSM. If that is the case, then the real question is marriage much more than a contract? I think the answer is clearly yes because otherwise ‘civil unions’ would be enough to guarantee the ‘rights’ and provide for the ‘duties’ sought.

  17. Jeff permalink
    August 26, 2010 12:01 pm

    Exactly jh. Here is a very thought provoking article against gay marriage. But it cannot be summarized in one neat paragraph.

    http://biblio-wonk.com/wp-content/uploads/Gay-Marriage-An-Arguement-for-Discrimination-Alastair-Roberts.pdf

  18. August 26, 2010 12:23 pm

    David,

    If past societies have been far from universal in condemning homosexual conduct, but they have not generally recognized “gay people” or seen a need for same sex marriage, might that not suggest that the current ideas regarding what it means to be gay and about same sex marriage are themselves far from universal or rational?

  19. Bruce in Kansas permalink
    August 26, 2010 12:40 pm

    It seems like there’s something besides simply being allowed to “exercise a basic right” going on when the people involved line up on the street and get married on the front steps of city hall.

  20. August 26, 2010 12:44 pm

    Great PDF Jeff. I am going to link it

  21. David Nickol permalink
    August 26, 2010 1:18 pm

    . . . . might that not suggest that the current ideas regarding what it means to be gay and about same sex marriage are themselves far from universal or rational?

    Darwin,

    I’m not sure how deep my thoughts can be given the limited time I have today to ponder the question, but insofar as the phenomenon of self-identified gay people is a new one, obviously it’s not “universal.” I think it is anachronistic to label someone who engaged in homosexual acts in ancient times “gay.” I don’t think there were any “gay” Greeks. The concept didn’t exist. I am not sure what rationality has to do with it.

    But I don’t think the phenomenon of self-identified gay people is in any way a bogus phenomenon. It is a result of an interplay between biology and culture that seems to be a fairly new development.

    I don’t think the fact that the play as an art form is about 2500 years old and the novel is only about 500 years old means the novel is in any way illegitimate, or that novelists are mistaken to think of themselves as novelists. Just because there were no novelists in ancient Greece doesn’t mean we can’t have them now.

    And let us not pretend that the “institution of marriage” has been unchanged from the dawn of time. Let me reproduce yet again one of my favorite quotes, from John L. McKenzie’s Dictionary of the Bible:

    Marriage in Israel was neither a religious nor a public concern; it was a private contract, and it is this conception which leaves so little room for it in Hb law, which deals only with the exceptional cases. The contracting parties were not the bride and groom but the families, i.e., the fathers of the spouses; the brothers of the bride had the disposal of the girl if the father were dead.

    This is marriage as Jesus knew it, and it is not what people today defending “traditional marriage” are talking about.

  22. David Nickol permalink
    August 26, 2010 1:47 pm

    From Gay Marriage: An Argument for Discrimination by Alastair Roberts

    There was a time when discrimination was not the dirty word that it is today, a time when it primarily denoted the ability to make wise judgments, discerning fine but significant distinctions. This usage is maintained when we speak of such things as a discriminating palate. Recent decades have seen the term fall into opprobrium. The fact that certain acts of discrimination between groups or classes of persons are unjustifiable and morally reprehensible has often led us to eschew acts of discrimination altogether.

    One sees this kind of argument all the time, and I find it very annoying. Discrimination meaning “discernment” dates to 1814 in the United States, and the meaning “prejudice based on race” dates to 1866. It is not illegitimate to use the word discrimination to mean unjust treatment based on race, color, religion, sexual orientation, and so on, nor does it imply that unjust treatment doesn’t exist or is not unjust.

    Still, I like the old Tom Lehrer quote that comes in his introduction to It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier: “The usual jokes about the army aside, one of the many fine things one has to admit is the way that the army has carried the American democratic ideal to its logical conclusion in the sense that not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed, and color, but also on the grounds of ability.”

  23. David Nickol permalink
    August 26, 2010 2:00 pm

    It seems like there’s something besides simply being allowed to “exercise a basic right” going on when the people involved line up on the street and get married on the front steps of city hall.

    Bruce,

    I agree wholeheartedly. It is joyfully and publicly exercising, for all the world to see, a basic right that you had been denied previously . Let me plagiarize a paragraph here instead of writing something original. “Many [Iraqi] voters went home waving purple-tinted index fingers after having them dipped in ink upon casting ther ballots. The ink-stained fingers became a defining image of Iraq’s first post-Saddam Hussein elections four years ago.” They didn’t merely duck into a polling place and cast a secret ballot. They waved their ink-stained fingers for the media (and the world) to see. I found that moving, didn’t you?

  24. August 26, 2010 3:04 pm

    David,

    I think you’re getting close to an interesting and true set of insights, without, for whatever reason, quite making it there. So forgive me if I poke at this a bit more:

    I think you’re quite right to note that the idea of “being gay” didn’t really exist in earlier societies, even though homosexual behavior was definitely around and in some cases quite common and smiled upon. Further, I’d point out that this lack of a concept of “being gay” held despite some men who practiced homosexual behavior having a near complete lack of interest in women — while many others looked for companionship and romance with young men, and for family with women. (Example: It was widely commented on that the Emperor Hadrian had such a total lack of interest in his wife that their lack of offspring was doubtless the result of lack of physical contact, while Hadrian pursued a number of high profile romances with young men — one of whom he sought to deify after the lover’s premature death. And yet, even there, there was no sense of “being gay”, merely that Hadrain perhap took things a bit far in not bothering to father children on his wife.)

    Now, what I’d put forward is that there’s a reason why cultures have never contemplated the idea of “same sex marriage” until now, despite the fact that some of them were quite friendly to homosexual activity and relationships. Further, I’d suggest that the reason for this has to do with a basic and essential nature to marriage which underlies all the diversity which people point to when they make the, “marriage hasn’t stayed the same — there is no ‘traditional marriage'” argument.

    This common underlying thread, as I would see it, is that societies have always seen the need to formalize structures around relationships between men and women which would be considered to produce legitimate offspring, if offspring should result.

    This applies whether marriage was monogamous or polygamous, permanent or breakable, arranged or chosen, incestuous or not, etc. But one thing that must always be the case in order for a sexual relationship to even be able to produce offspring in the first place has always been and must necessarily be that it be between people of the opposite sex. However fulfilling and meaningful people may find intimacy with members of the same sex, it will never end up resulting in children.

    Thus, even in societies (such as Ancient Greece) which were very positive and friendly towards homosexual relationships, there was never any contemplation of “same sex marriage”, because marriage was implicitly to be a social structure for dealing with who was considered a legitimate offspring of whom.

    Due to the individualistic tendencies of modern culture, or general failure to think of ourselves of being part of a perpetuating society, and our tendency towards a romantic and personal approach to marriage — people seem to have largely forgotten this basic purpose of marriage, and so the idea of applying the term to same sex relationships seems less obviously ludicrous than it would have at most times in history. I think one can be fairly confident, however, this is an anachronism. You can’t have a stable society based on a lack of understanding of the fact that we are physical creatures as well as minds, and that society perpetuates through reproduction.

  25. August 26, 2010 3:08 pm

    Also, as a totally side note:

    – It strikes me as a little odd to talk about “the marriage Jesus knew” when as Catholics we believe that Jesus was God and thus had knowledge of all times and places. Jesus lived in first century Palestine, but he was not strictly of and limited by that time. Nor do his more radical statements on marriage seem to indicate the quoted view.

    – While this is tangential to your point, there actually were ‘novels’ in the Hellenistic period of Ancient Greece and in Ancient Rome. Examples would include The Golden Ass and The Satyricon.

  26. digbydolben permalink
    August 26, 2010 3:10 pm

    …the difference between a heterosexual infertile couple and a homosexual couple is significant enough to justify allowing the former to marry while denying the right to marry to the latter

    If this inconsistency had never existed, then the “gays” could only be entitled to ask for civil unions. It SHOULD NEVER have existed, because the government has no interest–should logically never have had any, according to the Enlightenment norms of the American Constitution–in anything pertaining to “marriage” except the rights of dependents to be protected through tax benefits.

    NOBODY in America should have a right to a tax exclusion unless he or she is supporting a “dependent,” and a “dependent” should be defined as anybody the taxpayer chooses to support. Sterile or childless couples of two incomes living together should be taxed as single people.

    The norms of the orthodox Christian churches regarding “sacramental marriage” were abandoned by this culture long ago, when we embraced serial monogamy and “no-fault divorce.” To deny “homosexual” couples the right to the miserable institution of American-style “marriage” is patently and egregiously unfair. However, I predict that once the “homosexual” couples discover what a chimera American “marriage” is, they’ll be abandoning it as fast as “heterosexual” couples do. In fact, I bet that the spectacle of “gay” divorce court will be a much greater dis-incentive to choose the “gay lifestyle” for any male slightly “same-sex-attracted” than any preaching by the “Christianist” homophobes!

  27. Jeremy permalink
    August 26, 2010 3:16 pm

    This is marriage as Jesus knew it, and it is not what people today defending “traditional marriage” are talking about.
    Maybe not, but the general idea is the same – Creating a new family unit that transmits our cultural knowledge to the next generation. When people say that marriage is “unchanged”, they don’t mean that the rites or attitudes haven’t changed as culture has evolved – just that the basic elements have remained unchanged.

  28. Dan permalink
    August 26, 2010 3:21 pm

    t is joyfully and publicly exercising, for all the world to see, a basic right that you had been denied previously

    I’m not sure how someone can call a contractual arrangement a basic right. Contractual arrangements are human constructs that are completely orthogonal to rights. Society facilitates certain contracts. But they are never a right.

    This fundamental mixup is part of the whole confusion about this issue. Nobody has a right to marriage, because marriage isn’t a right.

  29. David Nickol permalink
    August 26, 2010 3:49 pm

    David, what happens in other countries is relevant only insofar as Supreme Court justices find that compelling. Some will. Most won’t.

    Austin,

    Oh, so you’re concerned only about same-sex marriage in the United States. Interesting. That’s not very catholic (lowercase) of you.

    Here’s another development on the same-sex marriage front.

    Former Bush campaign manager flips on gay marriage

    The news that former Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman is now openly gay and will raise funds and strategize for the campaign to legalize gay marriage is a stunning reversal. During Mehlman’s tenure as head of the Republican National Committee and as an adviser to the 2004 Bush campaign, Mehlman helped spearhead some of the most aggressively anti-gay initiatives in American politics. . . .

    Continued here.

  30. Dan permalink
    August 26, 2010 4:41 pm


    This common underlying thread, as I would see it, is that societies have always seen the need to formalize structures around relationships between men and women which would be considered to produce legitimate offspring, if offspring should result.

    This applies whether marriage was monogamous or polygamous, permanent or breakable, arranged or chosen, incestuous or not, etc. But one thing that must always be the case in order for a sexual relationship to even be able to produce offspring in the first place has always been and must necessarily be that it be between people of the opposite sex. However fulfilling and meaningful people may find intimacy with members of the same sex, it will never end up resulting in children.

    Thus, even in societies (such as Ancient Greece) which were very positive and friendly towards homosexual relationships, there was never any contemplation of “same sex marriage”, because marriage was implicitly to be a social structure for dealing with who was considered a legitimate offspring of whom.

    Due to the individualistic tendencies of modern culture, or general failure to think of ourselves of being part of a perpetuating society, and our tendency towards a romantic and personal approach to marriage — people seem to have largely forgotten this basic purpose of marriage, and so the idea of applying the term to same sex relationships seems less obviously ludicrous than it would have at most times in history. I think one can be fairly confident, however, this is an anachronism. You can’t have a stable society based on a lack of understanding of the fact that we are physical creatures as well as minds, and that society perpetuates through reproduction.

    /thread. Right there.

  31. David Nickol permalink
    August 26, 2010 5:05 pm

    It strikes me as a little odd to talk about “the marriage Jesus knew” when as Catholics we believe that Jesus was God and thus had knowledge of all times and places.

    Darwin,

    This is a matter that, to the best of my knowledge, is totally unsettled. Was Jesus omniscient? I hardly think so. Imagine what it would be like to know in advance everything that you were going to do and say, and everything everybody else was going to do and say. What kind of a human life could such a person have? And if Jesus was omniscient, was he omniscient from the moment of conception? I think omniscience is incompatible with being “true man.” If one could travel back in time and speak to Jesus, would he be able to tell you that E = mc^2? I hardly think so.

    The self-understanding of Jesus is an important and interesting topic about which I have read next to nothing. But I would presume it wouldn’t be an important topic if the position of the Catholic Church was that Jesus was God and therefore he knew exactly who he was, what he would do, and so on.

    I would say the Gospels depict Jesus of having some special awareness and some foreknowledge, but I don’t think there is any indication at all that Jesus had anything that came close to “knowledge of all times and places.”

  32. homogenius permalink
    August 26, 2010 5:29 pm

    /There seems scant evidence that same-sex marriage ever existed in previous societies, but not all human societies have rejected homosexual relationships./

    There is ample evidence that same-sex marriages existed including in the church. There were even blessings used for same-sex relationships. Couples were buried together in crypts inside the church hundreds of years ago.

    The landscape is changing rapidly–currently 250 million people live in jurisdictions around the world where same-sex marriage is legal. If one takes Nate Silver’s statistically ability seriously on fivethirtyeight.com, opinion in the US is shifting at a rate of 1–2% per year. More than ten states have majorities favoring marriage equality. At least a half-dozen countries in Europe with registered partnerships are poised to upgrade to full equality(Denmark will probably be next). Even catholic countries like Spain and Portugal have done so.

    I think the question posed earlier is apt: How much political capital does the church want to expend on this?

  33. digbydolben permalink
    August 26, 2010 5:34 pm

    Since David alludes to Jesus’s “foreknowledge,” I will remind everyone on this thread that, despite the canard that “homosexuality” is never mentioned in the New Testament, it is clear to anybody who knows anything about Roman culture and laws that Jesus Christ did, indeed, have direct acquaintance and contact with someone who all his followers and neighbours would have understood to be a practising homosexual. I am referring, of course, to the Roman centurion and his servant, whom Christ healed at the instance of his master, the centurion.

  34. David Nickol permalink
    August 26, 2010 6:47 pm

    Nobody has a right to marriage, because marriage isn’t a right.

    Dan,

    How do you feel about China’s one-child-per-couple policy? If there is no right to marry, then I am not sure how you can argue anyone has a right to marry and have two or more children.

  35. David Nickol permalink
    August 26, 2010 7:08 pm

    people seem to have largely forgotten this basic purpose of marriage

    Darwin,

    You have basically said that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation, and since same-sex couples can’t reproduce, same-sex marriage is ludicrous. This is not a new argument.

    I think it’s interesting to note that in the story the creation of Adam and Eve, reproduction is not mentioned.

    The LORD God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.”

    So the LORD God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name.

    The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.

    As I recall, Harold Bloom sees a humorist at work here. God is trying to create a suitable partner for Adam. How about a sheep? No, that won’t do. How about a dog? No, that won’t do. Hey! How about a woman? Bingo! Now if God is truly attempting to create a suitable partner for Adam for reproductive purposes, running through the entire animal kingdom first before creating a human female has odd implications.

    I think it is unconvincing, even going back to the dawn of history, to claim that the purpose, or the basic purpose of marriage is reproduction. Marriage served different purposes at different times.

  36. David Nickol permalink
    August 26, 2010 7:49 pm

    Marriage served different purposes at different times.

    I accidentally hit Submit Comment before I had finished my thoughts.

    No other creature in the animal kingdom needs marriage in order to reproduce, and in fact monogamy is rare. Polygyny and polyandry are arrangements that serve reproductive purposes, and of course some very important figures in the Old Testament were polygamous. In my quote from McKenzie’s Dictionary of the Bible there is no implication that marriages were arranged for the purposes of reproduction. No doubt men were paired with women because of sex, and maybe even because men got women pregnant, but the purpose of marriage has often been to find some way to have your daughters taken care of, not to make sure they reproduced.

    It is interesting to wonder if marriage would have developed if everything were physically and biologically the same as it has been but men and women were not sexually attracted to one another. Or would marriage have developed if women were sexually receptive only during estrus.

    All this is to say that a very important aspect of marriage is bonding between individuals who are sexually attracted to each other, and sexually engaged with each other, even when reproduction is not desired or not possible. Consequently, it has never been the case (as far as I know) that a marriage was considered consummated only when the woman got pregnant. It was considered consummated (when consummation was required) when the couple had sexual intercourse. (Someone argued in one of these debates that a marriage must be consummated, and same-sex couples cannot perform the “marriage act.” However, as it turns out, only a few states require consummation for a marriage to be valid.)

    Even the Catholic Church recognizes both a procreative and a unitive purpose of marriage, and it doesn’t argue that couples that can’t procreate cannot get married.

    So I think marriage is about sexual bonding, and I think the reason there has never been same-sex marriage is because culturally, the existence of “gay” people is a relatively recent phenomenon. And I would argue that it is a good thing that people who in a different age might have had a biological tendency to homosexuality in this age can self-identify as gay. Potentially gay people of the past, when gay people had not culturally arrived, were something akin to “mute inglorious Miltons.” They had a capacity that culture inhibited. Now they are more and more free to be themselves.

  37. David Nickol permalink
    August 26, 2010 7:55 pm

    A quote from N. T. Wright, Jesus’ Self-Understanding:

    My case has been, and remains, that Jesus believed himself called to do and be things which, in the traditions to which he fell heir, only Israel’s God, YHWH, was to do and be. I think he held this belief both with passionate and firm conviction and with the knowledge that he could be making a terrible, lunatic mistake.

  38. David Nickol permalink
    August 26, 2010 9:53 pm

    From an article on deathbed marriages:

    Rabbi Irwin Kula, author of Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life (Hyperion, September 2006), says marriage has the perception of adding an extra authenticity to an already committed relationship. He performed a hospital ceremony about 12 years ago with a couple in their late 30s who had been together for about six years. The bride was dying of cancer. “When death is at the door, we’re more serious,” he says. “If you happen to be in a relationship and someone’s going to die, you want to somehow make it more real. In this culture making something more real turns into marriage.”

  39. August 26, 2010 10:16 pm

    You have basically said that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation, and since same-sex couples can’t reproduce, same-sex marriage is ludicrous. This is not a new argument.

    No, I haven’t, though procreation is an element of it. If you really must reduce it to one sentence before producing a canned rebuttal which is not apropos, you could try something like “You have basically said that marriage is a social institution designed to determine questions of legitimacy, lineage and inheritance by providing social context and control to reproduction.”

    The rest of what you say is a rather poorly chewed regurgitation of arguments that are not very strong in the first place. I tend to expect better from you.

  40. Dan permalink
    August 26, 2010 10:23 pm

    How do you feel about China’s one-child-per-couple policy? If there is no right to marry, then I am not sure how you can argue anyone has a right to marry and have two or more children

    I’m not sure I follow your line of reasoning. If my claim is that people don’t have a right to marry, then as a corollary I cannot be claiming that they have a right to marry and have two or more children.

    It can be argued that a person has an implicit right to biologically reproduce. Marriage has nothing to do with the right to reproduce – there is no contract required to shack up. Marriage is only associated with that right because the nature of the marriage contract is to provide a binding framework for the sharing of assets that is required to mutually support the offspring.

  41. Dan permalink
    August 26, 2010 10:41 pm

    So I think marriage is about sexual bonding

    David,

    I think you raise some valid points about the unitive aspect of marriage. But it feels like you are under-empahsizing – or perhaps even negating – the procreative aspect. I would reverse the question and ask – if the nature of marriage were purely about sexual bonding, as you state above, why, then, the need for marriage at all? It is not a requirement to formalize your sexual intentions in an asset-centered contract which has little to nothing to do with sexuality.

  42. Thales permalink
    August 27, 2010 7:12 am

    I think it’s interesting to note that in the story of creation of Adam and Eve, reproduction is not mentioned.

    Wow, David Nickol, did you miss the lines that immediately follow your Bible quote? The passage goes on to say that for a suitable partner, God forms a “woman”, not another “man” out of Adam’s rib, and then the Bible says: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

    Of course, in the chapter beforehand, there is also the passage: “Male and female he created them. God blessed them and said ‘Be fruitful and multiply.'”

    But even if you go with your reading of the Bible as saying that marriage does not involve reproduction or reproductive intercourse, I’m just wondering why you are arguing that marriage is a relationship that requires sexual bonding. Wouldn’t that Bible passage just as much support the idea that God felt the need to create a suitable partner so that Adam could have someone to have a conversation with? What support is there for limiting marriage only to those relationships that have some sexual bonding? Why not extend marriage to any kind of relationship between two people who have no sexual bonding but who like to talk to one another, like me and my grandfather?

  43. digbydolben permalink
    August 27, 2010 9:35 am

    Thales, if you want to support your grandfather as your legal dependent, then I’m all for making him your “partner” in a “civil union” and giving you a tax deduction for that support.

    The argument that we “Catholic libertarians” are trying to make, in this regard, is that “sacramental marriage” is so different and so special, compared with what the Protestants and the secularists have (“serial monogamy” through multiple and “no-fault” divorces), that we want to take the American State completely out of it, and define ALL “marriages” that require the state’s license as “civil unions”.

  44. August 27, 2010 9:49 am

    Well, I’m feeling like I was a bit hasty, so in more depth:

    You have basically said that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation, and since same-sex couples can’t reproduce, same-sex marriage is ludicrous. This is not a new argument.

    As I said before, this is a gross simplification of what I sad in order to make it fit a standard rebuttal. No point in addressing that further unless there’s an interest in actually addressing what I said.

    I think it’s interesting to note that in the story the creation of Adam and Eve, reproduction is not mentioned.

    I’m not sure why that’s particularly interesting unless one has a very narrow, literalist approach to scripture. Surely you’re not suggesting that anything not mentioned in any one or two verses of scripture doesn’t exist?

    No other creature in the animal kingdom needs marriage in order to reproduce,

    Well, come to that, no other creature needs marriage in order to experience sexual union either. So where does that leave us?

    and in fact monogamy is rare. Polygyny and polyandry are arrangements that serve reproductive purposes, and of course some very important figures in the Old Testament were polygamous.

    I’m not really clear how this is related to what I said, in that I was describing the purpose that marriage has served in historical societies regardless of whether it is monogamous or polygamous, permanent or breakable, etc. There is, in fact, a pretty strong case for polygamous marriage, and some amount of precedent for incestuous marriage. If you would like to champion one of these, you’d be on better historical ground. And yet, oddly enough, gay marriage advocates tend to insist long and loudly that polygamy and incest are far less acceptable than same sex marriage — despite the fact that they clearly have far greater historical precedent.

    In my quote from McKenzie’s Dictionary of the Bible there is no implication that marriages were arranged for the purposes of reproduction. No doubt men were paired with women because of sex, and maybe even because men got women pregnant, but the purpose of marriage has often been to find some way to have your daughters taken care of, not to make sure they reproduced.

    Ah ha. That explains it. That’s why Jewish custom at the time of Christ held that if a woman’s husband died and she hadn’t been taken care of, the husband’s brother had to marry her and take care of her. There was not, however, any custom among the Israelites that if a woman’s husband died without having provided her with children, that his brother had to take her as a wife and provide her with children.

    Seriously, though, you are joking, yes? You can’t possibly be suggesting that because a couple sentences you quoted about of a Dictionary of the Bible didn’t mention producing a new generation for the family/clan as being a purpose of marriage that it therefore wasn’t? This would be a pretty profound form of Sola Scriptura, now wouldn’t it.

    It is interesting to wonder if marriage would have developed if everything were physically and biologically the same as it has been but men and women were not sexually attracted to one another. Or would marriage have developed if women were sexually receptive only during estrus.

    I suppose it may be, and I’ve certainly written posts dealing with this topic in regards to other primates, but I’m not really clear how that deals with the topic at hand.

    All this is to say that a very important aspect of marriage is bonding between individuals who are sexually attracted to each other, and sexually engaged with each other, even when reproduction is not desired or not possible.

    This brings us back to your interesting and apropos observation earlier that while homosexual activity has very common in many past cultures, same sex marriage never was. Instead, marriage with members of the opposite sex was contracted even by men who primarily turned to other men for long term romantic and sexual relationships. Why is that, according to your formulation?

    Consequently, it has never been the case (as far as I know) that a marriage was considered consummated only when the woman got pregnant. It was considered consummated (when consummation was required) when the couple had sexual intercourse.

    True, but marriages which did not result in issue were often considered quite unsatisfactory, and this was often a reason for seeking a divorce or taking another wife. There’s a major religious denomination which owns its origins to this…

    Even the Catholic Church recognizes both a procreative and a unitive purpose of marriage, and it doesn’t argue that couples that can’t procreate cannot get married.

    I had assumed that we were talking about marriage strictly in a cultural/anthropological sense, since by the time you’re advocating same sex marriage you’ve already clearly rejected any Catholic understanding of marriage wholesale.

    So I think marriage is about sexual bonding, and I think the reason there has never been same-sex marriage is because culturally, the existence of “gay” people is a relatively recent phenomenon.

    I don’t really see how you can maintain this, since sexual bonding between people of the same sex clearly did exist quite explicitly and was indeed celebrated in some past cultures. And yet, marriage between people of the same sex was not. If we’re to draw anything from the past, we clearly have to account for this, and your formulation simply throws it out.

    And I would argue that it is a good thing that people who in a different age might have had a biological tendency to homosexuality in this age can self-identify as gay. Potentially gay people of the past, when gay people had not culturally arrived, were something akin to “mute inglorious Miltons.” They had a capacity that culture inhibited. Now they are more and more free to be themselves.

    Or perhaps our modern culture has:

    a) Lost any clear understanding of what marriage is or,

    b) Developed an odd tendency to try to force people who are primarily or often attracted to others of the same sex into an overly rigid “gay” bucket separate from an also overly rigid “straight” bucket, and then further tried to impose an idea of marriage on gay relationships which has little historical or anthropological reason to apply. Perhaps it is the peculiar mix of license and prudishness (combined with our increasing endorsement of the mind side of the mind/body conundrum) which we find in modern America which makes it seem necessary that people who are sexually involved with others of the same sex conform to what remains of our “marriage” ideal.

  45. David Nickol permalink
    August 27, 2010 9:50 am

    The rest of what you say is a rather poorly chewed regurgitation of arguments that are not very strong in the first place. I tend to expect better from you.

    Darwin,

    I’m going to accept the complimentary part and plead nolo contendere to your accusations. I will see if I can do better. Apologies.

  46. Phillip permalink
    August 27, 2010 10:27 am

    Certainly the Church sees upholding marriage as a union of one man and one woman as a social justice issue. From the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church:

    “a. The value of marriage

    215. The family has its foundation in the free choice of the spouses to unite themselves in marriage, in respect for the meaning and values of this institution that does not depend on man but on God himself: “For the good of the spouses and their offspring as well as of society, this sacred bond no longer depends on human decision alone. For God himself is the author of marriage and has endowed it with various benefits and purposes”[473]. Therefore, the institution of marriage — “intimate partnership of life and love … established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws” [474] — is not the result of human conventions or of legislative prescriptions but acquires its stability from divine disposition[475]. It is an institution born, even in the eyes of society, “from the human act by which the partners mutually surrender themselves to each other”[476], and is founded on the very nature of that conjugal love which, as a total and exclusive gift of person to person, entails a definitive commitment expressed by mutual, irrevocable and public consent[477]. This commitment means that the relationships among family members are marked also by a sense of justice and, therefore, by respect for mutual rights and duties.

    216. No power can abolish the natural right to marriage or modify its traits and purpose. Marriage in fact is endowed with its own proper, innate and permanent characteristics. Notwithstanding the numerous changes that have taken place in the course of the centuries in the various cultures and in different social structures and spiritual attitudes, in every culture there exists a certain sense of the dignity of the marriage union, although this is not evident everywhere with the same clarity[478]. This dignity must be respected in its specific characteristics and must be safeguarded against any attempt to undermine it. Society cannot freely legislate with regard to the marriage bond by which the two spouses promise each other fidelity, assistance and acceptance of children, but it is authorized to regulate its civil effects.

    217. The characteristic traits of marriage are: totality, by which the spouses give themselves to each other mutually in every aspect of their person, physical and spiritual; unity which makes them “one flesh” (Gen 2:24); indissolubility and fidelity which the definitive mutual giving of self requires; the fruitfulness to which this naturally opens itself[479]. God’s wise plan for marriage — a plan accessible to human reason notwithstanding the difficulties arising from “hardness of heart” (cf. Mt 19:8; Mk 10:5) — cannot be evaluated exclusively in light of the de facto behaviour and concrete situations that are at divergence with it. A radical denial of God’s original plan is found in polygamy, “because it is contrary to the equal personal dignity of men and women who in matrimony give themselves with a love that is total and therefore unique and exclusive”[480].

    218. In its “objective” truth, marriage is ordered to the procreation and education of children[481]. The marriage union, in fact, gives fullness of life to that sincere gift of self, the fruit of which is children, who in turn are a gift for the parents, for the whole family and all of society[482]. Nonetheless, marriage was not instituted for the sole reason of procreation[483]. Its indissoluble character and its value of communion remain even when children, although greatly desired, do not arrive to complete conjugal life. In this case, the spouses “can give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children or performing demanding services for others”[484].

    227. De facto unions, the number of which is progressively increasing, are based on a false conception of an individual’s freedom to choose [501] and on a completely privatistic vision of marriage and family. Marriage is not a simple agreement to live together but a relationship with a social dimension that is unique with regard to all other relationships, since the family — attending as it does to caring for and educating children — is the principal instrument for making each person grow in an integral manner and integrating him positively into social life.
    Making “de facto unions” legally equivalent to the family would discredit the model of the family, which cannot be brought about in a precarious relationship between persons [502] but only in a permanent union originating in marriage, that is, in a covenant between one man and one women, founded on the mutual and free choice that entails full conjugal communion oriented towards procreation.

    228. Connected with de facto unions is the particular problem concerning demands for the legal recognition of unions between homosexual persons, which is increasingly the topic of public debate. Only an anthropology corresponding to the full truth of the human person can give an appropriate response to this problem with its different aspects on both the societal and ecclesial levels[503]. The light of such anthropology reveals “how incongruous is the demand to accord ‘marital’ status to unions between persons of the same sex. It is opposed, first of all, by the objective impossibility of making the partnership fruitful through the transmission of life according to the plan inscribed by God in the very structure of the human being. Another obstacle is the absence of the conditions for that interpersonal complementarity between male and female willed by the Creator at both the physical-biological and the eminently psychological levels. It is only in the union of two sexually different persons that the individual can achieve perfection in a synthesis of unity and mutual psychophysical completion”[504].
    Homosexual persons are to be fully respected in their human dignity [505] and encouraged to follow God’s plan with particular attention in the exercise of chastity[506]. This duty calling for respect does not justify the legitimization of behaviour that is not consistent with moral law, even less does it justify the recognition of a right to marriage between persons of the same sex and its being considered equivalent to the family[507].
    “If, from the legal standpoint, marriage between a man and a woman were to be considered just one possible form of marriage, the concept of marriage would undergo a radical transformation, with grave detriment to the common good. By putting homosexual unions on a legal plane analogous to that of marriage and the family, the State acts arbitrarily and in contradiction with its duties”[508].

    229. The solidity of the family nucleus is a decisive resource for the quality of life in society, therefore the civil community cannot remain indifferent to the destabilizing tendencies that threaten its foundations at their very roots. Although legislation may sometimes tolerate morally unacceptable behaviour[509], it must never weaken the recognition of indissoluble monogamous marriage as the only authentic form of the family. It is therefore necessary that the public authorities “resist these tendencies which divide society and are harmful to the dignity, security and welfare of the citizens as individuals, and they must try to ensure that public opinion is not led to undervalue the institutional importance of marriage and the family”[510].
    It is the task of the Christian community and of all who have the good of society at heart to reaffirm that “the family constitutes, much more than a mere juridical, social and economic unit, a community of love and solidarity, which is uniquely suited to teach and transmit cultural, ethical, social, spiritual and religious values, essential for the development and well-being of its own members and of society”[511].”

    Benedict XVI in “Caritas in Veritate” also identified the family and its openes to life as the foundation of all social justice. As such a profound social justice issue, perhaps some of the theologically and philosophically trained on this site can take up Kyle’s challenge for “same-sex marriage opponents” to find “why the difference between a heterosexual couple’s inability to procreate and a same-sex couple’s inability to procreate matters.”

    Though I might correct Kyle’s reference to “same-sex marriage opponents” to another term. Perhaps “pro-family supporters” or “pro-social justice defenders.”

  47. David Nickol permalink
    August 27, 2010 10:37 am

    Wow, David Nickol, did you miss the lines that immediately follow your Bible quote?

    Thales,

    I am aware that the story is about Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. But I still contend that there is no mention of reproduction, even in the line, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” By the way, that line strikes me as getting ahead of the story, since Adam did not have a father, and it does not seem like, at that point, Adam and Eve are going to reproduce, and that generation will follow generation in Eden. Although Adam and Eve have gender, they do not seem to be sexual beings. They are naked but feel no shame. Are we not to assume they feel no sexual desire? Also, I don’t see that it can be argued that Adam and Eve were husband and wife until their expulsion from the garden. They were two innocent, childlike, gendered but nonsexual human beings.

    Of course, in the chapter beforehand, there is also the passage: “Male and female he created them. God blessed them and said ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’”

    I was discussing the story of Adam and Eve, not the other creation account, which is from a different source.

    I’m just wondering why you are arguing that marriage is a relationship that requires sexual bonding.

    I said marriage was about sexual bonding, which I think is slightly different from saying it requires sexual bonding. I have known couples, both heterosexual (married) and gay who for one reason or another stopped having sex but who nevertheless maintained a bond that was not mere friendship. I don’t think sexual bonding requires genital sex.

    I think it is commonly accepted nowadays that when two people who are sexually attracted to one another fall in love, what many of them see as the natural next step is to get married. I liked the little story I related above (August 26, 2010 at 9:53 pm) about deathbed marriage. Surely it has nothing whatsoever to do with procreation.

    It strikes me that in a great deal of literature (I used Romeo and Juliet as an example earlier), getting married is not about procreation. It is about making a committed relationship “more real.”

    In other literature (say, Pride and Prejudice), marriage is an economic necessity about finding a way for your daughters to be provided for.

    I think trying to define the purpose of marriage across all time periods and across all cultures is probably futile. We may be able to make broad generalizations about marriage, but its purpose varies from time to time and from culture to culture. I do not think there exists somewhere the Platonic ideal marriage, which we are to depart from at our peril. Now, of course if you are making religious arguments, you can say that marriage was invented by God for this, that, and the other reason, and something like a Platonic ideal does exist. But my understanding is that we are making secular arguments.

    I have seen people argue that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are the model for the family. However, it seems to me they formed one of the most atypical families imaginable. And in fact, if consummation is required for a marriage, then Mary and Joseph weren’t even married according to Catholic belief.

  48. Thales permalink
    August 27, 2010 1:03 pm

    if you want to support your grandfather as your legal dependent, then I’m all for making him your “partner” in a “civil union.”

    digby,
    Do you realize that you’re making the exact argument that same-sex marriage advocates reject as unpersuasive? SSM advocates don’t just want a civil union, they want their relationship declared “a marriage”.

    I’m trying to determine why David Nickol thinks marriage is “about sexual bonding”. If David doesn’t think marriage is about a male sexually bonding with a female (with or without a resulting reproduction), then I’m wondering why David is limiting marriage to those relationships which involve sexual bonding. Based on David’s reading of Genesis 2 with Adam and Eve being nonsexual beings, marriage has nothing to do with sexual bonding.

    Re: “Catholic libertarians” trying to take the American State out of the marriage business

    digby,
    I probably agree with you more on this point than you think. I agree that “sacramental marriage” is so different from the no-fault divorce culture that we live in today, and that most Christians make a mockery out of marriage with serial divorce and infidelity. But the question about whether the state should get out of the business of recognizing relationships as marriages is a different question from the one that David and I are talking about, ie, how to define marriage as a natural institution (not a sacramental one, though I wonder whether David thinks same-sex relationships can also be the basis of a sacramental union – but that’s another question).

    I think it is commonly accepted nowadays that when two people who are sexually attracted to one another fall in love, what many of them see as the natural step is to get married.

    David, would you agree that for most of history, it was commonly accepted that when a man and a woman who were sexually attracted to one another fell in love, the natural next step was to get married? I suppose you would say that the people of the past were mistaken about what constitutes a marriage, because a marriage can be between two people of the same sex. But then can’t I counter and say that you are mistaken in thinking that a marriage must involve sexual bonding, and that a marriage can be my asexual relationship with my grandfather?

  49. Thales permalink
    August 27, 2010 1:08 pm

    I should add that I’m not trying to be a smart-ass in arguing that if we legalize same-sex marriage, then this whole parade of horribles, like marrying my grandfather, will occur. I’m using the grandfather example as an example of a completely non-sexual yet loving relationship, in a serious attempt to discern what is the definition of marriage for those who want marriage to include same-sex couples.

  50. David Nickol permalink
    August 27, 2010 3:03 pm

    David, would you agree that for most of history, it was commonly accepted that when a man and a woman who were sexually attracted to one another fell in love, the natural next step was to get married?

    Thales,

    No, because I don’t think for most of history marriage was about falling in love or being sexually attracted. I don’t have time now to research this and quote sources, but I think historically, most marriages were arranged marriages. Many cultures still have arranged marriages today. Of course, that doesn’t mean husbands and wives didn’t often wind up loving each other.

  51. Thales permalink
    August 27, 2010 3:11 pm

    David,

    I’m trying to understand your analysis of Genesis 2, but I find it very difficult to see.

    -Clearly, the “man leaves father and mother, clings to wife, becomes one flesh” is not specifically talking about Adam and Eve, but the Genesis 2 author is obviously making a point about a man and a woman uniting in some fashion, and tying it to the creation of Adam and Eve.

    -I don’t know why not feeling shame necessitates not having sexual desire. I think it’s fair to assume that Adam and Eve had sexual desire, just as they had desire for food before the Fall.

    -I think it’s fair to assume that Adam and Eve were created with reproductive organs. The animals are presumably created with reproductive organs, and we don’t read about God physically changing Adam and Eve and creating new reproductive organs after the Fall.

    -I know that Genesis 1 is a different story, and perhaps a different author, than Genesis 2. But a basic rule of Biblical interpretation is to read different passages that relate to the same thing, as correspond to one another (though one may be addressing a different aspect of the same thing than another). So it’s fair to look at the creation of man in Genesis 2 in the light of Genesis 1.

    I wonder whether it would be more accurate to talk about marriage not in the context of something specifically requiring reproduction, but in the context of being a union of male and female “as one body” (that may or may not lead to reproduction). Perhaps the creation of man/woman in Genesis 2 doesn’t have to do with reproduction, but it does seem to have something to do with a union of man and woman in one body (at least the Genesis 2 author seems to think so).

  52. Bruce in Kansas permalink
    August 27, 2010 3:11 pm

    The Church teaches the nature of the nuptual embrace is for both bonding and babies, or unitive and procreative aspects.

    But isn’t there also a teaching about marriage relating to reduction of concupiscence? Thomas Aquinas maybe?

  53. David Nickol permalink
    August 27, 2010 3:16 pm

    Based on David’s reading of Genesis 2 with Adam and Eve being nonsexual beings, marriage has nothing to do with sexual bonding.

    Thales,

    Were Adam and Eve husband and wife before they were ejected from the garden? Did they have sex prior to Genesis 4? It does not appear so.

    The command to be fruitful and multiply is from a different tradition, so I don’t think it can be applied to the story of Adam and Eve.

    What are we to imagine would have been the case of Adam and Eve had not sinned? Would they have remained innocent, sexless creatures in the garden for all eternity? Would they still have been parents of the whole human race?

    It seems to me the story of Adam and Eve is about man and woman and not about marriage, though not irrelevant to the topic of marriage.

  54. David Nickol permalink
    August 27, 2010 3:26 pm

    I suppose you would say that the people of the past were mistaken about what constitutes a marriage, because a marriage can be between two people of the same sex.

    Thales,

    No, I wouldn’t say they were mistaken. I would say the issue never came up, because I think people who self-identify as gay are a relatively recent phenomenon, and people who self-identify as gay and want to marry are a very recent cultural phenomenon.

    I think it’s all very simple. I think in the United States today (as opposed to 100 years ago), men and women who fall in love often want — for many reasons — to get legally married. Now that there has been a cultural shift in which we have gay people who want to form families, they say to themselves, “What do people do when they fall in love and want to formalize their relationship?” The answer is, “They get married.” So now many gay couples want to get married. Maybe for some people it’s a political movement with ulterior motives. But I think the reason why we have a fight for gay marriage is that a lot of ordinary, nonpolitical, non-activist gay couples want to get married. Marriage was not an objective of the gay liberation movement. In fact, imitating heterosexuals was anathema. Marriage was just about the last thing most gay activists in the earlier days of gay liberation wanted. It seems to me the pressure came from ordinary people who just wanted to settle down and get married.

  55. digbydolben permalink
    August 27, 2010 4:52 pm

    Well, Thales, for the sake of your discussion with David, above, I happen to agree with you that “marriage,” as we Catholics understand it, SHOULD NOT include “same-sex couples.”

    Most of this society has an entirely different concept of marriage, and so I guess we Catholics have no business being part of that discussion.

    But it seems that “sacramentally married” Catholics in America don’t have a very profound understanding of how different from their own are the married lives of their Protestant and secularist neighbours, whose marriages were always made, from the standpoint of Catholics, from a “bad faith” position–with one eye cocked over their shoulders, looking, for reassurance, at the “institution” of DIVORCE.

  56. Liam permalink
    August 27, 2010 6:34 pm

    Well, this is a very abstract conversation.

    I wonder how different it might be if, for those participants who have children and even grandchildren, consider how they might address their views to such child or grandchild who comes out to them. Often, I see people arguing *about* gay people abstractly, rather than engagement *with* them and their particular realities. The abstract discussion is not where the movement is happening, but instead the movement is happening at the personal level.

    One of the signal rational vulnerabilities of Catholic moral theology on sexual matters is its nearly exclusively deductive approach (whereas Catholic moral theology on most other matters employs both the deductive and inductive lungs of reasoning).

    The sea change in this area reveals this weakness.

  57. digbydolben permalink
    August 27, 2010 9:10 pm

    Here’s what I want to see happen, as a direct result of this controversy regarding “gay marriage”:

    1. Deprive ordained clergy in the United States of the right to say, during the marriage liturgy, “By the power invested in me by the State…” etc.

    2. Require all people seeking a license for a “civil union” to appear separately before a magistrate or justice of the peace, and announce that they are entering into a “civil union” for the purposes of joint ownership of property or any other right or responsibility having to do with what was formerly considered to be “marriage”–EXCEPT exclusions from taxation.

    3. For the purposes of taxation, one or other of the partners should have to acquire a license to be the other’s material supporter, if his or her “partner” does not have his or her own separate income. Children or ailing or handicapped relatives shouldn’t need this “license,” because their status can be announced as “deductions” on tax forms.

    4. All divorces of people being taxed as separate wage-earners and “non-dependents” should be uncontested and “no fault.” Only the divorces of those who are dependents or supporters of others should need to be litigated.

    5. “Sacramental” or church marriages should have no binding under secular law, and should be preceded or followed by an appearance before a magistrate or a justice of the peace, as in most countries in Europe.

    Make these simple reforms to get the State out of the marriage business and out of the position of being arbiter in the affairs of mature adults (but not out of children’s affairs; the State has a definite interest in protecting the rights of minors), and there can be no more social upheaval over “gay rights.” (And we will also be spared the unedifying spectacle of “gay divorce court”–of which THINKING “gay” folk should wish to spare themselves, as well!)

  58. digbydolben permalink
    August 27, 2010 9:37 pm

    Oh, and Liam, I’m with you, and I think THIS is what you’re talking about, as a kind of alternative to the sort of thin-lipped, bloodless kind of discussion going on, here at this thread, which I have, perhaps, too much contributed to, myself

    However, you have to try to understand that many of the most pious Catholics in America, who have been for a long time dimly aware of how far the American style of marriage has strayed from their Church’s understanding of what marriage is, have to have it spelled out for them, in coldly logical terms, that what the Right in America is calling “the threatened institution of marriage” has not been, for a very long time, what Catholics call “marriage” at all.

    But, as for the consequences to real, live humans of this inequity in civil law, I understand it perfectly, and am solidly on the side of those who wish to rectify it. We Catholics will have to put up with ONE MORE simulacrum of what we call “marriage”–for the sake of civil rights in the American polity.

  59. Thales permalink
    August 27, 2010 10:29 pm

    David, would you agree that for most of history, it was commonly accepted that when a man and a woman who were sexually attracted to one another fell in love, the natural next step was to get married?

    Thales,

    No, because I don’t think for most of history marriage was about falling in love or being sexually attracted.

    David,
    Now I’m even more confused. You were saying that today, the notion of marriage is the next step that happens “when two people who are sexually attracted to one another fall in love”. But you’re also saying that marriage in the past was not about falling in love or being sexually attracted. So are you saying that what constitutes a marriage is a mere cultural feeling that can change over time, since it now involves sexual attraction, but didn’t in the past? So, doesn’t that mean that you’ve got no real problem with my asexual relationship with my grandfather being a marriage?

  60. Thales permalink
    August 27, 2010 10:49 pm

    Were Adam and Eve husband and wife before they were ejected from the garden? Did they have sex prior to Genesis 4? It does not appear so.

    David,
    Again, I’m not sure why you think that the ordinary reading of the Bible accounts would mean that Adam and Eve didn’t have sex before the Fall and wouldn’t have had children if they hadn’t been ejected. It appears the opposite to me. Before the Fall, aren’t all the other plants and animals reproducing? (We know the fruit trees were.) Adam and Eve had just been created as male and female, presumably with male and female reproductive parts. If God created a whole world of living (and reproducing) organisms, why wouldn’t the pinnacle of His creation also be capable of reproducing?

    Also, in Genesis 3, God says “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.” This sounds as if the possibility of the woman giving birth is presumed to exist before the Fall: the consequence of the Fall is that childbearing would be more painful, not that childbirth would now happen when it didn’t before.

    I agree that there is no explicit indication that Adam and Eve have sex and have children before the Fall. But that doesn’t mean that we must conclude that Adam and Eve’s original state when they were first created before the Fall is a state where they would never have sex or reproduce. Remember, the Genesis 2 author specifically tells us that the original state of Adam and Eve is somehow related to humanity after the Fall, with a man uniting with his wife in “one flesh”, whatever that means.

  61. Liam permalink
    August 28, 2010 8:22 am

    I’d also like to offer historical background on how the Commonwealth of Massachusetts came to where it arrived on this issue in November 2003.

    Back during what were often called the Plague Years, that is, the 1980s and 1990s up until 1996, there were lots of people dying from AIDs. Remember that? Anyone remember how awful and scary it was in the early years, and how the scale just snowballed from there?

    Well, during those scary years, unmarried couples dealing with AIDS learned many things. Among those many things was that being unmarried made them squat in the eyes of countless institutions.

    For example, putting aside all the hospital and medical nightmares that transpired, I’ll offer a much more mundane illustration of this point: A close friend of mine was the estate lawyer for man who died from AIDs-related complications. The deceased left his property to his longtime partner. The surviving partner was sued by the parents of the deceased, and the parents managed to have the will of the deceased overturned by a pious Catholic judge who read a lot into the facts in a way that favored the parents’ case (basically, he read dementia into the situation even though the doctors indicated strongly otherwise). Anyway, as the family seized the property of their deceased son, among the items were his personal journals. In their spitefulness, they specifically got a court order to prohibit the surviving partner from creating a copy of the journals. Et cet.

    There were lots of stories like this, in the intersection of liberal bohemian Bay Staters and pious Catholic Bay Staters (the two circles did, it should be noted, overlap).

    Advocated for afflicted people started to agitate for domestic partnership benefits and other rights. Cardinal Law (allied with some other traditionally influential local religious groups, IIRC very notably the Christian Science Church, whose influence has likewise faded in the wake of this) saw to it that his minions in the state legislature did whatever they could to block such changes. As this dynamic evolved, what happened is that advocates believed that the political arm of the churches was so strong that the advocates had little to gain from breaking the stonewalling, and little to loose by trying a Hail Mary pass (ironic pun definitely intended) by litigating the issue of marriage rights.

    Had advocates not encountered such spite and stonewalling, I do not believe Massachusetts would have ended up where it did in November 2003.

    I think local leaders acting on behalf of the erstwhile interests of the Church need to seriously look in the mirror about their responsibilities for these developments. Not that I will hold my breath waiting for them to do so.

    Anyway, I just wanted to get back down to the perspectives from real people, away from abstract concepts.

  62. David Raber permalink
    August 29, 2010 1:38 pm

    If we grant that gay people living in a domestic relationship should have legal rights identical to those enjoyed by heterosexual married couples–and why not, in a secular, pluralistic society?–then the whole issue becomes about that word, “marriage.”

    It seems strange to me that we would extend the word “marriage,” which has always been used only in the heterosexual context, to include homosexual partnerships–as if being homosexual were in no significant way different than being heterosexual.

    Value judgements aside, homosexuality is not “normal”; it may be okay, it may even be a wonderful thing in its own way, but if you have this orientation, you are certainly different than the great mass of humanity, and claiming the word “marriage” seems to want to deny that difference.

    Do we no longer need to routinely distinguish in language between heterosexual unions and homosexual unions? I guess that’s the question.

    • August 29, 2010 1:41 pm

      Do we no longer need to routinely distinguish in language between heterosexual unions and homosexual unions? I guess that’s the question.

      That’s a very interesting question.

  63. David Nickol permalink
    August 29, 2010 3:47 pm

    you could try something like “You have basically said that marriage is a social institution designed to determine questions of legitimacy, lineage and inheritance by providing social context and control to reproduction.”This common underlying thread, as I would see it, is that societies have always seen the need to formalize structures around relationships between men and women which would be considered to produce legitimate offspring, if offspring should result.

    ” . . . . you could try something like “You have basically said that marriage is a social institution designed to determine questions of legitimacy, lineage and inheritance by providing social context and control to reproduction.”

    Darwin,

    I am in the midst of working on a response to you that takes issue, in particular, with this statement of yours: “[P]eople seem to have largely forgotten this basic purpose of marriage, and so the idea of applying the term to same sex relationships seems less obviously ludicrous than it would have at most times in history.” In delving into how we can define marriage and its purposes, I have been looking at a number of sources, most of them in the field of anthropology, and I must say I am surprised at how many forms of same-sex marriage (most of them woman-woman) have been documented.

    Here’s a section from a recently published college text, Cultural Anthropology, Thirteenth Edition, by Carol R. Ember and Melvin Ember:

    Rare Types of Marriage

    In addition to the usual male-female marriages, some societies recognize marriages between people of the same biological sex. Such marriages are not typical in any known society. These same-sex marriages may be socially approved unions, modeled after regular marriages, and they often entail a considerable number of reciprocal rights and obligations. Sometimes the marriages involve an individual who is considered a “woman” or “man,” even though “she” or “he” is not that sex biologically. As we noted in the previous chapter, the Cheyenne Indians allowed a married man to take as a second wife a biological man belonging to the third gender, “two-spirits.”

    Although it is not clear that the Cheyenne male-male marriages involved homosexual relationships, it is clear that temporary homosexual marriages did occur among the Azande of Africa. Before the British took control over what is now Sudan, Azande warriors who could not afford wives often married “boy-wives” to satisfy their sexual needs. As in normal marriages, gifts (although not as substantial) were given by the “husband” to the parents of his boy-wife. The husband performed services for the boy’s parents and could sue any other lover of the boy in court for adultery. The boy-wives not only had sexual relations with their husbands but also performed many of the chores female wives traditionally performed for their husbands.

    Female-female marriages are reported to have occurred in many African societies, but there is no evidence of any sexual relationship between the partners. It seems, rather, that female-female marriages were a socially approved way for a woman to take on the legal and social roles of a father and husband. For example, among the Nandi, a pastoral and agricultural society of Kenya, about 3 percent of the marriages are female-female marriages. Such marriages appear to be a Nandi solution to the problem of a regular marriage’s failure to produce a male heir to property. The Nandi solution is to have the woman, even if her husband is still alive, become a “husband” to a younger female and “father” the younger woman’s children. The female husband provides the marriage payments required for obtaining a wife, renounces female work, and takes on the obligations of the husband to that woman. Although no sexual relations are permitted between the female husband and the new wife (or between the female husband and her own husband), the female husband arranges a male consort so that the new wife can have children. Those children, however, consider the female husband to be their father because she (or more aptly the gender role “he”) is the socially designated father. If asked who their father is, a child of such a marriage will name the female who is the husband.

    It just seems to me there is no justification for calling same-sex marriage “ludicrous” when anthropologists have studied formalized same-sex relationships that the field in general seems to have no problem in classifying as marriage.

    Where same-sex marriage has been recognized and studied by anthropologists, it has always been engaged in by only a small percentage of the population, but obviously that is the case in the countries that now recognize same-sex marriage.

    While googling “definition of marriage,” I ran across a paper originally published in 1959 by E. Kathleen Gough called The Nayars and the Definition of Marriage. The Nayars have woman-woman marriage. Gough’s paper begins:

    The problem of a satisfactory definition of marriage has vexed anthropologists for decades and has been raised, but not solved, several times in recent years. Over time it became clear that cohabitation, ritual recognition, definition of sexual rights or stipulation of domestic services each had too limited a distribution to serve a criterion for all the unions anthropologists intuitively felt compelled to call “marriage.” . . .

    What strikes me here is that (for anthropologists, at least), what comes first is the various societal arrangements “designed to determine questions of legitimacy, lineage and inheritance by providing social context and control to reproduction” (to quote you — but I wouldn’t limit things just to that), and the classifications as marriage come next, followed by attempts at defining marriage and enumerating its purposes.

    It seems to me that, first of all, same-sex unions of many kinds have already been classified as marriages, and so there is no arguing that we can’t have same-sex marriage in the United States because to do so would be to “change the definition of marriage.” Also, it seems to me that far in the future, when anthropologists look back on the current form of same-sex marriage that exist in Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Mexico (partly), and the United States (partly), they will have absolutely no problem in classifying it as a form of marriage.

  64. David Nickol permalink
    August 29, 2010 3:54 pm

    Anyway, I just wanted to get back down to the perspectives from real people, away from abstract concepts.

    Liam,

    Good point, and as I have just argued, marriage didn’t start with abstract concepts. It started with people forming various kinds of social, sexual, economic, etc. unions that social scientists then classied as marriage, altering and expanding the definition of marriage when a previously undiscovered arrangement came to light.

  65. digbydolben permalink
    August 30, 2010 9:23 am

    Do we no longer need to routinely distinguish in language between heterosexual unions and homosexual unions? I guess that’s the question.

    No, it’s not; that is a peripheral issue.

    The question is “Do we no longer need to routinely distinguish in LEGAL status (particularly involving MONEY, i.e. taxes) between heterosexual unions and homosexual unions?”

    “Language” is durable and flexible, and will make the adjustment faster than jurists and politicians will.

  66. August 30, 2010 9:26 am

    David,

    I’m encouraged to see you doing substantive reading on the topic — even if it’s primarily in search of a foregone conclusion.

    I’m not really clear that the examples that you’re drawing actually go anywhere all that interesting, though. Certainly, in the last couple decades, there has been a strong effort in certain sectors of cultural anthroplogy to dig up examples of same sex marriage for clearly political reasons — and given that part of the process of anthropology is determining how to translate the terms and institutions of other cultures into our own and understand them better, there is a great deal of interpretation that goes on. Classifying the types of relationship you describe as being marriages is often more an action on the part of the anthropologist than on the part of the culture — which typically distinguishes in language and social standing clearly between these more non-standard relationships and the institution which we in the West would more naturally identify as “marriage” in the culture.

    In this regard, anthropologists of the future might (if it suited their purposes) classify civil unions or non-legally-recognized long term homosexual relationships as being a variant form of marriage in the US regardless of whether it’s decided to re-define legal marriage into a gender neutral form. What is being fought over in the same sex marriage debate is not whether such relationships exist in such a way as anthropologists study them, but rather as whether they should be recognized as the same as relationships that we have traditionally described as marriage in our culture.

    In that regard, I very much stick by my claim that classifying same sex relationships as being the same as marriages is in fact ludicrous from the point of view of our own and other traditional cultures.

  67. August 30, 2010 9:33 am

    Liam,

    It strikes me that part of the reason for the abstract debate is that this is the debate which activists on the same sex marriage side have chosen to wage. If the primarily area of contention had rather been whether it is just to set aside someone’s will, exclude their lover from a hospital bedside, etc., a lot of people who oppose same sex marriage (myself included) would be fully supportive — the fact that some high profile chose to take the other side not withstanding.

    However, in this case, the debate has been turned into an abstract and much more contentious one because it was decided to demand that same sex relationships be recognized legally and cultural as identical with marriage — something which those who care about marriage are obviously not going to go for.

  68. Liam permalink
    August 30, 2010 11:41 am

    DC

    But the problem in fact is the opposite: SSM advocates became SSM advocates years ago precisely because it was made painfully and oppressively clear that opponents of giving them such rights would use massive resistance to any such concessions. Opponents created the need for the Hail Mary pass. Now they are being hoist on a situation of their own making.

  69. David Raber permalink
    August 30, 2010 12:03 pm

    Digby–

    The state can make “domestic unions” of gays and straights the same according to the law without using the word “marriage” whatsover, so the use of the word does seem to be the main issue.

  70. August 30, 2010 12:47 pm

    Liam,

    Well, what I can I say… Your narrative here obviously rests on an unproveable counterfactual: that if there had been no or fewer situations in which gay couples were successfully harassed or disrupted in regards to issues like visitation, inheritance, etc. that there would have been no gay marriage movement. We can’t view a reality in which that was the case, so it’s impossible for either of us to prove our case out. The two things I would point out are:

    1) Regardless of the history that in at least some cases gay couples found their desires violated through the courts due to judges choosing to throw out agreements, powers of attorney, wills, etc., pushing to redefine marriage in non-gender-specific terms is unquestionably a much larger and more controversial change to foist upon the country. Given that gay advocates moved to pushing for same sex marriage relatively quickly, and that the campaign for same sex marriage has been longer and more forceful than the period of obstruction that allegedly inspired it, it’s kind of hard to imagine that pushing for gay marriage was picked because it was easier or because other options were impossible.

    2) Even getting same sex marriage won’t necessarily solve the problem for the gay community, as it’s fairly routine for families to dispute similar topics in regards to actual spouses. Just as we now have claims to a spouse should not have decision making power because he or she is unfaithful, has something to gain, disagrees with what the family member “would have wanted” etc., so it will be for same sex couples even with marriage. And just as families contest wills claiming that the will is unfair or that the spouse was a “gold digger” who came on the scene late, the same claims could be trotted out against same sex spouses. Tragic as it may seem, there will always be examples of people behaving badly towards each other (sometimes with the help of the courts) because people often behave badly.

    I think it would be more accurate to claim that same sex marriage is seen as a way to normalize same sex relationships and force acceptance of the lifestyle on society — thus in the long term decreasing levels of strife and harassment.

  71. August 30, 2010 1:52 pm

    As I think about Liam’s point further, it strikes me that it probably points to a general tendency in how people address partisan or divisive issues.

    An argument of, “You may disapprove of what’s happening, but you should keep in mind what your side did to push those people to this point.” tends to be rolled out in situations where someone is at least somewhat supportive of an issue, yet wants to avoid actually owning it. Examples that a right-ist might roll out would be:

    “The Arizona immigration law may be excessive, but you need to think about the point to which those in border states have been pushed by failure of the federal government to enforce immigration laws.”

    “Israeli oppression may be excessive, but you need to think about how people will naturally respond to having a daily terror campaign waged against their citizenry.”

    “Dropping the atomic bomb on Japan may have been the wrong choice, but given how Japan had waged the war up to that point it was entirely understandable that Truman believed it was necessary.”

    In each of these examples, this sort of agrument works with people who are strongly sympathetic to the person or group accused of doing something wrong (passing a draconian immigration law, oppressing Palestinians, nuking Japan) but do not actually see the action as right. However, it is absolutely unpersuasive to those who consider the action clearly and obviously wrong.

    What this suggests to me is that we often argue as much about sympathy as about conviction. For instance, to my understanding I am in agreement with all of the authors of this blog that same sex marriage is wrong, and that the three right-ist examples I listed above are also wrong. However, my impression is that nearly all the authors here would be sympathetic to your argument as to how we got to this point on SSM, while I would not. And I would be sympathetic to varying degrees to the three arguments I listed above, while I suspect that most or all of the authors here would find them not merely unpersuasive but downright evil.

    Often, we seem to assign almost as much moral weight to whom we sympathize with as to what we actually think is right or wrong.

  72. David Nickol permalink
    August 30, 2010 2:12 pm

    Certainly, in the last couple decades, there has been a strong effort in certain sectors of cultural anthropology to dig up examples of same sex marriage for clearly political reasons

    Darwin,

    That may have some truth to it, but that is why I found the 1959 paper to be of real interest. (My original link to the paper didn’t work.) Kathleen Gough was proposing a definition of marriage 50 years ago, at a time when no one in the United States (least of all gay activists) was proposing gay marriage. Here is her definition, by the way:

    Marriage is a relationship established between a woman and one or more other persons, which provides that a child born to the woman under circumstances not prohibited by the rules of the relationship, is accorded full birth-status rights common to normal members of his society or social stratum.

    That definition would clearly fit a lesbian couple legally married in any of the Western nations that now permit same-sex marriage.

    The question raised in my mind by your comments is, Who gets to define marriage? If we can’t look to the social sciences for at least some help in defining what marriage is, then proponents of same-sex marriage will have their definitions and opponents will have their definitions, and the definitions will be formulated for political purposes. This allows the opponents of same-sex marriage to say (as the do so often), “Marriage has always been between a man and a woman.” And if a proponent of same-sex marriage says, “Not true. Look at the Nayars or the Ibo,” the opponent says, “Well, those weren’t really marriages because they weren’t between a man and a woman.”

    In that regard, I very much stick by my claim that classifying same sex relationships as being the same as marriages is in fact ludicrous from the point of view of our own and other traditional cultures.

    I wonder about your use of the word ludicrous here. As I have said before, I think the reason we have a push for gay marriage is not because part of the “homosexual agenda” is to secure marriage rights for gays as a political maneuver towards some other goal. I think gay leaders were very wary of fighting for same-sex marriage, particularly now rather than later. I think we have the battle because a lot of gay couples just want to get married.

    It seems to me that gay people have a lot more empathy for straight people than straight people have for gay people (which is probably inevitable and unremarkable). When gay people read, or see a play or movie or television show, and there is a romantic relationship between a man and a woman, they are pulling for them to get married and live happily ever after just the same as straight people. Gay people in our culture get their idea of love, romance, and commitment largely from heterosexual art, literature, their own families, and so on. So it seems to me only natural that when gay people fall in love and want to make a commitment to their partners, the obvious thought is marriage. And you are telling them it’s “ludicrous.”

    I would say that even if all of your arguments about same-sex marriage were valid, it would still be objectionable of you to call the idea ludicrous. As Liam is pointing out, this is all about real people with real feelings, and I might add real lesbian couples with babies they have borne themselves, and gay male couples with babies they have adopted. It’s about people who love each other enough to want to form families, raise kids, send them to school, go to PTA meetings, arrange play dates, and so on, and so on. And you want to tell them that what they have their hearts set on is ludicrous. You want to tell a gay man (or lesbian), “You have the same right to marry as anyone else. Just marry someone of the opposite gender for whom you feel no sexual attraction.” You are approaching the whole subject as if there were no human beings with feelings involved.

    As to making the abstract arguments for same-sex marriage, what choice do proponents have? Opponents say things like, “Are we suppose to give it to them just because they want it? What if somebody wants to marry his sister? What if somebody wants to marry her dog? What if an adult wants to marry a 7-year-old? Should we allow people to do something just because they want to?” I think it is true that most people are sympathetic to someone who wants the right to visit his or her partner in the hospital and other such practicalities. But proponents of same-sex marriage have to counter all the arguments against it, and that includes the abstract ones.

  73. digbydolben permalink
    August 30, 2010 2:46 pm

    David Raber and Darwin Catholic, although I am with both of you on practical matters of politics (wishing that the “gay” folks had asked for “civil unions” rather than use of that word), what I really DEMAND to know from both of you is “Why do you seem to insist on calling what this culture designates as ‘marriage’ (i.e. serial monogamy, no-fault divorce, etc.) real ‘marriage’ in our Catholic sense of what marriage is?” and “Don’t you understand that to totally divorce, through complete secularization of the contractual process of ‘marriage’ (i.e. taking the State out of our marriages completely) would actually STRENGTHEN young Catholic people’s understanding of what they are getting themselves into, in opting for SACRAMENTAL marriage?”–That is, that they would better understand that it in no fashion resembles what this depraved and debauched culture calls “marriage”?

  74. August 30, 2010 4:13 pm

    David,

    Marriage is a relationship established between a woman and one or more other persons, which provides that a child born to the woman under circumstances not prohibited by the rules of the relationship, is accorded full birth-status rights common to normal members of his society or social stratum.

    That definition would clearly fit a lesbian couple legally married in any of the Western nations that now permit same-sex marriage.

    With the distinction that two women living together in a sexual relationship will not successfully, not matter how tender their attachment to one another, succeed in conceiving children together. So there’s no need to establish that the one lesbian partner’s child is the legitimate child of the other — since it is necessarily understood that any reproduction that occurs must necessarily be the result of at least physical infidelity.

    The fact that same sex relationships are in and of themselves necessarily sterile pretty much rules them out of the definition Gough provided.

    It seems to me that gay people have a lot more empathy for straight people than straight people have for gay people (which is probably inevitable and unremarkable). When gay people read, or see a play or movie or television show, and there is a romantic relationship between a man and a woman, they are pulling for them to get married and live happily ever after just the same as straight people. Gay people in our culture get their idea of love, romance, and commitment largely from heterosexual art, literature, their own families, and so on. So it seems to me only natural that when gay people fall in love and want to make a commitment to their partners, the obvious thought is marriage.

    I guess I’m unclear why this ought to be the case. Certainly, as humans, we are empathetic creatures, and so we naturally feel for others when they feel strongly. The mere fact that someone else feels strong emotion engages our emotions, even if they are not emotions we ourselves feel.

    However, at the same time, men and women are different. Surely a relationship, no matter how romantic, between two men is different in its dymanics from a relationship between a man and a woman. And a relationship between two women is different from either one of these. Simply because men and women are different. However different a woman attracted to other women may be from a woman attracted to men — she is not going to be the same as a man. Sex matters.

    That said, why thus would we necessarily expect that same sex relationships would look like and be spoken about like straight relationships? Why must we assume that because marriage is the right format for straight relationships in our society, that it is so for gay relationships in our society?

    I would say that even if all of your arguments about same-sex marriage were valid, it would still be objectionable of you to call the idea ludicrous. As Liam is pointing out, this is all about real people with real feelings, and I might add real lesbian couples with babies they have borne themselves, and gay male couples with babies they have adopted. It’s about people who love each other enough to want to form families, raise kids, send them to school, go to PTA meetings, arrange play dates, and so on, and so on. And you want to tell them that what they have their hearts set on is ludicrous. You want to tell a gay man (or lesbian), “You have the same right to marry as anyone else. Just marry someone of the opposite gender for whom you feel no sexual attraction.” You are approaching the whole subject as if there were no human beings with feelings involved.

    I don’t think that the feelings of gay people are ludicrous at all — I just think that the stated desire (of trying to visibly mimic a married-with-children lifestyle which same sex relationships cannot, by their biological nature, achieve on their own) is misguided, however understandable.

    By way of illustration, say that my buddy Peter comes to me and explains to me that more than anything else he wants to be a mother. He desperately wants to carry a child inside his body for nine months, to nurse it, to be the nurturing, maternal force in its life. He tells me about everything that motherhood means to him and why he so desperately, desperately wants to be a mother.

    This might be a deeply moving conversation, with the two of us choking back tears over our beers together, but it wouldn’t change the fact that his desire, however sincere, in fundamentally ludicrous.

    Unless one holds that there is no objective nature or purpose at all to human relationships and lives, some desires, however heartfelt, just don’t make any sense. I don’t think that means that people should be treated rudely in interpersonal interactions, but it also means that just because someone desperately wants something does not make it achievable or good.

    All this, of course, is also spoken simply at the secular level. In Catholic moral terms, of course, living in a same sex, sexual relationship is, of course, just as sinful as living in adultery or fornication. Seeing someone’s choices as immoral is, again, certainly no reason to be rude to them. But obviously in this sense we as Catholics would tend not to find same sex “marriages” as beautiful or desireable.

  75. August 30, 2010 4:19 pm

    Digby,

    I certainly agree with you that our secular, American culture does a frightfully bad job of living up to our Catholic undestanding of marriage. I’m taking that as a given in this conversation, since although we may not actually all agree on Catholic teaching on homosexual activity, I’m assuming we all at least understand what it is and that it’s not going anywhere.

    However, even at a basic secular level, it seems to me that same sex marriage violates the basic, natural meaning of marriage more than other common historical forms (serial marriage, polygamy, etc.) which while they are unacceptable from a Catholic moral point of view, still at least fit with the basic understanding of human nature.

    In this sense, I’d have less of an issue with allowing recognition of polygamy and divorce than with same sex marriages.

  76. digbydolben permalink
    August 30, 2010 8:47 pm

    Well, Darwin, I’ll say again what I’ve said before about “gay marriage,” even though I know it’s paradoxical and it’ll sound strange coming from somebody who supports the civil rights of the “same-sex-attracted,” but, if you don’t like “homosexuality”–and, especially, if you believe that “homosexuality” is a choice as much as it is anything else–you should be in FAVOUR of so-called “gay marriate”!

    Why? Because I can think of NOTHING that will so much discredit the “homosexual lifestyle” in the minds of liminally “same-sex-attracted” males than the spectacle of the “gay divorce court”–which is inevitable, if we have “gay marriage” and if the “gay marriage” we get resembles the “serial monogamy” that the Americans falsely call “marriage.”

    Believe me, I know what I’m talking about: I have many “gay” friends, and the best of them KNOW that “gay marriage” is a chimera that, ultimately, would be very bad for homosexuals. The only reason I am politically in the camp of the “gay marriage” proponents is because SOME of those who are already coupled are raising children (and mostly doing a good job of it, the Church to the contrary notwithstanding) and I have actually witnessed the legal inequities in the form of tax issues that bedevil their efforts to be good providers for their children.

    I suggest you read this article, so that you may better understand why “gay marriage” is bad for “gays,” and, if enacted, will ultimately dim the glamour of so-called “homosexuality”:

    http://www.takimag.com/blogs/article/gay_marriage_sucks/

  77. David Nickol permalink
    August 30, 2010 9:19 pm

    So there’s no need to establish that the one lesbian partner’s child is the legitimate child of the other — since it is necessarily understood that any reproduction that occurs must necessarily be the result of at least physical infidelity.

    DarwinCatholic,

    So I take it that although anthropologists may classify certain same-sex arrangements as marriages, they are not really marriages in your eyes.

  78. David Nickol permalink
    August 31, 2010 8:31 am

    Darwin,

    Do you believe permitting same-sex marriage will have negative consequences, or do you just think it is ludicrous? Suppose a new institution were created for same-sex couples that incorporated all the benefits of marriage that could reasonably be given to couples that did not procreate naturally with one another, but the name marriage was not applied to it. On a purely secular level, would that be objectionable?

  79. August 31, 2010 9:46 am

    Digby,

    Needless to say, I don’t think that supporting same sex marriage as a cynical ploy to disrupt the gay community would be moral or advisable.

    Though I do take, and agree with, your point that “marriage” is going to turn out to be a good fit for same sex relationships.

    I’m not 100% clear where you’re going when you say that I “don’t like ‘homosexuality'” and think it is “a choice as much as anything else”. I certainly think that some people are predominantly or exclusively attracted to members of their own sex, for reasons that at a biological and psychological level we don’t really understand but which do not appear to be voluntary. However, within that reality, I also think that everyone has the ability to make moral choices in regards to what he or she does or does not do. And I agree with the Church teaching that having sex with someone of your own sex is wrong — just as having sex with someone of the opposite sex to whom you are not married is wrong.

    On the tax issue: If I got to write my own tax code I’d suggest we have a household based tax system in which all household income is taxed on a per capita income basis, thus allowing any configuration of household to get equal benefits based on the ratio of income to number of people being provided for. So I’d certainly support some kind of tax reform that would accord for non-standard family units. Though at least from my own experience filing taxes with kids — I don’t think that the lack of legal marriage would make a huge difference in the amount of taxes you paid unless you were either very rich with a stay-at-home partner, or you didn’t apportion the kids our correction between earners.

    David,

    I’m not sure entirely where you’re going with the question. I don’t necessarily think that because some anthropologists choose to shoehorn a particular non-standard relationship into the bucket “marriage” in their attempts to understand it, means that we need to adjust our entire understanding of marriage into gender neutral terms, and thus in the process drop from it the primary characteristics which have defined marriage throughout history (establishing a legitimate lineage that isn’t only through the female line.)

    I think anthropology provides us with some very good insights into the sort of social institution is, but that doesn’t mean that I think the judgement of particular anthropologists classifying non-standard relationships at the margins should provide our primary type for understanding marriage.

    In other words, I think anthropology is descriptive, not magic.

    Does that help?

    I have the feeling what you’re asking is: Are you appealing to an anthropological understanding of what marriage is and then rejecting all the finding that don’t fit your preconceived notion?

    I would see it more as: At a secular, natural level, marriage is a social adaption with a given set of purposes rooted in human nature and society. Because society changes, there will be some variance in it in different societies. (Say, due to the status of women, etc.) However, because human nature is fixed, that variation will be within a range or else the effects will become unhealthy for society.

    Picture that range of instanciated forms of marriage in various societies as a bell curve. Anthroplogy can help us identify what kinds of characteristics fall in that bell curve — and if I’m right that human nature is fixed, then we would want our own society’s marriage institutions to fit in that center 80%, not in the tails, or we’d be risking significant disconnection with what we are as human beings.

    I’d argue that the small number of oddball examples, which may or may not be properly classified as fitting the description “marriage” anyway, are well out in the tails and probably not a good source for us to turn to in setting the understanding of marriage in our society.

  80. David Nickol permalink
    August 31, 2010 9:56 am

    Darwin,

    It has struck me that there are formal relationships between a man and a woman (or between a man and many women) that are similar to marriage but are not marriage. There is a difference, for example, between a wife and a concubine.

    In what sense, I ask myself, does marriage exist? From a secular standpoint, at least, doesn’t it have to be viewed as a human/cultural invention?

    In the Gough paper, she mentions someone named Leach who

    concluded in fact that no definition could be found which would apply to all the institutions which ethnographers commonly refer to as marriage. Instead, he named ten classes of rights which frequently occur in connection with what we loosely term marriage, added that ‘one might perhaps considerably extend this list,’ and seemed to conclude that since no single one of these rights is invariably extablished by marriage in every known society, we ought to feel free to call ‘marriage’ any institution which fulfills any one or more of the selected criteria.

    There is, surely, a quite simple logical flaw in this argument. For it would mean in effect that every ethnographer might extend at will Dr. Leach’s list of marital rights, and in short define marriage in any way he pleased.

    She of course has a point. But the simple definition she quotes (from Notes and Queries — “Marriage is a union between a man and a woman such that children born to the woman are recognized legitimate offspring of both parents” — would mean that a man and his concubine were married. It would also, it seems to me, rule out relationships in which there were no children and could be no children — for example, in marriage between a man and a woman past her childbearing years.

    You will forgive me for bringing up a “canned argument,” but it does seem to me that if a lesbian couple (both of whom could have children by artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization) can’t be married because they can’t procreate, then what about a heterosexual couple who can’t procreate? Does it make sense to extend the right to marry to heterosexual couples who cannot procreate but not extend it to same-sex couples who can procreate (thought only with outside help)? The Notes and Queries definition, by the way, does not require that the children born to the woman be the biological children of the man she is married to. And in fact in US law, if a married woman has children through artificial insemination by a sperm donor other than her husband, as long as the husband consents to the procedure, he (and not the sperm donor) is considered the father of the children. He does not have to adopt.

  81. David Nickol permalink
    August 31, 2010 9:59 am

    Darwin,

    You need not feel obliged to do a point-by-point refutation. I am simply raising questions and issues as they occur to me. It just seems to me that the issue of defining marriage, and of deciding who gets to marry, is far from being simple enough to say same-sex marriage is an oxymoron or the idea of same-sex marriage is ludicrous.

  82. August 31, 2010 12:55 pm

    David,

    Fear not, I won’t weary the thread with a point by point :-)

    I’d suggest that Gough’s definition of marriage you quote (sorry, I’m using IE at the moment so quoting is hard) would not actually define concubinage as marriage for the simple reason that concubinage is generally considered to be an arrangement in many ways similar to marriage except that the children resulting _aren’t_ considered legitimate offspring.

    On the canned argument, I’d tend to answer in two different ways:

    1) The argument presupposes an absolute knowledge of whether or not a heterosexual couple could possibly reproduce which, I’d suggest, is present less often than we imagine. Also, one finds in traditional marriage norms some basic rules in that direct, e.g. eunuchs were often inelligable to marry.

    2) Even if it’s pretty obvious that, short of a medical miracle, reproduction isn’t going to happen (say two sixty-year-olds are getting married), such marriages fit the basic type, in that the marriage “looks like” a marriage. If two sixty year olds marry, their marriage doesn’t violate cultural patterns, because although they married too late to have family together (often in such a situation one or both might have children from prior relationships) their household would look identical to a couple that did marry and have children together, and then reached that point in age together. Two people of the same sex marrying clearly don’t fit the type.

    Now, I wouldn’t necessarily expect either one of these to be persuasive to someone who clearly wants to believe that same sex marriage is a good idea. While I’d argue that secular/natural marriage is definitely not just a social construct in that it is constrained by certain fixed elements of human nature, I would certainly agree that marriage as found in various cultures and various times constitutes a scatter.

    Perhaps one of the main differences here is that it seems very much to me that we should draw a fairly tight circle around the center of that that scatter in establishing what the basic characteristics of marriage are, if we want to have a healthy society. While it sounds like your approach (and probably the necessary one in order to support SSM) is to argue that anything convincingly within the periphery of the scatter at least part of the overall construct and possibly just as good as any other.

  83. digbydolben permalink
    August 31, 2010 2:04 pm

    DarwinCatholic, I assumed–apparently wrongly–that, as an opponent of homosexual relationships, you believed that “same-sex-attraction” was toute court a “choice.” I stand corrected.

    The problem, of course–as it has been very well enunciated to me by “gay” Catholics whom I’ve known–is what, then, do you propose that they actually DO with their “homosexuality,” since it appears to be, in a sense–if you agree that it’s not chosen–God-given. It seems to me that those of us who oppose “gay marriage”–and particularly the Church, which has now, in effect, under Benedict XVI, banned them from the sacerdotal state–are egregiously failing to provide them much guidance in this regard, other than the extremely negative and passive advice to “be celibate.” You are aware, I presume, that normal romantic feelings, combined with hormones, find this advice to be preposterous and cruel?

    I find your approach to tax issues to be enlightened, and I believe that the “homosexual” couples I know would agree.

  84. David Nickol permalink
    September 1, 2010 9:38 pm

    Now, I wouldn’t necessarily expect either one of these to be persuasive to someone who clearly wants to believe that same sex marriage is a good idea.

    Darwin,

    I would rather say that those arguments would be persuasive only to those who believe that same-sex marriage is a bad idea.

    I actually don’t feel very strongly about same-sex marriage. I support it because other gay people do, because I think a reasonable case can be made for it, and because I don’t think it will change much of anything. I don’t think heterosexual marriage would be undermined any more than it was in those societies that had woman-woman marriage. Same-sex marriage, if fully permitted and embraced, will account for maybe 2 percent of marriages (just a guess on my part). On the other hand, inventing new types of partnerships (domestic partners, civil unions, etc.), if they are open to heterosexual couples, will have an impact on heterosexual marriage. I think we can be quite confident that if same-sex marriage is permitted, people who would otherwise have chosen heterosexual marriage will opt to marry someone of their own gender. However, when you create a new institution and open it to heterosexuals and homosexuals alike, heterosexual couples will likely abandon marriage for the new institution. They certainly have in France.

    I don’t think most of the people who oppose same-sex marriage are all that concerned about protecting the institution of marriage. I think they just react with revulsion to the thought of two men or two women being married.

  85. digbydolben permalink
    September 1, 2010 10:31 pm

    David Nickol, OF COURSE everybody with a shred of idealism in his or her body is going to abandon “marriage” as practised in the United States; they’re ALREADY abandoning it,and I predict that the noble, self-sacrificing “homosexuals” who are actually in love with their “partners” will abandon it, too, once they can see, by way of “homosexual divorce court” what a travesty it is. It’s a retrograde institution that seriously compromises the integrity of both parties entering into it, not to mention the social stigma it imposes on modern women. The only people who won’t abandon it, ultimately, will be us Catholics, who will still be having something that will look to the Protestants to be something vaguely like “American marriage” but will be really quite different from it.

  86. grega permalink
    September 2, 2010 10:07 am

    “OF COURSE everybody with a shred of idealism in his or her body is going to abandon “marriage” as practised in the United States;”
    “..not to mention the social stigma it imposes on modern women.”
    Digbydolben this is silly- I imagine you are not married and have no real idea what marriage is about and how it ‘feels’ for those of us who happen to be quite happily married – thank you very much.
    For crying out loud is it so difficult to imagine that some of us married heterosexual folks can actually envision allowing our friends, brothers, sisters , children, grandchildren, neighbors, co-workers etc. who happen to be tilted towards the same gender to marry if they so desire – why is that perceived to be the end of the institution?
    Oh so dramatic.
    Quite the opposite.

    I find it also amazing that silly terms like ‘american marriage’ are invented – IMHO this question has not that much to do with a particular country and everything with the overall societal wealth and societal attitude. People marry and find ways to ‘unmarry’ in most countries and cultures besides the United States.

  87. Dan permalink
    September 2, 2010 1:00 pm

    I think Darwin makes some astute points about the bell curve/scatter ideology. Ignoring this wisdom begs the question as to where to draw the line. For example, in David’s post above concerning “boy-man” marriages, such non-traditional marriages would appear on the scatter chart at the periphery, but I truly believe that virtually nobody in today’s society would consider it acceptable. To say that it’s ok to widen the scatter circle to include gay marriage begs the question – why wouldn’t it be ok to widen the circle further to include pedophelistic or inter-species marriages?

  88. digbydolben permalink
    September 2, 2010 2:39 pm

    OK, Grega, maybe I should have said something like, “legalized, consensual serial monogamy, financially advantaged through the tax structure, as the preferred manner of ‘coupling’ among adults in the post-modern world,” but I think you knew very well what I meant.
    And, although I was once married–quite unhappily–I would never again marry a woman who would wish to fashion a material advantage out of romantic feelings. I prefer the men and the women who choose not to sully those feelings with that kind of arrangment. For your information, my regular and continuous interactions with the youth I teach indicate that the best and brightest of them agree with me that the arrangement I described above is beneath contempt and that there are better ways to express two people’s mutual devotion, as well as devotion to their offspring. The “gays” would be well advised to steer clear of this chimera I call “American marriage: it would undermine the natural resilience of the sometimes delightful “families” they’ve ALREADY created for themselves, as well as make “homosexuality” seem like a victim’s condition–which it is not.
    And, by the way, my dear Grega, “American-style divorce,” though nowadays a legal right in the Catholic countries of Europe, has still not lost its stigma. The French, Italians and Spaniards don’t ADVERTISE their divorces the way Americans do; a wiser people than the Americans, they recognise that “romantic feelings” are nothing to base a SACRAMENTAL marriage on.

  89. grega permalink
    September 2, 2010 10:00 pm

    I guess I got my earful for the evening.
    I am sorry that your personal experience has such a negative tilt – I would plead that you try not to draw too far reaching conclusions from your rather limited data and most certainly your :
    “..regular and continuous interactions with the youth I teach indicate that the best and brightest of them agree with me that the arrangement I described above is beneath contempt and that there are better ways to express two people’s mutual devotion ” does not hold much water – I am sure among your adult friends are some that could give positive witness for the institution of marriage.
    You conclude that romantic feelings should not be the based for sacramental marriage – o.k. I can agree that ‘romantic feelings’ alone perhaps are not necessarily sufficient but I wonder what should be the’ ideal’ base?
    I know in Germany it is quite common for couples to wait until a child is on the way before they marry – not exactly according to catholic moral teachings.

  90. David Nickol permalink
    September 3, 2010 12:44 am

    To say that it’s ok to widen the scatter circle to include gay marriage begs the question – why wouldn’t it be ok to widen the circle further to include pedophelistic or inter-species marriages?

    Dan,

    By this logic, the 26th Amendment shouldn’t have been passed. If you’re going to lower the voting age to 18, why wouldn’t it be okay to lower it to 8? Or the 19th Amendment shouldn’t have been passed. If you’re going to give the vote to women, why isn’t it okay to give it to chimpanzees? No one is asking for inter-species marriage, and raising the question of same-sex marriage does not raise the question of inter-species marriage.

    Also, when it comes to same-sex marriage, those who oppose it often are of the opinion that some kind of legal union is appropriate for same-sex couples, just not marriage. Is your argument to them that if they allow civil unions for same-sex couples, what stops them from allowing domestic partnerships for men and sheep?

  91. September 3, 2010 9:17 am

    FWIW, I think that an attempt to apply a slippery slope between same sex marriage and inter-species marriage doesn’t work. At least for those of us who believe that such a thing as a “nature” or “form” actually exists, there is a clear and substantial difference between marrying any number of configuration of members of your own species and doing so with any members of another.

    Where it does seem to apply pretty clearly is in regards to polygamous or incesturous marraige. Both of these are historically far more common than anything that could be described as same sex marraige, and it’s really pretty much impossible to make an argument for same sex marriage which wouldn’t also support polygamy and (voluntary between adults) incestuous marraige. The choice to push for the one while insisting the other is undesired is pretty strictly arbitrary, and while right now we have a sort of idealized form of marriage which would exclude all of the above (marriage is a public joining of one man and one woman into a household, with shared property, any offspring of which will be considered the legitimate children of both) the sorts of ideals which include same sex marriage (marriage is a public commitment to form a household and share property made by adults) could obviously include 3-4 adults or direct relatives. And when it comes to historical examples, the case would be far easier.

  92. Dan permalink
    September 3, 2010 9:19 am

    raising the question of same-sex marriage does not raise the question of inter-species marriage.

    Perhaps not something as extreme as inter-species marriage. But it does raise the question about polygamy, incest, pedophelia, etc.. Why should they not be granted the same rights as the rest of society?

    Also, when it comes to same-sex marriage, those who oppose it often are of the opinion that some kind of legal union is appropriate for same-sex couples, just not marriage. Is your argument to them that if they allow civil unions for same-sex couples, what stops them from allowing domestic partnerships for men and sheep?

    I may have chosen my example poorly, and I ask that we not get derailed by inter-species marriage, which is the most extreme case and a whole different ballgame. My questions do stand for incestuous, polygamous, pederastic, etc.. under what rational argument could you possibly deny them the same rights you’ve allowed to other non-traditional couples?

  93. digbydolben permalink
    September 3, 2010 1:36 pm

    You are right, DarwinCatholic, and I actually AM in favour of granting the same “civil union” status to polygamous marriages and “incestuous marriages” as I am to “American marriage” of the “civil-union” variety. I am not in favour of policing bedrooms in America. Once the interested parties are fully informed of the health reasons for avoiding incestuous marriages, then let them do as they will. The State has no interest in it–except, perhaps, for warning the incestuous that the State will not subsidize the health issues of progeny produced in that way to the same extent, under national health insurance, as it will for those who heed health warnings.

  94. September 3, 2010 2:05 pm

    As I said, I can see no reason why the arguments being used in favor of SSM couldn’t also be used in favor or polygamy and incestuous marriages. Both are perceived as “icky” by mainstream US culture at this time, but then, so is same sex marriage, to a fair degree. And while the number of people interested in incestuous marriage is arguably far smaller than the number interested in SSM, the number of people globally interested in polygamy is actually far larger than the number interested in SSM.

  95. David Nickol permalink
    September 3, 2010 2:19 pm

    Darwin and Dan,

    It seems to me the discussion is getting muddled, since there are actually two issues being treated as if they were one. The first is what can reasonably be said to fall under the definition of marriage. The second is what kind of relationships/marriages are tolerable in our present culture.

    Darwin’s idea (correct me if I am wrong) is that same-sex marriage cannot be marriage at all. Same-sex marriage is an oxymoron, since marriage requires a man and a woman. That is different from the issue of what kinds of marriages are desirable or tolerable. There is absolutely no doubt that polygamous marriage is marriage, or incestuous marriage is marriage, or even that adult-child marriage (usually an adult man and a girl) is marriage. We may find them reprehensible, but if someone wanted to advocate them in the United States, they could not be accused of trying to “change the definition of marriage.”

    Does anyone dispute that Abraham was married to Sarah, who was his half-sister? Is anyone willing to condemn Abraham for being married to Sarah, or God for allowing Sarah miraculously to conceive at the age of 90?

    I was recently reading arguments that polygamy is not against natural law and that it was permitted by God in Old Testament times because of circumstances. Polygamous marriage is not intrinsically wrong. If some horrible disease that struck only men were to wipe out 95 percent of the world’s male population, I dare say nobody would object to bringing back polygamy for a time.

    So polygamy is marriage, and some of the most illustrious men in the Old Testament were in polygamous marriages. So it seems foolish to me to ask what rational arguments could be made against incestuous marriage or polygamous marriage if we allow same-sex marriage. You would make the same arguments against them as were made against them when they were outlawed.

    I just don’t see how the argument for same-sex marriage reopens the argument about polygamy or incest. Also, incest and adult-child sex are illegal in themselves. In order to legalize incestuous marriage or adult-child marriage, there would first be the issues of incest and pedophilia to contend with. The idea of same-sex marriage would have been impossible before the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws in Sullivan v Texas in 2003.

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