One of the more divisive moral-political issues of our time is gay marriage. Conservative Christians oppose gay marriage and are often criticized because their only reasons for doing so are biblical in nature. This rankles some people who complain that Christians want their theological views to be the foundation for civil laws. (Of course, the Judeo-Christian ethic is the foundation of many of our laws, but this fact seems lost on lots of folks these days.)
For a long time I was convinced that the only conclusive arguments against gay marriage are theological. Many have proposed philosophical arguments against gay marriage—typically utilitarian in nature—but these tend to be weak, essentially useful only as supplements to arguments from Scripture. So I set myself to the task of coming up with a strong philosophical argument (preferably non-utilitarian in nature). I think I might have accomplished just this with an argument which essentially claims that gay marriage is unjust. Here it is, for your perusal:
1. Heterosexual union is the indispensable means by which humans come into existence and therefore has special social value (indeed, the greatest possible social value because it is the first precondition for society).
2. The indispensable means by which something of special social value can occur itself has special value.
3. What has special value to human society deserves special social recognition and sanction.
4. Civil ordinances which recognize gay marriage as comparable to heterosexual marriage constitute a rejection of the special value of heterosexual unions.
5. To deny the special social value of what has special social value is unjust.
6. Therefore, gay marriage is unjust.
I have shared this argument with many of my friends and colleagues, and the criticisms have consistently missed the point—suggesting, for example, that the argument assumes that the only purpose of marriage is procreation (which it does not) or that it implies a complete denial of the civil rights of homosexuals (which, again, it does not). Still others have made the more subtle mistake of interpreting me as saying that gay marriage implies a denial of all value of heterosexual unions. Clearly, the argument does no such thing. The whole point of the argument concerns the special value of traditional marriage.
At any rate, the lack of strong objections has only strengthened my conviction that the argument is sound. Now I am curious if anyone can muster a decent criticism (without lapsing into ad hominems, emotional pleas, and other fallacies). I am also curious as to how many of you, like me, find the argument persuasive.
Hey Dr. Spiegel,
I remember you mentioning an argument similar to this once – class perhaps? If I’m honest, the argument now appears stronger to me than I initially supposed. But as a means of strengthening it, here are some potential objections:
Premise (2) – I think (2) can be strengthened somewhat. Your subsequent mention of “value” is slightly more ambiguous then the first. With premise (1) – a premise I find unassailable – you speak of “social” value. Likewise, you initially speak of “social” value in premise (2), but then you come to speak of a different value (or is it?). You write:
>> 2. The indispensable means by which something of special social value can occur itself has [b] SPECIAL VALUE.
What is this “special value”? (b)? Is it also “social”? If it is something other than social, then I think the premise is weakened somewhat – for in order to work, one would have to presuppose a certain ethic. But I see no reason why (b), this special value, should not also be social. The “indispensable means by which something of special social value can occur” is itself, in my opinion, another special “social” value (indeed, almost entirely due to definition).
The next potential objection I can foresee (though perhaps just as easily avoided?), is with the next premise.
Premise (3) – First, I think the alteration noted above for premise (2) would make (3) all the more stronger. But even assuming this, consider the following objection: premise (1) speaks of “heterosexual union” – it says nothing of “marriage”. Suppose society said nothing of “homosexual union”, recognized homosexual marriage, heterosexual marriage, and heterosexual union – does this in any way make society’s actions more just? In this scenario, it privileges one act (heterosexual union) and remains silent on another (homosexual union) – how does this effect the argument? I suppose in some way this objection addresses premise (4), in that it does not find both marriages “comparable” – but yet still allows for gay marriage.
Anyways, those are some initial thoughts. I look forward to your refutations (for the sake of clarification, I do not necessarily espouse the above).
— Xan Bozzo
A couple of initial thoughts:
1. I’m not sure that heterosexual union is currently or will be in the future the indispensable means for continuing society, given our current ability to begin human life in laboratories, which may only become further and further removed from any actual union between humans. Thus, either the argument fails from the start, will be obsolete in a relatively short amount of time, or you have to give ethical arguments for why it SHOULD be the sole means for continuing society to bolster your first point. (That would require something along the lines of a paper, I believe.)
2. I don’t know that this argument prevents our society granting homosexual marriage and then giving some more special recognition (in the form of tax breaks or a thank-you-on-behalf-of-society plaque or something even more ridiculous) to heterosexual marriage. This would still preserve the “specialness” of heterosexual marriage while according to homosexual marriage all the current societal benefits of heterosexual marriage.
3. Along the lines of my second point, the argument strikes me as more an argument FOR heterosexual marriage than one AGAINST homosexual marriage. I may need to think through the precise wording of your argument a little more before I’m sure if that criticism works, though.
Of course, you can’t will that everyone should be in a homosexual marriage, so perhaps it could be counted out for that reason. But I also can’t will that everyone stop what they’re doing and respond to your blog as I am doing, so I don’t know that that argument goes very far, either. This is a toughy.
Please refute me. (Please?!)
Lezlie’s first point is the problem that came to mind for me. I’d love to hear your thoughts/rebuttal to that point as it does seem that technology is in fact changing what previously was indispensable to the creation of human life.
Hey Dr. Spiegel,
I appreciate this Mere-Christianity-esque approach to reasoning why gay marriage just “seems wrong” to most people.
Perhaps what’s missing is the increasing disregard for the concept of marriage at all…. in the US, at least. Co-habitation, infidelity, and divorce statistics show that in the last 60 years, US couples have assigned less and less importance to the forever pair-bond — the “special social value” you wrote about. CDC stats here: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_022.pdf
And a bit more palatably presented here:
The talk of civil unions — and health benefits for “domestic partners”, be they man/woman, man/man, or man/dog (it’s already happening!) — just puts a magnifying glass to this phenomenon. With this in mind, homosexuals’ quest for marriage today seems purely sentimental — or for some, as Lezlie proposed, purely economical.
Another angle to pursue would be sociohistorical. Marriage has been around since the beginning, and so has homosexual behavior. The two have never collided, historically, until today. Why? What changed?
This arguement is persuasive to me, but then it is very close to the arguement used by my own faith tradition. It seems that theological/philosophical anthropology is often sadly missing from the arguement.
4. Civil ordinances which recognize gay marriage as comparable to heterosexual marriage constitute a rejection of the special value of heterosexual unions.
Is this a fair assessment? In what ways do civil ordinances necessarily constitute a ‘rejection’? And what exactly is being rejected? For me, this seems a potential overstatement, or perhaps an unnecessary either/or.
Thanks for your comments. Wherever I use the word “value” in the argument I am indeed using it to refer to “social” value. Regarding your second point, the thrust of my argument concerns the need for some special civil recognition of heterosexual unions, which traditional marriage provides. I suppose this could be achieved by establishing some “extra” civil recognition of heterosexual unions while allowing gays to marry. But its hard to imagine what meaningful form this could take. If it were merely formal without being substantive, then, given the special significance of the social good of heterosexual unions (procreation), this too would be unjust.
Thanks for your interesting comments. Regarding your first point about the indispensability of heterosexual unions, I assume you are referring to cloning technology and its potential to reproduce human beings asexually. While this is a theoretical possibility, it is far from being a reality, as cloning experiments have yet to yield any documented successes beyond the blastocyst stage. And there is good reason to think it will be a very long time—if ever—before cloning technology can result in a healthy human being. Until then, heterosexual unions do remain the indispensable means by which human beings come into this world.
Regarding your second point and somewhat facetious proposal about a contrived social recognition of heterosexual marriages, this would be the ultimate case of “damning with feint praise”—still terrribly unjust because it trivializes the profound benefit of heterosexual unions. Just take a look at your own child and consider whether a “thank you plaque” adequately expresses the value of what you are beholding.
Third, you are correct in noting that my argument may be construed as an argument in favor of the special social value of heterosexual marriage. With the legalization of gay marriage, traditional marriage would no longer be special. So the best way to preserve the special civil recognition of heterosexual unions is to oppose gay marriage. Hence the negative language in my argument. But perhaps its really six of one and half dozen of the other.
You pose a good question. The legalization of gay marriage constitutes a “rejection,” or “denial” (as I put it in premise 5), of the special social value of heterosexual unions just because there would no longer remain any special civil recognition of heterosexual unions. This is why no amount of lauding traditional marriage by gay marriage activists will do. Anything but a setting apart of traditional marriage as special will fall far short of what such a socially significant union deserves. And this is why gay marriage is profoundly unjust.
Thanks for the reply. I’ve been thinking about this some more since my first post. I can’t seem to think up any way for this argument to work. The whole pursuit leaves me feeling a little strange; I would love to be able to justify rejecting gay marriage for reasons that aren’t just because of my faith, but it seems strange also to think things like, “Because God said so isn’t enough.” Of course it’s not enough to make a law in a secular country, but it seems awkward (at the least) to think that God’s word isn’t “enough” in a given circumstance. At any rate….
Here’s why I can’t figure how to make it work. It seems the argument’s crux is this: Heterosexual unions are immensely more valuable than homosexual unions because they are the sole means of continuing society. I am curious how this avoids the criticism you mentioned that the only valuative difference between heterosexual and homosexual union is the ability of the former to produce children. Your response to Xan above where you clarify as follows: “… the special significance of the social good of heterosexual unions (procreation)…” only makes it more difficult for me to see how this argument avoids saying that we should not confer marriage upon any unions that do not offer the theoretical promise of children (which could then include heterosexual couples past child-bearing age and individuals with reproductive disabilities). It seems one would be hard-pressed to come up with any other non-theological reason to distinguish between the two kinds of unions without getting into murky territory.
Perhaps your answer to this question will also explain how the words “union” and “marriage” are used in your argument. “Marriage” is not given to all couples engaging in heterosexual “union,” as I understand you to use the word. There seems to be a jump in point 3 of your argument from talking about unions to marriages that I still don’t quite understand.
In response to your reply about cloning, I should have been more precise. I actually had things like in vitro fertilization in mind as well. (Now, you know I’m no scientific mind, so I don’t understand all the intricacies involved in various reproductive procedures.) We are currently able to begin life in a test tube and then plant that life into a female body. There are MANY ways to go about making a child, what with surrogate mothers and sperm donors and all that. That is what I meant by saying that no actual “union” needs to take place between two humans to make a child. All that can be arranged through a third party. You could imagine that a society could continue even if every couple was homosexual and simply willing to donate their reproductive cells to a woman willing to incubate them. That would make heterosexual union unnecessary for continuing society, necessitating an argument for why it SHOULD be the sole means of continuing society.
Lastly, regarding my thank-you plaque criticism (I hope other readers will be able to correctly read my tone as you can….), we both know no piece of paper given to a parent adequately expresses the value of their child. That includes, I believe, a marriage certificate. I’m not sure that a marriage certificate holds much societal weight, if not for any other reason than because a divorce certificate is just as easily obtained. Now, the religious ceremony and those who witnessed our marriage hold a great deal of weight and do adequately express the value of our union, but I’m not sure that anything society gives out does so, and this is the case both for marriage and child-bearing. How could a secular society give out anything that adequately recognizes things so sacred? (Our children are not mere tax-deductions to us, nor are our marriages matters of insurance, money, and a certificate.)
An argument for why the church should not recognize gay marriage is obvious. But the societal argument is far from obvious to me, since all the government can offer are things like tax benefits and certificates and legal visitation rights and the like. Since laws already allow us to jointly purchase property, live together, write our wills however we like, and make other contractual agreements with anyone we like, I don’t know that there is much in the way of a truly special societal recognition of heterosexual marriages currently and therefore see no reason why another certificate or ceremony or monetary benefit would not be sufficient special recognition of heterosexual marriage in the future.
I am curious if you intend for your argument to exclude legally recognized homosexual civil unions as well as marriages.
There. That’s more than enough from me. I’m enjoying having a philosophical problem to work through with other people. Thanks for providing the platform!
As I sit with Grant as he receives his chemo, I read your post. I, too, have often wonder about this issue of gay marriage. Especially, after having a couple of good friends, come out and unite.
Here’s my question…If we go back to the Garden and The Fall and why humans were originally created we note that man was made to be with woman and vice versa. Yet, when the Great Divorce occurred the “Original” plan was exposed by human free will. However, with the grace of God through his Son, we ALL have been forgiven.
That being stated, think of those who are hardline on divorce. Even though Jesus talked about divorce, in most cases being adulterous, there is forgiveness. Who is to say that maybe BECAUSE of the Fall, homosexual feelings entered the human framework.
I may be rambling a bit but here is there are many, many, many negatives that arise from divorces among, “societal recognition of heterosexual marriages,” yet we don’t label those people like we do homosexuals.
Maybe this borders on Free Will vs. Calvinism. Not sure. And I am not sure I am being clear here…as my thoughts seemed better in my head than they do on this page…however, the question remains to me. If, a person is genetically bent toward homosexuality, why then shouldn’t they be given the chance at marriage?
I’m not sure what else to say to your concern about my argument suggesting that the only value of heterosexual union is its procreative function. That’s simply a non-sequitur. To emphasize or highlight a significant particular value of anything, such as the aesthetic function of sunglasses, does not imply that is the thing’s only value or that we must ignore its other benefits (e.g. improving vision in bright sunlight, protecting the eyes from UV rays, etc.).
As for the argument’s use of the terms “union” and “marriage”, there are no logical leaps there. The former is simply a way of referring to sexual coupling, independent of any civil recognition. The latter refers to society’s civil recognition of the wedding of couples, along with all of the privileges associated with this.
As for your point about the “many” ways of making a child, all of the examples you give (and all that can be given) are heterosexual in nature. In-vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, etc. all involve a male sperm fertilizing a female egg. This is sexual reproduction, and it is essentially heterosexual. The phrase “homosexual reproduction,” in fact, is a contradiction in terms.
Also, I agree that formal civil recognitions of the something so sacred as marriage could never do justice to its nature. But this doesn’t imply that we shouldn’t recognize marriage at all. And, by the way, it is because marriage is such a sacred thing that we should take care to guard its sanctity in public life.
Finally, to address the matter of the integration of faith and politics, I believe (in agreement with Barack Obama, by the way) that it is appropriate for all people of faith to draw from the principles of their religious tradition when contributing to discussions of public policy, particularly when those values cohere with the general moral sense of one’s society. Gay marriage not only contradicts the prevailing values of our society (according to every poll I’ve seen) but would represent a break from the values of all developed civilizations in world history. Perhaps this is why gay marriage is one of the few issues about which McCain and Obama agree (they both oppose gay marriage, though the latter is also against a Constitutional ban).
Your comments raise numerous questions and I’ll try to tease them out and address them one by one.
First, with regard to your suggestion that homosexual feelings are a product of the Fall, I agree. And this only makes the case more strongly (from a theological standpoint) that homosexual unions should not be regarded as being morally equivalent to heterosexual unions. Now this is a different sort of argument than the one I have proposed above (which is purely philosophical, not theological, in nature), but as theological arguments go, this line of reasoning seems quite to the point.
Perhaps your aim is to suggest that in a fallen world we need to adjust our social ideal downward to accommodate, or be realistic about, “natural” human flaws. Again, I agree with this sentiment, but this has its limits. Even though it is now common (natural?) for people to lie, cheat, commit adultery, etc., this doesn’t warrant our recognizing these behaviors as being on a moral or social par with truthtelling, playing fair, or being faithful to one’s spouse. Approving gay marriage would be comparable to such. Also, I don’t see how the availability of God’s forgiveness to everyone regardless of their sins is germane to the issue. The grace of God does not imply that we may acknowledge all lifestyle choices as equally legitimate or worthy of sanction.
Lastly, your appeal to a “genetic bent” toward homosexuality is very curious. For one thing, there is no scientific evidence that there is such a genetic predisposition. And even if there were a predisposition for homosexual desire, then the legitimacy of social sanctions for homosexual behavior still do not follow, anymore than they do for other genetic predispositions, such as alcoholism or anger issues. Finally, and ironically, this argument hinges on a belief in hard determinism–the notion that human beings do not have free will. But you affirm your belief in free will explicitly in your second paragraph. If humans have free will, then, genetically inclined or not, we can resist temptations to act on our desires regarding everything from lying to alcohol abuse to adultery to homosexual behaviors to having sex at all. We are not robots. Nor is it the case that “biology is destiny”–notwithstanding the vacuous rhetoric of the gay rights lobby. That’s hard determinism, and there is no place for it on a Christian worldview.
Thanks for you wisdom.
You are correct that I probably came at this from more of a theological point that a philosophical one. Still, and I know this may sound horrific in some sense, especially as a minister, but I would rather ere on “inclusion” than “exclusion.”
Also, the point I was making about the forgiveness issue was more along the lines of how we have “turned the other cheek” to divorce in the heterosexual realm but still come down hard on homosexual unions. A parallel discussion here might be, those who are pro-life but refuse to take in, shelter, educate, nurture, etc. unwed mothers’.
I am not sure how I would feel if a “couple” moved in next door to me that were of same gender and “married.” I know how Jesus says I should treat people, but it would be rather peculiar.
I do / did realize when I wrote about the “genetic leaning” that would be in contrast to “free will.” However, I am not sure we can depict homosexuality in the same vein as alcoholism and anger management issues.
I would like to hear / read your thoughts on that a little more when you can. Maybe from the perspective that when it comes to sexuality we are all predisposed one way or another.
Finally, I wonder if Jesus had room to write here, what would he say?
Thanks for the response. I understand and appreciate the progression of your points, but where I’m finding difficulty has perhaps less to do with the logical construction and more to do with a question that might go something like this: “How, exactly, are heterosexual unions harmed by civil ordinances that recognize gay marriage?” The argument references the ‘special value’ of heterosexual union, I agree, but how is this value diminished in a specific way?
An infertile couple lacks the ability to participate in the ‘indispensable means’ in the same way a fertile couple could, yet we wouldn’t want to de-value their union, would we?
BTW- I just realized you addressed this general objection in an ealier response. If you feel satisfied with your earlier comments, don’t bother responding to little old me!
PS. I like your blog.
You say, “I would rather ere on “inclusion” than “exclusion””, can you please define what you mean by this and give your moral, ethical or theological reasoning. I’m not sure I follow your point.
Perhaps there is a misunderstanding here. I doubt what Jim is trying to say is that there is no forgiveness for the homosexual (and thus they can’t be included), but rather there is no place for the homosexual lifestyle in the Christian (in the same way that there is no place for lying, cheating, murder etc. in the lifestyle of the Christian). To denounce the homosexual lifestyle, is not to claim that there is no forgiveness for that sin, if repentance is present.
You say, “Also, the point I was making about the forgiveness issue was more along the lines of how we have “turned the other cheek” to divorce in the heterosexual realm but still come down hard on homosexual unions.” I’m not sure first of all who has turned the other cheek to divorce? Even if you could present evidence that this is the case, it would not have anything to do with whether or not the Church’s stance on homosexuality is appropriate. The two issues stand on their own. Your argument almost seems to be, since the Church is not perfect in its theology it can have nothing truthful to say and that is clearly not the case.
“A parallel discussion here might be, those who are pro-life but refuse to take in, shelter, educate, nurture, etc. unwed mothers’.” Same problem as mentioned above, even further though, as I have argued in a previous discussion on this blog, this is a slap in the face to the Church. As the Church worldwide and locally has done tons to take in, shelter, educate, nurture, etc. unwed mothers. Just because the liberal media (now I’ve tied in three blog posts in one response), chooses to not focus on these efforts does not mean they do not exist.
“However, I am not sure we can depict homosexuality in the same vein as alcoholism and anger management issues.” Can you give an argument for why we should not view the cases as analagous?
“Finally, I wonder if Jesus had room to write here, what would he say?” A fine thing to wonder. I’m not going to take a shot at it right now, but I presume we could gain a lot of insight into this hypothetical by examining the scriptures.
I find a lot of Lezlie’s arguments compelling. And would also be curious to hear a response to whether or not this argument would exclude homosexual civil unions.
Either way, I fail to see how societal heterosexual marriages in anyway recognize the value of heterosexual unions. As Lezlie points out, it seems that all of the special value recognition in a marriage comes from the religious side of the ceremony. To strengthen your argument it would be helpful to be explicit as to what way heterosexual marriage recognizes the special value of heterosexual unions. I guess what it really comes down to is a need for you to define the term heterosexual marriage (in a societal sense) and then depending on how you would define it, showing what about that status recognizes the special value of heterosexual unions. (Sorry that was way too verbose….its late)
Just went back and re-read one of your responses. Found this, “The latter (marriage) refers to society’s civil recognition of the wedding of couples, along with all of the privileges associated with this.”
I think that Lezlie’s complaint and mine, is that society’s civil recognition doesn’t really give much in the way of special privileges. However, this doesn’t really bring down the argument. If anything, it makes the argument more far reaching than simply an argument against gay marriage, but an argument for more privileges for those in marriage.
I know it sounds strange, but can you give some examples specifically of the privileges associated with marriage. I’m a married fella, and I’m really not seeing it. I know too many people who live together outside of marriage who seem to be treated the same as those of us who are married, in society’s eyes.
I will be glad to try and explain my thoughts a little better here, but I warn you Dr. Spiegel is far better at this than I am…that being said,
“I would rather ere on “inclusion” than “exclusion””, can you please define what you mean by this and give your moral, ethical or theological reasoning. I’m not sure I follow your point.
HERE what I wish to convey is simply, I had rather state that I am not sure that homosexual unions are wrong and ME be inclusive, than state emphatically that they are wrong and find out that I AM excluding people and therefore have EXCLUDED them from the kingdom. Yes, I know many, many Christians wouldn’t say that I am a Christian for taking this stance. However, the older I get I realize there is a lot of things I thought were true only to find out those things are lies. Morally and ethically, I would say that a “homosexual union” done in a monogamous way would be up to the person(s) involved.
I think Dr. Speigel’s latest post here speaks to where I am coming from, if I sound like a paradox, I may be.
As far as my statement about turning the other cheek to divorce, our society has embraced divorce. As a minister, I have performed many weddings – heterosexual – and one of the things I do in pre-marital counseling is to make sure the couple understands, “til death do you part.” Too many times, I see people act as if, “Well if this marriage doesn’t work, then I can always get a divorce.” I know a homosexual couple that has been together for 14 years. Their commitment to one another is amazing. Now, back to the inclusion…if you would have told me I would type those words 20 years ago, I would have told you “heck no!”
I work in an inner-city church and your point about The Church doing a ton to help unwed mothers is true to a certain degree. But most churches just throw money at the problem instead of people to help. Also, I would point out that there are TOO MANY legalistic, militaristic Christians who try to enforce their morality on others who aren’t what THEY think they should be. Read here – those who BOMB abortion clinics and think that is of God. Those people are no different than the terrorists from 9-11.
There reason I believe one cannot equate sexuality issues next to alcoholism, anger management, etc. is because these issues are ” apples and oranges.” Yes, they are behavioral issues and maybe in some cases genetic, but ultimately they are different. I have known and am friends with a few people that are homosexual. A few are living that lifestyle and others have chosen to be celibate. However, the common thread in each of their lives is this, not one of these people have said they desired to be gay. One said, “Why would I choose this lifestyle? I have been alienated by my family, some friends, and most of the public?” People choose to drink…People choose to get angry…I don’t believe that people choose to be gay. Well, maybe some do, but to that end I would say they choose that because THEY WANT to…
Finally, Chris, Jackson Browne has a song, “The Rebel Jesus,” which speaks to a hypothetical response to Christian people forcing morality and ethics on others. You speak of the Scriptures being a good place to analyze this, correct me if I am wrong but Jesus never once mentioned same sex relationships. Paul did, but I wonder, was that because the sexual nature of the world he was living had become so hedonistic? Even in the guidelines for being a deacon, “husband of one wife.” Many American Christians think this is to say a divorced person can’t be a deacon. Actually what I believe Paul was saying is that a deacon can’t be a polygamist.
Chris, I hope this explains a little better my thought process. I am not claiming to be correct, just still a seeker!
Thanks for you response, you have much better stated your position and where you are coming from. You hold positions that I have strong disagreements with, even if I can appreciate the intentions behind your reason for holding the positions. I do not really have the time to give a full fledged response to your comment, but wanted to make sure to say thank you for clarifying where you are coming from.
Chris, you are welcome! Peace to you! John
Would you forgive me for not reading all of the other comments and your responses carefully before throwing in my own two cents?
Two points come to my mind:
What is your attitude regarding the proposal by some prominent U.S. politicians recently that while not we should not affirm a change in the definition of marriage to include same-sex relationships that civil unions ought to be established that give similar or identical social/economic/legal benefits to same-sex couples?
This speaks to your premise 4:
“4. Civil ordinances which recognize gay marriage as comparable to heterosexual marriage constitute a rejection of the special value of heterosexual unions.”
It seems to me that some clarification work needs to be done re: the “comparable to” relation here.
Are you aware of what some of the legal consequences of the state laws protecting the traditional (one man, one woman) definition of marriage have been? Sarah did a paper on this recently for a grad school class, and enlightened me a bit. In one extremely worrying (to me) case, the defense lawyer of a male who was physical abusive of the female partner with whom he cohabited (they were not married, nor do I think they had any formalized civil union recognizing their relationship) argued that his defendant could not be prosecuted under the state’s domestic violence laws because of the defense of marriage act which (in so many words) prohibits the law from treating any non-married couple as equal or comparable in legal terms to a married couple.
Such laws also, in principle, work against any non-traditional family or household structure–regardless of the sexual relationship of the adults in the house. Indeed, the legislation typically says nothing whatsoever about sex. (Neither does your argument, interestingly enough. I realize that’s part of the point.) What is morally objectionable or socially harmful about, say, two adult females (maybe they’re sisters, maybe they’re college roommates, maybe they’re sisters in a formal religious sense, who knows) who take care of children (let’s say they’re the biological children of one of the women) living together and being a family household, and having all the legal/social/economic benefits that the state gives a married couple with children? We live in a broken world, and sometimes perfectly upright, godly solutions to that brokenness result in family and household structures that do not look like the nuclear family (which was never a biblical or moral ideal in the first place).
Regarding your first point: Whatever terminology one uses–whether its “civil union,” “marriage,” or something else, if heterosexual unions are not somehow recognized as having special social value beyond that achieved by homosexual unions (whatever that could be), the the situation is unjust. I think this is pretty straightforward.
Regarding your second point(s), citing such problems merely muddies the waters. In some earlier comments I tried to preempt the very objection you make here (which for some reason is a common complaint, though it a non-sequitur). There is nothing in my argument which implies that non-traditional family structures be seen as harmful. To say that X deserves special recognition or affirmation does not imply that any non-X is somehow bad or even less than good.
Lastly, your point about our living in a broken world is well-taken, but this is irrelevant to the point at issue: the injustice of gay marriage. Yes, of course, divorce and other factors lead to different family structures, but this does not imply that homosexual unions are morally equivalent to heterosexual unions. And depending on what you mean by “nuclear family” I’d take issue with your claim that it “was never a biblical or moral ideal in the first place.” Not only is the traditional marriage of one man and one woman biblical (cf. Gen. 2:24, 1 Cor. 7:2, etc.) but its procreative function is ordained by God as well (cf. Gen. 9:1; Mal. 2:15). As for this being a moral ideal, many ethicists—theological and philosophical—throughout history have considered it so.
Please correct me if I’m wrong, but if I may paraphrase your argument, I’m understanding it as the following:
Homosexual unions and heterosexual unions may be comparable in the creation of a “family unit” (socially speaking, not Biblically), but even so, homosexual unions can not procreate children in and of themselves. Therefore, to place heterosexual unions completely on par with homosexual unions is unjust, because even though both may be able to raise a family, only heterosexual unions can /spawn/ a family.
Is that correct?
If so, what is to say that either kind of union could be called a “marriage”, and only heterosexual unions could be called a “procreational marriage”?
Why does the ability to have children necessitate holding a monopoly on the word “marriage”? Why can’t we let both family types be classified as a “marriage” to recognize the social value that they bring, and find a different word that is more specific to the value that you want to recognize in a heterosexual relationship?
Please forgive me if you addressed this already — I only skimmed the other comments.
Thanks for your comments on my argument, which I think you have characterized correctly. If sound, my argument does not preclude the sort of two-tiered approach you describe, at least in princple. But from a practical standpoint, I don’t see how this sort of distinction could be implemented without trivializing the considerable social goods creditable to traditional marriage. Reserving a special category of marriage (e.g. “procreational marriage”) falls far short of providing the kind of recognition that it deserves, considering that the very existence of human society depends on heterosexual unions.
“I don’t see how this sort of distinction could be implemented without trivializing the considerable social goods creditable to traditional marriage.”
With this, are you elevating the “family unit” created by a heterosexual union to be above that of a homosexual union? To Lezlie, you said: “I’m not sure what else to say to your concern about my argument suggesting that the only value of heterosexual union is its procreative function. That’s simply a non-sequitur.” — what then, do you feel are other advantages (in addition to procreation) that are present in a traditional marriage that elevate it societally over homosexual unions?
Certainly this may be true in many cases — indeed, maybe in the majority of cases, but there are still some homes that are homosexual that are better homes (both internally for the family members and externally for the society around it) that are better than some heterosexual family units.
Just about anyone can have a kid — the real tough part is in a committed, lifelong relationship where you self-sacrificially serve the other family members. That is something that can be present in a “normal” heterosexual family, in a sterile hetero family (where biologically they are unable to have kids), and in a homosexual family, and societally speaking, this commitment is the most socially important part of “marriage” — to provide a stable and supportive home-life for the members in it.
The point of marriage is not to have kids — the point is the commitment, To turn your argument around on you (and I trust you to point out my errors), I might say that to /not/ place a homosexual union on par with a sterile heterosexual union devalues the equal (or near-equal) societal contribution of the homosexual union.
By ending your post with a request for feedback, I feel permitted to respond even though I won’t be adding much if any new content to this discussion, especially considering posts made by Xan and Clint. However, since I was unsatisfied by your responses to them, I will rephrase their shared objection.
The following three statements represent your position (though obviously not in its entirety):
(1) Heterosexual unions deserve special social recognition and sanction.
(2) Marriage can offer special recognition and sanction to heterosexual unions.
(3) Marriage can only make this offer truly special by excluding homosexual unions.
The third statement is true by definition. The second is more than adequately defended by centuries of people choosing to recognize heterosexual unions through marriage. And any criticism I might make of the first would be superfluous since, even with its inclusion, the above premises do not necessitate that marriage should exclude homosexual unions. They merely allow for the option of sanctioning heterosexual unions by means of an exclusive “heterosexuals-only” definition of marriage. If you want to argue that this available option is the only option, you must add a another premise (Excuse my presumption, but I’ll only discuss the one I think you’d prefer given your responses to reader comments):
(4) Marriage is unique in its ability to recognize and sanction heterosexual unions.
This statement, however, is not true by definition. Neither have you provided any evidence in its defense.
On Oct. 6 you wrote to Xan:
I suppose [special civil recognition] could be achieved by establishing some “extra” civil recognition of heterosexual unions while allowing gays to marry. But its hard to imagine what meaningful form this could take. If it were merely formal without being substantive, then, given the special significance of the social good of heterosexual unions (procreation), this too would be unjust.
On Oct. 24 you wrote to Clint:
. . . from a practical standpoint, I don’t see how this sort of distinction could be implemented without trivializing the considerable social goods creditable to traditional marriage. Reserving a special category of marriage (e.g. “procreational marriage”) falls far short of providing the kind of recognition that it deserves, considering that the very existence of human society depends on heterosexual unions.
So I must ask you, Dr. Spiegel, how can we distinguish straight marriage from gay marriage without trivializing the special social good of heterosexual unions (procreation)? This is not a rhetorical question. If your premises are valid, this is a question that merits serious discussion. So far, you’ve only told us that it’s hard to imagine an answer.
If you insist that this question is not merely difficult but, indeed, impossible to answer, please support this position in more detail. I understand that bloggers should be direct and succinct, but I would be interested in hearing your answers to the following questions if you find them pertinent to the objection under discussion:
1. What criteria can be used to separate “merely formal” civil sanctions from “substantive” ones?
2. Why, when responding to Xan, did you describe the sanction of heterosexual unions (that hitherto hypothisized method of civil sanction that is not marriage and would not be offered to homosexuals) as “extra” to marriage? I would have thought that your position should hold this very particular sanction as primary, and subsequently view the civil recognition of all the other non-procreational aspects of straight marriage as extra.
3. At what point does something of social value become trivialized? We can make some comparisons between gay couples and straight couples. At what point do these comparisons become a denial of the special social value of heterosexual unions?
(If I were nervy blogger, I would have only written this last question and let the rest of this comment be implied)
4. Why would reserving a special category for straight marriage fall far short of providing the kind of recognition that it deserves, even considering that the very existence of human society depends on heterosexual unions? It seems like a perfectly suitable option to me; in fact, it seems to be exactly what your argument calls for.
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I’m not sure I follow several of your subpoints, so let me simply address your culminating question, as this seems to capture the essence of your concern/criticism. Granting–as you seem willing to do–that heterosexual unions deserve special social recognition and sanction, there seem to be two ways to achieve this: 1) continue the practice of our culture (and countless other cultures throughout human history), which is to allow marriage just in the case of one man and one woman OR 2) allow homosexuals to marry then create a special category for heterosexual marriage, which you urge as a “perfectly suitable option.” Now on whom does the burden fall to justify one of these options over the other? Is it the traditionalist, who has the whole of human history on her side or is it the defender of gay marriage, who advocates introducing a practice that overturns such a universal practice? Surely not the traditionalist, which is precisely why I didn’t bother offering the justification in my earlier comments and which you are now requesting. The burden is on the proponent of gay marriage, not only to give sufficient reasons for such a socially revolutionary practice but also for demonstrating how heterosexual unions could at the same time be specially recognized and sanctioned. I invite you to attempt to do just this—-in a way that is substantive, not merely nominal (where heterosexual marriages are essentially merely called “special”).
A further point: Between the two options above, the first one is more parsimonious. And if Ockham’s Razor (i.e., other things being equal, the simplest approach is best) applies to social and political philosophy, as it does in other areas (as I think it does), then this seems to recommend taking the simpler of the two options, namely to continue with the exclusive practice of traditional marriage. But then, you might say, other things are NOT equal in some key respects. And I would say so as well, though probably not for the reasons you would. Considerations of justice, social utility, theological anthropology are all strong unequalizers in favor of traditional marriage, it seems to me.
I really like this argument. However, I’ve come to realize after using it in several online debates I’ve had that it treats marriage as a mere means to an end. That is, if it has any value at all, it’s extrinsic. Wouldn’t this seem to conflict with the Christian position, which views marriage as an intrinsic good? Perhaps there could be a better formulation?
Hopefully you’ll see this!
Thanks for your comment. In response, I would say that, of course, marriage is an intrinsic good. Nothing in my argument challenges or undermines this fundamental fact. Critics who make that complaint misconstrue the argument and are guilty of the non-sequitur fallacy. Just because marriage has extrinsic goods, it doesn’t follow from this that its goods are ONLY extrinsic.
While I do agree with the majority of your argument, you seem to have confused marriage with sexual intercourse between a heterosexual couple. Indeed, it is not marriage itself that propagates society and provides for the continuity of the human race, but rather mere sex. Thus, should not sex itself and not marriage be that which is venerated and deserves special social value to be placed upon it?
Jeremy, that argument is indeed a red herring. Out of wedlock births, un marital sex is rising. People often claim sex is the benefactor. But this argument fails.
Sorry I accidentally pressed send. Let me begin again. 😛
Jeremy, that argument is indeed a red herring. Out of wedlock births, un marital sex is rising. People often claim sex is the benefactor. But this argument fails. The argument is based on what marriage is and NOT how it is practiced by the people in the marriage or the societies procreative abilities outside the marriage realm. There are many plane crashes, people die. This does not mean the purpose of riding in a plane is to die, rather to go from point A to B. Marriage is the same. There are many pre-marital births sure. But marriages purpose is still procreation.