The Same-Sex Marriage Debate – Questions and Answers

UPDATE: A considerably expanded version of this post can be read here, in a page that should always be easily accessible from my front page (under ‘Larger Projects’).

Just under a year ago, I wrote a post on the subject of same-sex marriage – The Institution of Marriage, Same-Sex Unions, and Procreation. With the topic such a live one in the American context at the moment, my post has come to people’s attention again and has been receiving a large number of hits over the last couple of days. I thought that I would take this opportunity to begin to address a few common questions, questions that I have been asked many times in the past, and will probably be asked many more times again in the future.

This isn’t going to be a comprehensive treatment of the subject of same-sex marriage, nor even of the questions that its opponents often face. However, since I am often asked certain questions, I thought that it would be good to have a single location where those questions are addressed, to which I can direct people in the future. For this reason, I will probably update this post at various points over the coming months. This is a work in progress. I am posting a few initial questions and quickly written answers now (27th March 2013), but would welcome feedback from all parties on questions to add and ways to hone existing answers. I don’t plan to answer comments below the line, but the concerns that they raise will hopefully be addressed in later drafts.

Ground Rules

While regular readers of this blog are well aware of how things operate around here, for the sake of visitors, and on this subject in particular, I want to clarify a few things before I proceed. First, I positively welcome strong and challenging disagreement in my comments and elsewhere. I believe that good arguments need to prove themselves by sparring with strong arguments from their opponents. I have little respect for positions that resist exposing themselves to such challenge, from whatever side they may come. You do not need to apologize for disagreeing with me, nor do you need to preface your remarks with obligatory affirmative comments to soften the blow of your criticisms.

Second, I recognize that such issues are sensitive ones for many persons and understand that many might not want to expose themselves to the context of such disputation. This does not absolve their positions from this responsibility, however. The fact that some of these debates are a little close to home for many of us does not mean that debates should be closed down and that the most sensitive party’s positions should win by default.

Third, while tough and challenging arguments are welcomed and encouraged here, personal attacks and name-calling are not. Someone firmly and strongly disagreeing with you and presenting arguments to support their case is not a personal attack. This said, given the sensitivity of these issues, I would request that everyone consider others when making their arguments and seek to disagree respectfully, treating other participants in the discussion with dignity.


What could be wrong with affirming two people’s love and commitment to each other?

The question at issue in the same-sex marriage debate is not whether the love of same-sex couples for each other should be affirmed, but whether it should be affirmed as marriage. There are many ways in which families, friends, communities, and society more generally could affirm the love and commitment of a same-sex couple that don’t involve redefining the institution of marriage. These can and should be discussed in their place, but this particular debate concerns marriage.

Further to this, the love and commitment of individual couples has always had a rather uneasy relationship to marriage as an institution. While married couples are typically expected to get married in large part on the basis of a love for and a willing commitment to each other, the institution of marriage exists not to affirm this love and willing commitment as such, but to create something more certain and lasting beyond that. Marriage typically places considerable restrictions upon love. It places limitations and pressures upon our choices of suitable partners. It denies us the right to have sexual relationships with persons we might love outside of marriage bonds.

For many, the institution of marriage is designed to make it very difficult and costly for them to get out of a relationship with someone that they stopped loving many years ago and may now positively detest. While it begins with a willing commitment of two persons to each other, marriage renders that commitment something objective and binding upon the persons, even should the commitment become an unwilling one. The flipside of the romantic grounding of marriage upon love and willing commitment is a strong divorce culture, because for a significant percentage of marriages, what began as a willing and loving commitment will not always remain that way.

While this is certainly not the only way that a same-sex marriage proponent could put their case, it is important that we notice how the question frames the issue and the assumptions that it betrays. 1. Society is put in the position of ‘affirming’ and recognizing rights, downplaying the idea of the imposition of norms and duties. 2. The focus is upon individual couples, rather than upon marriage and society more generally. 3. More particularly, the focus is upon the underwriting, rubber-stamping, facilitation, and celebration of their volitional, dispositional, and emotive states and their sexual desires, without such a stress upon a binding and objective commitment.

What the framing of such a question reveals is that the re-imagining of marriage taking place in many quarters does not merely rest with the issue of whether two men or two women can marry each other just like a man and a woman. Rather, the very sort of thing that marriage itself is is in the process of being re-imagined. As I have argued elsewhere, marriage is ceasing to be about institutional norms and public values and is gradually moving towards a more privatized lifestyle consumer model.

Reframing the original question in terms of a more traditional understanding of the sort of thing that marriage is, our hypothetical interlocutor could ask: ‘what could be wrong with society expecting all LGBT persons willingly to commit themselves to the norm of lifelong, sexually exclusive relationships between two persons of the same or opposite sex, to reserve sexual relations for such bonds, to form a culture that reinforces and supports them, to privatize displays of sexuality (though not necessarily romantic affection), and to form a society that is ordered towards the needs and the raising of a new generation?’ Marriage culture is binding on everyone, not merely on those who get married.

The fact that a question of this form is so rarely asked is telling on a number of fronts. In particular, it reveals that society in general is largely leaving behind the idea of a ‘marriage culture’. With it the idea of marriage as an institution designed to serve and strengthen society’s fabric is being jettisoned in favour of the idea of marriage as a private lifestyle choice that should be underwritten, affirmed, and increasingly freed from external restrictions.

I also suspect that, despite the enthusiasm for same-sex marriage, with its affirmation of the equality of same-sex relationships to opposite sex relationships and its puncturing of heteronormativity, there really isn’t great enthusiasm for marriage culture within most quarters of LGBT communities. A campaign for same-sex marriage that is championed by a significant number of persons who are ambivalent, resistant, or even hostile to marriage culture isn’t really going to help an institution that is already ailing within our society. One of the things that have been most concerning in the recent debates is realizing just how extensive this departure from marriage culture in Western society actually is.

Isn’t it discriminatory for it to be illegal for two men or two women to marry?

Once again it is important to clear up a misunderstanding within the question as it is framed. For same-sex marriage to be illegal in the sense of being prohibited or unauthorized by the law it would first have to be a possible entity. For a considerable number of opponents to same-sex marriage, the key question isn’t whether same-sex couples should have permission to get married but, if such permission were granted, whether a same-sex marriage is even possible. The debate here is about the reality to which ‘marriage’ refers and whether it is a reality that a same-sex couple could constitute. The reason why circles cannot be squared or women cannot be fathers is not on account of a lack of permission. This is the reason why one would really struggle to find evidence of laws against same-sex marriages throughout various societies over the course of human history: one doesn’t need to legislate against that which is considered impossible.

The legalization of inter-racial marriage is frequently taken as an analogy for the present same-sex marriage debates. The contrast between the two examples is illuminating, however. There was general agreement that an inter-racial marriage was a possible entity. The debate was purely over whether the possibility should be a legal one. However, there is not the same agreement that a same-sex marriage is a possible entity.

This also reveals that the claim of discrimination isn’t as straightforward as assumed. Discrimination (and, more particularly, unjust discrimination) was clearly operative in the case of inter-racial marriages. However, if a same-sex marriage is an impossible entity it doesn’t make sense to say that it is being discriminated against.

Even were we to grant that same-sex marriage were a possible entity, however, discrimination against it would not necessarily be wrong. Despite the careless contemporary uses of the term, ‘discrimination’ is not a bad thing per se. Discrimination, when it recognizes the various natures and ends of things and treats different things differently, is very healthy. For instance, we discriminate when we establish ages of marital consent. We recognize that mature consent is conducive to the health of marriage, individuals, and society and so we restrict people below certain ages from marrying. Discrimination only becomes problematic when the grounds upon which we are discriminating are not good ones.

The prohibition of inter-racial marriage discriminated on the basis of skin colour, which, relative to the nature and ends of marriage, is a very bad reason upon which to discriminate. However, in discriminating between the committed sexual partnerships of same-sex couples and couples of the opposite sex there are many more grounds upon which to discriminate and, relative to the ends and nature of marriage, a strong argument can be made that they are good ones.

Shouldn’t we seek to treat all people equally?

This question is related to the last. The language of ‘equality’ has considerable currency within our society. However, by itself the term ‘equality’ is largely question-begging and tends to obscure rather than reveal. ‘Equality’ is only truly meaningful when people or entities are in fact equal and, within the relevant context, interchangeable. When we use ‘equality’ language to speak of complex realities where genuine and significant differences do exist, such as gender and forms of relationships, we start to presume the very things that we need to prove.

As it functions in contemporary discourse, especially surrounding gender, sexuality, and forms of relationships, egalitarianism tends to be a self-asserting dogma, often making it impervious to reasonable discourse. I firmly agree with egalitarianism on the point that, when things are truly equal relative to a particular end, they should be treated equally. We should never discriminate between persons or entities on the basis of irrelevant criteria. However, when we are trying to have a debate about the natures and ends of particular realities and which criteria are relevant in particular contexts, to speak about equality merely begs the question.

Instead of the language of equality, I suggest that we adopt the language of ‘equity’. Equity recognizes that people are different and, taking those differences into account and discerning differing natures and ends, is impartial, even-handed, and fair in its administration of justice.

We all agree that equal things should be treated equally: the challenge for proponents of same-sex marriage is to prove that, relative to the ends and nature of marriage, same-sex pairings are actually equal to opposite sex pairings. ‘Equality’ rhetoric simply dodges this difficult task.

Why should same-sex couples be denied rights in areas such as inheritance or visitation?

I do not believe that they should. However, there are ways to grant or secure such rights without redefining marriage. To redefine an institution as fundamental to human society as marriage for the sole purpose of addressing such problems is extreme overkill. More troubling, the suggestion that one not infrequently encounters that it would be a sufficient rationale for doing so betrays an alarmingly hollow view of what marriage actually stands for.

Jesus never said anything about same-sex marriages. Why should Christians speak on the subject?

As I have already remarked, many opponents of same-sex marriage believe that it is an impossible entity, so it should not surprise us that Jesus never spoke about it, just as he never spoke against women being fathers. Nevertheless, Jesus’ teaching does clearly stand against same-sex marriage. Jesus grounds the institution of marriage firmly in the created reality of sexual dimorphism:

And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” – Matthew 19:4-6

Jesus’ argument against the Sadducees in Luke 20:34-38 is also illuminating on this front. N.T. Wright observes:

The logic of Luke’s version of Jesus’ riposte then depends for its force on two unstated assumptions: (a) that marriage is instituted to cope with the problem that people die; (b) angels do not die. The Levirate law, quite explicitly, had to do with continuing the family line when faced with death; Jesus in Luke’s version, not only declares that this law will be redundant in a world without death, but that marriage itself, even with one husband and one wife, will likewise be irrelevant in such a world. A key point, often unnoticed, is that the Sadducees’ question is not about the mutual affection and companionship of husband and wife, but about how to fulfil the command to have a child, that is, how in the future life the family line will be kept going. This is presumably based on the belief, going back to Genesis 1.28, that the main purpose of marriage was to be fruitful and multiply.

The purpose of marriage, both in Genesis 1 and 2 is about much more than companionship. It is framed by the concept of vocation: the vocation of humanity to be fruitful and multiply, to fill and subdue the earth, and Adam’s vocation to serve the earth, to guard and keep the garden, and to uphold its law. After the Fall, marriage is also framed by the reality of death and the need to survive and multiply in its face. Human companionship is wonderful and many of its benefits can be enjoyed in particular richness in the context of the lifelong bond of marriage. However, marriage serves ends beyond this and, for Scripture, the tasks of procreation and child-rearing are central. In the new creation, the human race will have finished these tasks and so marriage ceases too. Companionship isn’t as primary an end of marriage in biblical thought as it is within contemporary society, where, given the nature of our world and our economy, companionship with a spouse has to bear the sort of existential weight that were previously typically borne by thick relationships within a settled community.

Such a firm grounding of marriage upon both sexual dimorphism and procreation stands sharply opposed to same-sex marriage.

Why should Christians speak to this issue? First it should be stressed that Christian ethics should address matters of which Jesus never spoke. The fact that Jesus never explicitly condemned bestiality doesn’t make it permissible. We have explicit commands elsewhere in Scripture that address such things. We also have developed principles of justice that we can bring to bear upon realities that aren’t addressed in the biblical text.

The Christian teaching on subjects such as marriage, gender, and sexuality are extensive. Most of this teaching takes a positive form, filling out such realities as sexual dimorphism with meaning and purpose, rather than the negative form of prohibiting particular behaviours (although there is plenty of that too). One of the problems with the assumption that Jesus never spoke to the subject of same-sex marriage is that, rather than taking our bearings from close attention to the positive teaching, it presumes that our answers would only be found in the form of negative prohibitions. However, the positive statements that Jesus makes about marriage clearly reveal that he is speaking about something quite different from same-sex relationships.

Christians should also speak to the subject of same-sex marriage because we are members of society and have an interest in and duty to it. Marriage and the family that grows from it represent the fundamental institution of the original creation. It relates us to deep and transcendent dimensions of reality. It humanizes some of our most fundamental animal functions and orders them to personal and societal ends. It explores and articulates the meanings of the most basic created anthropological difference and relationship – that between a man and a woman. We should seek to guard this for the sake of the good of wider society and for generations to come.

Doesn’t all opposition to same-sex marriage boil down to homophobia and opposition to gay sex?

No. One does not have to exclude LGBT persons from those to whom we owe equitable treatment and recognition of personal dignity in order to oppose same-sex marriage. Opposition to same-sex marriage can be quite consistent with support for civil rights for LGBT persons more generally. The arguments that I have raised against same-sex marriage here and elsewhere do not presuppose opposition of homosexual relations, nor even to their recognition by society. The question that we are addressing here is not about the morality of homosexual practice (a question that must be addressed in its own place), but about the meaning of marriage.

Why the fixation on same-sex marriage? Why not the same opposition to divorce culture, for instance? Surely husbands and wives divorcing weaken the institution of marriage much more than same-sex couples wishing to enter it.

Divorce culture represents a huge threat to the integrity of marriage. However, divorce culture is a very complicated thing to address. There are valid reasons to divorce, so making it illegal isn’t a solution: it is not divorce but divorce culture that is the problem. Divorce is a symptom of an underlying set of problems. Often these problems don’t lie so much with the laws surrounding divorce or even with the liberal ways in which they are applied (although these are problems) as they do with the underlying values of the society. Challenging and changing these values is difficult.

We attack divorce culture by attacking the values that underlie it. However, the arguments for same-sex marriage that we are encountering at the moment are closely bound up with or serve to strengthen many of these values. It is at points like this, when the underlying values of the divorce culture break the surface and meet us head on – and especially when we are asked to affirm and celebrate them – that we have the duty to resist them.

One of the principal threats posed by same-sex marriage is that of establishing within the very public meaning of marriage key elements of the value system integral to the divorce culture. Same-sex marriage would not be a cultural possibility had not the values underlying the divorce culture paved its way. One’s perspective on the current arguments for same-sex marriage will tend to be shaped by your ranking of values relating to such things as, for example: 1. procreation; 2. the stability of the environment of child-rearing; 3. the relating of the two sexes to each other in society; 4. individual choice, autonomy, and self-fulfilment; 5. the anthropological and religious significance of sexual dimorphism; 6. sexual gratification; 7. marriage as cultural and institutional norm (sexual exclusivity, lifelong union, avoidance of sexual relations outside of marriage, opposition to adultery, etc.); 8. romantic love; 9. the bond between biological, legal, and social parenthood; 10. the need for both a father and a mother and the full involvement, commitment, and interdependence of both sexes in child-rearing; 11. the enjoyment of social status, benefits, and perks; 12. the presence of social support structures that uphold, inculcate, and facilitate the cultural norms.

The values that we hold most highly will be the values into which we will try to integrate all others. However, such a process always requires sacrifice or compromise. For instance, if romantic love is our highest value then we will tend to compromise on marriage as a cultural and institutional norm, because the two will frequently be at odds with each other. If we value marriage as a cultural and institutional norm very highly, we will tend to tolerate – indeed, to expect – much greater sacrifice in such areas as the happiness and sexual gratification of the unmarried. All of this should be fairly straightforward and obvious.

In terms of the values listed above, traditional opposition to divorce culture would place a high emphasis upon 1, 2, 7, 9, 10, and 12 in particular and to downplay and expect sacrifices in the areas of 4, 6, and 8. In order to secure the best interests of children, adults need to learn how to resolve conflicts rather than escaping them, to cope with profound sexual frustration, and to recognize limits on their choice and autonomy. In tackling the divorce culture we need to stress the importance of the duties and roles of both parents and just how necessary it is to guard the integrity and unity of the bond of parenthood. For the same reasons as we oppose divorce culture, we also seek to ensure that marriage is a universally acknowledged cultural norm, so that children aren’t born out of wedlock and so that all of society is committed to and focused upon making marriage a stable and healthy institution, ordering our sexual and relational behaviour in terms of it.

The case for same-sex marriage, however, must necessarily downplay 1, 3, 5, 9, and 10, factors that serve as the primary basis for marriage as a socially normative institution (7). Given the way that the core values of the institution of marriage are carefully woven together, the significance of male-female bonding is never merely an isolated thread within it, but is connected to everything else. Cut that thread, and don’t be surprised if you find all sorts of other things unravelling. The arguments in favour of same-sex marriage have typically emphasized 4, 6, 8, and 11, which, once again, has tended drastically to diminish the significance of 7. Grounding the practice of marriage upon choice and love may seem natural, but history has shown that it is far from a stable basis for the institution.

The divorce culture approaches marriage as an institution ordered primarily around adults’ ends and stresses individual autonomy. It tends to resist marriage’s demands of couples and of society more generally, both married and unmarried. It often treats romantic love and sexual gratification as the primary reasons both for getting and for staying married. It tends to diminish the significance of the very same values as same-sex marriage.

Same-sex marriage goes further, however, as such a diminishment is essential to what it is. While divorce is a failure to attain to certain values integral to marriage, same-sex marriage simply denies that many of these values are integral to marriage or that necessary in the first place. Divorce culture may seriously compromise the bond between biological, legal, and social parenthood. However, every child in a same-sex relationship has at least three parents. Divorce culture may compromise the child’s right to the presence of an involved father and mother. Same-sex marriage typically denies that children need both a father and a mother.

A further and absolutely crucial difference between divorce and same-sex marriage is that divorce has never pretended to be anything other than a tragic sign that something has gone seriously wrong somewhere and that something sought for was not successfully attained. However, same-sex marriage takes much of the same value system of which divorce was a symptom and calls us both to celebrate it and to present it as integral to the meaning of marriage. Divorce typically acknowledges the compromises and the sacrifices that it is making: same-sex marriage strenuously denies them.

On what basis do opponents of same-sex marriage say that it will lead to polygamy?

Questionable ones, I believe.

The shift to a more constructivist and malleable understanding of marriage, moving away from close reflection upon the nature and ends of the realities with which it deals, can definitely lead to a weakening of traditional objections to polygamy. The steady de-institutionalization and privatization of marriage can also have the same effect: if James and Steven’s marriage doesn’t harm mine, leaving me with no reason to object to it, couldn’t the same be said of Simon, Linda, and Jane’s? A number of the arguments that many bring forward for same-sex marriage prove more than they intend to and in this sense it could be said that they will lead to polygamy.

However, I have yet to see a convincing reason why legalizing same-sex marriage will open a legal door to polygamy. Nor, more importantly, is there much of a cultural desire for it: the will of our society is running in very different directions. Even if polygamy were made possible, it would be fringe in contrast to same-sex marriage, which is in the mainstream. The following are a few reasons why polygamy goes against the zeitgeist.

1. Polygamy is characterized by a fairly extreme gender differentiation. The current trend is in precisely the opposite direction.

2. Polygamy has male-female bonds at its heart. It is worth remembering that polygamy is not one man entering into one marriage within many wives, but one man entering into many marriages with many wives. The wives are not married to each other. There is an essential affirmation of sexual dimorphism and the fact that a marriage is built around the committed sexual relationship between a single man and a single woman at the heart of polygamy, even if those relationships aren’t exclusive.

3. Polygamous groups tend to be highly procreative and polygamous families tend to place a lot of emphasis on children. Marriage is oriented towards the production of a new generation, not mere sexual gratification or romantic companionship. Once again, this is directly contrary to the current trend.

4. Polygamous marriages tend to challenge the sentimental nuclear ideal of the family, expanding the family beyond a unitary bond of affection and making it far more of a public and communal reality that transcends and limits the will and entitlement of those within it.

5. Polygamy tends to be de-individualizing, particularly for women and children. While it produces more children, the polygamous family invests less in each particular one. It also stresses roles, limitations, and one’s ‘place’ within a greater order, not hinging upon and affirming the choices of sovereign individuals.

6. Polygamy typically relies upon a vision of marriage that is neither companionate nor romantic in character. Almost the entire reason for same-sex marriage’s plausibility to contemporary society rests upon such a notion of marriage.

7. Being procreative in orientation, polygamy would typically stress the connection between sex and marriage, ironically strongly maintaining many of the values that we associate with ‘monogamy’. Polygamous marriages are not typically ‘open’, ‘non-monogamous’, or ‘monogamish’ marriages in the sense that many more modern relationships are.

It is worth remembering that polygamy is typically practised in more conservative religious communities. This really isn’t an accident. Polygamy is in many respects the antithesis of same-sex marriage. While polygamists could exploit the current inclarity concerning marriage for their ends, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that polygamy is the direction that things are heading. Polyamory is a far more likely suspect: it is romantically driven, gender neutral, oriented towards the satisfaction of individual desires, more fluid and renegotiable, more sexually open to outsiders, and typically non-procreative.

Couldn’t same-sex marriage lead to a strengthening of marriage as an institution?

Following all of the focus over the last few years of the same sex marriage debate upon marriage being primarily about the love, choice, rights, and affirmation of individuals’ desires by society, it is unlikely that we are about to see a return to marriage as a true cultural norm that would be prepared to compromise or limit those things to maintain its institutional integrity. What we are seeing is a de-institutionalization of marriage for everyone, as the wider public has largely bought into the same notion.

I have encountered suggestions that a lowering of the divorce rate in some countries where same-sex marriage has been introduced is evidence for such a strengthening. Beyond the fact that divorce rates are complicated things to interpret, given the difference in the duration of the marriages involved, it must be recognized that divorce rates have generally dropped because far fewer people are marrying in the first place. When only those who are most committed to the institution bother to get married in the first place, a decline in the rate of divorce is exactly what we should expect to see. The more telling figure is the percentage of the population that marries in the first place.

Also, as a number of the ends integrated by marriage are slowly detached and downplayed, we should expect to see a further chipping of the coin of marriage in various ways. The value of monogamy will be weakened in favour of open marriages, non-monogamy, and ‘monogamish’ relationships. Marriage may also become less oriented to the needs of children and more focused upon the rights of adults. In such a situation, even those who do get married are committing themselves to much less.

The effect of same-sex marriage is not really about the cumulative effect of particular gay couples getting married. Its true damage arises from the corrosive influence of the system of values that it champions and establishes. This system of values isn’t an invention of LGBT communities. Rather, it is a system of values that has been operative in wider society for some time. The problem with same-sex marriage is that it establishes this system of values as the new orthodoxy, the public meaning of marriage, accelerating the change in what marriage means for everyone and making reversal of these unhealthy trends exceedingly difficult.

It shouldn’t surprise us if same-sex marriage further decreases the number of people who marry (as marriage moves from being a cultural norm to a private lifestyle choice), increasing the number of children born out of wedlock. Nor should it surprise us if it reinforces the values of divorce culture (as that is the flipside of the romantic view of marriage that makes love its all-encompassing rationale), and gives pace to the movement towards a loosening of the values of monogamy.

My suspicion is that same-sex marriage and increasingly marriage in general, as it will be practised in the future, will be more of a class-based entity, focused on the class status signalled by the lavish wedding and upper-middle class domestic lifestyle. It will function as a social norm to some degree, but the emphasis will be on the desirable social appearance that marriage confers, and much less upon its integral values. Weddings will be bigger, but marriages will be weaker. Such a form of marriage, with its greater emphasis on marriage as ‘sign value’, serving to indicate social status and provide a context for shared consumption, will also tend to discourage the poor from entering into the marriage market in the first place.

Remember, if you have any questions that you would like to be answered in future drafts, please add them to the comments. Thank you for reading!

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Controversies, Culture, Ethics, Politics, Sex and Sexuality, Society, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to The Same-Sex Marriage Debate – Questions and Answers

  1. Rubati says:

    Reblogged this on The Rationality of Faith and commented:
    A clear and succinct defense of heteronormative marriage from a non-religious point of view.

  2. Sabina James says:

    When the culture dictates that you have the right to everything you want, you can’t stop gay marraige. They want it, they will have it. That’s how my children are. If they want something all my arguments against it don’t make any difference. They just take it. We Americans believe “life, liberty and happiness” are our birthright. But as I have taught my children when we study US History, none of those are guaranteed by God. We may have them at His pleasure. 200 odd years of pursuing these things have now led us to this place – it’s logical end. We pursue that which destroys us. Yet, the joy is that the deeper the darkness it, the brighter the light shines. There are many of us who have prostrated ourselves before God, training our children to know and love Him and His word and trying diligently to be His minions in every sphere of life. Christ will overcome.

    Having said all this, I did appreciate your arguments and they helped sharpen my thinking. God has gifted you and may He use you for the furtherance of His kingdom.

  3. Rubati says:

    Hi, although I am agreed with most of your points here, but I do have some quibbles here and there. One of which is that I don’t think you should dismiss “slippery slope” arguments too quickly, I think they are very convenient points especially in relation to “equality” arguments. It is a sort of rhetorical reductio ad absurdum that if they are to consistently apply “equality” in expanding the scope of marriage, then by the same logic they should not “discriminate” against polyamous or incestuous or child couples, etc. The point being not whether it will actually happen or not but merely to force a confrontation of a consistent application of a principle. If they resist the reductio then we can conclude that in fact, “equality” has nothing to do with it but other more relevant factors. (And as a side note, we have this fun Washington Post article on polyamory advocates,

    Secondly, I think what you said about the divorce culture could be more concrete such as identifying “no-fault” divorces as one of the key if not fundamental aspects to the divorce culture, as this blog so brilliantly argues,

    And also, I think we have some empirical evidence about what you say about the gay community not being so keen to really uphold the marriage culture in their now demanding the “right to divorce” here:

  4. Rubati says:

    And sorry to spam your comment box, but what you said about how marriage “transcends” the initial consent or love commitment of the couples reminds me of something which Hegel once said,

    “…marriage, so far as its essential basis is concerned, is not a contractual relation. On the contrary, though marriage begins in contract, it is precisely a contract to transcend the standpoint of contract, the standpoint from which persons are regarded in their individuality as self-subsistent units. The identification of personalities, whereby the family becomes one person and its members become its accidents is the ethical mind. The ethical mind, stripped of the many external phases which it has in particular individuals and transitory interests, has been by picture-thought given independent form… In this attitude of mind is found that religious side of marriage and the family, which is called piety.

    The distinction between marriage and concubinage is that the latter is chiefly a matter of satisfying natural desire, while this satisfaction is made secondary in marriage. It is for this reason that physical experiences may be mentioned in married life without a blush, although outside the marriage tie their mention would produce a sense of shame. But it is on this account, too, that marriage must be regarded as in principle indissoluble, for the end of marriage is the ethical end, an end so lofty that everything else is manifestly powerless against it and made subject to it. Marriage is not to be dissolved because of passion, since passion is subordinate to it… Legislators, however, must make its dissolution as difficult as possible and uphold the right of the ethical order against caprice.”

  5. anonymous says:

    Hi Alastair,

    Thanks for a very thoughtful post (and also, thanks for your previous blogpost from about a year ago). After reading this, I only have one question: what about “civil partnerships” for same-sex couples? Civil partnerships aren’t actually marriages and therefore don’t carry that label, however they enjoy many of the same legal perks (albeit in a diminished fashion sometimes). It seems the logic of your argument might be fine with this. Certainly, we can’t call a homosexual partnership a “marriage”, and we shouldn’t allow it to weaken the institution of marriage by trying to redefine what marriage means in our minds. But maybe we can make a separate, weaker institution called “civil partnership.” Maybe we can recognize a serious commitment between two individuals and give them a few tax breaks, right to visit partners in hospital, etc. A *committed* homosexual relationship is ever-so-slightly better than a *promiscuous* homosexual relationship, right? So what’s wrong with recognizing that fact? I’m not saying that civil partnerships should be treated exactly the same as marriages, but maybe they can be a sort of halfway point. Do you think there’s anything wrong with that? I’m genuinely curious what you think. Thanks.

    • J. Palmer says:

      “But maybe we can make a separate, weaker institution…”

      In America anyway, we tried separate but equal rights for blacks. It created segregation and a continuance of America’s worst sin.

      The fourteenth amendment guarantees equal protection under the law, not separate, not weaker, equal.

      • Have you read my comments addressing ‘equality’ and ‘discrimination’ above? A ‘separate, weaker institution’ might be the appropriate form for a type of union that is itself separate and weaker.

      • PDuggie says:

        Also, a seperate weaker institution is not the same thing as a seperate weaker physical built environment, which is what segregation did. A black school can be provided with less actual dollars than a white school, but that doesn’t mean a domestic partnership has to lack any physical right that marriage does.

      • The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment should render the arguments against same sex marriage as invalid. How is it right for the majority to dictate the rights of a minority?

      • J. Palmer, you are spot on.

      • Colin Abliter says:

        Before the advent of campaign to get the law to refer to indefinite unions between pairs of the same sex as “marriages”, nobody even the non-blacks considered the possibility of them being marriages.

        The dispute about whether such unions can have the right to the term “marriage” is not JUST a matter of civil rights, but also a matter of intellectual property. Now, whatever organization has been owning the concept and the label of marriage since antiquity gets to have the exclusive right to it, with other organizations having to seek permission to such an organization for the use of the label of marriage.

        People say having the law refer to unions of pairs of the same sex as marriage will have no effect on marriage itself, but the story of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra dying in poverty due to a lack of a copyright law that would have protected his work from being used without authorization from him should serve as a lesson in the case of unions of pairs of the same sex.

  6. ali1 says:

    Hi Alastair,
    You rightly state that your arguments here do not presuppose opposition to homosexual relationships, and I appreciate the different facets of marriage made explicit by avoiding that presupposition. However, from a Christian point of view are there not also cogent arguments to be developed for our discussions with secular society that do presuppose homosexual relationships are sinful? This, of course, would involve arguing from one step back, but it would, in my view, prevent Christians from saving the farmhouse while selling the land. Can we include arguing with a presupposition about the wrongness of homosexuality as well as without that presupposition?

  7. Hi Alastair,

    Thank you for the thoughtful post – some very helpful observations. Regarding the polygamy argument, however, I am not as confident as you. You wrote: “I have yet to see a convincing reason why legalizing same-sex marriage will open a legal door to polygamy.”

    The reasons, I think, have to do with the vagueness in the redefinition of marriage itself, the emphasis on equal rights, and the emphasis non-discrimination. In the nineteenth century, Mormons advocated polygyny (one type of polygamy). There are other cultures and religions around the world that still advocate polygamous marriages. To adopt the language of the gay-marriage advocates, “What could be wrong with affirming these marriages?” “Isn’t it discriminatory for it to be illegal for one man to marry more than one woman or for one woman to marry more than one man?” (Polyandry, while less common, has also been practiced). And was it discriminatory to make the practices of the Oneida Community in New York illegal? They advocated the most radical form of polygamy – group marriage (Multiple husbands and multiple wives). Why should people whose cultures or religions encourage polygamy be denied their rights? Doesn’t opposition to these marriages boil down to poly-phobia?

    You continued, “Nor, more importantly, is there much of a cultural desire for it: the will of our society is running in very different directions. Even if polygamy were made possible, it would be fringe in contrast to same-sex marriage, which is in the mainstream.” But there was not much of a cultural desire for same-sex marriage even twenty years ago. The cultural zeitgeist has changed on this issue, and it has changed rapidly. There is no reason to assume that it will long remain in a place that considers polygamy out of bounds. Once marriage is redefined in the way same-sex marriage proponents want to redefine it, there is no real logical or legal reason to rule out polygamous marriages.

    And although, this may sound extreme, there is also no real grounds for prohibiting the practice of child marriage that is found in many cultures. In our relativist culture, who is willing to stand up and say that the practice, widespread in parts of Africa, of marrying girls as young as 7 or 8 is wrong? Isn’t that cultural imperialism and racist to boot if we agree with the contemporary zeitgeist? For an advocate of same-sex marriage to argue against the various forms of polygamy or child marriage is complete and total arbitrariness.

    I’m not even sure what to say about the practice (found in some Hindu circles in India) of human-animal marriage, but given the assumption of same-sex marriage advocates, who are we to deny their rights? I know this one sounds silly because it’s so rare, but it’s the underlying point that is important.

    All I’m saying is that once marriage is redefined in the way it is being redefined, and we start agreeing in the existence of square circles, there’s no compelling reason to object to triangular circles or rectangular circles or octagonal circles or…

    • J. Palmer says:

      Aside from the states that passed constitutional amendments, there has not been any true definition of marriage in America, so “redefining” marriage is a misnomer. The definition that is going to be established will be something to resembling “an agreement/commitment between consenting adults.” The definition could go a step further and be “between TWO consenting adults.” Either way, the slippery slope argument about people marrying their dogs is destroying what little credibility gay marriage opponents have left at this point.

      • Perhaps “redefining” marriage is a misnomer, but regardless of the term used, the issue is the same (I think). Assuming the vague definition of “marriage” that proponents of same-sex marriage are promoting, what would be the moral or legal basis for criminalizing a practice (polygamy) that many traditional Mormons as well as numerous tribal societies endorse? I’m not pulling the examples out of a hat. They are practices that exist and are observed in the world today by real flesh and blood human beings.

        Of course, the definition that’s established NOW may be framed in the way you’ve suggested, but that’s not the point. The point: is there any compelling reason (given the arguments used for same-sex marriage) to frame it in a way that limits marriage to two and only two spouses.

        I also strongly disagree that discussing any of these examples of marriage practices that have existed or still do exist in various cultures today destroys the credibility of gay marriage opponents. That’s merely a rhetorical ploy to avoid answering a legitimate question. If it was so stupid, proponents of gay marriage would simply answer it directly rather than resulting to fallacious ad hominem responses.

        The point is simple and very relevant, and it is not a slippery slope argument. I am not saying if X happens, then Y will inevitably happen. I’m asking a couple of questions that everyone in this debate should answer:

        1. How do you define marriage?
        2. Does that definition exclude any of the kinds of marriage practices that have existed or still do exist in various religions and cultures?
        3. If it does exclude them, on what moral or legal grounds does it do so?
        4. Are those grounds arbitrary, culturally relative, racist, etc. (given your worldview)?

        The reason those are important questions can be illustrated by the example of polygamy, but other examples could also be used. To avoid the questions by calling the whole thing a credibility-detroying slippery slope argument reeks of either naivete or dishonesty, of someone who either doesn’t want to deal with valid questions or who knows full well that they can’t provide a good reason on their assumptions for drawing the line here rather than there, but won’t admit it for political purposes.

        GIven the new definition of marriage and given the contemporary attitudes about rights and discrimination, WHY is it okay for the state to discriminate against the traditional Mormon practice of polygamy, the tribal African practice of child marriage and the Hindu practice of human-animal marriage? Why is it okay to deny these people the basic right of marriage with all of its benefits?

        Perhaps another way of stating the point would be simpler. There are a large number of marriage practices that have existed and still do exist in the world today. If you are going to draw a line in your definition of which ones should be legalized and which ones shouldn’t, how do you objectively determine where that line should be drawn? If you can’t determine it objectively, how do you avoid the charge of arbitrary bigotry and discrimination against those practices you personally happen to find distasteful?

        It isn’t a slippery slope argument. There are traditional Mormons in the U.S. right now who want polygamy legalized. Based on the way marriage is being defined today, why shouldn’t it be?

      • J. Palmer says:

        Child marriage and human/animal marriage is easy to disqualify. In the US minors cannot enter into contractual agreements and no court has ever ruled that animals are entitled to constitutional rights. Plural marriage would be very difficult to disqualify, and as with same sex marriage, I don’t think it should be prohibited so long as the parties that enter into the contract are consenting adults.

      • J. Palmer, the solution to the marriage debate is simple: Just stick to the Dictionary’s definition of the word.

      • Colin Abliter says:

        The debate on whether the law can refer to unions of pairs of the same sex as “marriages” is also a matter of intellectual property. It is unfortunate that Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and other denominations have not managed to avail of copyright laws that would have safeguarded the definition of marriage as involving the male and female sexes.

    • For a legal door to be opened, I think that it would need to be proven that restricting marriage to two persons was discriminating against a particular class of persons. However, it is by no means obvious that it is, because the the third person in such a relationship could be someone of any race, gender, sexuality, or creed.

      The same-sex marriage legal case operates by arguing that sexuality is an unchosen characteristic of a particular class of persons and that marriage as currently framed doesn’t give equal provision for it, being unjustly discriminatory as a result. Those desiring polygamous relationships don’t represent a class of persons in the same way, but could be anyone. Hence, opposition to polygamy is not inherently discriminatory.

      • But can we limit a class of people simply to those characterized by an unchosen characteristic? It’s not inconceivable that a class of people (defined by a creed – Mormons, for example), could argue for a legal door to be opened. In some political contexts, it is conceivable that the argument could be framed as a religious liberty issue. And if the new concept of marriage is commonly accepted, it would be much more difficult to reject such an argument out of hand. The rules of the game have changed when self-contradictory terms (such as gay marriage) have become part and parcel of the legal landscape

        In order to accept the idea of same-sex marriage, one has to radically redefine what marriage is – in the same way one would have to radically redefine what a bachelor is in order to accept the idea of married bachelors. We’ve reached that point at which irrationality has won the day in our culture, and having done so, it seems precarious to assert what else can and cannot happen.

        Thanks for the conversation.

      • Thanks for the comment, Keith. A few brief thoughts in response.

        It is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that people could push for polygamy as a religious liberty issue. And, yes, society’s resistance to such a development has definitely been weakened through its acceptance of same-sex marriage. A society that has become as disoriented as ours has on the subject is vulnerable to many such things.

        However, a weakened immune system does not mean that we will succumb to this particular infection. There are far more virulent cultural viruses going around and they are the ones that we need to be concerned about. There is hardly any cultural drive towards polygamy, while support for polyamory is high.

        When we read of a man marrying a goat in Sudan, for instance, we don’t worry about the threat to the institution of marriage. It is an eccentric oddity, something that no one takes seriously for a moment. The toleration of polygamous marriages, while having a much wider effect, would still be such a cultural sideshow.

        Also, as I have argued in my first Calvinist International post, I find the focus upon the threat of polygamy strange, as same-sex marriage is a much deeper threat to the integrity of the institution of marriage than polygamy is. I wonder whether our focus upon it is a sign that we don’t fully appreciate just how severe a threat the serious entertainment of the values embodied in same-sex marriage actually is.

  8. Pingback: The Same-Sex Marriage Debate – Questions and Answers | thereformedmind

  9. Thanks for taking the time to leave all of the comments and questions, everyone! Keep them coming!

  10. J. Palmer says:

    “The purpose of marriage, both in Genesis 1 and 2 is about much more than companionship. It is framed by the concept of vocation: the vocation of humanity to be fruitful and multiply, to fill and subdue the earth… the tasks of procreation and child-rearing are central.”

    Maybe. But God also told the animals to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:22), yet there is no concept of marriage bestowed on them, save maybe swans and penguins who mate for life.

    Jesus was such a good teacher for his followers because he modeled everything that they were supposed to do. He was even baptized by John to set an example for us, not because he needed to be symbolically washed of any of his sins but because he had to set the example. He also took communion, again, not because he had to, but because he wanted to set the example. With something as important as marriage, I find it intriguing not just that Christ didn’t speak about it, but that he did not model it for humanity like he did everything else. This decision by Christ severely undermines any Christian based arguments regarding marriage–gay or straight–for or against.

    The following is an exchange that I had recently with a lawyer regarding gay marriage. I was hoping he would take of his Christian hat and separate his church from state, but I don’t think he was able to (for better or worse):

    • Thanks for the comment. I will respond to this one here. A few points.

      1. Procreation is not the only reality framing the divine institution of marriage. For instance, marriage serves to secure the bonds between children and parents and ensure that they are raised in a stable environment. Animals do not typically require the same intensive and long term nurture that human children do.

      More importantly, though, human behaviour and sexuality is framed by the fact that we are personal beings, in a way that animals are not. Marriage is a personal and intentional bond, which is why we stress the importance of mature consent, for instance. For personal beings truly to procreate and raise children, a personal form is required in which to do so. Marriage provides this, uniting the natural physical union between the male and female body with the intentional union between two persons in a single institution.

      2. I disagree with your interpretation of Jesus’ actions. His baptism by John was to ‘fulfil all righteousness,’ not merely to set an example. At some point in the next few weeks, I will be doing an in-depth study of that particular account and it should become clear that setting an example was some way down the list of the reasons why Jesus was baptized. Likewise with taking communion. From Matthew 26:29, we may guess that Jesus drank of the cup at least, but it is not explicitly stated, nor can we be certain. If his purpose was to set an example, surely we would be shown the example. The real purpose was fellowship – communion – not example.

      3. Jesus did teach about marriage. He taught against divorce without firms grounds. He taught that marriage was founded upon God creating mankind male and female. He taught against adultery and fornication. He also makes arguments that assume that, without the need of procreation, marriage is no longer required.

      4. Jesus did model marriage, just read Ephesians 5:22-33. There were very good reasons why Jesus never took a wife during his ministry. I have highlighted some of those reasons here (see my response to one of the comments as well).

  11. David says:

    I find it most telling that the “issues” to which the Church at large seem to be primarily fixiated are genital-driven. It’s not to say churches don’t sound off about poverty or violence, it’s just that where Jesus spent 10 times as much verbiage in the Bible on these issues, the Church today has it flip-flopped. We spend 10 times more energy debating our naughty bits and I find this problematic. Given that the very first result of eating the forbidden fruit in the garden was “realizing they were naked,” I don’t think we should be surprised at the attention human nature puts on the sexual aspect of our being. I just think that like the Fall itself, our attention is skewed… this is the wrong kind of attention God intended for us.

    But as to God’s intent, the creation story says to me that His intent has always been one man, one woman for life. Now we only have to flip a few pages to see that intent totally break down. I don’t necessarily agree with your take on polygamy, although I do understand the idea that the breakdown of “one man – one woman for life” can point in two seemingly opposite directions with polygamy vs. homosexuality. They are still pointing away from God’s intent though, so I don’t see where it matters if one is moving North and the other South.

    The real kicker though is that God more or less endorses polygamy in the Bible, or at the very least, allows it. Polygamy doesn’t keep a person from being used by God. God doesn’t reject using people because of polygamy. The idea that a person can stray from His original intention as a practicing polygamist and still be considered a “hero” of the Old Testament is perplexing.

    I think Jesus’ take is pretty clear & I don’t get the confusion we place on the texts. God allowed Moses to alter marriage reqs out of “the hardness of the human heart.” It seems that God isn’t quite as hung up on things as we are. His approach seems more like, “Well, go ahead with that divorce thing, and let Me know how that works out for you.”

    We know how it’s working out. The further we get from God’s intent for marriage, the worse things get. I don’t hear God getting all up in arms about the homosexuality movement. I simply hear Him saying, “Let Me know how that works out for you.” Our hearts are hard.

    Alastair, I would be curious to hear you talk about homosexuality from a historical perspective as well. Because history seems fairly clear that it was practiced either as body-worship or as a form of slavery and subjugation in the ancient world. The ancient practice of homosexuality would probably look more like sex trafficing today that it would a mutual pairing of same sex couples. I’m not convinced the terms always apply as well as we want them to.

    Thanks and be well.

    • David, you are speaking in terms of traditional marriage. Same sex marriages will not make traditional marriages go away.

      • Colin Abliter says:

        “Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda” took advantage of the lack of a copyright law in Spain at that time to make a sequel to “Don Quixote” without the authorization from Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Miguel may have countered it with publishing a book that mock “Alonso”‘s work, but Miguel still died in poverty because of what “Alonso” did to his work.
        This should serve as a lesson for those who fail to safeguard the concept and label of marriage from those who seek to revise its definition and structure.

  12. Justin C. says:

    What I am mostly hearing is a honest, civil defense of biblical marriage and why it’s important, which is a very important conversation for believers to have. I am also hearing committed and caring citizens of democratic republics who want to preserve, for as long as they can, a morally superior society that are extremely concerned with the moral and legal consequences of SSM. What I don’t understand is why we think the church exists to create or perpetuate a moral or (let’s face it) Christian society? Is this the role of the church? Is this what the body of Christ exists to do? Can we allow our faith to be drawn away from a sincere, honest, humble, peaceful discipleship and brotherhood to a violent, proud, legalistic theocracy that gives us an inflated sense of ownership and power over society, government and culture. Is this a huge legal and social shift that will have many positive and negative ramifications? Most certainly. But this isn’t our kingdom. This isn’t our fight. The rights and powers that we have to steer society and government have been given to us by men, not by God. May we follow the example of Jesus and render unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.

  13. I have added more questions and answers in a page that should always be easily accessible, under ‘Larger Projects’.

  14. Pingback: A primer of resources on the case against same-sex marriage | Notes from a Small Place

  15. Pingback: An Analysis of Tania De Rozario’s “Not Prepared to Wait” and the High Court’s Decision on 377A | The Rationality of Faith

  16. Pingback: The Gay Marriage Debate: Tactical Withdrawal or a New Paradigm? - Mere Orthodoxy | Christianity, Politics, and Culture

  17. margo says:

    Hi Alastair,

    I’d like to thank you for creating this post because I find few places where there can be actual discussion about same sex marraige. I have read many views of the opposition, and made counter arguments, but have had very little success finding someone who will directly respond and try to disprove my counter arguments. I would like to make some point by point counters to what you said and would love your feedback.

    “marriage is ceasing to be about institutional norms and public values and is gradually moving towards a more privatized lifestyle consumer model”
    In a legal marriage (not related to religion), the marriage is done by the Government. The purpose of the government is not to support any one set of values, but to protect the rights and equality of it’s people. If many people consider something to be morally wrong, but it is not infringing upon the rights of others, it is unjust for the constitution to outlaw it- for example, many people consider premarital sex to be immoral, but because a couple having premarital sex does not hurt or take away from the rights of any other citizens, it is still legal.

    “there really isn’t great enthusiasm for marriage culture within most quarters of LGBT communities”
    Do you have any sort of evidence towards this? What about the many LGBT couples that take pride in having their wedding, making a lifelong commitment, running a home together, and many other traditional aspects of marriage? Also, keep in mind that while there may not be a strong enthusiasm for *your* idea of marriage culture (that of someone who is anti LGBT marriage), there is also a more inclusive idea of marriage culture that includes customs and ideas of LGBT couples. Marriage is different for every single couple.

    “For a considerable number of opponents to same-sex marriage, the key question isn’t whether same-sex couples should have permission to get married but, if such permission were granted, whether a same-sex marriage is even possible”
    Same sex marriages have occured, have had happy marriages, have had children, etc. Logically, if something has already occured, it is possible.

    “There was general agreement that an inter-racial marriage was a possible entity”
    There were many people who did not believe that inter-racial marriages could be. They viewed some races as inferior beings and felt that their mariages could not be valid, and could result in violence, deformed children, the deterioration of society, etc. Just as there were (wrong) people who felt that inter-racial marriages were not possible, there are now people who (incorrectly) think that LGBT marriages are not possible.

    “Discrimination, when it recognizes the various natures and ends of things and treats different things differently, is very healthy. For instance, we discriminate when we establish ages of marital consent.” Discrimination based on age of consent has the purpose that a minor is not considered a fully functioning human being, capable of making their own decisions. Could you cite a positive example of discrimination in which the party being discriminated against is considered of normal, fully functioning mental capacity?

    -I agree with you that same sex and opposite sex pairings are different- but if the goverment institution of a legal marriage serves them both, why give them something different? A black person and a white person are different- but if they are both capable of riding the same bus or going to the same restaurant, why make them have two different buses or restaurants?

    -In what way is the idea of “Equity” not dodging the idea of “equality?” I agree that there are some issues with the idea of equality, but in consideration with equity I find this to be a highly circular argument.

    -I agree with you 100% that you can find things to site in the bible fully against same sex marraige. However, why should the teachings of one of the many relgions of the world affect what the government decides about it’s policies? The US government specifically has in it’s legislature that it promotes no one specific regligion. It would not be fair to say that US citizens can not eat meat because hindu writings say you can not.

    -Considering marraige as a government institution, how do divorce or polygamy infringe upon the rights of others?

    -You list procreation as one of the primary factors of marriage. Do you feel that couples who are unable, or decide not to, have children, or those who decide to adopt, are lesser than others? If not, why should the idea of procreation be relevant to your valuing of gay marraiges when it is irrelevant to straight ones?

    -Every child in an adoption situation has at least 3 parents. Every child who’s parent has remarried has at least 3 parents. Every child who has had a parent die has only 1 parent. Why is having 2 parents necessary? What makes it better? And if it is better, whey are there children with 0,1,2,3,4, and even 5 parents who all turn out to be wonderful people?

    “same-sex marriage takes much of the same value system of which divorce was a symptom and calls us both to celebrate it and to present it as integral to the meaning of marriage”
    please list sepcific values symptomatic of divorce, and then explain how a same sex marriage would celebrate this value (approximately 1 sentence per symptom would be great, I don’t want the direct answer aspect to this question to be lost in a lot of text)

    • Hi Margo,

      Thank you for reading and for taking the time to interact. This reply will have to be all that I say on the subject: I have a busy few days ahead of me before a visit to the US for a conference and most of my time is occupied with more current projects. Also, reading through your comments, it is clear to me that many of your questions are already answered in this post or the other one linked at the beginning of it. That said, here are a few thoughts in response.

      A number of the issues that you raise in your first point are addressed more directly in my post on marriage as an institution. As an institution, marriage is not a creation or possession of the state, any more than it is a creation of the church or any other religious body. While the state and the church may perform weddings, sanction marriages, and protect and regulate them in various respects, marriage and the family are institutions with their own independent and separate jurisdiction, integrity, and rights, which both church and state must recognize and honour, much as must honour each other’s separateness and distinct jurisdiction. One of the reasons why same sex marriage is a troubling development is because it represents a change in the way that the relationship between marriage/family and state functions, with states treating marriage as a highly fluid societal convention, which they possess the right to redefine.

      Having pride in a wedding is a very different thing from having great enthusiasm for marriage culture. Weddings are quite distinct from marriages. In fact, perhaps the increasing elevation of the wedding as the huge event is a concomitant of the erosion of marriage culture, which is seen less in the young and beautiful couple at the wedding than in the elderly couple who have been faithful to each other for fifty years, surrounded by the children and grandchildren that arose from their union.

      Marriage culture applies to everyone within a culture, both married and unmarried, establishing norms and expectations. It isn’t just about the few who decide to get married. If we want to see whether LGBT communities have a great enthusiasm for marriage culture, we need to answer a few key questions like the following. What proportion of LGBT couples get married when the possibility is open to them? Is it an accepted norm in most LGBT communities that, if someone is sexually active, they should at the very least get married at some point? What is the rate of divorce among the LGBT couples that do get married? What percentage of LGBT couples are remarrying after prior broken unions? How strong is the connection between sex and marriage in LGBT communities? How strong is the connection between marriage and children? How sexually exclusive are same sex marriages? On all of these counts, where we have figures, they really don’t look good at all for LGBT populations when compared with the general population.

      We would be quite able to call a cat a dog, but that doesn’t make it possible for a cat to be a dog. In like manner, the fact that same sex ‘marriages’ have occurred doesn’t make same sex ‘marriage’ a possibility.

      You seem to be confusing possibility with validity: I would suggest that you reread my answer to that question. Racist laws made inter-racial marriage illegal, because inter-racial marriage was deemed possible. Same sex marriage was never illegal in the same way because it was never deemed to be a possible entity. We don’t legislate against squared circles.

      Your point about discrimination merely underlines my illustration: we discriminate when there are meaningful differences. The discrimination relating to same sex ‘marriage’ is not strictly speaking a discrimination against individuals but against couples. Any LGBT person is as free to get married to a person of the other sex as any straight person. Until very recent years, the virtually unanimous consensus of all times and cultures was that marriage was the sort of thing that was only possible between a man and a woman. This isn’t a discrimination against individuals, but merely a statement of fact about the sort of thing that marriage is.

      For instance, one can play a game of soccer to a satisfactory end without scoring any goals. There are many skills and objectives within the game that don’t necessitate the scoring of goals. However, if one were to redefine the game in a way that made goal-scoring incidental to it, it just wouldn’t be soccer any longer. It is much the same with marriage. We discriminate against same sex couples, because, whatever they are playing, it is a significantly different thing from ‘marriage’, no matter how close it may look to it in certain respects and on certain occasions.

      And we discriminate against plenty of people of ‘normal, fully functioning mental capacity’ in respect to marriage when we disallow incest and polygamy.

      The fact that same sex unions and marriages between men and women are not interchangeable with respect to existing government institutions of legal marriage is amply illustrated by the sheer scale of the rewriting of the legal codes of many jurisdictions in which same sex marriage has been defined into supposed existence.

      The illustration of the black and white person that you give is not an analogy: whether one is black or white is completely indifferent to one’s ability to ride a bus or eat at a restaurant. Relative to those activities, there is no natural difference between a black person and a white person (or a straight and cis person and an LGBT person, for that matter). However, when it comes to marriage, there are pretty significant differences between a same sex couple and a male and female couple, differences that have direct bearing on the type of union in view. Hence, we have grounds for discrimination.

      Equality is always in danger of treating as equal and interchangeable things that are not at all equal and interchangeable. Equity is a different principle of justice, which attends to the distinct characteristics of different persons, things, relationships, and situations and accords each their due without partiality. Where things are not equal and interchangeable, equity treats them differently, but fairly.

      If you read what I have written carefully, you should see that I nowhere argue that same sex marriage should be illegal because the Bible says that it should be illegal.

      Divorce and polygamy are problems on several levels. Polygamy can infringe upon the social wellbeing of both men and women in different ways and on society more generally. Polygamy institutionalizes a gross imbalance between the sexes. It leaves poorer and less socially privileged men less able to find spouses. It reduces the status of women in society in various respects too. It can set women at greater odds with each other. It limits paternal investment in children and can create fractured homes, which do not allow for children’s thriving.

      Relaxed divorce laws cause other problems. They weaken what it means to get married in the first place, changing what marriage means in practice for much of society. ‘Until death us do part’ really doesn’t mean a great deal any longer. Societal support for struggling marriages decreases when divorce becomes more of a normalized ‘solution’ and there is less of an impulse towards reconciliation. They disadvantage children, who have less stable homes, a fact that greatly affects their wellbeing, as a raft of research has demonstrated. As single parent homes become more common, this situation becomes normalized, weakening children’s right to be raised by both of their natural parents and changing the way that society speaks and thinks about child-rearing.

      I address your question about procreation and infertile or childless couples in my other post.

      As you say, every adopted child has at least three parents. However, the key point is that we do not normalize such situations, or treat adoption as a light thing. Adoption presupposes a negative situation that must be rectified. We want to keep the need for adoption to a minimum because, although kids are resilient, all else being equal, their interests are best served when they are raised by their natural parents in a single stable home. Interestingly, adults are resilient too, and where they are expected by society to make more of an effort to seek reconciliation in their struggling marriages, they often achieve great results.

      All else being equal, there are many benefits to being raised by your two natural parents. Natural parents have a form of personal investment in their children that no other party has and so have a greater vested interest to seek their wellbeing. Being raised by one’s natural parents assures you of your origins, keeping genetic, gestational, legal, and social parenthood together, assuring you that you don’t have to look outside of that union to discover your origins and identity. It assures a child of their full stake in the love, life, and legacy of their family. Adopted children often wonder whether their adoptive parents love them as much as their natural children or whether they have the same degree of belonging in the family. The ‘belonging’ of the natural child is not in the same doubt.

      Being raised by your married natural parents is significant because the loving bond that first forged your identity and gave rise to your existence is still intact and you can return to it and find security and belonging within it. You don’t need to wonder whether your biological parents are indifferent to you, or whether your sperm donor father knows that you exist.

      Same sex marriages and single parent homes also do not provide in the same way for the socialization of children into healthy and loving relationships between the sexes – the two halves of the human race. Children in such a situation are deprived of a mother or of a father. Although a same sex couple or a single parent can provide for the needs of their children in many ways, they will leave their children without either an involved father or mother. Fathers and mothers are not interchangeable and children lose out when they are deprived of one or the other.

      Of course, many children turn out well from such less than ideal situations. However, this does not justify us in normalizing such less than ideal situations for the raising of children.

      Some of the aspects of the value system of which divorce was a symptom, which same sex marriage also has at its heart:

      1. The idea that society doesn’t have a strong stake in marriage and sexual behaviour and their regulation for the sake of children and other parties. Marriage is seen as a personal ‘lifestyle choice’ for individual consumers, rather than as a social norm that society has a right to expect sexually active individuals to enter into, remain faithful and sexually exclusive within, and all to honour by their behaviour.

      2. The deinstitutionalization of marriage and the idea that the union finds its initial and continuing justification increasingly in the love of the two marriage partners, rather than in ends that transcend them and a family that arises from them.

      3. Divorce culture marginalizes the needs and interests of children on the basis that they are resilient, prioritizing the desires of adults. Same sex marriage typically shows the same prioritization of the interests of adults over those of children.

      4. Divorce culture downplays the cultural value of monogamy, by allowing much more room for serial monogamy. There is plenty of evidence that same sex marriages manifest even less commitment to the value of monogamy as lifelong sexual exclusivity.

      5. Divorce culture devalues children’s right to be assured of their stake in the life, love, and legacy of an intact family, to have an involved mother and father, and not to be estranged from their origins. Same sex marriage continues this.

      Same sex marriage takes these things further too. While divorce is recognized to be the result of a negative and undesirable situation and frequently a bad thing in itself, we are expected to affirm that same sex married couples and their children represent an intact, healthy, and natural situation, rather than a peculiar form of the ‘broken home’.

    • Margo, the arguments against same sex marriage that I have heard and read are relatively lame. No logical basis can be found to argue against an issue that affects a very small percentage of the world’s population. The Dictionary defines marriage as an interpersonal union. No restrictions are imposed on how it is to be defined. People can say that government has no right to redefine marriage, however, these people clearly do not seem to get the dictionary’s definition of the word. Alastair Roberts, just because people have a right to discriminate does not necessarily mean that they get a special authority to dictate to other people how they should live their lives. Adam Burkhardt, human rights should mean human rights for all people. Not a twisted interpretation of it used as an excuse by some people to impose their will upon other people. Some people in the U.S. claim that when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled some bans on same sex marriage to be Unconstitutional that it was a sad day for America, a sad day for the children of America, because children deserve a Mom and a Dad. What if one parent is not in the picture? Or, what if you have a single parent household? People can claim that same sex parenting is harmful to children, however, where is the actual data to back any of those claims up? Where is the evidence that children raised by same sex parents are being negatively affected by the relationship? Bans on same sex marriage violate the 5th Amendment, because it violates the liberties of same sex couples to marry, as well as the 14th Amendment, which provides equal protection under the law. Both Amendments are in the U.S. Constitution, so that would render all arguments against same sex marriage as invalid. Gay marriage will never undermine traditional marriage. Some people also claim that gay marriages are not real. In the United States of America, we have religious freedom, however, religious freedom should not be seen as license to deny the right of same sex couples to marry, nor should people be forced to provide services to same sex couples if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

      • Colin Abliter says:

        “Bans on same sex marriage violate the 5th Amendment, because it violates the liberties of same sex couples to marry, as well as the 14th Amendment, which provides equal protection under the law.”

        Alastair already said that the Southern governments at the time of Jim Crow considered interracial marriages were possible although illegal in the way that nobody ever pondered the possibility of unions of pairs of the same sex as marriages until the advent of campaigns to get the law to refer to such unions as marriages.

        Also, the debate on the definition and concept of marriage is also a matter of intellectual property.

        “Gay marriage will never undermine traditional marriage.”

        The story of how an unauthorized sequel to “Don Quixote” led Cervantes to poverty at his death should serve as a caution when it comes to defining the concept of marriage.

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  21. Adam Burkhardt says:

    I’ve read every post from this thread and have to say that the one person that raised the most important questions goes to MARGO. And it boils down to this one quote for me,”It would not be fair to say that US citizens can not eat meat because hindu writings say you can not”. I wonder if it really is possible for certain religious people to understand and respect the fact that not everyone from this country is religious and therefore shouldn’t have laws or religious belief forced on them through legislation that they deem to be the way God had intended it to be. One only has to look at other religious organizations around the world that run their government. Saudi Arabia and the Taliban come to mind. I often wonder if Fundamentalists in religion really believe that they are Fundamentalists? I would pose that all religions share much in common with each other…that a higher power or God wants us all to be loving and spiritual beings that seek to make this world a better place and to live harmoniously amongst our neighbors. The difference lies in how people interpret what those courses of action should look like. As a progressive thinker, I truly ponder where our world will be in 100, or 200 years and what we will have learned from the past…..Despite the name of a perhaps an offending title, I believe an article by Adam Lee “How conservative Religion is killing America, demonstrates a course we are on as a Country and raises serious and valid questions to those who seek to impose religious belief and doctrine on our world.
    Again, thanks for the welcoming nature of the thoughtful discussions. Its refreshing to say the least!

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  24. Same sex marriage is not going to make traditional marriage go away.

    • Colin Abliter says:

      An unauthorized sequel to “Don Quixote” led Cervantes into poverty. Likewise, having the law refer to unions of pairs of the same sex as “marriages” as well as divorce and other relaxation of requirements and purposes of marriage can devalue marriage itself. The definition of the concept of marriage is also a matter of intellectual property.

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  26. These people who argue that there should be a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage clearly do not read the Dictionary. Any person who says that a minority who demands Constitutionally guaranteed equal protections is advocating a redefining of marriage is a fool.

    • Colin Abliter says:

      When it comes civil rights, non-cis-heterosexual persons already possess and exercise them by virtue of being persons, not by virtue of being non-cis-heterosexual. It’s in the 9th Amendment. Those include the right to enter marriage. Now, whether they have the right to enter unions with partners of the same sex and have the law refer to them as “marriages” is a matter of intellectual property.

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