Is the Male/Female Sexual Difference Key to Understanding Marriage?

Is the male/female sexual difference key to understanding marriage?

Not so long ago, that question would have been greeted with confusion. After all, it was questioning the obvious; kind of like asking if gravity is key to keeping us from flying off into space. But times have changed, and today the question is more likely to be greeted with cries of “bigot” and claims about “homophobia.”

Perhaps the real question should be, are we deluding ourselves?

Is the claim that two men together or two women together is the same as the bonding between a man and woman flat-out delusional? Are we using social bullying and name-calling to force people to accede to a lie?

The question is not whether homosexuals are human beings (they are) or whether or not they should be subjected to unjust discrimination (they should not) but whether or not same sex bonding should be treated identically under the law as the bonds that form between a man and woman. The corresponding questions are (1) What would this change in the law do to society, and (2) Is the whole push for “marriage equality” based on a delusion?

Are two men or two women the same as a man and a woman? Do their unions rise to the level of a basic unit for building a society and do they require the same level of legal protection in order to maintain a stable society?

More to the point, is it an elaborate delusion, a hoax, to claim that two men or two women together are the same as a man and woman?

Do the sexual differences between men and women amount to anything real and foundational in human existence, or are they just fashionable social constructs with no basis in the human psyche or biological reality?

A team of professors from Princeton University has taken the position that sexual differences do matter in the marriage debate, that they are essential to understanding marriage. They have written a book, What is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense that I plan to order and read.

A CNA article describing their work and ideas says in part:

Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2013 / 02:13 am (CNA).- Defending the sexual complementarity between men and women in marriage is an essential first step in building up a healthy “culture of marriage” as a whole, say the authors of a new book.

“I really do believe that this is a reasonable debate among reasonable people of good will,” said
Prof. Robert George of Princeton University.

George spoke Dec. 19 at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. Joining him at the promotional event for their book, “What is Marriage,” were co-authors Sherif Girgis and Ryan Anderson.

The speakers explained that while attempts to redefine marriage are based on an understanding of the union as primarily emotional, this is neither the historical nor contemporary definition of the marital union.

Girgis, who is both a second-year Ph.D. student at Princeton and a first-year law student at Yale, observed that marriage, historically and philosophically understood, is a conjugal, comprehensive union on multiple levels.

In marriage, there is a “union of heart and mind but also of the body,” he said, explaining that the physical realities of husband and wife are integral to the conjugal nature of marriage.

It is this bodily union that makes procreation possible and distinguishes marriage from friendships and other human relationships, Girgis explained.

Changing marriage from this definition would be harmful to society, and should therefore be avoided, warned Anderson, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

He stressed that “being for marriage does not mean anti-gay” and said that marriage defenders “should be at the forefront” of efforts to oppose bullying and discrimination against those who are same-sex attracted.

However, he continued, supporters of marriage should not allow their position to be called “bigotry,” and they must explain that their position is not unjustly discriminatory.

Instead, he maintained, supporters of traditional marriage should affirm that there is “(n)othing more important for the future of the nation” than a “healthy marriage culture,” particularly for the benefit of children. (Read more here.)

  • Patty

    I look forward to reading your review on the book.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Patty. It’s on order, but I’m backlogged and it will be a while before I get a review up.

  • Bill S

    (1) What would this change in the law do to society?

    It would force society to learn tolerance. Some of us would pick it up more easily than others. Children would be taught it at an early age and would not grow up with a bunch of useless taboos and prejudices. The least tolerant among us would feel that they were being persecuted. It would be as if they went to hell and the tolerant went to heaven.

    (2) Is the whole push for “marriage equality” based on a delusion?

    If it is not a delusion to the married couples, then who cares if others see it as a delusion? Some people see religion as a delusion. It doesn’t make it any less real to believers.

    • Robert King

      As to your second point, if marriage only matters to married couples, then why is the State involved at all?

      On the other hand, if marriage has public ramifications, then shouldn’t the State care about whether this relationship or that one really fits the definition of marriage – and therefore, of course, what definition of marriage best fits the reality of human life and the common good of society?

      Which leads back to your first point. Tolerance is not a positive virtue. Tolerance is the ability to endure some bad thing that you’re powerless to change. Notice that other minorities never ask for tolerance; they ask for respect – and rightly so.

      In other words, the State should not be promoting (much less “forcing”) tolerance; rather, the State should promote respect among people. Simply dismissing arguments against same-sex marriage as taboo or prejudiced or intolerant will not resolve the dispute. Rather, respect requires that we treat one another as responsible adults, and take each other’s arguments seriously.

      • Bill S

        “Tolerance is not a positive virtue. Tolerance is the ability to endure some bad thing that you’re powerless to change.” The definition for the tolerance that I am referring to is as follows:
        a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.

        The State should not have to be the one to promote tolerance. The Church should.

  • FW Ken

    C.S. Lewis, I think, noted that sex (“gender”, in contemporary terms) is a reflection of an inner fact about the person. To go all Aristotelian about it, my accidents are male, my substance is masculine. This is probably why male-male romantic relationships are more violent and less stable than male-female romantic relationships.

    The answer to your question, Rebecca, lies in the answer as to whether same-sex relationships fit into the overall interest that states have in any sort of marital bond. But to answer that, you have to ask what interest the state has in marriage at all. Why privilege any bond, whether you call it “marriage” or “civil unions”?

    There is a personal element to this: a younger friend has been living with me for a couple of years. He is marginal in a lot of ways, and I worry about what happens when I die. If he can keep a girlfriend for more than 2 months – preferably one with a job – he will probably get his own apartment this year. But I’ll be here for him when things fall apart again. But since we aren’t sexual partners (and we live in Texas, of course), I can’t give him survivor benefits. If same-sex marriage became legal, and we were willing to lie about our sexual relationship, he could get social security and maybe state retirement survivor benefits. Why should he not get that? Why should he work at $8-10 an hour until he can’t turn a shovel anymore, then go to the night shelter? I love him… why can’t I marry him and get you people to provide for him?

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      He should not get that because you don’t “own” it in the sense that you “own” your house, car, or savings account; all of which you can give to him at any time, including as part of your estate that you will to him after you die. Retirement benefits that come through a contract, such as part of a package with a company or other employer, are not “owned.” The retirement benefits from a company are contractual and can be negotiated any way the two parties chose, including allowing you to name lifetime beneficiaries at random, if you chose. However social security is not “owned” either. It is an entitlement. It is not negotiated, (except by Congress) and it does not belong to you.

      What you are suggesting is, in essence, that you be able to treat these things as your private property to dispose of as you wish. You are somehow linking this to the question of whether or not we should redefine the law to give the same legal status to same-sex unions that we do to heterosexual marriage. Even though some of the arguments justifying same-sex marriage run parallel to this, it is not the same question as the one I raised at all.

      In truth, the questions I raised about whether or not the union between two men or two women provides societal benefits which justify extending its protection in the same way we have historically protected marriage between one man and one woman is not even addressed by this argument. You are raising tangential issues that don’t address the questions I raised at all.

      Just because you’ve taken in some waif who can’t support himself does not mean that we should re-write the legal definition of one of the core social units of Western civilization. That is a personal decision on your part, and what you chose to do with your own property concerning this young man is your decision. Government entitlements and group contracts are another thing entirely.

  • FW Ken

    You asked if redefining marriage to include same-sex couples wad absurd. My response to that, in my second paragraph, is that you have to define society’s interest in any marriage, then see if same-sex relationships fit into that.

    My third paragraph contrasts non-sexual relationships with sexual relationships WRT marriage, not my friendship with heterosexual marriage. I don’t think my friend does have rights to my retirement, but if a gay couple, why not any couple. Two women I know call themselves heterosexual life partners”

  • FW Ken

    Sorry, posting on phone…

    Anyway, if my friends were lesbians, there would be a parade to get then the right to marry if lesbians, why not anyone? What’s so special about romantic love?

    I do take strong exception to valuing my friend “some waif” who can’t support himself. In the first place, would I do as well if I hadn’t known who my father was, if my mother smoked dope, if I’d had a closed head injury at age 5? Probably not. Moreover, he does earn a living as a landscaper. He pays me rent, pays me back if he borrows money to buy something outside or agreement, and had been there for me in some health issues and my mother’s death. So he’s truly a friend, not “some waif”.

    • Robert King

      What’s so special about romantic love?

      This is exactly the question. Why should the State be involved in regulating and administrating a romantic relationship? Even more to the point, why should the State be involved in a sexual relationship?

      I myself am not convinced that the State should be involved in marriage. The best solution may be to simply abolish all legal recognition of the relationship of marriage, and to let people do whatever they want, romantically and sexually.

      However, that would cause some radical changes in society. These changes would affect individuals currently married, but more importantly they would affect children. How would the State establish responsibility for raising children, or adjudicate disputes about custody, or disputes about educational decisions, and so on? Would parents have to adopt their own biological children in order to establish their legal status? Would children be assumed to be wards of the state in some Brave-New-World-esque way?

      And this points to the main compelling interest I see for the State to be involved in recognizing – if not necessarily administrating – marriage: that sexual relationships among heterosexual couples normally result in children, and the State has an interest in seeing children raised in a stable and supportive environment. Marriage doesn’t preclude all failures and abuse, but it does establish some basic structures for raising the next generation.

      Same-sex relationships do not – biologically cannot – produce children, unless extraordinary medical and/or legal steps are taken. Certainly, same-sex couples are not the source of the vast majority of children conceived and born to us; same-sex couples are not, and cannot be, the normal way the next generation comes to be.

      I’m open to the possibility that there are other reasons for the State to be involved in romantic and/or sexual relationships; but at present, the only one I see is for the sake of the children.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Point taken. Apologies.

      “I do take strong exception to valuing my friend “some waif” who can’t support himself.”

  • FW Ken

    No problem. Now I have something to call him when I’m mad.