Coming Out (and at ‘em)

(UPDATE: It looks like some of you have questions about bisexuality.  Feel free to ask them in the comments and I’ll answer them in tomorrow’s post)

Today is National Coming Out Day (the link goes to Lambda Legal, not HRC, since Lambda puts donations to work on activism and HRC throws party for legislators without much to show for it). That makes today a good day to mention that I’m bisexual to any new readers I’ve picked up here at Patheos.

I mention it because, when you write a blog about theological disputes you have with your Catholic boyfriend, it takes a deliberate effort to not pass for straight. I want to be out about my sexuality for the same reasons I’m out about my atheism. In both cases, I’m part of a small demographic, so, if I’m not out and accessible, I lower the odds that people around me will know they know an atheist or a bisexual person. I don’t want stereotypes to fester in silence, I want to be available for dialogue. (Though I’m certainly not doing much to dispel any stereotypes of atheists as motormouths).

In that spirit, I want to open up a conversation about gay marriage on two specific questions. You can bring up other LGBT-related things in the comments, but I can’t guarantee I’ll address them, since I want to keep the conversation focused.

Question One is just a repeat of the question I asked in “Put Your Money Where Your Marriage Is.”

If you think the legalization of gay marriage will have severe negative effects, I want to hear from all of you about what specific data you expect. Tell me how you’ll make your beliefs pay rent. One caveat: I don’t want citations for research that’s been conducted. That’s going to derail everyone into methodological nitpicking. I want open ended brainstorming, not problems with anchoring effects and privileging the hypothesis.

The same caveats apply as last time: its fine to claim as evidence events that liberals don’t necessarily see as poor outcomes (increase in polyamory, more cohabitation, etc). All you have to do is explain what evidence you expect to see with enough detail that the prediction is testable. (So, “I predict that more children will be born out of wedlock” is better than “Children will be worse off”). Let us know if you think a prediction reflects your true rejection – if it doesn’t come true, would you reconsider your opposition?

But maybe your anticipated consequences don’t fit into an empirical model (e.g. “I predict more souls will go to Hell”).  Fortunately, you (and everyone else) can still take a crack at…

Question Two: If you think gay marriage is a bad idea, is your justification accessible to people outside your faith?

Some moral laws that religions promote seem like a good idea to pretty much everyone (e.g. “Thou shalt not kill”). But others only make sense if you’ve already accepted the basic premise of the religion. There’s no good way to convince a secular Jew to keep kashrut unless you can convince them that there’s a god who has chosen them and requires their obedience. So where on this spectrum would you put the gay marriage question?

If you’ve got it in the cloth-of-two-fabrics category, I don’t see that’s there’s any point in trying to sell heathens like me on the law before you’ve gotten us on board with a Lawgiver. If you’re more of a natural law type, perhaps you’d like to write a guest post.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Tardiff Mark

    The official Catholic position is that marriage as the union of man and woman is a natural reality that can be known by reason apart from any revelation. In fact, the Church holds that the marriage of two unbaptized persons, whether unbelievers or believers in another faith, is a true marriage since marriage arises from the nature of humanity itself. It is the duty of the state to protect this natural reality and to see that everything is done in good order, but the state does not have the authority to change the definition of marriage, since marriage is a natural reality which precedes any state.

    • http://twitter.com/blamer Blamer ..

      Though this doesn’t anticipate negative outcomes (1), it admits this reason is accessible only to Catholic citizens in Catholic states.

      • Tardiff Mark

        No, I do NOT admit that “this reason is accessible only to Catholic citizens in Catholic states;” in fact, I flatly deny it.

        Reason can understand that even the most simple societies have had throughout history, and still have, a structure of family—clan—tribe that is based on the reality of marriage as the union of man and woman. Reason can understand the biological basis of this organization, namely that only a man and a woman can, through their sexual relations, procreate a child. Reason can understand how this structure of pre-political society, as well as its universality as an organizing principle in all human societies of every time and place, points to the fact that it is a natural institution rooted in human nature. There is nothing particularly “Catholic” about any of these understandings.

        Rather, what needs explanation is why a sizable minority in Europe and North America have, in the late twentieth century, come to think that marriage could be anything else than what it has always and everywhere been. Those pushing for a change tend to explain the situation by saying that their opponents are ignorant bigots. Those pushing for a change, however, differ with the entire human race of earlier ages and just about the entire human race today. The only logical deduction is that those pushing for a change consider themselves to possess a wisdom and insight into marriage greater than just about the entire human race. Is that reasonable?

        Here I would like to return to the second question posed by Leah. In her formulation, it is aimed at those opposing the change in marriage laws. However, I think that it is important to apply it to both sides. If those pushing for a change consider themselves in fact to possess a greater wisdom and insight into marriage than just about the entire human race, how do they account for the common understanding of humanity in all times and places up to now? Do they have any arguments not based on prior commitments shared only by those who share their opinion?

        • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

          “…its universality as an organizing principle in all human societies of every time and place… points to the fact that it is a natural institution rooted in human nature. ”

          That’s a pretty audacious claim, Mark. Are you saying that every single human society ever has had not just monogamy, but marriage? I know for a fact that this is not a universally accepted view.

          There is no such thing as “the common understanding of humanity in all times and places up to now”. As I said in my earlier comment upthread, the definition of marriage has been evolving over time throughout society. It used to be a transfer of female property from father to husband, which is why polygamy is so common among high-status men in many cultures. Only fairly recently has marriage come instead to be viewed as a joining of equals by mutual consent. The movement for marriage equality is a natural outgrowth of that trend.

          • Tardiff Mark

            “Are you saying that every single human society ever has had not just monogamy, but marriage?”

            You lost me there. There is an assumption underlying your question that I’m not getting.
            I understand the opposite question: Are you saying that every single human society ever has had not just marriage, but monogamy? To this latter question I say: no, I’m not saying that.

            “I know for a fact that this is not a universally accepted view.”

            No doubt it is not a universally accepted view. I never thought otherwise.
            I read the article you linked, and I think that his case is weak especially when he talks about human societies before the invention of agriculture. All of we have of those societies are some bits and pieces, some fragments, none of which documents the relations between the sexes in those early societies. In other words, he is imaginatively extrapolating from what little we know. It is a speculation not rising even the level of a scientific hypothesis.

            “Only fairly recently has marriage come instead to be viewed as a joining of equals by mutual consent.”

            Yes, I would agree, if by “fairly recently” you are thinking in terms of the history of the human race. At any rate, while the shift has no doubt affected the way people look at marriage, it has not touched the basic structure of marriage in the least. In that sense, it is not an evolution in the definition of marriage.

            “The movement for marriage equality is a natural outgrowth of that trend.”

            I disagree.
            Even the shift in the way of looking at marriage that you referenced took place over centuries, and it built upon elements already there. Arranged marriages have been the norm in many societies throughout history, but even then not a few couples have come to love each other deeply.
            New York’s recent change in marriage law, on the other hand, would have been a surprise to people even 30 years ago and unimaginable to people 60 years ago. At that time not even gays wanted that change, because they preferred a freer lifestyle to being tied into an institution. Radical change in a short period of time without much precedence is more properly called a “revolution” and not an “evolution.”

            The natural growth I see is from the disintegration of marriage. With the sexual revolution, no fault divorce, and the advance of a therapeutic culture, children kept getting pushed more and more into the background as adults more and more sought self fulfillment in marriage. Divorce rates soared and fatherlessness increased, with many harmful personal and social effects. The emphasis on personal fulfillment laid the ground for the push to reduce marriage to the state recognition of a significant interpersonal sexual relationship.

        • http://www.amptoons.com/blog Ampersand

          “Rather, what needs explanation is why a sizable minority in Europe and North America have, in the late twentieth century, come to think that marriage could be anything else than what it has always and everywhere been. ”

          By this logic, no change would ever be justifiable. How dare a small minority of people think that democracy with full suffrage is the right form of government! After, at one time, 100% of humanity had lived without democracy for all of human history.

          Nor is there such a thing as marriage that “has always and everywhere been” the same thing. At one time marriage was a financial arrangement joining two extended families into kin; now it’s mostly a self-chosen arrangement based on love and desire. You might say that’s not “an evolution in the definition of marriage,” but for most of history, the large majority of humans would have found that to be a radical change. Who are you to say they’re wrong?

          I say it’s disgusting to marry a 10-year-old girl to an adult male, and furthermore it’s not something I recognize as a valid marriage. My conception of marriage requires consent, of the sort a child cannot give. Many humans (perhaps most) throughout history would disagree with me; non-consensual marriage (child brides, war brides, etc) is a feature of most cultures in history, as far as I can tell. Is it wrong of me to disagree with so many people who have come before me?

          • Tardiff Mark

            “By this logic, no change would ever be justifiable.”

            My argument is that marriage is a pre-political natural institution rooted in human nature and biology. The argument is narrowly confined to the nature of marriage, so nothing that I assert can be applied to other social institutions.

            “Who are you to say they’re wrong?”

            Differences in how people look at something, or how they feel about it—however profound these differences are—are not a difference in the structure of something. In addition, I doubt that the large majority of humans are even that aware of the difference. Unless someone lives in an age where the way people look at marriage is in transition, they tend to accept what they grow up with.
            I share your dislike of “child brides, war brides” and other failings in the respect for human persons in the practice of marriage. However, the structure remains the same: union of man and woman, with the expectation of children.

          • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

            “My argument is that marriage is a pre-political natural institution rooted in human nature and biology.”

            Legal marriage is by definition not pre-political, and is a social institution.

        • http://twitter.com/blamer @b

          >>the state does not have the authority to change the definition of marriage

          Only if the state is a Catholic state. In your state and mine, the government DOES have the authority of the electorate to change its Marriage Act which is binding on all citizens (irregardless their personal beliefs about reason, nature, marriage, what their Church holds, and official Catholic positions).

    • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

      How does this view accommodate the fact that marriage has already been “redefined” within the pages of the Bible itself, from permitting polygamy to allowing only monogamy?

      • Tardiff Mark

        What we actually see in the Bible is that in the Old Testament polygamy was allowed and in the New Testament it is no longer practiced. I know of no specific point where the change was introduced, let alone explained.

        My observations above range over all human societies over all ages. For that reason I deliberately wrote “marriage as a union of man and woman,” without specifying the numbers. When I studied cultural anthropology in college, we learned how common polygamy is (polyandry much less so). In polygamous societies, chief “otoko” (usually only those more powerful or more wealthy can afford polygamy) can have wife “onna” and wife “mulier” and maybe others besides, but “onna” and “mulier” are NOT married to each other. So polygamy is still an example of marriage understood as the union of man and woman, the difference being that instead of one marriage you have two or more marriages, all of them being man–woman.

        For what it’s worth, if our civil laws on marriage are going to be changed, I consider polygamy to be a LESS radical change. The only reason I can see why it is still more controversial is that the polygamists have much less political clout.

        • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

          “I know of no specific point where the change was introduced, let alone explained.”

          Nor do I. Nevertheless, it’s obvious that the Old Testament authors saw no problem with polygamy, while by the time of the New Testament, attitudes had shifted. This is just one example of how marriage, far from being a universal and immutable tradition of humanity, is a societal custom whose meaning and purpose has evolved over time.

          “So polygamy is still an example of marriage understood as the union of man and woman, the difference being that instead of one marriage you have two or more marriages, all of them being man–woman.”

          You’re close, Mark, but not quite there. The reason women in a polygamous marriage aren’t married to each other is because, in those societies, women are considered property and men are the property owners; marriage is viewed as a transfer of title from father to husband. Wealthy and powerful men can own multiple wives as a show of status, just as they might own multiple plots of land or multiple herds of livestock. Even the Bible unintentionally testifies to this view when it lists wives along with servants, oxen, donkeys, and other possessions of one’s neighbor whom the Israelites are commanded not to covet.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

            The coveting isn’t the give away. Its when minimally pubescent virgin girls are listed alongside cattle and gold as war booty, and distributed to the soldiers for “use.” Its worth remembering that, alongside polygamy, institutionalized pedophilic rape was also “permitted” in Old Testament times. This is relevant to conversations on the alleged universality of human sexual norms.

  • Joe

    Leah–As a bisexual is it easier for you to see that sexual orientation is changeable? I would imagine that a bisexual could become more attracted to one gender while they are dating that gender but then become more attracted to the opposite gender when they are in a different relationship. Maybe thats not how it works? But it seems that the existence of Bisexual people could be proof that sexual orientation could change. Also the fact that many prisoners while heterosexual in the world develop homosexual attraction might be evidential as well(or is that just a myth?). Why is it anathema to think that some homosexuals could benefit from reparative therapy?

    • eli

      If you’re proposing that everyone is bisexual, then this would make sense. Then people could simply choose which attractions they wanted to act upon. But if you think that only some people are bisexual, then that fact doesn’t have much to do with whether or not homosexual people could choose to be heterosexual, or vice versa. From personal experience, I can tell you that I’m definitely not bisexual. From your post, i’m guessing that you’re heterosexual. Do you think you could become attracted to men if you wanted to? That might help to answer your question.

      • Joe

        No I don’t think I could become attracted to men if I wanted to. However given the right situation who knows? Im sure most men and women don’t go to prison planing on getting wrapped up in a homosexual relationship, but then some do. The fact that this sometimes happens seems to show that sexual orientation could be changeable . Just because the two of us don’t think we could change our personal sexual orientation I don’t see why we can rule it out for everyone.

        • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

          Important note: “Sexual orientation is changeable”, even if true, does not imply “Sexual orientation is a choice”.

        • Anonymous

          I think prison is a bad example. First of all, a significant proportion of prisoner-prisoner sex is rape, which had much more to do with dominance, power, and prison hierarchy than sexual attraction. They rape men because they are imprisoned with men — it’s a form of assault, not affection.

          Straight men may have mutually consensual same-sex congress in prison, but I would put it closer to masturbation than a real homosexual orientation. If they’re doing it only because no women are available, it seems like they’re just using the other man as a masturbatory aid, not treating him as an end-in-himself.

  • FCCG

    I know that Leah is asking for hard data, but I must confess that I do not know of any good data on the subject. I am not even sure data is a good measure of ideas in this type discussion. I tend to think that social issues may influence how people think, and thus much of the impact of this issue could be felt in an area that may never even be know. Plus this issue is as much about ideology as it is about concrete consequences. I may take away Alex’s ability to commit murder (a good thing), but if I take his soul to achieve that end, it may not be worth it. I do have a question for Leah, but first I’ll give a few brief statements about my thinking to put my question in context.
    I am in a tough situation. As a libertarian, I am skeptical of necessity of having the state involved in marriage at all. As a Catholic, on a real level gay marriage will never exist for me in a very real sense. I do see an equal protection problem with limiting marriage to heterosexuals, but I am far from convinced that gay marriage is the best solution, but it might be. Aside from my political beliefs I am worried that trends in marriage over the past decades have made marriage more about desire than commitment. This means that it is ok to end marriage as soon as one side starts to feel a little down. There are greater implications here for what I see as a growing propensity for people to be selfish, which of course I dislike. Gay marriage only seems to exacerbate these problems.
    So here’s my question for Leah; considering how she introduced the topic I couldn’t help but ask. One of the reasons I have been more skeptical of the gay marriage crown than I might otherwise be (considering my political views) is what I see as a refusal to take their own arguments to their logical conclusion. The area where this comes up the most is concerning polygamy. I have not heard an argument for gay marriage that should not seem to apply to polygamy. But not only does gay marriage crowd not argue for all “alternative” family structures, but they usually react vehemently against any suggestion that the two issues should be in the same conversation. So my question is this…how does the bisexual fit into this conversation? Many arguments for gay marriage suggest that you should be able to marry whoever will satisfy your inborn sexuality. If that is true, the bisexual should be allowed to marry at least one man and one woman. And if we allow this, how do we not allow traditional heterosexual modes of polygamy; what do we say to my friend who is convinced that polyamory is an orientation unto itself? I believe that at least one country in Europe has already gone done this road (I think it was Holland, which I think I read allowed a three way marriage for precisely this reason). So why aren’t the bisexuals arguing for full fulfillment as well?

    • http://twitter.com/blamer Blamer ..

      Simple, polygamy is more contraversial than same-sex marriage. Decriminalising one thing doesn’t necessitate decriminalising other things.

      • FCCG

        You are right, at least in the United States. Now tell me why it should be that you are right…because in many places in the world, polygamy is not only non-controversial, it is thoroughly accepted. Even the president of the more or less Westernized South Africa is a polygamist.

        You are right that decriminalizing one thing does not mean you have decriminalize other things. However if you use a mode of reasoning to do it which applies to those other things…you should. Or you need to admit to some type of intellectual dishonesty.

        • http://twitter.com/blamer @b

          >>why it should be that you are right

          We’re right as in ethically justified because our agreement about polygamy is explicitly a value judgement. Not a factual claim.

          >> if you use a mode of reasoning…
          >>…Or you need to admit to some type of intellectual dishonesty

          Only if you value logical consistency, more than you value voting on changes to individual laws.

  • wineinthewater

    I think my answer really answers both #1 and #2:

    I would recast this somewhat. I think that the core issue is whether or not the state has the right to redefine marriage at all. Same-sex marriage is not some catastrophic danger to marriage, but rather represents another intrusion of the state into marriage. State interference in the societal institution of marriage is the “catastrophic danger.” Unfortunately, and for various good and bad reasons, same-sex marriage is an intrusion that finally got the wide-spread dander up.

    Marriage is an essential aspect keeping our society stable and healthy (there may be other societal models where that is not the case, but we don’t live in one of those models). Lowering the bar for entry to and exit from marriage, especially no-fault divorce, did more damage to the institution of marriage than same-sex marriage ever could. The state has already done quite a bit to reorient the core meaning of marriage away from the creation and upbringing of children and toward the sexual and romantic relationships of adults. Doing so has destabilized the essential institution of marriage in our country and our country is suffering because of it. The effort to redefine it further may not do as much damage as something like no-fault divorce, but it is based on this fundamental redefinition, and it is the fundamental redefinition that is the problem.

    There are all kinds of rights issues around marriage. Consenting sexual acts should not be criminalized. We have a freedom of association that the state should not infringe. There are issues of parental rights. But having the state endorse your romantic relationship is not a right, having the state affirm (and force its population to affirm) your sexual proclivities is not a right. If we have come to the point where the privileges afforded traditional marriage have become too much like rights, or that state-endorsed marriage has been over-used as a legal solution to problems (inheritance, medical decisions for the incapacitated, joint ownership, etc.), then those are the problems that need to be addressed. If the state has created a problem, then it should fix the root cause of that problem, not force a societal institution to be remade.

    • http://twitter.com/blamer Blamer ..

      Leah unties these two strands of marriage in her last post, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2011/10/retronymic-marriage/

      In modern society “married” indicates (yes profound adult love and community recognition and) a status of commitment as seen by the State. The word no longer means an everlasting holy matrimony recognised by a local religious group.

      Modern society’s ought to adjust marriage laws to treat their citizens as equals, regardless of the traditions they’re voluntarily adhering to.

      • wineinthewater

        I’m fine with society changing, my problem is with the state enforcing a change on society. I get more into it in my comment below to Leah.

    • Anonymous

      Blamer’s pretty much beat me to the punch. As long as marriage is administered by the state, there should be a compelling societal interest before the state can cut people off from it. I don’t believe gay marriage poses a dangerous risk.

      And re no fault divorce: you may want to check out the study linked in my review of Marriage, a History that found that no-fault divorce lowered incidence of domestic assault and suicide. I’d agree that no-fault divorce undermines the ideal of marriage as covenant, but, given the damage that’s already been done, I’m not sure the marginal ideological harm of no-fault outweighs the physical harm it alleviates.

      • wineinthewater

        See that’s my point, it may appear that the state administers marriage, but the fact that the state is trying to be the administer of marriage is the problem. The state does not have the right to be the administer of marriage. The state doesn’t have the right to say that same sex couples can be married any more than it has the right to say they can’t.

        There are really two questions here: 1) Does the state have the right to redefine marriage; and 2) Is redefining marriage to include same-sex couples good or bad.

        So far, all my arguments have really been about #1. If the state wants to stop pretending that it offers marriage when it really only offers default contract arrangements and negotiation, then it can monkey with the details all it wants. I think we already have ample evidence that state interference in the administration of marriage has proven to be deleterious to marriage. Whether or not gay marriage poses a dangerous risk (which is really #2), imposing it by governmental fiat requires the kind of state interference that does pose a danger to marriage.

        That no-fault divorce served as a pressure release for another societal ill does not make it a good thing, nor overshadow the damage it has done. I don’t think that harm has been marginal, but widespread and disastrous. Amputating an arm with a tumor may be an effective way to get rid of the cancer, but that doesn’t make amputation a good thing.

      • Iota

        Brief thought:

        “As long as marriage is administered by the state, there should be a compelling societal interest before the state can cut people off from it”

        I find that part fascinating, since I would intuitively argue exactly in reverse – that when the state wants to grant any administrative/legal privileges (and I consider the legal benefits of marriage privileges), it should only do so when there is “compelling societal interest” to give such benefits.

  • Chana

    Just want to point out that some Secular Jews do keep kashrut, for their own personal reasons of tradition or community or civilization. But it certainly doesn’t detract from your point :)

  • Sam Urfer

    I think the issue at core is that the definition of marriage has changed for *some* people in our culture, but not for others, and this only became apparent once there was a movement to change things at a civil level. Frankly, the experiment of government marriage appears to be a failure, and the only logical move is to take marriage back from the state and put it back where it belongs – with people and their local communities.

  • Loksman1

    Sorry, this will be a bit lengthy.

    To answer Leah’s Question #1: As someone in the comments above me pointed out, the dangers I am worried about are posed not by individual married gay people, but by the kind of view of marriage and sex that makes gay marriage logical or desirable. The characteristics of this view are as follows:

    1) The purpose of marriage is to express romantic love and ensure the fulfillment of adults; the validity and goodness of a marriage depend on how much romantic love and sexual fulfillment the people in it feel at a given time. (Alternative view: The purpose of marriage is to create a stable, societally supported commitment between a man and a woman that creates an optimal environment for any children they may produce, and for supporting one another both through good times and through hardship, illness, and old age.)

    2) Children benefit primarily from being wanted and loved by stable adults; the gender and biological relationship of these adults to the child is less important. (Alternative view: Children have a profound psychological need to be with their own biological parents. It does not matter to a child whether or not he or she is wanted; it matters whether or not they grow up in a unified family, with a clear sense of where they come from, and with the knowledge that those who birthed them are taking care of them.)

    If this view is given further social legitimacy by the legalization of gay marriage, some of the consequences will be an exacerbation of those we already see as a result of the facilitation of divorce (particularly no-fault divorce) – which relies on the same assumptions:

    1) Increased rates of children born out of wedlock, as parents are increasingly skeptical about the institution of marriage. Studies show that children born out of wedlock are dramatically more likely to see their parents split up by the age of 5 than children of married parents. Some “sub-consequences” of this are:

    a. Increased rates of incarceration, teenage pregnancy, school dropout, and economic dependency – all social phenomena linked to being raised by a single parent, especially a single mother.

    b. Increased economic burden on women, who constitute the majority of single parents of children born out of wedlock; and increased social isolation of men, leading to greater unemployment, crime, and economic dependency.

    2) Further decline in national fertility, as adults are increasingly focused on personal and sexual fulfillment. This, in turn, leads to dire economic consequences, as can be seen in the case of Japan, Italy, and other developed countries.

    Some additional consequences, particular to gay marriage:

    3) Increased numbers of children conceived through artificial means and/or separated from their birth parents, as gay couples seem increasingly interested in having their “own” children rather than adopting. Studies show that children born of donors suffer from many psychological problems, long to know their biological fathers, and feel a deep discomfort about the history of their conception.

    4) Legalization of polyamory, polygamy, and other currently fringe sexual arrangements. Note that organizations of polyamorists and polygamists, here and in Canada, have already begun demanding legalization based on arguments borrowed from the gay rights movement.

    Especially with items 1 and 2, I hope it’s clear that I don’t mean to imply that all of this will happen immediately the minute that a few gay men and women tie the knot. What will lead – and is already leading – to all of this is a certain understanding of the purpose of marriage, love, and sex. Legalizing gay marriage will make this understanding even harder to reverse than it is now, and will accelerate its consequences.

    • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

      “1) The purpose of marriage is to express romantic love and ensure the fulfillment of adults; the validity and goodness of a marriage depend on how much romantic love and sexual fulfillment the people in it feel at a given time. (Alternative view: The purpose of marriage is to create a stable, societally supported commitment between a man and a woman that creates an optimal environment for any children they may produce, and for supporting one another both through good times and through hardship, illness, and old age.)”

      Those aren’t the only two possibilities, though. Try this alternative: The purpose of marriage is to create family units. For instance, when my husband and I married, we created a family unit that consisted of the two of us, and we also created an extended family unit consisting of both of our families of origin. We all have social obligations to each other and provide support for each other in varying ways. This structure has value in itself, regardless of whether the couple then adds to the family by having or adopting children. And the creation of family units is certainly possible for same-sex couples. In our culture, we do base the decision of whether and with whom to create a family unit on romantic love, but that doesn’t mean it is the only thing that’s important about the marriage. Furthermore, I’ve never seen a marriage equality proponent argue that it is; they just want the option to be able to create a family unit with someone for whom they feel romantic love.

      As for your point 2, the alternative views there are testable. In the Prop 8 trial, for instance, the opponents of same-sex marriage were unable to back up their assertion that being raised by a same-sex couple is bad for kids.

      • Loksman1

        @TooManyJens – I certainly agree with you that a family unit has value whether or not children are involved – but then again, I also think that the living together of two people who love each other also has value. The question is not what social structures have value. The question is, why do we have marriage, and the answer to that question – in the “alternative” view I attempted to delineate in parentheses – has to do with what happens to the children that naturally result (and, from society’s point of view, should result; we need fertility to sustain the economy and many other things) from relations between men and women. “Marriage” is something society invented – long before Judeo-Christian religion, incidentally – in order to ensure that children would be raised by their biological parents, and more specifically to ensure that fathers made life-long commitments to support (financially, emotionally, etc.) their children and the mothers of those children. Certainly marriage has other valuable properties that can and should be enjoyed whether or not children are involved. But the definition of marriage, and the reason that it is an institution rather than a private arrangement, has to do with this.

        (I’m anticipating comments to the effect of “but what about sterile couples”… happy to go there if we have to go there, but trying to keep this shorter.)

        • Loksman1

          @TooManyJens – As for your second point – it’s true that (to my limited knowledge) there are no studies that show conclusively that being adopted by a heterosexual vs. a homosexual couple makes a difference for a child, controlling for other factors (none show the opposite, however). The real question for the future, it seems to me, is going to be not about adopted children (who, we can probably all agree, are clearly better off with a loving set of gay parents than in foster care), but about the growing population of children conceived in a variety of artificial ways by gay couples wishing to raise their “own” child. These children, by definition, are deprived of a chance to be raised by their biological parents. And there are, in fact, studies of “donor babies”, showing that they would rather not be raised that way.

          • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

            “And there are, in fact, studies of “donor babies”, showing that they would rather not be raised that way. ”

            I find it plausible that people would be disturbed by being the offspring of anonymous donors. It’s worth gathering evidence and having a discussion of the ethics of that practice. I think those “My daddy’s name is Donor” shirts are gross. They seem to deny the personhood of the biological father — and if your father isn’t a person, what are you? That’s a hell of a thing to put on a kid.

        • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

          “”Marriage” is something society invented – long before Judeo-Christian religion, incidentally – in order to ensure that children would be raised by their biological parents, and more specifically to ensure that fathers made life-long commitments to support (financially, emotionally, etc.) their children and the mothers of those children.”

          On the contrary, Western marriage law has historically had very little to do with tender feelings about children’s need or desire to be raised by their biological parents and much more to do with inheritance and with men’s property rights in their wives and children. Your notion of why we have marriage *as an institution* is a relatively recent idea.

          Anyway, I wasn’t arguing about how marriage has always been defined (in many changing ways, in reality), but about how we think about it today. I often see marriage equality opponents putting forth the false dichotomy you presented in point 1. I’m just trying to point out that it is, in fact, false.

          Every argument I’ve heard for why sterile heterosexual couples should be allowed to marry if marriage is all about procreation has been staggeringly weak, but if you have something better than “well, they have the same kind of sex as couples who procreate, so it still honors the true purpose of marriage” or “there could be a miracle,” then I’m all ears.

          • http://www.amptoons.com/blog Barry Deutsch

            There are many functions marriage serves that benefit the state. Married people are healthier (saving the state money), less likely to be on welfare (ditto), provide a stable environment for raising children (which many same-sex couples are doing), earn more (increasing the tax base), etc etc.. Also, marriage is the government’s primary legal method of allowing citizens to choose someone to be their closest kin in the world; this in turn is essential to medical care, inheritance, etc., all of which the government is not only legitimately involved in, but is inevitably involved in.

            Also, you’ve got the burden of proof backwards. It’s not up to same-sex couples to argue that equal legal treatment would benefit the state. It’s up to the state to argue that the state has such a compelling legal interest at stake here that it overrides the constitutional right of same-sex couples to equal treatment.

        • http://profiles.google.com/barry.deutsch Barry Deutsch

          You set up the initial argument as a conflict between two statements beginning “the purpose of marriage is.” I think that’s already making a major mistake; it seems obvious that marriage serves more than one purpose in our society. (And probably all societies).

          I certainly agree that one purpose of marriage is to facilitate childrearing. But there’s no reason to say that’s the only reason why we have marriage. The fact that (heterosexual) couples — even those that deliberately have their tubes tied — are allowed to marry shows that our society recognizes and values marriages for reasons in addition to childrearing.

          (Well anticipated! :-p )

          If we had to pick just one purpose for marriage — and we don’t — then TooManyJens suggestion makes more sense than yours, because it’s more universal. Not all married couples have children, but all married couples are family.

          Regarding the studies you’ve nodded towards — of donor-conceived children and of no-fault divorce — the studies I’ve seen don’t support your view. But the original post requested that we avoid arguing over studies, so we probably shouldn’t get into that.

          • Loksman1

            @TooManyJens and @Anonymous – two points:

            1) Sterile heterosexual couples. As I see it, the main reason the state allows them to marry is simply because it would take too much effort (and would be far too heavy-handed) to test couples for fertility before issuing a marriage license. Also, yes, “miracles” do happen (I know some – it’s usually less of a miracle than a lifestyle and diet change, plus we have excellent fertility treatments today), and people’s intentions do change. Besides, sterile couples can adopt children, still providing a gendered parenting arrangement for them. The overall point is that sterile and elderly couples are exceptions, but they are minor exceptions (and sometimes turn out not to be exceptions after all), and they are similar enough to the rule – externally and also yes, in the kind of sex they have – that there is no need to redefine marriage in order for them to “sneak in.”

            2) Yes, it’s true that “making a family” as a purpose of marriage applies to more married people than “making babies.” And it’s also true that marriage has more than one purpose. The question, again, is – what is a purpose of marriage that necessitates (or at least justifies) the involvement of the state? There is no reason for society at large, represented by the state, to care whether people make families, practice romantic love in monogamous arrangements, etc. There *is* a reason for society at large to care whether and how babies are raised, because those babies are society’s future workers, taxpayers, and soldiers – and also society’s future criminals and dependents.

            If that seems cynical, that’s because the whole idea of state involvement in marriage is somewhat cynical. In a perfect pluralistic world, the state wouldn’t be involved in the relationships between men and women at all. But if it’s going to be involved, that should be for a principled reason.

          • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

            “There is no reason for society at large, represented by the state, to care whether people make families, practice romantic love in monogamous arrangements, etc. ”

            No reason? Are you sure? There are no social benefits to stable family formation, even if not all of the families procreate?

  • Tardiff Mark

    We ran out of replies, so I have to start again.

    TooManyJens quotes what I wrote:
    “My argument is that marriage is a pre-political natural institution rooted in human nature and biology.”

    and replies:
    Legal marriage is by definition not pre-political, and is a social institution.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2011/10/coming-out-and-at-em.html#comment-3826

    I reply:
    Obviously, marriage existed for millennia, also as a social institution, before any laws were created to regulate it. TooManyJens’ point is that “legal marriage” (or “civil marriage” which is usually used in the same sense) did not come into existence until societies developed legal institutions, which is also obviously true. In fact, this is one of the premises of the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision of 2003: “We begin by considering the nature of civil marriage itself. Simply put, the government creates civil marriage.” Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health, 2003
    http://www.mass.gov/courts/courtsandjudges/courts/supremejudicialcourt/goodridge.html

    However, this does not invalidate my argument, but shifts the ground to a deeper philosophical question: is law related to anything outside of law? The view that “the government creates civil marriage” is an expression of the philosophical view known as legal positivism, the view that laws are NOT related to anything outside themselves. In this case, the Goodridge court used the legal positivistic reading of marriage law to assert that the government created civil marriage and so the government can change it any way it wants, without the social or natural institution of marriage putting any restraints on what the government can decree.

    Legal positivism is crucial for arguments proposing to change the definition of marriage, as the Goodridge case shows. To be consistent, however, proponents should not protest if a Federal Marriage Amendment is ever passed. If marriage is whatever the law says it is, then if the law says that marriage is only between a man and a woman, then that is what marriage is, and questions of justice and injustice simply do not apply.

    • http://www.amptoons.com/blog Barry Deutsch

      You’re mistaken. To be consistent, proponents of marriage equality only need to avoid objecting to a Federal Marriage Amendment on the basis of a claim that same-sex marriage is a non-government institution that the government has no right to mess with. We are free, however, to object to such an amendment on other grounds (such as fairness and justice), without being inconsistent.

      I don’t deny that the U.S. has a legal right to amend the constitution to exclude same-sex couples from marriage, or that the U.S. is unable to change the law in that way. I merely argue that we shouldn’t amend the Constitution in that way, because to do so would be wrong.

      • Tardiff Mark

        “We are free, however, to object to such an amendment on other grounds (such as fairness and justice), without being inconsistent.”

        I see at least two problems with avoiding inconsistency in this case.
        (1) Appealing to fairness or justice as a ground for objecting to a Constitutional amendment implies that the amendment should conform to some standard outside the law itself. In that case, what is this “fairness and justice” that is being referred to? I can point to many historical variations in the practice of justice throughout the centuries. Doesn’t that mean that there is an evolving definition of justice, and no one standard that we can appeal to?

        (2) A charge of inconsistency might be able to be avoided if you have a principled argument for why, in the case of the institution of marriage, the law should not have any reference to anything outside itself by which the law can be judged, while at the same time a Federal Marriage Amendment should be judged by standards of “fairness and justice” outside of the amendment itself.

  • http://www.amptoons.com/blog Barry Deutsch

    “My argument is that marriage is a pre-political natural institution rooted in human nature and biology.”

    I don’t think it makes any sense to say that a piece of legislation is rooted in “human nature and biology”; that’s just saying “because God says so” while avoiding using the G-word. It’s human nature that women but not men get pregnant, and we know that because 100% of all humans to get pregnant have been in some sense biologically female. It’s human nature for men (on average) to be taller than women (on average), and I know that because that’s been true of 100% of human cultures.

    In contrast, there is no single marriage law that’s true of all cultures. Some cultures have child brides, some have arranged marriages, some have multiple marriages, some have serial marriages, and yes, some have same-sex marriages.

    * * *

    It’s special pleading to say that all of the other important changes in marriage have just been changes to marriage, but not to the “structure” of marriage. 100 years ago, saying that men and women should be equal within a marriage, including equal property rights, would have been said to be a change in the basic structure of marriage. Now you’d claim that’s not a change to the structure. But there’s no reason to think that property rights were not at one time part of the structure of marriage.

    You’re trying to special plead your way out of letting your ideas being examined logically. “Oh, my logic doesn’t have to make sense in any other area, because it’s narrowly confined to marriage.” “Oh, my logic about changing marriage doesn’t have to make sense when talking about other changes to marriage, because I’m only talking about basic structure.” The result of all that special pleading is that your views are logically incoherent.

    • Tardiff Mark

      “I don’t think it makes any sense to say that a piece of legislation is rooted in ‘human nature and biology’; that’s just saying ‘because God says so’ while avoiding using the G-word.”

      I used the term marriage in the broader sense, not the sense of civil or legal marriage, so it is not a “piece of legislation” that is rooted in human nature and biology, but the institution itself, men and women marrying and raising a family.
      Faith is not needed to understand that only sexual relations between a man and a woman can produce a child (apart from some extraordinary biotechnological interventions). Faith is not needed to understand that family—clan—tribe was an organizing principle of society before anything like a legal system or a government was created.

      “It’s special pleading to say that all of the other important changes in marriage have just been changes to marriage, but not to the “structure” of marriage.”

      The pagan philosopher Aristotle, writing centuries before Christ, distinguished between “essential change,” a change in the nature of something, and “accidental change,” which changes some aspect of something. Yes, I say that something like equal property rights for spouses is an accidental change and not an essential one. Of course, this position rests on the further argument that things have a nature and that it is possible to know that nature, at least in part.

      “You’re trying to special plead your way out of letting your ideas being examined logically.”

      Special pleading occurs when someone makes an unprincipled exception for the argument he is making in the context of a larger issue. The larger issue here seems to be the relation of change in social institutions to their definition. The exception I am making is a principled one, based on Aristotle’s distinction between essential and accidental change. It is necessary to disprove this distinction before the charge of special pleading can be made to stick.
      As for what other areas the same logic should be applied to, I would point to social institutions such as food gathering and consumption and religious rites. Studies in cultural anthropology have shown that these elements are, like the institution of marriage, basic to all societies even at a simple level before they develop any form of government or legal system. Ampersand’s example of change in government is not at the same level, so there is no special pleading involved in not applying the same logic to it.

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