Marriage Q&A

Now that the gay marriage debate with Matt has come to an end, I’d like to give you commenters a chance to ask me any questions about my position on marriage and its ties to tradition and the State.  Basically the same thing we did after the post on bisexuality.  I can’t promise I’ll get to all of them, but I can guarantee I’m not going to be able to pick all of the questions addressed to me (as opposed to other commenters or hypothetical, possibly-made-of-straw atheists) out of the growing comment threads.

So here are the rules:

Only questions you want me to answer should be posted as comments to this entry.  It’s fine to post non-questions or questions for commenters as replies to questions, but they can’t be original posts.  This will make it a lot easier for me to find the things you actually want me to address.

Questions should be primarily related to marriage. Yes, “Why do you think some things are better than others?” technically has a bearing on marriage, but c’mon.  This is a look-at-the-results-of-my-metaphysics prompt.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. 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."

  • deiseach

    What do you think is the purpose of marriage?

    (I would like both sides or however many sides there are in this quarrel to state their idea of the function of marriage, so that we could clear the ground and know exactly why we’re chopping off each other’s heads.)

  • Lukas

    When men and women have sex, children sometimes result. The government has an interest in ensuring that when children do result, the father is bound to the mother. The husband-wife bond ensures the father-child bond… when the man is not committed to the woman, it is vastly less likely that he will take an active role in caring for his children. Because of this, the state has an interest in encouraging the husband-wife bond. But no such issue exists for gays, and hence the state does not have the same interest in the preservation of homosexual relationships. Thoughts?

    In your post, you said that marriage laws exist, “because the law is trying to make adjustments for the fact that some non-blood relative is now your family.” But the same can be said about adoption. So marriage goes beyond just making a person a member of your family. So is what differentiates the marital bond? Romance? Interest in having children?

    • Kogo

      *Because of this, the state has an interest in encouraging the husband-wife bond.*

      Can you actually cite a law, constitutional clause or government document that upholds this? Not a philosophy book or quote by a politician or a non-binding ‘State of Arksansas Declares March to Be Traditional Marriage Month’ but any actual, honest-to-goodness legislative act that states that ‘this is the purpose of marriage–to encourage the husband-wife bond’?

      ‘Cause I don’t think it exists. This argument seems of exceedingly recent vintage and shoddy manufacture: Something quickly made up post-facto to rule out the possibility of gay marriage on grounds it was never defended before.

      • keddaw

        And has there ever been a concerted effort to work out, scientifically, the best way to rear children. I seem to recall boarding school being incredibly popular (and some would say successful) in certain countries, esp. the UK.

        If we found taking the children from the parents and having a state education system with no (biological) parental contact resulted in the optimal outcomes overall for children would Lukas go along with it? I doubt it.

      • Lukas

        This discusses the way the court has handled marriage prior to the gay marriage issue: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/12/4397

  • Lukas

    One more thing – I’ve been thinking about the, ‘what about women who get married after menopause’ question. The objection can be phrased like this – “Some homosexual couples choose to adopt. Some older or infertile couples do not have children. So, you can’t argue that marriage is oriented towards child rearing since you’re excluding some child-rearers and including some non child-rearers.” I think this is the biggest complicating factor in the case against gay marriage. I think I want to say that the response can go in two directions – pragmatic or teleological. On the more pragmatic basis, I think it is worth pointing out that the gov’t can’t be in the business of testing fertility, and that men can be fertile until very late in life. Also, it is important to note that although men’s fertility declines, it doesn’t completely vanish. A man who marries a post-menopausal woman is still doing a good thing by channeling his sexual desires to his wife rather than another (potentially fertile) woman he is not married to. Sexual fidelity is less important for same-sex relationships, b/c pregnancy is impossible. So, marriage is society’s way of recognizing the importance of fidelity in opposite sex relationships.

    I guess this is one of those questions-can-be-speeches time of questions. But I didn’t think Matt’s posts really addressed the core issue.

    • Tex

      So the message I got from you was that sexual fidelity in a relationship is not important (OK maybe to be fair you intended less important) in a homosexual relationship as opposed to a heterosexual relationship because gays cant get pregnant?

      Ive got some big issues w/ that since STIs can be kind of a big deal and seeing the effect AIDS/HIV has had on the country Id say the government has an interest in giving incentives for committed relationships in both straight and gay couples. Also your kind of ignoring half the gay marriage issue w/ “since gays cant get pregnant” seeing as how lesbians are perfectly capable of finding a sperm donor and having a child. So why does the government not have an interest in ensuring that lesbian couple is in a stable committed relationship by allowing them to marry when you say the government does have an interest if it were a heterosexual couple?

      • Lukas

        Although gays can get pregnant, gay sex cannot make you pregnant.

        I cannot prove this, but I think it is reasonable to assume that children will do better with a mother and father than with two moms or two dads – other things being equal… obviously a well-adjusted gay couple would be better than an abusive hetero couple.

        You are right that the government has an interest in preventing the spread of STDs, and that marriage can be a part of that effort.

        • Kogo

          *I cannot prove this, but I think it is reasonable to assume that children will do better with a mother and father than with two moms or two dads…*

          If you can’t prove it then your assumption is not reasonable.

          I, on the other hand, CAN cite proof that lesbians at least, are statistically better parents than heterosexuals:

          http://www.nllfs.org/

          And never mind the fact that the precise well-being of children–absent parental abuse or juvenile delinquency–is not any concern of the state.

          And also never mind that ‘fertility testing for marriage’ seems like something that wouldn’t be ‘pragmatic’ even if it were legal.

          And also never mind that gay people don’t turn straight if you make their lives more bureaucratically complicated.

          Just never mind. Why do I fucking even come to this site? Why do I even fucking talk to christians?

          • Lukas

            “If you can’t prove it then your assumption is not reasonable.”
            Please prove this.

  • keddaw

    Why does the person you want to tie yourself to in order to force/encourage/incentivise you to be ‘good’ have to be the person you’re having sex with?

    Why can’t I leave my medical decisions to a good friend who has no financial incentive to see me dead (just sayin’) and has some medical knowledge (i.e. a doctor) rather than a life companion and sexual partner?

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

    I’ve condensed the second argument posited into this, what I tentatively call a proof, and I would appreciate your input. My goal to show that there is definitionally no parity between marriage unqualified, here condensed as MU, and same-sex marriage, here condensed as SSM:

    MU, from what it is, can enhance male-female coupling. SSM, from what it is, cannot. Given that male-female coupling is uniquely necessary for the survival of the species, and that we should enhance such things, QED.

    To wit, our floor may or may not be below your ceiling, but our ceiling is necessarily higher.

    (Only because someone else is going to cite The Exceptions, I’ll note as a given assumption also that institutions should be writ large and must speak in patterns rather than accommodate every outliers. We hereby remove the distractions related to infertility, which is always a tragedy.)

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

      Enhance here means “improve the results of,” not necessarily “increase frequency of pregnancy.” This feels right more than anything, and is probably the weak point in the argument.

      Cards on the table:

      1. I take it as axiomatic that, whenever possible, kids should know their biological father and biological mother. Definitionally,
      2. It is the singular ideal, and therefore
      3. Anything else is less than the ideal.

      MU allows for the ideal and therefore necessarily has a higher ceiling than SSM.

      I anticipate the response will center around, “we can’t always get the ideal,” but I point towards the assumption earlier in the argument: Institutions must be writ large, speaking briefly in patters more than outliers.

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

      Yes, “Why do you think some things are better than others?” technically has a bearing on marriage, but c’mon. This is a look-at-the-results-of-my-metaphysics prompt.

      I have no idea what you’re talking about.

      (Mwahahaha — but I do. Trick is, however off-topic, asking you to define your terms is about as fair a question as you can get.)

    • Kogo

      *…and I would appreciate your input.*

      You have given no indication in the past of appreciating anyone’s ‘input’, Ubiquitous. The word you’re looking for is ‘surrender’.

      • Katie

        That’s a bit rich of you to say, Kogo, given that just four minutes earlier you had been wondering why on earth you “even fucking talk to christians”.

        If you have that kind of certainty, then go ahead and stop doing that. The rest of us are here because we actually like having the conversation, even if it doesn’t go anywhere.

        (And before you accuse me of throwing rocks from a glass house, my snark is part of an absurdist aesthetic and is not intended to shut the conversation down. I talk that way to friends and adversaries alike.)

        Oh, and one more thing: there are plenty of unproven or unprovable things that are nevertheless perfectly reasonable to believe. The only thing more annoying than people impervious to reason is those with an unreasonably narrow definition thereof.

  • Hibernia86

    (a little background before my question) I personally don’t really find debating gay marriage all that interesting. Once you get to the “people should have the right to have any kind of sex that doesn’t hurt others”, you’ve pretty much answered all of the problems with gay marriage. Anyone who is still against gay marriage at this point is holding on for religious reasons or because of the ick factor, not any societal reason.

    Religious people often say that legalizing gay marriage will lead to the legalization of polygamy and incest. Progressives are rightfully angry at the suggestion that these three are absolutely connected. Each should be judged separately.

    Now, be that as it may, we still have to ask ourselves about the morality of issues such as polygamy or incest. I stumbled across this article on Slate which gave advice to two brothers who were living in a secret gay incestuous partnership:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/life/dear_prudence/2012/02/incestuous_twin_brothers_wonder_if_they_should_reveal_their_secret_relationship_.html

    (You always have to take these with a grain of salt. You never know if the person is telling the truth or if they are making it up. But their have been cases of siblings falling in love, especially if they were separated at birth, so you never know)

    I know that it isn’t politically beneficial for you to talk about this, but if you would like to, my question is this: If society had similar views to you on marriage, would society allow the brothers to get married because they won’t (and can’t) produce children with each other? Why do you feel the way you do?

    • Kogo

      *Now, be that as it may, we still have to ask ourselves about the morality of issues such as polygamy or incest.*

      Not in the context of gay marriage, we don’t. They are complete red herrings.

      Or, here, does this satisfy you?

      “Polygamy and incest are immoral, whereas gay marriage is moral.”

      Satisfied?

      • Head-Banger

        SSM for most is predicated on the idea that there marriage is a fundamental right, and therefore one should be able to marry anyone s/he chooses as long as that person consents (assuming a capacity to consent).

        If you think SSM is moral, but incest and polygamy are immoral, you obviously disagree with the above statement. So, why do you think SSM should be allowed?

      • Hibernia86

        “Not in the context of gay marriage, we don’t. They are complete red herrings.”

        Which is what I specifically say in my post. This Q&A session is about marriage, not specifically gay marriage.

        “Polygamy and incest are immoral, whereas gay marriage is moral. Satisfied?”

        No, because you didn’t give any reasons for your beliefs.

      • keddaw

        For goodness sake Kogo, we have enough problems with bigots equating same sex relationships with man-on-dog (why never dog-on-woman?) sex without you lumping polygamy in with incest.

        As it happens there is no logical reason for either to be ‘immoral’ or wrong in any sense as long as they are consenting adults. As icky as it seems, we shouldn’t be writing laws based on our own innate reactions.

        Anyone citing birth defects must realise that brother-brother and sister-sister cannot produce children.

  • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

    As far as I get it covenant marriage rests on the state refusing covenant-violating divorces. Otherwise it would be exactly like ordinary civil marriage: a promise of life-long commitment that can easily be broken without repercussions. So I suppose you support a separate legal accommodation for your favorite kind of marriage.
    Now for the question: Would you give the same kind of statutory accommodation to other ideas of marriage? Can Catholics, for example, have a special marriage that is divorcable only under the conditions that lead to nullity in canon law? You previously said we Christians shouldn’t care about civil marriage because we can’t have control over it. But by the logic that allows covenant marriage, couldn’t we also have control over a special version of civil marriage?

    If not, why not? There are surely more Catholics who would want that than atheists desiring covenant marriage and you said covenant marriage is not suited to Christians, so it’s not just about the numbers.

    If yes, should the law refuse divorce to an apostate spouse who originally contracted that kind of marriage for religious reasons? Can we exclude gay couples from our special version of marriage? Can private enterprises give advantages to only one version of marriage? Can a church refuse religious marriage to people whose civil marriage license is under a different code than the one it endorses?

    • Patrick

      “Can a church refuse religious marriage to people whose civil marriage license is under a different code than the one it endorses?”

      A church can refuse religious marriage to anyone it wants for any reason it wants. This is how it has been for ages, and there’s no reason at all, anywhere, to think it is likely to change… other than pressure from the laity, which is the church’s problem, not the law’s.

      Your other questions are between you and Leah, but I hear this misconception quite frequently, and think its important to make note of it.

      • FCCG

        While I agree that people whose ideas of marriage are primarily religious should not particularly care about civil marriage, Catholics currently cannot get married in the church unless they are also civilly married. I imagine that’s true in many denominations.

    • Hibernia86

      I suppose that we could have a special form of marriage for Catholics. But you bring up some problems in your post. What if someone stopped being Catholic? Would that change their civil marriage requirements? That I think is a serious problem. I know of a lot of people who are now Atheist who used to be very religious. It would be horrible for them to be trapped in a marriage with a spouse who can’t tolerate their belief change. It would be horrible for the spouse as well. No good can come of that. Can religious people refuse to marry people who are civily married under the wrong code. Certainly. They can refuse to marry people for any reason they want.

      As for your other questions, they are pretty easy to answer. Can you exclude gay couples from any type of civil marriage? No, absolutely not. Their may be certain types of marriage catered toward Catholics but at the end of the day anyone could chose them. Giving people more choice means you can’t block it for some people. I don’t think that private businesses should be allowed to discriminate based on what marriage you chose. That would create too much pressure to force people into marriages that they don’t want.


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