The Marriage Issue

The Marriage Issue March 27, 2013

David Frum may well have it nailed:

The marriage issue, Frum is arguing, needs to be fought at the level of getting people married and getting people to stay married. So should the Christian leadership focus on marriage and love and fidelity?

Washington (CNN) — The Supreme Court will hear arguments this week in two same-sex marriage cases. Whatever the justices do, the outcome seems foreordained. When 80% of Americans under 30 agree about something, that something will happen — it’s only a matter of time.

But while straight young Americans support marriage for gays, increasingly they opt against marriage for themselves. Nearly half of American children, 48%, are now born to unmarried women. Among women without college degrees, and of all races, unwed motherhood has become the norm.

This is the crisis of the American family. Whether same-sex marriage proceeds fast or slow, whether it extends to all 50 states or stops with the current nine plus the District of Columbia, the crisis will be the same….

One reason we’ve given the single-parenthood problem short shrift is that we lack good ideas about how to address it. The core of the problem seems to be the decline of male wages relative to female wages. The New York Times this week quoted an MIT economist, Michael Greenstone:

“I think the greatest, most astonishing fact that I am aware of in social science right now is that women have been able to hear the labor market screaming out ‘You need more education’ and have been able to respond to that, and men have not. And it’s very, very scary for economists because people should be responding to price signals. And men are not. It’s a fact in need of an explanation.”

As men (on average) finish less education, as male wages (on average) decline, men become less attractive as marital partners. As Harvard’s Christopher Jencks — a left-leaning academic, it should be stressed — said in that same New York Times piece: “Single-parent families tend to emerge in places where the men already are a mess.”…

It’s the family life of the bottom two-thirds that is the family policy challenge of the 21st century. The debate over same-sex marriage is yesteryear’s issue. It’s settled, whether the Supreme Court knows it or not. But how to ensure that the next generation of American children enjoys the more equal chance and the wider opportunities from a more universal commitment to marriage — that debate needs to begin.

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  • kierkegaard71

    I get it. So, after years of defiling and defaming the institution of marriage through the institution of practices like no-fault divorce and subsidizing the absence of fathers through the welfare state, we suddenly, now that we have been liberated from the bigotry of traditional marriage, are now called upon to sanctify and promote marriage. Interesting twist!

  • Cphilips

    Given the popularity of t.v. shows like The Bachelor, the preoccupation with celebrity and royal romances and weddings, as well as the amount of money spent on “average” weddings now, these statistics seem surprising.

  • scotmcknight

    kierkegaar71, I see no reason for sarcasm here. These numbers can lead church leaders to revive interest in teaching about love, marriage, and fidelity.

  • Tom

    I would say that it is not the lack of college for men or even the lower wage that is the most significant issue. Women, on average still earn less than men.
    Our problem is more about the lack of respect for the normal working guy and the amount of people putting off getting married until they are in their late 20s or early 30s.
    Do we really think that most of these people don’t have sex for all those years? When they do have a baby they choose to not marry so that they can finish school or so the government will pay for the medical care needed.
    There are no simple answers. How do we change society so medical care is available? How do we care for people who end up with kids at a young age and no money? Is it reasonable for people to put off marriage as long as they do? How should the church be helping and not just judging?

  • scotmcknight

    Tom, Do you think nationalized healthcare would make it easier to marry?

  • David Roseberry

    A refocus on love, marriage, and fidelity is the ONLY way forward, I think. Scot, do you know where this is being done in a parish/congregation? This is part of our future at Christ Church.

  • JKG

    If the question is “why are the numbers of married couples (as a fraction of the population) declining,” the simplest response would be that the perceived cost of getting married is higher than the perceived cost of getting unmarried.

    I know many couples who live together, have children and otherwise are committed, but do not get married because they (1) see it only as a formality and (2) want to have a big (expensive) wedding. On the other end, it’s just very easy to get divorced.

    The consequences of these decisions seem to be remote or deferred at the time of the decision.


  • Ted

    The article merely illustrates that the marriage crisis is multi, not single, faceted. Yet in the present situation, it bears repeating: The more our culture widens the boundaries of what marriage is, the less unique the institution becomes. If marriage “must be equal for all,” then the Unitarian debate about polyamory, as reported March 22 by the Washington Post, is really no debate at all. When you change what it is, you must change your teaching about how to live in it. If marriage can mean anything, ultimately it’ll mean nothing.

  • Robin

    The issue is education (and income), not healthcare. France, England, and Sweden (all countries with universal healthcare) have out of wedlock rates higher than us. They also have large, poor, immigrant populations. Canada, which has universal healthcare but lacks an immigrant underclass, is well below us.

    Other stats show that 92% of college educated women are married when they have their first child, compared to 43% of those with a HS diploma only. On top of that, 75% of African American births, a relatively poorer, less educated demographic, are out of wedlock.

    The other possibility is that college educated women are delaying births through abortion. I know Rachel Maddow highlighted the difference in teen pregnancy rates between Mississippi and New York to show who really “cared about family values” but she ignored the fact that NY also had an abortion rate that was several hundred percent higher than Mississippi.

    The link to countries by out of wedlock birth is here:

  • Tom

    Scot I think that having better health care options will help. I’m not sure if the current law addresses this issue.

  • Diane

    In 1913’s Pygmalion, Eliza DooLittle’s father mentions not being married to her mother and calls marriage a middle-class institution. The lack of marriage–which has been on the radar for awhile–is an indication that no matter what we say, too many people have fallen out of what can be reasonably called the middle class.

  • Scott Foster

    I would not frame the cause of a reluctance to marry as a difference between male versus female wages based on a lack of suitable male partners, as the article suggests. I think that many of these changes come down to the difficulties the youngest generation faces in meeting their own economic expectations. Men and women from my generation (Millennial), including those with college or even graduate/professional levels of education, face a difficult time establishing ourselves financially to support a marriage and family (or at least in the manner in which we ourselves were raised). Instead of focusing generically on teaching about marriage from the angle of love and fidelity, which most people probably recognize as an important part of marriage, perhaps the role of the church may be better suited toward teaching us how to live lives that aren’t so driven by becoming this nations next set of consumers which might make the marriage/family we want possible without the price tag. Of course, I’m not sure if the church in America is capable of teaching or modeling that lesson for us. Prosperity seems to be a double-edged sword.

  • This is where the church must teach, equip, and hold up a robust view of God’s intention for marriage not in the political arena but in the life of every married person who belongs to the church. The world ought to see the beauty and joy of marriage in the lives of Christians. And though somtimes there are circunstances that nullify this aim, with marriage ending in divorce, I’m afraid that the intentions God wills for marriage has been treated rather optional among Christians. Hopefully, articles like this serve as a reality check…God is saying something the church.

  • Robin

    I have been looking at numbers from the statistical abstract on unmarried live births. It seems that all of the states with the worst numbers have (1) high levels of poverty (2) low levels of education and (3) large immigrant or minority populations.

    Abortion does not seem to be a factor. The two worst locations for unmarried births, Mississippi and D.C., have vastly different abortion rates (4th highest vs. 2nd lowest), but they share a large, undereducated, poor, minority population.

    Having higher income in a state or a large white population don’t seem, by themselves, to produce high rates of births to married women. It seems like the best combination is (1) lily white population (2) socially conservative and (3) moderate, but not high income levels. Here are the 6 states with the lowest % of births to unmarried women that I am using to base my opinion on. (6) Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Idaho, Colorado, (1) Utah

  • Phil Miller

    Has anyone here read Charles Murray’s Coming Apart? I admit I have it and I only read about half of it, because after a while it got very repetitive, but I still think his basic premise is good. When you look at the data, being poor, or perhaps put in other terms, not being in the upper-middle class or higher, greatly increases a person’s chances of being divorced, having a child out of wedlock, and all sorts of other things. In other words, the things that we traditionally thought of as “middle class values” don’t seem to be that so much anymore. It’s not the wealthy family down the street who’s more like to get divorced. It’s the family living in low-income part of town.

    So economics and the opportunities that are available to people do play a huge role in marriage. It’s very much related to the income disparity brought up in the in “Is It a Sin?” post. If people don’t have good ways to make a living and support themselves, yet alone a family, it seems rather somewhat tangential to lecture them about the importance of marriage. I think people on the right want to believe that it’s because people are divorced and have kids out of wedlock that they are in poor financial straits. There probably is truth in that. But, on the other hand, I think the correlation goes the other way, too.

  • Yes. Encourage love, fidelity and lifelong monogamous relationships AND uphold the New Testament’s teaching on marriage and sexual ethics. The marriage crisis is multifaceted and demands a nuanced, holistic response from the church. May she rise to the challenge!

  • Can’t you have love and fidelity without marriage? And isn’t that partly why young people increasingly see the institution as an outdated vestige?

    You’ve probably seen Karen Swallow Prior’s article in The Atlantic, but it might be good for some pastors in thinking through this.

  • RobS

    Good point by Stephen (16) that I’m personally looking several years down the road as the result. If homosexuals can classify a relationship as “marriage”, does that mean the Biblical view of marriage also applies to them? I can hear the argument, “Well, now we are married, so any Biblical teaching on sexual sin regarding homosexuals is now invalidated.” If God is asking us to be holy as He is holy, but we create permissible loopholes to his teaching (“the person wanted to die” or “the ‘fetus’ would cause the man to be responsible for his actions with the woman”) then society moves to discredit things I believe God desires.

    If someone supports gay marriage, will they support someone in a future sinful lifestyle that does not honor God? Maybe this is overblown, but do I risk validating (approving) someone’s desire to engage in sinful behavior?

    Many ancient cults enjoyed temple prostitution and other sexual sin. Are we creating a “legally approved” version of it…? I wrestle with that possibility coming.

  • rob

    Haven’t read all the comments but I think this family issue is also at the heart of the wealth disparity issue that has been in so popular to discuss recently. It’s hard to “build” wealth as a single parent and home ownership (one of the main ways the middle class builds wealth) is out of reach for the typical single mom or dad. Certainly there are other issues at play, but I believe that if you fix this out-of-control birthrate to single people problem, you’ll fix a lot of other problems as well.

  • Phil Miller

    Maybe this is overblown, but do I risk validating (approving) someone’s desire to engage in sinful behavior?

    I think this is a valid question, but I don’t find that many Christians are willing to apply this same sort of logic to all sorts of things we participate in. For instance, it’s impossible to watch an NFL game without being exposed to all sorts of messages that encourage behavior that could easily be labeled sinful in one way or another. But why simply stop at the NFL? I could say the same thing about media in general.

    I think in some ways gay marriage is the perfect issue for Christians to be upset about because statistically it ends up affecting very few of them. Sure there are Christians who have gay family members and friends, and I think many of people end up not taking such hard lines on the issue, well, because reality forces them to do otherwise. But there are many Christians who simply don’t interact with gay people on a regular basis, so taking a strong stance on this issue doesn’t cost them anything.

  • Theo

    I agree with Ted in comment 8. The notion that this is about “marriage equality” is a red herring. No one has ever prevented homosexuals from marrying. What the law has prohibited, up to now, is homosexuals defining their own relationships as marriages. Make no mistake: the central issue is the definition of marriage, which, given the ways it’s been eroded over the past five decades, has now been reduced to a voluntary contract between two (but perhaps eventually more) partners. Ted is right: “If marriage can mean anything, ultimately it’ll mean nothing.”

  • Tami M

    I just can’t understand why folks get their knickers in such a twist. Marriage doesn’t mean anything now. Divorce rates in the church are indistinguishable from “the world.” In some places, it’s even higher. People in comfortable upper SES classes continue to make life harder and harder for those with less and dismantle the roads that take one from lower classes to higher ones.

    The religious arguments will, I think, will push the arguments in an altogether different direction. What is desired is legal status. Christians don’t have a monopoly on that. Christians don’t have a monopoly on civil rights. My gay friends should be able to have next-of-kin status with their life long partners. My gay friends should be able to identify their partner as a dependent in their life and health insurance policies. They should be able to inherit from one another as any other couple can. They don’t want to co-opt anyone’s religion.

  • Robin


    Do you think Christians should be able to follow their consciences? If I personally disagree with SSM but work in an industry that deals with marriage, like photography, should I have the right not to contract my services for SSM ceremonies based on religious grounds?

  • Robin

    The reason I ask is because this seems to be the one area where opponents of SSM are actually harmed by it. Refusing to provide services in SSM ceremonies is a civil rights violation in locations where SSM is legal, just like refusing to serve an African American at a lunch counter. If states would provide a freedom of religion exemption for businesses that ARE NOT DIRECTLY RELIGIOUS IN NATURE I would be OK with the law.

    In my state there is a local business that has been threatened with loss of their business license because they didn’t want to put together a marketing campaign for a gay pride festival. Religous exemptions here only apply to clergy and churches.

  • “The core of the problem seems to be the decline of male wages relative to female wages.”

    Wait, what?

    While I’m sure that it wasn’t the intent, I can’t help but see this as a negative way of saying that, after ages of women working towards equal pay (compared to men), they’re finally getting closer to that goal, and this is seen as a BAD thing. Surely that’s not the message we want to send!

    Because if this ultimately becomes another argument trying to say that women should remain in the home while men “go to work,” you’ve already lost me.

  • FYI, I’m aware that the argument in the article is that women’s wages are closer to men’s not because women’s wages are improving, but because men’s are declining. Even so, I think the author should be VERY careful about that argument….

  • Phil Miller

    In my state there is a local business that has been threatened with loss of their business license because they didn’t want to put together a marketing campaign for a gay pride festival.

    What was the business? If it were something like a printing place, I suppose I could see why it’s being looked into, but if it’s a marketing firm, it would seem to me that businesses like that turn down potential clients all the time.

    As far as providing an exception for businesses, how far would you want that to go? Should it be OK for a restaurant to turn away a gay family because the owner doesn’t approve of the marriage? That’s the problem with such exemptions – there’s not really a good way to say where the line should be drawn.

  • Phil Miller

    I messed up the blockquote tag above in #27. The first paragraph should be indented. The rest is my comment. Sorry about that.

  • Phil Miller

    While I’m sure that it wasn’t the intent, I can’t help but see this as a negative way of saying that, after ages of women working towards equal pay (compared to men), they’re finally getting closer to that goal, and this is seen as a BAD thing. Surely that’s not the message we want to send!

    I hear what you’re saying, but I think the point is more to what you mentioned in your second comment. I don’t think he’s saying that low women’s wages are a good thing, but if women don’t need to depend on a man for financial support and there are less men who are actually able to provide that, some of the incentive that was historically there for marriage isn’t there any longer.

  • #24 Robin:

    Refusing to serve people because of their race at a public restaurant is illegal because of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Full stop. Making SSM legal at the federal level would not make it illegal to refuse to serve people because of their sexual orientation at a public restaurant. You would have to have a new law passed by Congress to do that, which is super-unlikely at this point in time.

    Some states may have laws against discriminating against people because of sexual orientation or because of whom they are married to (I think Vermont does?), but federal or intrastate recognition of SSM wouldn’t change that.

  • Robin


    It was a T-Shirt design company. They didn’t want to print shirts advertising the event, and there are other companies in the city that did want the business, but they were sued for refusing it.

  • Robin

    Sued probably is not the right word. The group that wanted the shirts filed a complaint with the city based on local discrimination codes and the city has sided with them. The business is appealing at this time.

  • Robin, you said the key phrase: “based on local discrimination codes.”

    We’re talking really about two kinds of law at two separate levels her: Civil Rights law (i.e., laws against discrimination) and family law (e.g., laws about who can marry whom), and at the state and federal levels. And the wild card is religious freedom (which is really a third kind of law, and also exists separately at the state and federal levels) and how it interplays with all of that.

    The point is, making SSM legal at the state leval or recognizing it at the federal level does not necessarily have ramifications for all of those other kinds of law. There is no “general antidiscrimination law.” The only situation where making SSM legal at the state level (or recognizing it at the federal level and providing for full faith and credit among states) will automatically create nondiscrimination law where it doesn’t already exist will be if (1) a state currently has a law against discriminating because of marital status but (2) does not have a law against discriminating because of sexual orientation and (3) that state makes SSM legal (or, and this is a big one, if DOMA is found unconsitutional as a violation of the full faith and credit clause and that state is then obliged to recognize other states’ SSM).

    If you know of such a state, let me know about it. Otherwise, your issue is with the interplay between Civil Rights/nondiscrimination law and its interplay with freedom of religion. The legality of SSM is a red herring.

  • Matt Edwards

    I don’t know that the decline in male wages is the source of the problem. I think it is a symptom of a different problem. The problem is that men no longer have motivation to work hard or get high paying jobs. They would rather live in their parents’ basement, smoke a lot of pot, play video games, and watch porn.

    In the past, if men wanted sex, they needed to get married. If they wanted to get married, they needed a job. A high-paying job would make them a more desirable marriage partner.

    Enter the sexual revolution and easy access to pornography, and young men no longer have any desire to get married. I work with a lot of young people. The young women want to get married and start families. The young men don’t want to do this because it means giving up “fun.” Add to this a generation of parents who enable boys to prolong adolescence, and we are where we are.

    Even though the younger generation of women still want families, I think they have lost faith that the boys their age can be faithful or provide for them. Since they don’t need a man to provide for them in the modern economy, they are pursuing education and career in order to be stable single moms in their 30s.

    On the one hand, it’s great that we live in a culture in which women can thrive on their own and they don’t have to depend on a (potentially abusive) man. On the other hand, there is the downward spiral, as boys raised by single moms don’t have father figures to teach them what it means to be a man and will likely continue the cycle.

    I guess we are headed back to the world of Mad Men, only where Don Draper is a woman.

  • Rick

    Matt Edwards-

    “On the one hand, it’s great that we live in a culture in which women can thrive on their own and they don’t have to depend on a (potentially abusive) man. On the other hand, there is the downward spiral, as boys raised by single moms don’t have father figures to teach them what it means to be a man and will likely continue the cycle.”

    I just heard an interview in the past few days that said a very similar thing about this damaging, continuing cycle.

  • Phil Miller

    I have worked with young people as well. I was a campus minister, and I got to interact with lots of young men and women. I don’t really think it’s completely fair to say that young men simply don’t want to work hard or that they don’t have the motivation to. In many ways, I think kids who are graduating from high school and college now work harder than my generation did. It is a very tough economy at the present time. Graduating from college does not guarantee anyone a job.

    I’m not saying that the point about maturity isn’t true, but I don’t know if I agree that men now or less mature than men 50 years ago. I think that way it plays out is different though. I know plenty of immature 50 and 60 year-olds, too.

  • Tom F.

    I keep hearing the slippery slope on homosexual marriage leading to polygamy. It’s a question worth thinking about, but I doubt it’s the knock down argument people seem to think it is.

    My question is this: the OT presents a view of marriage which allows for polygamy but prohibits same sex relations. It does not seem that allowing polygamy was a slippery slope to allowing same sex relations.

    Today, the issue is permitting same sex relations but wanting to prohibit polygamy. If the OT could have one but not the other, doesn’t that mean that at least some ways of doing same sex unions would not lead to polygamy? Otherwise, how did the OT not have the slippery slope issue?

  • “Slippery slope” arguments never convince judges because about ten minutes in law school laught them that you can literally make a slippery slope argument about everything.

  • Robin


    I for one think the slope should be slippery. There is a much clearer, biblical, cultural, historical, etc., argument to be made for polygamy. It is currently practiced today in multiple cultures and religious groups. Its sole reason for exclusion in this country is on religious grounds. Polygamy should be legal. The fact that we have built social benefits (social security, etc.) to exist in a monogamous framework is besides the point. I for one think that polygamy just has much more precedent, in every way, than SSM.

  • Polygamy should be legal. The fact that we have built social benefits (social security, etc.) to exist in a monogamous framework is besides the point.

    Beside the point of whether polygamy should be legal? Nonsense. Those considerations are integral to the point.

    Whether or not you think they should be is your business, but that’s inevitably how it works.

  • Jim

    Very timely, for me. I am writing an article on this particular subject at the moment. I would only add that, in addition to this issue, we have the matter of declining fertility in many parts of the world and also here in the U.S.

    The U.S. fertility rate among people born in America is almost as low as China’s with its 1 child policy. Immigrants, and especially, Hispanic immigrants are bolstering our numbers for the short run since they have a higher fertility rate. However, the expectation among demographers is that the Hispanic rate will eventually begin to mirror the U.S. native born rate.

    A declining fertility rate signals challenges ahead in terms of (a) care of the aging, (b) productivity, (c) innovation and (d) military readiness/defense.

    The increasing age of marriage for the college educated (Avg. 29 for males; 27 for females) not only delays childbirth but also hastens the birth of 2nd children, which can put a significant strain on marriages. It also has an influence on economic recovery as, e.g., housing purchases are delayed. This is compounded by the exorbitant cost of college and the debt loads of college grads.

    As Tom notes #4, a couple of other additional issues related to all this has to do with sexual practices as pertaining to those marrying later. The challenges for the mid-late 20 year old in that regard are significant and sometimes leads to pre-marital sexual realtions, cohabitation or semi-cohabitation. How do churches come alongside and address that? Further, in what way do we assist the single (if even for the time) to live into singleness as a calling?

    I have wondered, in all of our discussions about how the 20 somethings seem to disappear from church, what relationship pre-marital sexual issues (including cohabitation) bears to church attendance.

    Big, big issues…..

  • Tom F.

    So, Robin, I would take it that you are not opposed gay marriage on the grounds that it might lead to polygamy, even as you might oppose it for other reasons. Am I hearing you correctly?

    The polygamy thing is a big part of the conversation, and so it would be good to agree to disagree on marriage/unions, but agree that polygamy is a red herring to that discussion.

    On a broader scale, the idea that our justifications and understanding of marriage arrangements either hold all together or all fall apart together seems to me to be a big red flag, completely apart from whatever is decided upon for gay marriage. The idea that everything would simply go to pieces and complete moral anarchy would happen if gay marriage is allowed seems to suggest a fragility in conservative understandings of marriage.

    For example, take fidelity. Why, precisely, would a change in allowing same sex marriages necessarily mean that the ethical ideal/command of fidelity would make any less sense? Is the only thing grounding a spouse’s fidelity God’s command? (One can imagine the uncomfortable conversation: “Honey, to be honest, I would really like to have an open marriage, but, lucky for you, God told me I couldn’t.” Would any spouse be satisfied with this? Should God be satisfied with this sort of obedience? Better than nothing, I suppose, but still grossly deficient.)

    If fidelity is grounded in more than simply God’s command; and instead in his character and concern for human flourishing, than fidelity will still be good and true whether or not same sex marriages happen.

  • Robin

    Tom F.,

    I think what I intend to say is that my order of “what should be legal” is
    1. hetero monogamy
    2. hetero polygamy
    3. SSM

    Furthermore, I think requiring monogamous marriages is a direct violation of the first amendment. We have been able to get away with it because of traditional Christian norms, but it seems clear to me that the only reason it is illegal is religious doctrine. Furthermore I think it should be made legal prior to SSM because while SSM has no historical, religious, or cultural precedent in any civilization that I am aware of, polygamy does.

    I don’t personally support polygamy, but when I consider that committed polygamy is illegal while non-committed versions of polygamy (children by multiple partners outside of marriage and intercourse with multiple partners outside of marriage) aren’t even frowned upon anymore, it seems kind of ridiculous.

  • Tom F.

    Okay, Robin, fair enough. The slope goes through polygamy on the way towards sliding towards SSM. I guess what I’m asking is whether the slope is really that way. You say polygamy is “first” because it has precedent; is precedent the only criteria we should use when determining what marriage should look like? How do we separate out the bad precedents from the good ones?

    Why do you oppose polygamy? I’m guessing you have reasons for why you think it would be damaging? Wouldn’t those reasons be true even if SSM is allowed?

    Thanks for the engagement,

  • Tom F.

    By the way, evolutionary psychology has also noted the similarity between serial monogamy and polygamy, so you are not alone in that comparison, Robin.

  • Ted

    #37 Tom F and #38 Kullervo:

    During Supreme Court oral arguments, Justice Sotomayor asked SSM lawyer Ted Olson: “Mr. Olson, the bottom line that you’re being asked — and it is one that I’m interested in the answer: If you say that marriage is a fundamental right, what state restrictions could ever exist?”

    “Could ever exist.” Still think the slippery slope argument is ridiculous?

  • kierkegaard71

    “So should the Christian leadership focus on marriage and love and fidelity?”…Answer: absolutely! All sarcasm aside: My big problem with “moving on” past the gay marriage issue (as the writer counsels) is that marriage, for Christians especially, has to be cast within the vertical dimension of it being God-ordained, not just a social construct for self-fulfillment. Just came across in reading Bonhoeffer’s Letters from Prison: “Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which He wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” So, while we want to work at mitigating the financial discouragements toward marriage and fidelity, shouldn’t we as Christians be primarily focusing on marriage in terms beyond the here and now? God-ordained, covenantal, a primary vehicle for the blessing of future generations.

  • Tom F.

    Ted: I’m not sure where you got “ridiculous” from what I said, but it is hard to really have conversations over the internet without these sort of miscommunications, so no worries.

    I don’t think its ridiculous to ask the question; I think that the moral “structure”, if you will, that exists in most people’s mind is just like the one that Robin articulated. Because SSM is “further down” the ethical ladder, things further up the ethical ladder (e.g. polygamy) must therefore be up for grabs as well. Or, its a sort of ethical for free-for-all once marriage is expanded. I think advocates of SSM have sometimes assumed that this question is just stupid, and that those saying it are just grasping at straws. I think they do so at their own peril, that these sort of mental maps of what is ethically okay are really important in how people actually get around in their day to day life ethically. So, no, not ridiculous.

    I will say that yes, some justifications for same-sex marriage will end up justifying just about any kind of marriage. My claim is simply that not all arguments would end up doing this necessarily. For example, most of the conservative arguments for marriage (like the ones Frum alludes to) are actually great arguments for same-sex marriage and great arguments against polygamy.

    1.) Marriage provides a stable place to raise children. Non-patriarchical polygamy/polyamory provides a very unstable enviroment. (Biblical stability was through patriarchical control of women. See, for example, Moses on certificates of divorce.)
    2.) Marriage provides a place to spur one another to growth. Polygamous marriages do not allow for the known/being known- there simply isn’t enough time, because you are always having your attention split. (Biblically, polygamous marriages are probably more about economics than they are mutual growth)

    There are lots of other arguments that are pro-marriage, and many of these argue precisely against polygamy at the same time as they argue for expanding marriage to gay persons. So arguing for same-sex marriage on these grounds would explicitly bar things like polygamy.

    In any case, I am not sure that I would argue that marriage is a fundamental right. (I’m just talking about marriage at the ethical level.) On the precise legal stuff, like what a “fundamental right” is, I have to admit to being a little out of my depth. However, I’m not sure that this question is as threatening as you seem to have taken it. I assume that voting is also a fundamental right, but that doesn’t mean that the government can’t place restrictions on how and when a person votes. Also, persons can’t just vote for anything, for example, a vote to succeed from the union would be automatically null. So even fundamental rights can have restrictions on them. But again, here I am no expert.

  • Ted

    #48 Tom F.
    Poor choice of word on my part. My apologies. My attempted point was to say when a Supreme Court justice asked the slippery slope question, it shows the argument has more credibility than many presume.

    Along the lines of what you stated, when Olson argued that SSM is a fundamental “right,” but banning polygamy is rightly prohibiting “conduct,” I don’t think he can persuasively distinguish the two, for who is to say that one’s sexual orientation is a nature given right, yet another’s orientation is merely behavior?

  • Andrew

    To say that gay marriage leads to polygamy shows that people aren’t really thinking this through. If polygamy would made legal, practically the only people doing it would be crazy fundamentalist people doing it for religious reasons. The reasons for polygamy in other cultures/ancient times was when marriages were arranged and wives property, and well-off men were able to acquire younger and younger wives, who in turn helped raise his multitude of children. But in a modern society, unless you are a crazy fringe religion which endorses polygamy, there are ZERO incentives for men and women to engage in polygamy. I don’t envision it ever being made legal b/c you will never have a large contingent of the population advocating for it:

    1) Women are no longer considered property and can make their own choices. There are very very few woman who would willingly enter into a relationship in which they’d have to “share” their husband with other women and help raise children of the other women.

    2) A man would be a fool to marry multiple women in this day and age, not only b/c of the amount of stress that would entail(!), but you are basically multiplying your alimony risk. If you even manage to get more than one wife, if that wife wants to leave and take her kids, you are still in a marriage AND now paying alimony for that wife/children. If 2 or more wives want a divorce, you basically entered into voluntary slavery. Only an idiot would take more than one wife.

    The other, ridiculous red herring arguments have clear legal/ethical impediments and consequences (bestiality-obviously consent; and incest: increasing likelihood of children with disabilities). Gay marriage doesn’t affect anybody besides the two gay people within the relationship. And if a group of people over the age of consent are DUMB enough to enter into polygamy . . go right ahead!!

  • Marcus C

    Tom F #48
    Tom I really appreciate your comments on this blog (probably more so than any other commentator)… you’re actually one of the main reasons I keep coming back to Jesus Creed TBH. But I have to respectfully disagree with two of your points:

    “1.) Marriage provides a stable place to raise children .Non-patriarchical polygamy/polyamory provides a very unstable enviroment.”
    First, how do you know it provides a “very unstable environment”? I support gay marriage, but honestly I think a better argument could be made that children raised in a SSM would be worse off because they’d be missing either a masculine or feminine influence. Second, assuming your premise, should we then make all relationships which create unstable environments for kids illegal? Unless there’s solid evidence showing children will inherently be harmed I don’t think thats a good enough reason to deny people the right to marry whom they choose.

    “2.) Marriage provides a place to spur one another to growth. Polygamous marriages do not allow for the known/being known- there simply isn’t enough time, because you are always having your attention split. (Biblically, polygamous marriages are probably more about economics than they are mutual growth)”
    How do you know 3 people couldn’t spur each other to growth more than 2 people? If anything, I could see it providing greater growth opportunities (including time management)! Why can’t we let consenting adults decide whats best for themselves? I certainly don’t think this is a valid reason to deny people such basic rights. And, regarding biblical marriage, ALL marriage in biblical times (not just polygamy) was more about economics/property rights than “mutual growth” so I don’t see how thats relevant.

    Andrew #50
    I agree it would be foolish for someone to enter into a polygamous marriage, and most likely very few would, but I didn’t see anything in any of your arguments thats serious enough to deny consenting adults the right to marry whom they choose. Either you’re for marriage equality for everyone or you’re not.