Introduction: Civil Disagreement Is Possible
Conversations about marriage policy can quickly divide friendships, families, and communities. Because the topic of marriage has become so contentious, it is easy to slide into unyielding, defensive, or combative rhetoric. We want our readers to know that there are ways to advocate for traditional marriage norms that are not bigoted or irrational, but are grounded in real concerns. We want to convince our readers that there is space in the public discourse (and in our communities) for people on both sides of the debate.
First and foremost, let’s be nice to each other. Let’s acknowledge that there are good people on both sides of the debate, and that regardless of a person’s political beliefs, they are people worthy of dignity and respect. We all ought to to be able to articulate in the public sphere, as civilly as possible, why our respective views makes the most sense to us and afford our fellow citizens the same dignity. We should never let political beliefs overcome or undermine our capacity to reach and out and love our fellow man. This goes for everyone on both sides of the conversations — toxic rhetoric has often prevailed in both directions.
More than anything, let’s stop treating support for man-woman marriage policies as a moral crime. Nearly half of Americans today still support such policies, and the vast majority of our parents and grandparents did so as well. Whether they were right or wrong, it is presumptuous to assume that their beliefs were formed out of malice or ignorance. Below, we’ve presented a collection of reasons to support man-woman marriage policies.
Why We Should Support Man-Woman Marriage Policies
Most of the debate around marriage occurs because there are two competing understandings of marriage fighting for dominance in our society: the conjugal view and the revisionist view. These two views of marriage have dramatically different implications for what marriage policy should look like. Whichever view of marriage informs state policy can have a dramatic impact on the legal and social norms surrounding families and children.
Two Different Views of Marriage
The conjugal view holds that marriage is a union between a man and a woman who share a domestic life oriented towards child-bearing and child-rearing. In other words, procreation (creating new human life) is the unifying good of a marriage relationship. A “unifying good” is that activity that most completely unites the partners in the relationship — the purpose towards which they coordinate their joint activities. Personal satisfaction and emotional companionship are important parts of marriage, but not its defining features.
By contrast, in the revisionist view, the defining feature of marriage is an emotional and sexual companionship between partners. From this perspective, marriage is all about romance, love, and mutual affection. Only the partners can say what ought to be the case about their marriage, since their personal fulfillment is the primary purpose of the relationship — the good towards which they coordinate their activities. Procreation is a secondary consideration (at best) in this view of marriage — something that partners can do together if they wish, just as any other activity.
If one holds the revisionist view of marriage, it makes no sense to exclude same-sex couples. That’s why so many people support same-sex marriage today — it is because they accept (we think uncritically) the revisionist premise that marriage is all about mutual adult fulfillment. In contrast, if one holds the conjugal view of marriage, there are legitimate fears that formalizing same-sex marriage will undermine some of marriage’s central stabilizing norms (permanence, fidelity, etc.). [Read More] [Watch Video]
What Is Marriage?
Why are some relationships marriage, and other relationships not? This is a vital question to consider. If our view of marriage does not offer a meaningful, non-arbitrary distinction between marital and non-marital relationships, and if that distinction does not justify central marriage norms such as fidelity and permanence, then our view of marriage more than likely gets marriage wrong. By this metric, the conjugal view of marriage makes the most sense.
In the conjugal view, marriage involves two partners sharing a domestic life that is directed towards and naturally unfolds into procreation and child raising. That is, partners in a marriage unite — or coordinate — towards procreation. In this view, marriage is different from all other relationships because its unifying good is procreation. No other relationship, be it roommates, siblings, best friends, or boyfriend/girlfriend, share that unifying good. Further, this distinction justifies the public norms of sexual activity, permanence, and fidelity.
On the other hand, in the revisionist view, marriage is thought to reflect a deep emotional connection between partners. Instead of procreation, the unifying good of marriage is mutual personal fulfillment. However, many non-marital relationships (such as chess partners, dating relationships, or best friends) can also share a deep emotional connection, coordinate towards mutual fulfillment. Further, when marriage is viewed in this light, there is no particular reason marriage ought to be sexual, and no particular reason why permanence and fidelity ought to be public expectations rather than matters of personal preference. So we have no meaningful distinction that justifies important marriage norms. [Read More] [Watch Video]
Why Is Marriage a Civil Institution In the First Place?
What public interest does marriage serve? If civil marriage did not serve an important public interest, then there would be no reason for governments to formalize it. Whatever the distinction between marriage and non-marriage, it should should also explain the state interest in marriage. Further, whatever public interests are served by formalizing marriage should be unique to marriage relationships — after all, we don’t formalize friendship pacts in court.
The unifying good of procreation provides a strong rationale for government recognition of marriage: Marriage stabilizes homes, and provides a natural reason for both fathers and mothers to remain committed to the domestic life into which they bring children. It cultivates a climate where permanence and fidelity are expected of married partners — something that is vital for the welfare of children born into the union. This explains barriers to divorce, ongoing obligations post-marriage (such as alimony), and most other legal norms associated with marriage. Because of the way marriage norms impact the lives of children, there is a public interest in promoting these norms.
On the other hand, if the unifying good of marriage is mutual personal fulfillment, why would we need or want the government involved? People engage in long-term personal relationships all the time without government even knowing about it. The primary public interest for civil marriage, from the revisionist view, is to arrange survivorship, hospital visitation, or end-of-life decision rights, among other things. However, there is no reason to restrict many of these benefits rights to sexual lovers — for example, why couldn’t best friends, siblings, or roommates enter into similar arrangements? Thus, the public interests are not unique to marriage, and the idea of civil marriage (as a unique institution) is therefore drawn into question. [Read More] [Watch Video]
Redefining Marriage Undermines Important Norms
Public norms are patterns of behavior that are expected of people by the public. Married couples have historically been expected to live out norms of fidelity and permanence. These stabilizing norms have a dramatic, demonstrable impact on children and societies. And as mentioned earlier, the conjugal view of marriage explains why these should be public norms rather than matters of personal preference, whereas the revisionist view of marriage does not.
Laws help inform and shape public conscience, and changes to social policy can influence what the public believes to be right and good about marriage. Formalizing same-sex unions as marriage will make the revisionist view of marriage the official policy of the state, and this may affect crucial marriage norms such as permanence and fidelity. When marital norms such as permanence and fidelity become a matter of personal preference in the eyes of public policy (and thus, soon enough, in the eyes of the public), we will see likely more divorces, more infidelity, and more non-monogamous relationships.
Further, formalizing same-sex marriage signals to the public that fathers and mothers are interchangeable (that is, that two fathers and two mothers are equivalent to having both a father and a mother). Whether intended or not, this ultimately signals that both fathers and mothers are also expendable. If public policy treats both fatherhood and motherhood as expendable goods in the lives of children, this will weaken the public expectation that both fathers and mothers stick with the family and remain present in the lives of their children. The idea that fathers are fundamentally needed by their children (and their mother) promotes marital fidelity and permanence. [Read More] [Watch Video]
Children Have a Right to Their Biological Parents
The focus of the marriage debate has centered on the rights of adults, and in doing so has ignored the rights of children. Children are morally entitled to be born to and raised by their biological father and mother whenever possible. We should treat this ideal as an intrinsic good worth pursuing (even if we must accommodate inevitable exceptions), and we should approximate it whenever it isn’t possible.
Marriage law inevitably treats prospective marriage partners as potential fathers and mothers, and for this reason helps established the norm for parenting. The conjugal view of marriage treats both a potential father and a potential mother as essential features of marriage. By treating fathers and mothers as each having essential duties and contributions to the family, man-woman marriage norms discourage both fathers and mothers from neglecting those duties and leaving their families.
Conversely, a revisionist marriage policy assumes that fathers and mothers are each expendable in the eyes of law. Further, by definition, two men or two women cannot be the natural, biological parents of the children they raise. Thus, for same-sex partners, non-biological parenting must be the norm, rather than the exception. By making same-sex parenting morally (and legally) equivalent to man-woman parenting, we undermine our ability to elevate any parental arrangement as a social ideal — including biological parenthood itself. [Read More]
Children Fare Better with Their Biological Parents
Children’s moral entitlement to their biological parents is measurably reflected in the well-being of children. Research replicated for the past 2-3 decades has demonstrated that children raised by their biological parents in a stable, intact home usually have distinct advantages when compared with children raised by adoptive parents, step-parents, divorced parents, cohabiting parents, or other parental arrangements. These conclusions hold true even when parents re-marry, which shows that the child’s relationship to their biological parents matters — not just that they have two parents.
There is not a lot of quality research that directly compares the outcomes of children raised by same-sex parents with other children. However, same-sex parents must always be either a blended family or an adoptive family (or produced using assistive reproductive technologies such as in-vitro fertilization or surrogate motherhood). All of these ultimately deprive children of their biological father or mother (or both), and thus we would not expect these arrangements to be equivalent to the biological ideal.
Children can be — and often are — well-raised by people who are not their biological father and mother (and often for good reasons), and this includes same-sex couples. The argument here is not related to any parents’ abilities as a caregiver, but rather that a child’s biological father and mother each contribute something valuable and ultimately irreplaceable in their role as parents. Man-woman marriage policies enshrine this arrangement as a social ideal worth pursuing. Conversely, same-sex marriage actively undermines this ideal. [Read More]
Same-sex Marriage Turns Children into Commodities
Because the sexual activities of two men or two women cannot lead to pregnancy, same-sex couples who wish to parent often make use of third-party reproductive technologies (such as sperm and egg donation and surrogate motherhood). If we formalize same-sex marriage, the state can make no coherent argument that biological parenthood is preferable to third party reproduction. This will encourage the commodification of children and the objectification of women.
A case can be made that a couple’s right to raise a child must be coextensive with their ability to conceive a child. While adoption services can provide a good home for children who cannot be raised by their biological parents, it would be ethically problematic to consider parenting the children of others a right. A couple’s desire to be parents conflicts with a child’s right to know and be raised by his or her biological parents (whenever possible) when a child is intentionally created in order to be given to and raised by individuals other than the child’s biological parents. Grown children who were created through third-party reproduction often experience a deep longing for their biological parents.
Not only does third-party reproduction commodify children, but it also risks objectifying the bodies of women. Surrogate motherhood commercializes the otherwise natural act of conception and pregnancy, and ultimately denies the child the right to be raised by the woman who gave her life. Further, because third party reproduction is expensive, perverse market incentives have commercialized the practice, and this can shift the attention of agencies and medical professionals in ways that endanger women and children. [Read More]
Civil Marriage Protects Human Liberty
It goes without saying that civil society thrives best when it is structured by an array of non-coercive social institutions, including families, marriage, churches, clubs, unions, and other non-government organizations. The more such institutions shape and inform societal norms and practices, the less the government has a pretext to. Strong families deter the need for the state to compensate with large, costly welfare programs. For this reason and more, maintaining family norms is vital to maintaining human liberty.
Marriage and family insulate the individual from the government, providing spaces of autonomy that state forces are trying to shrink. The only pretext most governments have generally dared to use to invade the autonomy of the home is the physical protection of children from extreme abuse or neglect. This illustrates how the family has so far resisted the state and jealously guarded its boundaries. We do not and should not want the state to abandon the norms by which the state has treated marriage and family as formal units worthy of distinction.
Many of the legally respected duties and privileges of family and marriage are a natural endowment of united procreation, and therefore precede and transcend state authority. Redefining marriage to include inherently non-conjugal unions assumes instead these marital duties and privileges are grants of the state to give to whomever the state pleases, and this will jeopardize the strength of the family unit in its contest with the state. The historically-recognized autonomy of the procreative unit may come to be seen as an invention of the state, to be modified or even rescinded at the pleasure of the state. In contrast, the conjugal understanding of marriage preserves the idea that the duties and privileges of marriage (such as autonomy in domestic affairs) philosophically precede the state. [Read More] [Watch Video]
Redefining Marriage Jeopardizes Religious Liberty
Religious freedom includes more than just the freedom to believe particular doctrines, or the freedom to worship within the walls of churches and similar institutions. It includes the freedom to act in accordance with one’s moral conscience and to practice religion in the public square (so long as doing so does not threaten public health or safety). In addition, U.S. law and public policy has long treated religious non-profit organizations as valuable contributors in the public sphere, equal in standing with secular non-profit organizations in regards to public benefits and considerations.
However, redefining marriage may undermine religious freedom, by requiring individuals and organizations to treat same-sex marriages as interchangeable with man-woman marriages in the public sphere, despite objections of conscience. Marriage laws, by their very nature, usually require private and public entities to treat couples whose marriages are recognized by the state as genuinely married. Religious individuals in the wedding industry have already been disproportionately affected by recent changes in law, and there is no reason to believe that the consequences will be limited to them.
The same arguments that were used to trump democratically enacted state laws can also be used to treat religious organizations that dissent with contempt in the eyes of the law. Religious non-profits that hold to a doctrinal understanding of marriage may no longer be treated as equal in standing with otherwise equivalent secular organizations. The tax-exempt status and accreditation of religious schools may be jeopardized, and the ability of students, teachers, and researchers to use public funds to advance their education and research at religious universities may be undermined, placing religious institutions at a distinct disadvantage to their secular competitors. Preserving religious freedom (and the equality of religious institutions under the law) is a good reason to oppose same-sex marriage unless protections can be secured for individuals and organizations of religious faith. [Read More]
Many people disagree with the arguments listed above. That’s OK. We live in a society that is divided on a whole host of moral and legal issues, including abortion, the death penalty, fiscal policy, immigration, war, privacy, voting procedures, etc. Reasoned arguments can be made on both sides of all of these debates, and same-sex marriage is no different. If you are unpersuaded by these arguments, that doesn’t make them irrational or bigoted. At the very best (if you happen to be right), it just makes them wrong.
We don’t think they are wrong. We find them very persuasive, and for these reasons (and more), we support man-woman marriage policies. This doesn’t mean that we support everything about the status quo of marriage in modern society, nor does this mean that we support every measure designed to uphold marriage norms. But it does mean that we think that changing marriage policy to include same-sex couples would change the underlying institution in crucial ways, ways that concern us about the future of marriage and its stabilizing family norms.
None of these arguments requires a religious belief — all of these arguments are grounded in robust, secular moral reasoning. There’s nothing about these arguments that even requires us to condemn homosexual relationships in any form. There’s certainly nothing about these arguments that prevents us from treating gay persons with respect and dignity, or even from seeking other legal protections and accommodations for gay couples everywhere. The question at hand is about the nature, purpose, and norms of civil marriage, and the consequences of redefining the institution.
Questions and Answers
Didn’t the Supreme Court rule on this? Isn’t the debate over now?
Yes, the Supreme Court ruled that states can no longer define marriage as between man and woman. No, the debate is far from over. Roe v. Wade ruled that states cannot prohibit elective abortions, but that did not end the debate over the morality of abortion, nor have states stopped trying to discourage abortions. Public opinion has shifted against abortion, and if Roe v. Wade were to be redecided today, it’s not at all clear that the Supreme Court wouldn’t use more restraint this time around. Supreme Court decisions are not permanently set in stone.
Many of us believe that conjugal marriage is a bedrock principle of civil society, and that it is essential for preserving crucial family norms. We should not let the Supreme Court keep us from raising awareness of the nature and purpose of civil marriage as a social institution, and we should resist the idea that unelected judges can decide this issue once and for all. The Supreme Court got marriage wrong — that does not mean that we have to as well. “No social transformation without representation” can and should be our watchcry. The challenge ahead is not in the courts, but in the hearts and minds of ordinary citizens. We should continue to express our views of marriage, and the opinions of five men on the Supreme Court should not keep us from doing so.
Is opposition to same-sex marriage grounded in bigotry?
This accusation is often used in ways to dodge all of the rational arguments made in regards to marriage — it allows people to (metaphorically) plug their ears because the person talking is a “bigot.” In fact, many people treat those who support traditional marriage with distrust, contempt, or intolerance on the basis of their opinion on public policy — an example of bigotry if there ever was one. In short, if not used with caution, the accusation can make bigots out of those who use it.
The accusation is simply untrue. People on both sides of the argument have acted in bigoted ways, but the arguments on neither side are rooted solely (or primarily) in bigotry. The arguments listed above do not presume an irrational fear or hatred of those who are different. In fact, people can believe that homosexual sex is good and virtuous, and still embrace every argument made earlier in this article. Nothing about these arguments presumes that same-sex couples are inferior or undeserving of a whole variety of legal accommodations. Rather, they simply assume that whatever legal accommodations same-sex couples seek should be granted through other vehicles than marriage law, because of marriage’s unique connection to procreation. [Read More] [Watch]
Are those who oppose same-sex marriage on the “wrong side of history?”
Shouldn’t those who support traditional marriage just “get with the times”? On its face, this is a naked appeal to popularity — an attempt to shame those who disagree into silence, rather than rationally persuade them to change their mind. The popularity of same-sex marriage today is certainly not the result of strong arguments in its favor — those arguments exist but are not often discussed among the sound bites and catch-phrases that have popularized the movement. Growing support for same-sex marriage can best be described as a consequence of social (rather than purely rational) factors.
Traditional marriage is still viewed as a vital norm in the vast majority of the world where community values and traditions are paramount. If history can be anthropomorphized so that it can comment on current affairs, does it get its opinion only from U.S. and Western European sources? Further, political victories are often temporary: While the U.S. pro-choice movement was winning public opinion 15 years ago, today, majority opinion has shifted against abortion. Those who opposed abortion were only recently on the “wrong side of history,” but now find themselves in a majority. We don’t know that prevailing social forces today will continue to prevail in decades to come. [Read More] [Watch Video]
Since infertile couples marry, how can the conjugal view be right?
Procreation can still be the unifying good of a martial union even when the couple does not succeed. For example, the practice of systematically testing truth claims against empirical evidence (science) can be considered an intrinsic (fullfiling) human good coordinated towards the pursuit of new knowledge, even if the scientist fails to make any significant discoveries. Further, excluding infertile couples actually endangers important marital norms — it teaches that as long as proper birth control is used (making a couple functionally infertile), the stabilizing norms of marriage (fidelity, permanence) need not apply, which can harm children conceived unintentionally.
There are many more reasons: Infertile couples can still serve the social purpose of marriage by providing a father, a mother, and a stable home to children who do not already have them. Screening couples for fertility is invasive in ways that basing marriage on gender is not. Fertility testing is sometimes inconclusive, and infertility is not always untreatable. Infertile couples can participate in the marital act connected to procreation (coitus), while same-sex couples cannot. Letting infertile couples marry does not conceptually separate marriage from the very idea of procreation, and thus does not endanger central marriage norms. But perhaps most important of all, this objection applies both ways: if marriage is solely about adult fulfillment and love, should we screen couples and exclude those that aren’t truly in love, or who aren’t emotionally compatible? [Read More] [Watch Video]
Isn’t love an important part of marriage?
Yes, very much so. However, the romantic, sexually-charged infatuation that we see depicted in most Hollywood films is heavily influenced by hormones and other factors that are sometimes outside of our conscious control. From this view of marital love, when we say, “Married couples ought to love each other,” we are in fact implying that married couples who do not have these strong feelings ought to separate. That is, we end up implying that the longevity of marriage depends entirely on factors outside of our control — norms of permanence and fidelity become the slaves of passion. This kind of love is a great benefit to married partners, but it should not and cannot be the defining feature of marriage.
We think that married couples ought to love each other — in fact, love is just as much a marital norm as permanence, fidelity, and sexual activity. However, we’re talking about the kind of love that transforms a home from a battleground to a haven of mutual respect, service, and consideration. A home without mutual respect, consideration, and service becomes a breeding ground of familial conflict, and a dangerous place to raise children. Emotional infatuation and strong sexual attraction are a great benefit to procreative partners in marriage, but this latter kind of love (mutual respect, forgiveness, consideration, and service) is an essential component of marriage. [Read More]
Isn’t personal fulfillment an important part of marriage?
A good marriage can — and probably should — be personally fulfilling. There is nothing about the conjugal view that shuns or even downplays some of the most enjoyable aspects of a marriage relationship. We can value personal fulfillment in marriage, and even value it highly — the conjugal view simply states that it is not the highest good or the defining feature of the institution. Personal fulfillment can and most often does flow from marital relationships, but it is not the overriding good of marriage.
Think of it this way: if personal fulfillment were the unifying good of a marriage relationship, as soon as the relationship becomes less enjoyable (and other, more enjoyable prospects arise), there is no basis on which one can say that the couple ought to stay together. Thus, the norms of permanence and fidelity become less important. But if the unifying good of the marriage is procreation, the oughtness of permanence and fidelity begin to make much more sense. [Read More]
Won’t same-sex marriage just enwrap same-sex unions in those same marital norms?
We don’t think so. This assumes that public policy can effective promote these norms as public expectations in relationship where they are best described as matters of personal preference. This doesn’t mean that many non-procreative companionships — such as same-sex couples — might not want to live out these norms, be benefited thereby, and be quite successful in doing so; it just means that there’s no deep rational basis for governments promote them as public expectations of non-procreative companionships rather than matters of personal preference. [Read More]
Shouldn’t we just discourage divorce instead of oppose same-sex marriage?
Most of those who oppose same-sex marriage do spend their efforts discouraging divorce as well. But more importantly, we think the best way to discourage divorce is to educate others about what marriage really is. If we think that marriage is all about mutual adult fulfillment or personal self-expression, then it becomes difficult to articulate a strong reason to oppose divorce in the first place. Why shouldn’t permanence be just a matter of personal preference? It is the conjugal view of marriage that provides the strongest answer to that question. [Read More]
Shouldn’t we promote fidelity and permanence in the homes of children with same-sex parents?
First of all, the most common same-sex parenting situation is a mother and daughter raising the daughter’s children. Should marriage be recommended here? Further, this assumes that formalizing same-sex marriages will actually promote permanence in homes of same-sex couples. This may be the case for the near future, but if the revisionist view of marriage is adopted as state policy, we think that these norms will weaken over time for all families. Further, while the conjugal view of marriage does leave us with important questions about how to address marginal cases, we’re not convinced that we should let these marginal cases affect our understanding of the broader ideals.
While we agree that a stable home life and stable parentage benefits children, there is also another ideal that must be considered: having both a father and a mother in the home. The question at hand is whether the ideal of stability and permanence for all homes with children is so important that it should be pursued at the expense of the ideal of having a father and a mother in the home. The conjugal view of marriage enshrines both ideals, while the revisionist view of marriage enshrines neither (or, at the very least, fails to provide a strong reason for permanence to be an essential norm of marriage). [Read More]
If children are entitled to their biological parents, why can any couple adopt?
Adoption is an essential legal tool that helps children find stable homes with fathers and mothers to raise and care for them. However, even when adoption is the best option available to a child due to death, neglect, or abuse on the part of his or her biological parents, it can never fully compensate for the absence of both a loving biological father and mother in the lives of children. While we should not in any way stigmatize adopted children or adoptive parents, biological parenthood should always be considered by public policy to be the social ideal. [Read More]
Should same-sex couples be allowed to adopt or raise children?
Homosexual persons should certainly not be barred from parenting on account of their sexual orientation or relationships — that would be odious discrimination and entirely unreasonable. Nothing in this argument or its reasoning suggests that we should ban homosexual persons or partners from parenting and raising children. While marriage policy designates the ideal setting for raising children, it does not in any way prohibit non-traditional parenting arrangements.
While marriage policy designates what public policy will treat as the ideal, this should not compel adoption agencies or custody hearings to enforce this ideal in coercive ways that demean individuals or jeopardize the well-being of children. Adoption agencies and services should feel free to place children in the homes that they feel will best serve the interests of children, regardless of the parenting arrangements of the home. Simultaneously, such agencies should also feel free to give preference to man-woman parenting (balanced against other factors), since it is not unreasonable to believe that this closely approximates in form the ideal of biological parenthood. [Read More]
Isn’t defining marriage a form of state control?
Not any more than defining property is. If the state were to frequently redefine property to the benefit of politically connected parties, it would be a form of agregious state control. But in order to respect and enforce property rights at all, the state must first have a definition for what property is, and that definition should be based on sound moral and natural rights reasoning. The same is true of marriage: grounding the definition of marriage in sound natural law reasoning is not itself the problem — the problem is assuming that marriage is something the state can magisterially revise based on political interests. [Read More]
Aren’t man-woman marriage policies just like interracial marriage bans?
No, they are not. Support for the conjugal view of marriage has been nearly universal in human history, while bans on interracial marriage have been rare and isolated. Race has rarely been considered an important part of the marriage institution, and never by major philosophers and scholars. Conversely, gender has always been thought of as an integral part of marriage. Even ancient societies that openly embraced homosexuality still thought of marriage as a man-woman, procreative institution.
Further, even the Supreme Court ruling that struck down interracial marriage bans did so because of the connection of marriage to procreation — human beings, they argued, have a right to procreate, and thus a right to marry. In other words, in the very rulings in which the Supreme Court struck down bans on interracial marriage, they were affirming the conjugal view of marriage as a naturally procreative institution (as opposed to an institution that merely formalizes romantic partnerships). [Read More]
Don’t gay couples deserve legal benefits, such as hospital visitation rights, inheritance, etc?
Certainly. There’s no good reason that any two — or more — people who share the burdens of life together should be prevented from arranging for hospital visitation rights, survivorship rights, and several other financial and legal arrangements that are often closely associated with marriage. We simply question the wisdom of using marriage law as the vehicle for making this possible, since this could undermine vital marriage norms. Instead, we think that these can be arranged through legal contracts or civil unions.
Civil unions are not necessarily limited to two people, are fully customizable, do not imply that a sexual relationship exists between the partners, and have no intrinsic connection to parenting or child-raising. Roommates, friends, lesbian lovers, or a mother and daughter could enter into a civil union and secure for themselves the desired legal benefits. Such civil unions do not necessarily undermine important marriage norms, since they do not imply (as same-sex marriage does) that the core obligations and rights of procreative partners exist solely as a matter of statutory law (or private contract). [Read More]
Don’t traditional marriage laws violate the separation of church and state?
No, they don’t. There are many secular defenses of traditional marriage laws, including the ones listed above. One does not have to believe in God to accept any of the arguments made earlier in this article. Many non-Christian thinkers (such Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Musonius Rufus, Xenophanes, and Plutarch), including those who lived prior to Christ or without any knowledge of Christianity, have adopted a conjugal view of marriage. Further, religious beliefs have been used to support both views on marriage; should one perspective to be treated as inadmissible in public debate simply because more of its adherents hold to it for religious reasons?
In addition, the political doctrine of the separation of church and state simply means that the institutions of the church and the institutions of government should be kept separate — not that people of religious faith cannot vote, debate, hold office, or even discharge their legal obligations in a way that is influenced by their religious convictions. Many people have opposed slavery, racial discrimination, capital punishment, abortion, and a host of other perceived moral wrongs for deeply religious reasons. It is natural (and good) that our deepest religious beliefs would influence our moral convictions about what constitutes sound law or good public policy. [Read More]
Don’t man-woman marriage policies consign gay people to a life of loneliness?
Only if you believe that true communion and intimacy requires that the state publicly acknowledge your interpersonal relationships. We don’t — we think that people can be good friends — and even lovers — without the state ever getting involved. Nobody in the present debate seriously supports banning same-sex relationships, friendships, unions, or anything of the kind. The question at hand is simply whether the legal norms traditionally employed in procreative relationships should be extended to same-sex relationships, as if the two forms of union were indistinguishable.
Further, treating marriage as the height of emotional union (that cannot be enjoyed by unmarried parties) dooms everyone who cannot marry to a life of loneliness. This includes those who cannot marry because of physical or mental disability, or any other reason. The conjugal view treats marriage as different in kind from other relationships, not necessarily different in degree. For this reason, only the conjugal view of marriage creates space for unmarried people of all varieties to feel free to pursue the heights of human companionship. [Read More]
Doesn’t research prove that same-sex parenting is just as ideal?
No, it doesn’t. The strength of cited research is often overstated: nearly all same-sex parenting studies use non-random sampling (such as recruiting from same-sex parenting clubs), use small sample sizes (most have fewer than 30 participants), use “soft” measures of child well-being (such as parental self-report), and do not compare outcome with biological parenting. But more than anything, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, unless your sample large and random and your measures very robust. But more than anything, this objection is a red herring: none of the arguments in favor of man-woman marriage listed above rely on the inferiority of same-sex parenting when compared with other adoptive or blended families. The only argument that comes close is the argument that children fare best when raised by their biological parents (and that marriage supports this ideal) — research that is virtually undisputed by social scientists. [Read More]
Don’t children just need two parents, regardless of their gender?
The reason our moral intuitions tell us that children need two parents (instead of three, four, or ten) is because we intuitively recognize biological parenthood as an ideal worth striving for, and that when this ideal cannot be met, we ought to mimic it the best we can. If our public policies strive to mimic the ideal with number, why not with gender too? If the basis for having two parents (rather than three) is to mimic the natural family order, then why should we arbitrarily conclude that other intrinsic features of the natural family order are not also worth emulating? [Read More]
Don’t man-woman marriage laws fail the rational basis test?
Not at all. The rational basis test is a very generous legal test: unless a law deals with a fundamental human right, judges cannot strike it down as long as there is a conceivable rational basis for the law. In other words, it’s not the job of judges to dispute policy decisions, unless those decisions do not undermine constitutionally protected rights. Otherwise, it should be up to voters and legislators. We’ve presented a number of rational considerations that inform the marriage debate in this article — far more than enough to pass the rational basis test.
The only exception is if the judge determines that the law is motivated solely by animus towards an effected group. And such is not true of man-woman marriage policies — to conclude otherwise is demeaning towards a large percentage of Americans. Millions of Americans have voted for and supported man-woman marriage policies for myriad reasons. These include rationales such as the protection of children, family structure stability and deference to the procreative character of marriage. Many were motivated by a broad sense of Christian morality, and is perfectly permissible (otherwise, incest and decency laws would be problematic as well). [Read More]
Doesn’t the “due process” clause of the 14th Amendment require that we formalize same-sex marriage?
The due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment has been understood to require courts to apply strict scrutiny to laws that abridge fundamental human rights. However, states have historically had broad leeway in determining eligibility requirements for marriage (and divorce). Some states have no-fault divorce laws, others have more stringent divorce laws. States have had varying age-of-consent laws. Some states allow cousins to marry, while others do not. Federal and state governments forced religious communities to adopt monogamy as a marital norm, declaring that it advanced legitimate public interests to forbid multiple-partner marriages. These laws were upheld by the Supreme Court in Reynolds v. United States.
None of these varying eligibility requirements have been subjected to the strict scrutiny test. If marriage to whomever we love is a fundamental right, why are laws forbidding cousins (who may very well be in love) to marry subject only to a rational basis test, instead of strict scrutiny? In short, demanding strict scrutiny (rather than a rational basis test) for laws defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman contradicts a rich history of American jurisprudence. There may very well be a legal right to enter into a procreative relationship (based on Loving v. Virginia) — but there is no fundamental right to enter into a procreative relationship with whomever we please, nor is there a fundamental right to have intrinsically non-procreative sexual relationships treated as marriage. [Read More]
Doesn’t the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment require that we formalize same-sex marriage?
No — such policies do not exclude any demographic or class of people from marriage. Rather, they hold to a particular definition of marriage that is deeply entrenched in both tradition and U.S. law. In fact, there is no law forbidding a homosexual man from marrying (that is, entering into a formally acknowledged, potentially procreative ongoing sexual union with a woman). Many have done so, in fact, in what are known as mixed-orientation marriages. Because marriage laws do not specifically exclude people based on sexual orientation, they are not discriminatory in this sense.
Some make the argument that man-woman marriage laws have a disparate impact on homosexual people, since they in practice exclude those who do not wish to marry a member of the opposite sex. However, based on court precedence, this does not violate the equal protection clause unless the law is motivated by animus towards the affected group. Since man-woman marriage policies have existed since long before homosexuals were treated as a distinct political or social class, this cannot be the primary motivation for such views on marriage.
Isn’t civil marriage nothing more than a legal contract?
We disagree with this depiction of marriage. Civil marriage (properly understood) assumes from the outset that procreative partners legally obligate themselves in certain ways towards each other and any future children that naturally arise, whether they explicitly contracted into those obligations or not. The marriage certificate is not a contract wherein the obligations of each party are enumerated in the fine print — rather, it is essentially a signed affidavit that the couple has publicly declared their intentions of entering into a potentially procreative union. Civil marriage is the common law practice by which courts minimally recognize these duties and the rights of family that accompany them.
Treating the duties, rights, and privileges of marriage as though they are just the product of explicit contract (and which can therefore be customized to suit the procreative partners’ preferences) ultimately denies that fathers and mothers have any inherent legal duties towards each other by virtue of their procreative activities. It would further erode the already-weakened public norms by which fathers and mothers assume themselves to be responsible towards their procreative partners. Norms of fidelity and permanence would no longer be considered essential features of procreative unions, but optional commitments based solely on the preferences of the partners. [Read More] [Watch Video]
Why not just take the government out of marriage altogether?
Does a father have any inherent obligations to his children and their mother, irrespective of any prior to any contract or agreement he’s made? Does a mother have a legitimate claim upon the father of her children, irrespective of and prior to any contractual agreement or civil legislation? Do parents have a natural right to raise their children together according to their own discretion (absent severe abuse or neglect), regardless of whether civil governments respect that right? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then governments have a duty to recognize, respect, and in rare cases enforce those rights and privileges.
In this way, marriage (whether it is officiated by a priest or a judge) has always had civil implications, whether or not a civil magistrate requires prior permission (marriage licensure). Marriage simply puts the government on notice that the married partners are now a family unit, and that they lay claim to the natural duties and privileges that accompany procreative relationships. Determining the contexts in which procreative partners can seek recourse in a court of law, doesn’t bring the government into marriage any more than determining when governments can enforce and defend property rights is “bringing the government into property.” We could completely dismantle marriage licensure, but we would still want the state to recognize the rights of procreative partners. [Read More] [Watch Video]
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