Gay Marriage, Eviscerated

recent paper in the winter edition of Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy (you will have to download the PDF to read it) by Profs. Sherif Girgis, Robert George, and Ryan T. Anderson does a better job than any article to date in elucidating the importance of traditional marriage to our society, and why gay marriage has no part in it.

It begins by outlining the Conjugal view of marriage, a view I have touched on before:

Marriage is the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other of the type that is naturally (inherently) fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together. The spouses seal (consummate) and renew their union by conjugal acts—acts that constitute the behavioral part of the process of reproduction, thus uniting them as a reproductive unit. Marriage is valuable in itself, but its inherent orientation to the bearing and rearing of children contributes to its distinctive structure, including norms of monogamy and fidelity. This link to the welfare of children also helps explain why marriage is important to the common good and why the state should recognize and regulate it.

They then contrast it with the currently considered Revisionist view of marriage:

Marriage is the union of two people (whether of the same sex or of opposite sexes) who commit to romantically loving and caring for each other and to sharing the burdens and benefits of domestic life. It is essentially a union of hearts and minds, enhanced by whatever forms of sexual intimacy both partners find agreeable. The state should recognize and regulate marriage because it has an interest in stable romantic partnerships and in the concrete needs of spouses and any children they may choose to rear.

Additionally the authors make this important point about the Conjugal view:

It has sometimes been suggested that the conjugal understanding of marriage is based only on religious beliefs. This is false. Although the world’s major religious traditions have historically understood marriage as a union of man and woman that is by nature apt for procreation and childrearing,3 this suggests merely that no one religion invented marriage. Instead, the demands of our common human nature have shaped (however imperfectly) all of our religious traditions to recognize this natural institution. As such, marriage is the type of social practice whose basic contours can be discerned by our common human reason, whatever our religious background. We argue in this Article for legally enshrining the conjugal view of marriage, using arguments that require no appeal to religious authority.

They then go on to argue in the most comprehensive and thorough manner for enshrining the Conjugal view in law. By way of conclusion they offer this intriguing thought experiment:

A thought experiment might crystallize our central argument. Almost every culture in every time and place has had some institution that resembles what we know as marriage. But imagine that human beings reproduced asexually and that human offspring were self-sufficient. In that case, would any culture have developed an institution anything like what we know as marriage?

It seems clear that the answer is no.

Marriage exists for deep biological, psychological, and sociological reasons. It is not just a construct the state came up with to confer benefits. The Conjugal view is not only worth protecting, it is absolutely critical that we protect it.

As the authors conclude:

So the view laid out in this Article is not simply the most favorable or least damaging trade-off between the good of a few adults, and that of children and other adults. Nor are there “mere arguments” on the one hand squaring off against people’s”concrete needs” on the other. We reject both of these dichotomies.

Marriage understood as the conjugal union of husband and wife really serves the good of children, the good of spouses, and the common good of society. And when the arguments against this view fail, the arguments for it succeed, and the arguments against its alternative are decisive, we take this as evidence that it serves the common good. For reason is not just a debater’s tool for idly refracting arguments into premises, but a lens for bringing into focus the features of human flourishing.

I would have to conclude that eviscerates the any notions that gay marriage advocates have that their view of marriage is equal to this one.

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21 Responses to Gay Marriage, Eviscerated

  1. kenetiks says:

    I would assume you’ve qouted the most relevant bits, in which case I respectfully disagree. You’re simply saying they have achieved victory without actually having done anything.

    To be fair, I haven’t read the paper yet as I’m typing from my phone. I will though as soon as I get a chance.

  2. kenetiks says:

    After having read at least a quarter of this paper that I’m appalled that this came out of Harvard.

    I’m not quite sure what to make of it so far. But one thing is for sure, it has yet to eviscerate anything. It almost reads as a guide to having your cake and eating it too. Or rather attempting to anyway.

    I’ll attempt to get to reading the rest of it later.

  3. James says:

    Are you married? If so, if you could no longer have sexual relations with your wife, would she be any less your wife? If so, that says a lot about your priorities. If not, why not, besides the fact that sexual relations already occurred. What’s unique about the relationship?

    Are you telling me that the only thing that separates your wife from other women is the fact that you have sex with her? Otherwise, any other woman would do?

  4. jackhudson says:

    Actually, the paper addresses that.

    But to answer you question, what separates my wife from other women is that she is the only person I have sex with, and that aspect of our relationship is part of a larger commitment through which a family can be produced. That would be true if that part of our relationship ceased.

    I would ask you though, if the goal is merely to be mutually affectionate relationship, why would I need government sanction at all?

  5. nate says:

    The typical argument for gay marriage is that procreation is not the point. The social benefits are the point. Tax advantages and such, and that denying gay couples those benefits is denying them equal protection.

    If that’s the case for changing the definition of marriage from one man and one woman than why can’t I marry my sister to get those benefits? Sure we can’t procreate, that would be disgusting and potentially dangerous for any child that would come of it, but for the tax benefits, health insurance, even homeowners insurance.

    If the point isn’t procreation that what possible objection could their be to sibling marriage? Or what about if my sister died, and her child needed to be raised? My Uncle and I could get married and get some advantages for raising that child. What objection to that could their be?

    Again, we certainly wouldn’t be having sex, but we would be raising a child, we should be able to marry than right?

    Or could it be that the redefinition of marriage isn’t about those things at all. Could it possibly be that the drive for gay marriage has, at its core, the desire to force acceptance of a lifestyle many if not most Americans disagree with?

  6. James says:

    “Could it possibly be that the drive for gay marriage has, at its core, the desire to force acceptance of a lifestyle many if not most Americans disagree with?”

    What is gay marriage “forcing” upon anyone? You know, it’s legal for an incarcerated pedophile and murderer to get married. It’s also legal to get married fifteen times (just as long as those marriages aren’t concurrent). How have those imposed anything on you personally?

    If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t have one. Gay marriage has been legal in a couple states (including MA), and that hasn’t stopped Westboro Baptist from their extreme protests in those states (Brandeis University). There are no “hate speech” laws in these states, and in fact, the laws were only changed to protect funerals when Westboro stopped picketing the ones of AIDS patients in favor of ones for the military.

    I’ll think you’ll be free to retain your moral opposition to gay marriage and homosexual conduct.

  7. nate says:

    Marriage is a societal recognition. It seems that every time it is put to a vote society chooses they do not want to recognize these ‘unions’.

    I’m all for gay marriage if we get the government, and thus me, out of it. If you want societies blessing than look elsewhere.

  8. nate says:

    Why can’t siblings get married? In theory all the same goals of gay marriage are there. Or three people? Can three people get married? What rational is there against that practice?

  9. James says:

    “Why can’t siblings get married?”

    It’s a cultural taboo, just as eating dogs is a taboo (and which is also illegal in some areas).

    Is it immoral? I don’t know. If you believe the Bible, it was necessary to continue the species after Adam and Eve and Noah and the Flood. Would God require actions He deemed intrinsically evil?

    “I’m all for gay marriage if we get the government, and thus me, out of it. ”

    Why’s that? Do you believe the Bible or not? According to Luke 16:18, Christ Himself said that to remarry is to commit adultery. There are no exclusions to that passage merely because your spouse is a drug addict or abusive. Therefore, the government, by not criminalizing second marriages, is complicit in adultery.

    I don’t expect you care much about that, though, unless you’re going to tell me you’ve written letters to your elected representative complaining that the government is endorsing adultery.

    No, I didn’t think so.

  10. nate says:

    You don’t expect I care much about that huh?

    I don’t. You expect correctly. As a catholic, I’m against adultery. As a libertarian leaning conservative I think that that’s an issue between God and the individual in question, not between the individual and the government.

  11. kenetiks says:

    @nate

    Marriage is a societal recognition. It seems that every time it is put to a vote society chooses they do not want to recognize these ‘unions’.

    I’m all for gay marriage if we get the government, and thus me, out of it. If you want societies blessing than look elsewhere.

    Irrelevant and lolwut?

    First of all, I’ve already countered the first argument before. It’s absolutely meaningless what society as a majority wants. Society by and large may want to reemploy slavery but that may make slavery legal but it doesn’t make it right.

    Second, this is one of the most absurd things. How could the government possibly be included in this and furthermore thereby dragging you into a gay marriage along with it. You are only being put into the arena because you and only you are putting yourself there. The only fault is with you.

  12. nate says:

    You don’t feel that when the government acts its doing so in your name?

  13. kenetiks says:

    @nate

    You don’t expect I care much about that huh?

    I don’t. You expect correctly. As a catholic, I’m against adultery. As a libertarian leaning conservative I think that that’s an issue between God and the individual in question, not between the individual and the government.

    Congratulations. Marriages are now the exclusive arena of god and the individuals concerned.

    Since there is no compelling evidence for god, that narrows this down to individuals concerned.

    This then raises the question; Why are you then arguing against something that your yourself have now admitted is between them and a non existent entity and doesn’t concern you?

    This seems to be because as I stated earlier; because you wantto be right in the middle of it.

  14. nate says:

    And try and forgive any incoherence on my part, new meds, they are making me a bit dizzy and its hard to focus my eyes, so bear with me.

  15. nate says:

    The God part really doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in God.

    The point is the government shouldn’t be involved, thats the way I want it. That particular portion was directed at the adultery question anyways. There is no real reason why adultery is a bad thing outside of the religious sphere. Unless you have scientific evidence suggesting otherwise.

  16. kenetiks says:

    The God part really doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in God.

    The point is the government shouldn’t be involved, thats the way I want it. That particular portion was directed at the adultery question anyways. There is no real reason why adultery is a bad thing outside of the religious sphere. Unless you have scientific evidence suggesting otherwise.

    I understand about the meds, hope it clears up.

    You’re being contradictory and you’re not answering my charge. If adultery(which could be remarriage) is the exclusive territory of the individuals involved and god then what does this or likewise gay marriage have to do with you? Shouldn’t gay marriages or relationships be the exclusive territory of the individuals involved and god as well? And just what does the government giving a piece of paper to a gay couple necessarily require you to become involved? What part are you playing in the relationship of a gay couple that you don’t know?

  17. James says:

    “There is no real reason why adultery is a bad thing outside of the religious sphere.”

    From a practical perspective: adultery is usually disastrous for a marriage. If no children are involved, the only people it concerns are the two persons in question. However, if there are children, studies do show that they fare better when raised by two parents (as opposed to one). Of course, we all have a vested interest in children being raised so that it is less likely they become young adults and with developmental or behavior problems.

    So why should society care about gay marriage, then?

    Gay marriage encourages monogamy and stability for its partners as well as any children they happen to be raising. Gays have made efforts to adopt the children abandoned by their biological parents and provide them the stability they would not otherwise have. They frequently have the means to be able to do so.

    Not all gay men and women want a life of monogamy and marriage, but many do, and I just don’t see a compelling interest in the state preventing them from doing so. To the contrary, there are benefits to everyone by affording them the ability to take on the responsibilities and sacrifices involved in civil marriage.

  18. jackhudson says:

    The last bit of the discussion here is actually begging the question. The paper deals with why does marriage exist at all, and why is government interested in supporting marriage.

    Marriage exists because the relationship between men and women produces children. It may not be why all people participate in a marriage, but it is why the institution exists – it doesn’t make sense outside of this reality.

    The reason why government has an interest in supporting marriage is because it is the best relationship in which to raise healthy children, and eventually citizens. Whatever other reasons for marriage to exist are extraneous – it is in the states interest to preserve the conjugal view of marriage, and to resist modifying marriage for the sake of accommodating other interests.

  19. kenetiks says:

    Because, obviously, this is why we don’t allow older or infertile couples to marry.

    Even being specifically created for the purpose of producing and rearing children won’t work because humans did this long before the concept of marriage existed. Other species manage this routinely without having to have a marriage certificate and they aren’t destroyed as a species.

    Besides, being a heterosexual married couple does not guarantee that you will produce and raise healthy citizens.

  20. jackhudson says:

    Because, obviously, this is why we don’t allow older or infertile couples to marry.

    The authors of the paper address this quite well here:

    Revisionists often challenge proponents of the conjugal view of marriage to offer a principled argument for recognizing the unions of presumptively infertile couples that does not equally justify the recognition of same‐sex partnerships. But this challenge is easily met…

    …Any act of organic bodily union can seal a marriage, whether or not it causes conception. The nature of the spouses’ action now cannot depend on what happens hours later independently of their control—whether a sperm cell in fact penetrates an ovum. And because the union in question is an organic bodily union, it cannot depend for its reality on psychological factors. It does not matter, then, if spouses do not intend to have children or believe that they cannot. Whatever their thoughts or goals, whether a couple achieves bodily union depends on facts about what is happening between their bodies.

    It is clear that the bodies of an infertile couple can unite organically through coitus. Consider digestion, the individual body’s process of nourishment. Different parts of that process— salivation, chewing, swallowing, stomach action, intestinal absorption of nutrients—are each in their own way oriented to the broader goal of nourishing the organism. But our salivation, chewing, swallowing, and stomach action remain oriented to that goal (and remain digestive acts) even if on some occasion our intestines do not or cannot finally absorb nutrients, and even if we know so before we eat.

    In short, a heterosexual’s physical interaction bonds them in the same way whether or not the eventual outcome is conception. The basis for marriage remains intact.

    Even being specifically created for the purpose of producing and rearing children won’t work because humans did this long before the concept of marriage existed. Other species manage this routinely without having to have a marriage certificate and they aren’t destroyed as a species.

    I am not sure this is true. As far as recorded history, some sorts of marriages seem to be recognized, even in the most primitive societies. And I would say there is much evidences (particularly in our inner-cities) that abandoning marriage as a means of raising children is very deleterious to the order and health of a community.

    Besides, being a heterosexual married couple does not guarantee that you will produce and raise healthy citizens.

    Sure – but saying an institution is the best way to do something and therefore we should support it doesn’t require that it is flawless. In the same way we can prefer democracy as a form of government while recognizing that democratic governments can be flawed.

  21. kenetiks says:

    Jack:

    The authors of the paper address this quite well here:

    And thereby defeating one of their own arguments in the process. Which is why one of my first comments refers to this paper as a guide to “having your cake and eating it too”.


    Revisionists often challenge proponents of the conjugal view of marriage to offer a principled argument for recognizing the unions of presumptively infertile couples that does not equally justify the recognition of same‐sex partnerships. But this challenge is easily met…

    …Any act of organic bodily union can seal a marriage, whether or not it causes conception. The nature of the spouses’ action now cannot depend on what happens hours later independently of their control—whether a sperm cell in fact penetrates an ovum. And because the union in question is an organic bodily union, it cannot depend for its reality on psychological factors. It does not matter, then, if spouses do not intend to have children or believe that they cannot. Whatever their thoughts or goals, whether a couple achieves bodily union depends on facts about what is happening between their bodies.

    One of the points of the paper address one pivotal purpose of marriage as procreation and then go on to write the above, seemingly completely unaware of how blissfully ignorant the entire paper and apparently some Harvard academics as well. If this is the cream of the academic crop of one of the preeminent schools then I’d rather my son attend somewhere else.


    It is clear that the bodies of an infertile couple can unite organically through coitus. Consider digestion, the individual body’s process of nourishment. Different parts of that process— salivation, chewing, swallowing, stomach action, intestinal absorption of nutrients—are each in their own way oriented to the broader goal of nourishing the organism. But our salivation, chewing, swallowing, and stomach action remain oriented to that goal (and remain digestive acts) even if on some occasion our intestines do not or cannot finally absorb nutrients, and even if we know so before we eat.

    This is an attempt to create a diversion by random dialog in the most incoherent manner possible.

    I usually pride myself in being open minded and making an attempt to be fair and polite in my discourse but in this case this is as kind as I can possibly be to this kind of the kind of glaring dishonesty.

    I’m serious Jack. I like you and I think you’ve been a fair guy since we’ve started talking and I enjoy posting here and debating with you but this paper is absolute garbage. I’m for gay marriage and even I would probably be able to propose a more coherent set of arguments against it. I’ve even seen you make a more serious and better formed attempt with the incest argument that was far more coherent than this.

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