The Supreme Court will soon be ruling on whether or not the Constitution allows for defining marriage as one man and one woman. If you’re the kind of person who cares about treating people fairly and having just, principled laws, this is not the time to depend on feelings or vague ideas you’ve picked up in the culture about marriage. This is the time to think carefully. We can do better than “love is love.” Much is at stake, and you can’t know what is fair and just unless you first understand what marriage is and how society is affected by it.
To that end, I’ve collected posts (mainly from this blog), divided them into broad categories, and provided brief summary quotes for each. Even if you just read the quotes, you’ll get a basic understanding of the ideas involved. If you read the posts themselves, you’ll find even more links to pursue.
What this argument is really about (“only one question”)
The term “marriage equality,” if it means “the right to marry whomever you want,” is simply not an accurate term for what same-sex marriage supporters are advocating—not if they favor any restrictions whatsoever (age, number of people, incest, etc.). The truth is that nearly everyone does favor a definition of marriage that has boundaries and thereby denies “marriage equality” to some category of couple (or group). [In other words, the question we need to answer is, what is marriage?]
If marriage is a particular thing, then everyone has a right to take part in that institution as it stands, regardless of their personal characteristics. But to be part of the institution, they must be part of the institution. They don’t have a right to change that institution into something different simply because they don’t want to be part of it the way it is.
Imagine a public park builds a tennis court so that people can come to play tennis. Nobody should be denied the right to play tennis games there. Period. It’s a public park, open to all. One day, a group of basketball players comes to the park, wanting to play a game, but they find they can’t play basketball on a tennis court. They immediately go to City Hall to complain: “Everyone has the right to competitive exercise with a ball on that court! We’re being denied our rights based on our status as basketball players!” Can you see the problem? The fact that they don’t want to play tennis doesn’t give them the right to demand that the government build a different court at the park. Their right isn’t to “competitive exercise with a ball” (tennis shares that in common with basketball, but it can’t be reduced to that), their right is to play tennis on that court, just like everybody else.
Please don’t take that illustration farther than it’s intended to go. I’m merely trying to show that rights aren’t being denied simply because a person (or group of people) doesn’t want to take part in something. The park promises the same thing to all. It doesn’t promise “competitive exercise with a ball,” it promises tennis. And tennis excludes basketball—not out of prejudice, but by nature. One could certainly argue over whether the park ought to change that court into something different, but as things stand, no rights are being violated. Neither justice nor equality demands that the park change its court to accommodate the desires of the basketball players to play a different game in that space. The same is true for marriage.
Our objection to same-sex marriage is not about a difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals. If we were saying that homosexuals were lesser people unworthy of rights, then one might have an argument for this being an example of bigotry. But the case we’re making isn’t about a difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals (it’s not even about whether or not homosexuality is morally wrong); it’s about the difference between men and women.
[O]nly if marriage is defined as a conjugal union between sexually complementary spouses is there a reason for the monogamy, sexual exclusivity, and permanence that marriage entails. When we remove the key component of sexual complementarity from the definition, none of these other aspects will logically hold. And weakening marriage in this way will cause much harm to our society.
The concept of marriage that “has always been” is one where the boundaries are principled because they’re conformed to the nature of reality—the complementary differences between men and women.
The reproductive system is the only bodily system that requires another person to complete it. The bringing together of two physically complementary persons completes this system, and that is the type of union that society has an interest in protecting because that act is the act that produces children (whether or not it does so in any particular case). If the union of a man and a woman didn’t have the social consequences of creating a family by nature, marriage (the stabilization of that union by society) would never have existed.
Why define marriage as two people? Because two people complete the union that society has an interest in protecting.
Why define marriage as a man and a woman? Because those are the complementary persons whose union creates new life.
The traditional marriage advocate is arguing not from bigotry or even from tradition, but from principles of reality that remain unchanged despite anyone’s personal preferences.
Every state law will draw lines between what is a marriage and what isn’t a marriage. If those lines are to be drawn on principle, if those lines are to reflect the truth, we have to know what sort of relationship is marital, as contrasted with other forms of consenting adult relationships... I’ll answer three questions: what is marriage, why does marriage matter for public policy, and what are the consequences of redefining marriage?
Consequences to do with children—both having them and caring for them (also applies to adoption). This is the area where studies are helpful. There are plenty of studies about what happens when a child doesn’t have a mother or doesn’t have a father. I tend to trust these more than studies that are specifically about children of same-sex parents because they aren’t so politically charged. The biggest problem for children of same-sex parents is that they’re denied what they need—a mother and a father, and we have plenty of evidence this causes problems.
Marriage can’t be separated from biological realities. And that’s why this upheaval won’t end when same-sex marriage is accepted—why Gessen’s ultimate goal is the end of marriage. I’m glad to hear her honesty about this.
Despite the current push to reject sexual complementarity as the basis of a family, our concept of family still involves children, and yet there’s no getting around the fact that in order for a child to exist (leaving aside cloning), a man and a woman must be involved. So what happens when a definitional change is forced onto naturally occurring institutions (both marriage and family)? That’s what the UK is finding out as it tries to create new laws to hold up a new definition. It’s turning out to be not as simple as they thought.
In the past when I’ve claimed that mothers and fathers are both necessary because they make unique, complementary contributions to the lives of their children (e.g., see “We Don’t Need ’Mother’ and ’Father’ Anymore?”), some have expressed skepticism, asking for more evidence and a better description of the differences. In an article in The Atlantic, W. Bradford Wilcox explains what research is revealing on this subject.
What Every Child Needs: The Unique Contributions of Mothers and Fathers (pamphlet distilling info from many studies)
Consequences for marriage
In the end, the results of divorcing marriage and children from complementary biology will include unprecedented government intrusion, increasingly dubious technological practices, the viewing of children as commodities, serious legal complications, and the unethical use of women’s bodies. Indeed, these results are already underway.
Other unions do not complete the human reproductive system and create children, therefore monogamy and permanence are not central. Rather, what’s central is the sexual and emotional fulfillment of the participants, and who’s to say there’s one best way to accomplish that? Therefore, the radical activists seek “liberation”—the freedom to seek their own fulfillment however they see fit. No boundaries, no rules, no societal expectations. Each person acting as his own god, defining for himself what it means to be human.
Marriage in Polygamy Is Still One Man, One Woman (i.e., “Marriage is always changing—we used to have polygamy.”)
Sometimes people cite polygamy as evidence that the definition of marriage has changed over time, proving it to be malleable according to the culture. But even in the case of polygamy, has there really been a change in the definition of marriage? While I could see someone today wanting to define marriage as one man and multiple women, I don’t think that’s how people viewed it in the past. That is, they didn’t see their situation as one big marriage where everybody was married to everybody else. Rather, marriage was still simply one man and one woman. It’s just that the man was allowed to have more than one marriage. We haven’t changed the definition of marriage, we’ve only limited the number of concurrent marriages a person can have.
Race, Sex, and Marriage (i.e., “People used to be against interracial marriage, too.”)
We don’t have separate bathrooms for white people and black people. We do have separate bathrooms for men and women. This is because men and women are different in ways that are significant enough for society to acknowledge and take into account when those differences are relevant. And while differences in race are not relevant to marriage, differences in sex are relevant to creating and raising children. The important thing to note here is that the government is merely acknowledging an already-existing institution (one based on biological realities) when it recognizes male-female marriage. The public effect of the male-female union is unique, and therefore, the government is uniquely interested in it.
Two helpful non-STR articles
Information from the Bible / theology