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Same-Sex Marriage, Part 1: What is Marriage?

Same-Sex Marriage, Part 1: What is Marriage?

“Why would you want deny two people of the same sex who love each other the right to marry?”

It’s a question posed to me by a friend, but it’s a question that our culture is asking every day, in every state. Unfortunately, it is not the right question to ask, if one truly wants to understand what the marriage debate is really about. And the issues behind that question are much more complex than that of which most people are aware.

It has become sort of a political and ideological litmus test: You can often get a pretty good idea of one’s political and spiritual leanings by the answer to the question, “Should we as a society allow persons of the same sex to get married?” It has become the cultural battleground issue of our day, although much of the fighting is about assumptions about the persons involved in the debate, rather than about the issue itself. Unfortunately, emotions often trump reason, so those on both sides of the issue rarely have well-reasoned principles behind their positions.

Liberal pundits cast those in favor of gay marriage as open-minded, enlightened, egalitarian and compassionate, while those opposed portrayed as discriminatory, judgmental, ignorant, and bigoted. Many religious and conservative traditionalists believe gay marriage advocates are ushering in a new era of moral depravity, and consider themselves cultural warriors against moral decline by their stance against same-sex marriage. But the issue is not about the character, beliefs, or even actions of those in support of or opposed to gay marriage. The issue is about gay marriage itself – whether gay marriage is something that is beneficial to America and to society as a whole.

Even more clearly – the issue is about the definition of marriage, and how that definition impacts society.

Same-sex marriage is an issue so supremely significant, it bears moving past passionate rhetoric or ad hominem attacks to honestly address the true issue at hand. There are many faith-based reasons for my belief that marriage should be a permanent, exclusive union between a man and a woman, but in these articles I want to explore the purely secular and social implications. Because, contrary to what most people believe, the reasons our society should not want same-sex marriage are not simply religious. Everyone in America should fight for traditional marriage, whether gay or straight, Christian or atheist. In fact, the very future of our nation and the well-being of our society depend on the health of traditional marriage.

The Supreme Court and the Importance of Marriage

The issue of marriage is such an important one that, in Spring 2013, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in two cases related to same-sex marriage. Hollingsworth v. Perry addresses the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 marriage amendment (which recognizes marriage in California as between only a man and a woman), and United States v. Windsor addresses the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage in federal law as a legal union between one man and one woman, and which enables states to decline to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.[1]

Although our culture is certainly much more approving of the idea of same-sex marriage than it was even 10 years ago, the mainstream media often portrays the issue as a foregone conclusion, and makes the assumption that the vast majority of Americans are in favor of same-sex marriage. However, this is not the case.

In 2008, California, one of the most liberal states in the union, passed Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that recognizes marriage in California as being only between a man and a woman, in spite of significant mainstream media opposition to the amendment[2] and expenditures by same-sex marriage advocates. In addition, the most extensive survey of its kind, completed by Public Opinion Strategies in May 2011, found that “62% of Americans believe that marriage should be defined as only a union between one man and one woman”; 52% “strongly agreed”. Likewise, a poll conducted by The Polling Company, Inc. in November 2012 found that 60% of voters who voted in the election favor marriage being the union of one man and one woman.

In the debate about marriage, the most significant factor for determining Americans’ views on the subject is how it is portrayed – whether the issue is (erroneously) framed as one of rights and discrimination, or whether it is (accurately) framed as one about the meaning of marriage itself. As traditional marriage advocate Maggie Gallagher puts it, “When the issue is framed as one of fairness or equality, Americans are now reluctant to disagree with gay marriage, but when it is framed as a moral or family issue, they continue to adhere strongly to traditional norms of marriage”. This series will seek to demonstrate the fact that traditional marriage law does not discriminate against same-sex couples, and that, in fact, it is laws that would redefine marriage to include persons of the same sex that are discriminatory – by interjecting an arbitrary element, the element of personal choice. In order to be able to make sound decisions about the issue of marriage, the court, and all Americans, must accurately understand what the debate is truly about.

Marriage is a very important issue to Americans, demonstrated by the fact that spending from both sides of the marriage debate set a new record for a social policy initiative in campaigns around California’s Proposition 8 marriage amendment. And it should be important – marriage undergirds the very foundation and fabric of society.

What’s at Stake?

Although only 13% of the children by moderately educated mothers were born outside of marriage in the 1980’s, today 44% are, according to a report recently released by the University of Virginia. Currently, the majority of births to women under the age of thirty occur outside of marriage. According to the report, which is part of the National Marriage Project at the University’s Institute of American Values, “Researchers are now finding that the disappearance of marriage in Middle America is tracking with the disappearance of the middle class in the same communities….This decline of marriage in Middle America imperils the middle class and fosters a society of winners and losers.[3]” In other words, when marriage disappears, the well-being of society disappears.

Researchers have consistently found that, even when controlling for factors such as economic status and genetics, children’s outcomes are best when raised in intact, low-conflict homes with their married biological mother and father.[4] The benefits of marriage will be further explored in Part 2 and Part 5 of this series, however by virtually all indicators, married, intact biological families provide far and away the best environment for the optimal development of children.[5]

This should not come as a surprise. When the family is fragmented and children are raised without a mother or father, there are social consequences. As the health of marriage and family decreases, poverty and instability increases, leading to more intervention and support from the state. It is for this very reason that the state is involved in the marriage business to begin with – because children become the future citizens of society.

But if marriage is so good for society, then why not expand it to include same-sex couples?

The answer, as this ten-part series will explore, is that gay marriage does not simply expand marriage to include additional persons. It completely changes what marriage is, and, by doing so, serves to make marriage irrelevant. And, when the viability of marriage is compromised, the viability of our culture suffers.

The Definition of Marriage

The question that is at the very heart of this debate is not “Who should be allowed to marry?”. The correct question is What is marriage?

Because gay marriage seeks to change the definition of marriage to something completely different, it is important to first understand what the traditional definition of marriage is, as it is currently (and has been historically) understood.

Marriage has traditionally been understood as an exclusive, permanent, conjugal relationship between:

  1. Two people
  2. Of the opposite sex
  3. Who are over the age of consent
  4. Who are not close blood relatives

This definition of marriage, also known as the conjugal view of marriage, has been virtually unchallenged throughout our nation’s history until now. Even further, permanent, exclusive physical-emotional-spiritual unions between a man and a woman, which are oriented toward the creation and rearing of children, have been a part of virtually every society since the dawn of mankind.[6] In contrast to the consistent, vociferous critics of social issues such as slavery or the bans on interracial marriage, Matthew Franck, director at the Witherspoon Institute, writes, “No advocates of justice in human history, prior to the modern sexual revolution in the West, ever thought of same-sex marriage, whatever their views on society’s treatment of homosexual persons.” The conjugal view of marriage is what has predominated virtually all cultures, throughout all of time.

It is, obviously, the second aspect of this definition (that marriage should be between persons of the opposite sex) that is being challenged through the gay marriage debate. Interestingly, throughout world history and culture, of all of these marital norms, it is the second that has been the least disputed. Many cultures have accepted marriage between more than two persons (polygamy), marriage between children, and marriage between close blood relatives. The idea of persons of the same sex marrying, however, is an overwhelmingly recent, Western phenomenon. When our nation is considering redefining a societal norm that has essentially been a universally accepted institution for most societies and cultures for hundreds of years, it had better not waste time casting aspersions against those who oppose the change, but take the time to truly understand the full ramifications of what it is doing.

What the Argument is Really About

Gay marriage advocates often avoid the question that is at the center of the marriage debate: the question about what marriage is. Because, as these series of articles will demonstrate, when the starting point is the definition of marriage, rather than assumptions about discrimination or lack of justice, it becomes clear that this is not, in any way, a debate about justice at all. It is not an argument about equally applying the same access to a “right” to all persons (Part 7 will address this in detail).  It is not about discrimination or equality. It is about using the vehicle of marriage law to grant legitimacy to same-sex relationships.

Every law makes distinctions. The question is whether those distinctions are made legitimately about subjects/essential features to the law that are fundamentally different (good law), or whether those distinctions are made arbitrarily about subjects/essential features to the law that are fundamentally the same (discriminatory law). The gay marriage debate is about the nature of reality – the nature of same-sex relationships and opposite-sex marital relationships, and whether or not they are the same. To understand whether the distinctions about these relationships (as they pertain to marriage) are legitimate or arbitrary, one must answer a crucial question:

What is marriage?

This debate is about the grounds that transcend the law – the nature of the reality and interpretations of reality that precede the law. This is not a question of policy. It is a question about the definition of the subject of our policy. A simpler way of putting it: The issue of gay marriage is not primarily about who should be allowed to marry. It is about the very definition of marriage itself. Contrary to popular belief, allowing members of the same sex to marry does not simply expand the pool of people who are eligible to get married. Instead, it completely alters what marriage fundamentally is.

Think of it this way: Can two same-sex persons get married, with marriage as an institution  (or the definition of marriage) remaining the way it is? The answer to that question is an obvious, “No”, because gay marriage alters the second norm of marriage – that it is between persons of the opposite sex. Gay marriage completely changes marriage, it doesn’t merely expand the group of persons who can get married as the institution is currently understood.

As this series will demonstrate, this is one of just many ways the argument against gay marriage is completely different from that against the anti-miscegenation laws of the South, which forbade interracial marrying. Two opposite-sex persons of different races can get married while keeping the definition of marriage intact. Two persons of the same sex cannot. Two opposite-sex persons of different races can form a multi-level physical-emotional-spiritual union that has the potential to be fulfilled through the creation of mutual biological children. Two persons of the same sex cannot. The issue of gay marriage is not an issue of who, but what – not who is allowed to marry, but what the essence of marriage is.

What Is Marriage and Why Does It Matter?

The heart of the argument is this: What is marriage, and why does it matter?

Beyond simply the definition of marriage, it is important, for this discussion, to understand what kind of a relationship marriage is. Marriage is a multi-level union that connects two persons of complementary genders physically, emotionally, and spiritually which, through the fulfillment of that union, has the potential (if all systems function properly) to result in the creation of something completely separate from both of them – a child. Marriage is a good in and of itself, whether or not it results in children (and by no means is procreation the sole purpose of marriage), but the fact that it has the potential to produce children makes it a unique relationship like none other, and a relationship that matters greatly to society. Marriage carries in it the opportunity to participate both a partnership and a community. Indeed, marriage has the potential to create a family, and family is the most basic, foundational type of community that exists.

Marriage matters not only as a partnership between the adults who participate in it, but as the societal mechanism for the development of persons. The reality is that the sexual acts between men and women make babies, and babies need, and have a right to, both their mother and their father. Marriage between a man and a woman has been recognized throughout time and culture because it serves to connect men and women to each other and to any children they produce. The critical norms of marriage – gender complementarity, monogamy, exclusivity, and permanence – not only enrich the nature of the marital relationship for its partners, but serve to create an environment most conducive to the optimal development of children.

Changing the Definition of Marriage and Why It Matters

So, who cares? Why not simply change the definition of marriage, alter the second norm, and allow same-sex persons to wed, while keeping everything else the same?

The answers to those questions are what this series of articles is going to explore.

Each of the parts is as follows:

 

This series will demonstrate that same-sex marriage disconnects marriage from its roots in nature, or biology, which ultimately replaces an institution rooted in human nature with one rooted in human choice. Once the institution loses its ties to nature, a variety of significant problems emerge, including the introduction of a legal basis for any and all norms of marriage to be altered, children being deprived of their right to their mother or father, an invitation of state control over family relationships, threat to individual liberty (particularly religious liberty), and the replacement of a society grounded in objective truth with one based on subjective morality. Ultimately, the elimination of gender complementarity as a foundational element of marriage will lead to the demise of the institution of marriage all together. And, as this series will illustrate, a healthy marriage culture is absolutely critical for the health of society as a whole, as well as for the individuals within that society.

Allowing members of the same sex to marry effectively does not merely open marriage to a wider group of people. By changing the second part of the definition of marriage, gay marriage completely alters the very basis of the institution. Through this series, I hope to dispel some of the confusion around the issue of gay marriage, to clarify what is truly at stake, and to help people understand that no one, whether heterosexual or homosexual, should want gay marriage. Any perceived benefits to gay persons or to society are vastly outweighed by the appalling social and moral consequences that will accompany the inevitable destruction of marriage as an institution.

 

Sources:

Anderson, R. (2013, March 11). “Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It”. The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/03/marriage-what-it-is-why-it-matters-and-the-consequences-of-redefining-it#_ftn19

Anderson, R. (2012, December 18). “Can the President have a Marriage Agenda Without Talking About What Marriage Is?” Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/12/7437/

Balan, M. (2010, August 4). “CNN Sides Heavily With Opponents of Proposition 8”. News Busters. Retrieved from http://newsbusters.org/blogs/matthew-balan/2010/08/04/cnn-sides-heavily-opponents-proposition-8

Cothran, M. (2012, May 12). “A Lesson in Sophistry: Why Laws Against Same-Sex Marriages Are Not Like Laws Against Interracial Marriage”. Vital Remnants. Retrieved from http://vereloqui.blogspot.com/2012/05/lesson-in-sophistry-why-laws-against.html

Defense of Marriage Act, H.R. 3396, (1996). Retrieved from http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-104hr3396enr/pdf/BILLS-104hr3396enr.pdf

Farrow, D. (2012, Jan/Feb). “Why Fight Same-Sex Marriage?”. Touchstone. Retrieved from http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=25-01-024-f

Fitzpatrick, B. (2008, November 13). “Media Have a Proposition for California Churches: You’re Bigots”. Media Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.mrc.org/articles/media-have-proposition-calif-churches-youre-bigots

Franck, M. (2013, January 4). “Same-Sex Marriage and Social Change: Exceeding the Speed of Thought”. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/01/7495/

Franck, M. (2012, July 30). “Truth and Lies, Nature and Convention: The Debate Over Same-Sex Marriage.” Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/07/5905/

Franck, M. (2011, December 15). “Advocating Same-Sex Marriage: Consistency Is Another Victim”. Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/12/4451/

Fyfe, K. (2008, November 17). “CNN, Newspapers Beat the Drum for Same-Sex Marriage”. Media Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.mrc.org/articles/cnn-newspapers-beat-drum-same-sex-marriage

Girgis, S., Anderson, R. & George, R. (2013, February 11). “Marriage and Politics”. E-mail subscription from Ryan T. Anderson of Public Discourse. Can also be downloaded from https://www.nationalreview.com/nrd/articles/338682/marriage-and-politics?utm_source=Copy+of+RTA+Bradley+Paradox+of+Persons&utm_campaign=winstorg&utm_medium=email

Groening, C. (2009, June 1). “Biased News Coverage of Prop 8 Continues”. The Western Center for Journalism. Retrieved from http://www.westernjournalism.com/biased-news-coverage-of-prop-8-continues/

Heaney, S. J. (2013, April 3). “Cats and Dogs and Marriage Laws”. Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/04/9716/

The Institute for American Values (2005). “Why Marriage Matters, Second Edition: Twenty-Six Conclusions From the Social Sciences”. A Report From Family Scholars. ISBN#978-1-931764-10-7. Retrieved from http://americanvalues.org/pdfs/why_marriage_matters2.pdf

Lee, P., George, R. P. & Bradley, G. V. (2011, March 28). “Marriage and Procreation: The Intrinsic Connection”. Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/03/2638/

McLanahan, S., Donahue, E., & Haskins, R. (2005). “The Future of Children.” Marriage and Wellbeing, 15(2). Retrieved from http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/journals/article/index.xml?journalid=37&articleid=103&sectionid=658&submit

Moore, K. A., Jekielek, S. M. & Emig, C., (2002, June). “Marriage From a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can We Do About It?” Child Trends Research Brief.  Retrieved from http://www.childtrends.org/files/MarriageRB602.pdf

Parke, M. (2003, May). “Are Married Parents Really Better for Children? What Research Says About the Effects of Family Structure on Child Well-Being.” Annotated version of a Couples and Marriage Research and Policy Brief. Center for Law and Social Policy. Retrieved from  http://www.clasp.org/admin/site/publications_states/files/0086.pdf

Philbin, M. (2008, November 7). “New York Times: Proposition 8 Hurts California Business”. Media Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.mrc.org/articles/new-york-times-proposition-8-hurts-california-business

Skillen, J. (2004, Second Quarter). “Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Is Not a Civil Right”. The Center for Public Justice. Retrieved from http://www.cpjustice.org/stories/storyReader$1178

Smith, S. (2013, March 27). “The Red Herring of ‘Marriage Equality’”. Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/03/7912/

Snell, R. J. (2012, November 27). “Reason and Compassion in the Marriage Debate”. Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/11/7215/

Vogt, B. (2013, January 13). “Understanding Definition of Marriage”. Our Sunday Visitor. Retrieved from http://www.osv.com/tabid/7621/itemid/10340/Understanding-definition-of-marriage.aspx



[1] Defense of Marriage Act, H.R. 3396, (1996); Gacek, C. “Basic Facts About the Defense of Marriage Act”. Family Research Council.

[2] Groening, C. (2009, June 1). “Biased News Coverage of Prop 8 Continues”. The Western Center for Journalism; Balan, M. (2010, August 4). “CNN Sides Heavily With Opponents of Proposition 8”. News Busters; Philbin, M. (2008, November 7). “New York Times: Proposition 8 Hurts California Business”. Media Research Center; Fitzpatrick, B. (2008, November 13). “Media Have a Proposition for California Churches: You’re Bigots”. Media Research Center; Fyfe, K. (2008, November 17). “CNN, Newspapers Beat the Drum for Same-Sex Marriage”. Media Research Center.

[3] Anderson, R. T. (2012, Dec. 18). “Can the President Have a Marriage Agenda Without Talking About What Marriage Is?” Public Discourse.

[4] McLanahan, S., Donahue, E., & Haskins, R. (2005). “The Future of Children.” Marriage and Wellbeing. 15(2).

The Institute for American Values (2005). “Why Marriage Matters, Second Edition: Twenty-Six Conclusions From the Social Sciences”. A Report From Family Scholars. ISBN#978-1-931764-10-7.

Parke, M. (2003, May). “Are Married Parents Really Better for Children? What Research Says About the Effects of Family Structure on Child Well-Being.” Annotated version of a Couples and Marriage Research and Policy Brief. Center for Law and Social Policy.

[5] Moore, K. A., Jekielek, S. M. & Emig, C., (2002, June). “Marriage From a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can We Do About It?” Child Trends Research Brief.

[6] Lee, P., George, R. P. & Bradley, G. V. (2011, March 28). “Marriage and Procreation: The Intrinsic Connection”. Public Discourse.

2 Responses to “Same-Sex Marriage, Part 1: What is Marriage?”

  1. Rebecca says:

    I address that issue directly in future posts…and provide abundant evidence for the ways that marriage IS changed to its demise. Thanks!

  2. Dad says:

    Good work…. I look forward to reading the rest of your posts in this series. You’re correct in emphasizing that the critical issue is the definition of marriage. On the other side, advocates for same-sex marriage will say that in places where same sex marriage has been legalized, nothing happens to marriage. There is no “demise”….. However, from the little reading I have done in the Scandinavian countries where same sex marriage is now legal…. what I think we’re seeing there is an increase in the numbers of couples who are having children and living together, but not bothering to get married. In othe words, the iniitial indication is that allowing the changing of the definition of marriage would seem to diminish the value of marriage and the interest of people even bothering to get married. At the same time, it will probably take several generations to be able to see the long term consequences… and by then, it will have been too late.

    Good job… I like what you’ve done.

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