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Same-Sex Marriage, Part 3: The Connection of Marriage to Nature

Same-Sex Marriage, Part 3: The Connection of Marriage to Nature

This ten-part series on same-sex marriage seeks to address the fundamental issues behind one of the most important debates of our century – the debate about marriage.

Part 1: What is Marriage? summarized the fact that the gay marriage debate is not about who should be allowed to marry, but about what marriage as an institution is. Same sex marriage alters the second part of the definition of marriage (that the institution is between persons of the opposite sex), which severs the ties of marriage to its roots in biology. Doing so exchanges an institution based in human nature with one based in human choice. Part 2 detailed the importance of marriage to individuals and to society, fleshing out the specifics of just what the consequences of a decline in marriage would be. This article will investigate the ties of marriage to nature, and why that connection matters.

The Connection of Marriage to Nature

The traditional definition of marriage is grounded in a biological basis; traditional marriage is not simply an emotional bond, but a physical (and spiritual) one as well. Union, in the sense of marriage, means not simply the joining of sexual organs, but the ability of two systems, once joined, to cooperate for a common goal or purpose that neither can accomplish alone. The union of man and woman in sexual intercourse joins them bodily, resulting in the possibility of a new biological phenomenon…a child. Whether or not children actually result from the union, the relationship between the two individuals is based in a biological reality that has the potential to result in something greater than just those two individuals – a family. Family is the most basic form of community.

Traditional marriage, therefore, unlike any other type of relationship, is not simply an arbitrary emotional bond (with the possibility of sexual pleasure), but a means to a particular type of community, rooted in the biological reality of sexual complementarity.

The fact that marriage is rooted in procreation does not, in any way, imply that procreation is the only purpose or benefit of marriage. On the contrary, marriage is, in and of itself, an intrinsic good – a relationship that promotes the well-being and flourishing of those involved in it. Even if children do not arise out of a marital union, the communion of the marital relationship itself contributes to the well-being of the partners, and to the common good of society. However, marriage between a man and a woman is the kind of multi-leveled union that could (if both partners desired it, and if biologically everything worked optimally) be fulfilled by the creation of fruit from that union (mutual children). This is what makes it unique from all other types of unions, including same-sex unions. Persons in same-sex unions can engage with one another sexually, and can form agreements for parenting children, but they cannot link these aspects of the union together inherently; they could not possibly (even if they desired it and everything worked optimally) create biological fruit from their union. It is this unique union that makes traditional marriage like no other human relationship, and which makes it worthy of state promotion.

The major problem with altering the definition of marriage to allow same sex persons to wed is that doing so removes marriage from its roots in procreation. It changes the biologically-based second part of the definition of marriage from one focused on the creation of a community through which children can be nurtured to one that is based on the emotional and sexual desires of individuals. In other words, gay marriage essentially defines marriage as simply a strong emotional bond or romantic partnership between two persons, as opposed to a relationship rooted in sexual complementarity and reproductive capacity that can serve as the safeguard for the development of children. It replaces an institution based on human nature with one based on human choice.

This is a highly significant change – one that has broad implications for society on every level.

Why Biology in Marriage Matters

Marriage is based on the biological or sexual complementarity of male and female, which can (but does not have to) result in the conception and then nurturing of children…a mind-body-soul union that is capable of producing something larger than itself (a family). Although it is a relationship that serves as a good in and of itself, marriage finds its fruition in the uniting persons of different genders that can bring about new persons into the world – in short, the creation of a family.

Although people can and do benefit from the marital relationship outside of having children, the reason marriage has existed in the first place, and the reason the state has a stock in promoting it, was because of its generative nature. As one prominent marriage defender puts it, marriage exists because “sex makes babies, society needs babies, children need mothers and fathers.[1]” The state has a vested interest in protecting the family environment, for the healthy development of children, because children become adults and adults create society. Marriage, from the standpoint of being an institution of the state, exists in order to protect the specific, irreducible community that a biologically-linked mother, father, and child create.

Gay marriage, on the other hand, divorces the institution from its roots in biology, in nature. It exchanges the biologically-grounded pairing based on sexual complementarity with a pairing based on something else – individual choice. Doing so has broad and detrimental consequences for our culture for the following reasons:

1. Changing the gender-based aspect of the definition of marriage leads to a philosophical and legal basis for changing any other (or all) parts of the definition. As marital norms are eroded, and as the state no longer retains its interest in promoting it, marriage loses its meaning and relevance as an institution – ultimately leading to the demise of marriage all together.

2. Marriage’s connection to nature protects the child’s right to his or her mother and father. Gay marriage, on the other hand, is based on depriving one child of at least one parent.

3. When marriage’s connection to biology is lost, marriage becomes based on merely the interests of the adults involved rather than on the interests of the child that might be produced. This makes a child a commodity, and reduces parenting, which is a permanent, non-negotiable status, to a contract that can be negotiated.

4. The tie of marriage to nature is what allows it to be construed as a fundamental building block – the only structure which creates the most basic unit of society: a family. It is the generative nature of marriage, as the system through which future citizens are nurtured, which makes it an institution worthy of state promotion and protection. Same-sex marriage, by severing the ties of marriage to nature, will serve to significantly weaken marital culture, making the “good” of marriage more difficult to attain, and will invite unprecedented governmental control over family relationships.

5. Sexual complementarity in marriage provides a basis for the institution that distinguishes it from all other kinds of unions as a unique, non-arbitrary relationship. If the state endorses a non-conjugal view of marriage (including same-sex marriage), then it would be implying that the conjugal or traditional view would be making arbitrary distinctions. This would present a tremendous threat to freedom for defenders of traditional marriage, who would be seen as being discriminatory for espousing the view of marriage held throughout history, opening them up to stigmatization and even punishment based on their beliefs.

Each of these consequences will be addressed in detail in future articles.

Summary

Marriage is intrinsically connected to nature through gender complementarity. It is this connection that makes the institution much greater than simply an emotional connection, although marriage is most certainly that as well. The ties to biology are what enable marriage to be something larger than simply the product of two individuals…the means for the most basic form of community. Whether or not a the union results in children, marriage between a man and a woman forms a unique multi-leveled body-emotions union that has the potential to be fulfilled by creating a community as the fruit of that union. This grounding in nature is the very essence of the institution of marriage.

To keep it simple, the bottom line is this: Nature matters to marriage because it takes the institution out of the realm of simply emotional bonding into something that includes emotional bonding but also so much more – the ability to create new life from that bond. It is this feature that makes marriage between a man and a woman unlike any other human relationship.

Same-sex marriage severs this connection to biology and nature, making the institution based on nothing more than human choice. Contrary to much of the rhetoric advocating gay marriage, the institution of marriage is not just a way for individuals to express their emotional feelings to one another. Marriage is a societal institution with profound ramifications for individuals as well as society as a whole, as the most basic form of community and the place for the nurturing of children. Thus, the same-sex marriage debate should not be principally argued from the perspective of its impact simply on the adults involved in it. Although that is certainly a worthy discussion, it is a discussion way too small. Marriage creates community, and it must necessarily be addressed from the perspective of its impact on society as a whole. And, as Part 2 addressed, that impact is great, indeed.

So great, in fact, that altering its basis will inexorably undermine the well-being of our culture.

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Read the rest of the series here:

 

Sources:

 

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

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

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

Lee, P. (2012, January 30). “The Same-Sex Marriage Proposal is Unjust Discrimination”. Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/01/4597/

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/

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

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] Franck, M. (2012, July 30). “Truth and Lies, Nature and Convention: The Debate Over Same-Sex Marriage.” Public Discourse.

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