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  • Debating Same-Sex Marriage

    Civil, substantive arguments on the nature and purpose of marriage can sometimes get lost in rancorous rhetorical crossfire over the definition of the institution. John Corvino and Maggie Gallagher’s exchange in their new book Debating Same-Sex Marriage is a welcome exception.

    For Corvino, marriage establishes your “Number One Person,” that “special someone” whom “you will come home to at night, wake up with in the morning, and share life’s joys, sorrows, and challenges with.” But his presentation of marriage makes it seem more like companionship or best-friendship, and thus it is hard to see why the government is even in the marriage business.

    Gallagher seeks to explain both the private and public meaning of marriage and thus why the state should rightly take an interest in marital unions. She explains that “marriage is a sexual union of male and female oriented toward connecting fathers to mothers and their children.” Marriage is a social institution that helps unite goods and persons whose fracture would result in great social cost:

    The critical public or “civil” task of marriage is to regulate sexual relationships between men and women in order to reduce the likelihood that children (and their mothers, and society) will face the burdens of fatherlessness, and increase the likelihood that there will be a next generation that will be raised by their mothers and fathers in one family, where both parents are committed to each other and to their children.

    Gallagher doesn’t say this to denigrate other relationships but to stress that not every loving, care-giving relationship is a marriage. Marriage has its distinct contours and norms in part because of its social function.

    Gallagher fears that redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships will cause harm—not immediately, but over time, as it shapes culture. First, it will brand as bigots those who see differences between same- and opposite-sex relationships. Cultural stigma and legal penalties will await those who continue to argue that children need married moms and dads.

    Second, she notes that the traditional norms of marriage—monogamy, sexual exclusivity, and permanence—make less sense once marriage is no longer bridging the gender divide and is severed from its orientation to procreation. Gallagher cites studies showing that people in same-sex relationships report less of an interest in and satisfaction from such norms, and she fears that those norms, instead of shaping same-sex relationships, will simply be further weakened, leading to more non-marital childbearing and more social strain.

    Finally, Gallagher thinks that anyone who takes marriage seriously as a child-protecting institution should proceed with caution before redefining the institution and changing the cultural message that it sends. Before we embark on such a vast social experiment to benefit such a small population, she argues, the “burden of proof” should be on those who would redefine the institution to show that it wouldn’t obscure the central function of marriage and thus have a negative effect in the broader society.

    Law and public policy can play a role in helping to strengthen the marriage culture. And Gallagher is clear that “stopping gay marriage is not victory, it is only a necessary step to the ultimate victory: the strengthening of a culture of marriage that successfully connects sex, love, children, and mothers and fathers.”

    My full review of Debating Same-Sex Marriage appeared in the July 30 issue of National Review. Read it here.

    Posted in Ongoing Priorities [slideshow_deploy]

    25 Responses to Debating Same-Sex Marriage

    1. Beth Taylor says:

      The debate over same sex marriage is endless, or it is hard to end. For me same sex marriage will depend on each one's point of view, beliefs, culture or even religion. In the end, it is still the couple will be the one t decide if they want to bind to each other and be together forever. About culture of marriage that successfully connects sex, love, children, and mothers and fathers… it still up to the couple how would they attend to those duties, like how they plan to have a child and become parents eventually.

    2. Beth Taylor says:

      The debate over same sex marriage is endless, or it is hard to end. For me same sex marriage will depend on each one's point of view, beliefs, culture or even religion. In the end, it is still the couple will be the one t decide if they want to bind to each other and be together forever. About culture of marriage that successfully connects sex, love, children, and mothers and fathers… it still up to the couple how would they attend to those duties, like how they plan to have a child and become parents eventually.

    3. Andre says:

      marriage is the union of 1 man and 1 woman in fgront of not the state but in front of God. Homosexuls cant havemarriage since God himself has forbidden it to the point he said that just like he did in noahs day hed end the world this time with no reprieve. The courts conhgress or the people have no standing to legalize it.

      • The Bible has multiple valid constructions of what is deemed a marriage. Before using God as a tool to defend your bias, please read the *whole* Bible and not just those parts you choose.
        IOW, was Solomon in violation of God's Law? David? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygamy_in_Christia

        The civil marriage also has shifted over time, even in the US of A. Polygamy was not formally outlawed until the mid 1800's.

        The nuclear family as promulgated by the current self-righteous moralists is a relatively novel concept. Further reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_family.

        When discussing civil (read that again: Civil, not theological) acknowledgement of a couple of people of either gender who choose to bond themselves as a family, the only real issue should be whether or not said acknowledgement is in the interests of society. My husband and I got married in large part because we intend to raise children *and want that child's interests to be protected under law*. Our equal rights as citizens of this nation are also at issue, but the child is first and foremost in our considerations. Children should not be the only reason for a marriage to be accepted (heck, look at Ms. Karsashian, Ms. Spears and countless others), but it is a durned good one.

        • Meme1961 says:

          Wrong. The Bible only has one valid construction of marriage.

          As is so often the case when non-believers try to use the Bible, you are mis-interpreting what the Bible says. God's definition of marriage is laid down in Genesis and given explicit form in Ephesians. That polygamy was practiced in ancient times does not abrogate that law, nor redefine it, and no serious Biblical scholar would refer to Solomon as the template for a righteous Christian life.

          Using arguments based on the Old Testament, but deliberately ignoring the clear and explicit fulfillment of the Law in the New Testament as given by Christ himself is either a demonstration of ignorance, or a deliberate attempt to deceive.

      • Andre, we are not debating church marriages, but Civil Marriages.

        They are sanctioned not by "gods", in order to sanctify, but by your local county office, in order to legally recognize the household you have chosen to form, as you've chosen to form it.

        Your conjuring of "Noah", and his times, have no bearing whatsoever on this discussion, and hint that you have no understanding of what this discussion is even about.

        • JoS says:

          Which implies that the law is meaningless.

          The law is either based in and expressive of morality; of right and wrong, or it is nothing more than tyranny.

          That is the whole point of the Declaration of Independence: that when man's law stops being an expression of the truth and right that God's law abrogates man's law.

          What this discussion is about is the relationship between law, and truth. God's definition of marriage is based in an related to natural law; to things that can be objectively defined and determined.

          One man, one woman of sufficient genetic separation: this can be objectively determined, and is the basis for real, objective goods and results. The definition of marriage that allows for homosexuals to be "married" detaches marriage from objective reality, leaving it purely supernatural and so indeterminate as to lack the ability to discriminate between marriage, friendship, or the relationship between a mother and son. It is your argument that requires a "god" to work, as a Fideistic argument can only be supported on the basis of some kind of divine revelation and authority. Natural marriage is, however, objectively based, defined and determined.

          The legal redefinition of marriage also violates the social contract under which this country was formed. Government has neither the competence nor the power to define marriage. If government can pass of change any law, and define or redefine any term, they have usurped all power and there is nothing to prevent utter and total despotism. What is worse, the law has been detached from all reason.

          Voting does not define what is right. One does not vote on the truth; the truth is the truth even if 99% of the electorate votes against it. If every American votes that there will be no gravity starting on New Year's day, none the less gravity will still exist.

    4. VTM says:

      I think this whole issue is focused too much on one side or the other trying to pinpoint what marriage should be all about, when in reality marriage is truly what the parties that become married make of it.

      In the legal sense, it is just a contract between two parties, one that can be terminated in divorce or annulment should those parties decide they no longer wish to be held by the requirements of that contract. And during the separation process, all communal property and children are sorted out accordingly.

      In a personal sense, marriage has various meanings to each party that is marrying – to some, it means parenthood and family, to others it means companionship and commitment and to others it means security, whether emotional or financial that things built together will remain with the surviving spouse.

      No matter whether you are religious or not, whether you have your personal beliefs of what marriage should entail, those getting married should be the ones defining what that entails, not some other party trying to make it mean something it may not imply to those partaking of it.

      With that said, allowing same-sex couples to marry, or polygamous partners to marry (as they allow in some countries or religions) or allowing them to divorce is rightfully the domain of those deciding to enter into it and not those that somehow think they know what's best for other people.

      • JoS says:

        This is "relativism" to the point of utter absurdity.

        Your argument boils down to "nothing means anything."

        This is one of the tactics of blind revolutionaries: first one must destroy the current system, in order to create a new one. The problem with this system is that it invalidates all systems, as it directly attacks Reason itself.

        More immediately, your argument is self-falsifying. Marriage is marriage, even if one or both parties of a supposed marriage violate it. Like the right to life, murder does not redefine nor eliminate that right. Murder simply violates that right.

        But if you believe in your own argument, then what you are saying is that if a woman chooses to sell herself to a man under the definition of marriage, making her his property, that is their business, and theirs alone.

        Seriously?! I mean, SERIOUSLY??!!

    5. Steve says:

      I don't think you can say in the same article that gays and lesbians make up a "small population" and yet they are going to have a tremendous effect on the institution of marriage. Or better yet, they are going to change (presumably worse) the fact that over 40% of children are born out of wedlock today. It's just not logical.

      • Bobbie says:

        what you say isn't logical either. all it takes is one to show attention in defiance of a definition can destroy a simple definition! Meanings of words mattering by opinionated perception really weakens the minds ability to recognize and accept true definitions and also weakens personal tolerance.

        If you add cold to hot it's not hot anymore. The meaning of marriage effects every single person in this country that isn't determined by personal perception. It has it's meaning. But activists keep the minority pumped and ready to take on their part to redefine their intolerances. Just out of the clear blue and unfortunate under Mr. Obama's Presidency!! It's not fair to embarrass his Presidency this way!

      • Bobbie says:

        in reference to your first sentence, I did twice but neither was posted!!!

      • JoS says:

        Your reasoning is ignores the effect of mass media on the culture.

        Culture is the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and those emotions evoked by those stories define our cultural norms.

        When homosexual marriage is constantly and consistently pictured in our mass media as the good, right and courageous thing that good people support without question, then it matters not it if homosexuals make up the 2% of the population that they actually do, or are in fact non-existent.

        The stories, when told long enough, change the culture, regardless of the actual number of incidents, individuals or size of the groups in reality.

        No, homosexual marriage is not the cause of the destruction of the most important foundation of human life: intact, two parent families. Homosexual marriage is simply one of the results of the long term attack on our culture.

        The myth of the "good divorce", followed by divorce on grounds, then no-fault divorce, combined with a truly destructive attack on reasoned arguments in support of a proper social and political order are just some of the causes of the destruction of the Family.

        The end result (child and single mother poverty, huge increases in abuse, property crime and violent crime, and the increasing stratification of society, to name just a few) isn't what the revolutionaries promised us. But then again, they really never had our best interests at heart anyway.

    6. Civil Marriage certainly would seem to benefit any potential children, yes, but only if there are any. It is not by any means the only purpose, or necessarily even one of the reasons, any couple seeks and should have a Civil Marriage recognized by their government.

      The marriage license my wife and I received on May 30 (thank you) makes absolutely no mention of "procreation" in any way. If we eventually have kids, that would be just hunky-dory, and we would enjoy some benefits, tax-wise, but that is all I can detect.

      Further, even if we'd told the marrying official that we were both as barren as two men, our marriage would still have sailed through unimpeded by anyone. This is not the act of a government greatly avid for us to procreate.

      So what's the problem? Outside of whether a couple freely decides to have children or not, the law is simply a official recognition of reality: a functioning shared household, which by definition requires the right to care for each other in times of ill health, the right to combine finances, etc.

      If that household is in fact a functioning entity in every way, and the government cannot allow itself to recognize it, it is not an indictment of the household, but of the government, which is living a kind of fantasy.

      The gay couple next door, who are older than us, and far more established as a functioning household, still has no official recognition of the fact of their life together — no hospital visitation, no shared tax status, none of what my new wife and I take for granted.

      It doesn't take a wild-eyed radical to see the injustice, based on pure fantasy and prejudice, that is going on in that situation; and if anything would weaken the institution of marriage, this kind of small-mindedness should surely do the job.

      • JoS says:

        Except what you say simply isn't true.

        Hospital visitation can be worked out without marriage (power of attorney and medical power of attorney, for example). Shared tax status is based in procreation, which your neighbors are incapable of (and they don't need anyway . . . homosexual roommates are, on average, in a higher income bracket precisely because what they have is not marriage), but if they did adopt, they have access to dependent tax exemptions, just as any other person does.

        And in many states, all of this was made simpler (though nothing new was added in most cases) by the creation of civil unions. Yet, still the homosexuals pushed to get the definition of marriage changed. In Washington, the recently passed redefinition grants NO NEW BENEFITS and NO NEW RIGHTS to homosexuals that were not already present in a civil union.

        So why press so hard for the redefinition of marriage? Because that is the actual and sole agenda; to force a change in the culture and whip up hatred and intolerance of those who follow God's laws and prefer to avoid yet another wild, head long rush into yet another totally unconsidered social experiment that is almost certainly bound to make things even worse than they already are.

    7. Stirling says:

      Same sex mariage is a "slipery slope" to corupting our society.. If your going down this path then why not man-animal mariages, women-beast mariage.. It's no wonder that the Liberal media keeps pushing this filth that devides us as a country. When there is no "boundary" (as the liberal media wants), then anything is fair game..

      • Stefan says:

        People said the same things when women were given the right to vote.

        The slippery slope argument is tired and has time and time again been proven to be false.

        • JoS says:

          That assertion is so easy to falsify that it is simply mind-boggling that you would make it. Combined with your straw man argument about suffrage, and it was a pretty silly posting.

          Time and time again, the "slippery slope" argument has proven true, especially in regards to the social experiments that have been forced on us by blind revolutionaries for the last 50 years have resulted in things getting much worse.

          Marriage rates are down, divorce rates increased, the number of minorities who are free and self-sufficient has declined, women's happiness has decreased, single mother and child poverty has increased, our economy has been devastated by the attempt of government to make economic repairs to what is intrinsically a social disorder . . . the list goes on and on.

          Rape is up, abuse of women and children both are up, the numbers of minorities in prison is up . . . why, sure <sarcasm>slippery slope arguments have been proven to be false!</sarcasm>

        • It's not a slippery slope why do you think we do not have polygamy any more.

    8. Rob Tisinai says:

      Maggie is confusing "The critical public or “civil” task of marriage" with "A critical public or “civil” task of marriage." Changing that first word makes her statement more accurate while considerably weakening her argument.

      Even so, why does Maggie think her reasoning gives more sense to the "permanence" aspect? If she is correct, then there's little "public or civil" reason for marriage to continue once the children are grown. If anything her logic seems to argue against permanence!

      • JoS says:

        Because it mis-states the argument to simplify marriage solely to procreation.

        True marriage provides other goods than children. These goods can only arise out of the creation of a permanent bond between one man, and one woman.

        There have been long, detailed and very well thought out and argued defenses of marriage. If you've never read them, I strongly recommend that you do. If all you've been listening to are those who treat "equality" as a Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee word, then you are not informed on the subject.

    9. Dale says:

      This debate/argument is way too much fun for a lot of people. It reminds me of the ninth grade girls engaged in "drama" that ended up in my office (high school asst. principal). Civil discourse is rare and I'm glad to see it in this book. Several of the commeents above are not so civil.

      That being said here is an idea. Let the government recognize only civil unions. Any combination of two, or more than two, people wanting to enter a legal commitment could go this route. It would be a contract recognized by the state and not be the business of anyone else. Marrige can be something that is a blessing from a religion from personal belief but would not be recognized in any way by the government.

      Do we have freedom of thought/religion in this country? We pay lip service to the idea but it has never really existed. What we have is the concept "you have the freedom to believe what I believe" and there is way too much of it.

      • JoS says:

        Because culture actually exists and has a huge and very important effect and impact on our lives.

        Which is why the homosexuals kept right on pushing to re-define marriage even after they GOT civil unions! Tell me, what new rights or protections were granted to homosexuals by the passing of WA law redefining marriage?

        None. So, why go through that battle, then? Because the homosexuals want to redefine the meaning of marriage, and introduce intolerance of, and hate for people who disagree with what they are doing.

    10. Ericka says:

      Everyone for Traditional Marriage should read "Land of Diminished Distinctions" via Amazon Kindle Store!

    11. JoS says:

      If you want to read REASONED arguments, read the articles posted here for free:

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