Friday, January 31, 2014

Why does the definition of marriage we accept, matter?

As you may or may not know, activist judges in Utah and Oklahoma overturned the people's vote, and started to allow for same-sex marriage against the will and voice of the people. On facebook, I felt to share this link, which I thought had some valid points to consider on the issue, as a show of my support for the people rallying for the definition of marriage to remain as a union between one man and one woman.

Sharing this link, of course, brought on a very lengthy discussion and debate on my facebook wall. At a critical part of the conversation and somewhere around the number of 60-70 comments, it disappeared. Was this a glitch? I sure hope so! I sincerely hope (but do suspect) it was someone reporting my post - which is absolutely ridiculous if so. 

In any case, now I am writing this blog post so that my voice on this issue can still be heard, and to empower those who in their heart think marriage between one man and woman is how it should be, but don't know how to talk about it without being railroaded by the opposition which has gained solid footing, especially among people my age. Also, it is nice to just put this out there with as much clarity and efficiency as I can muster, rather than in the heat of an emotionally charged and oft side-tracked facebook debate.

The Case for Marriage Between One Man and One Woman:

If you really are serious about being up on this stuff, you have to know about this article in the Harvard Law Journal, called "What is marriage?" by: Sherif Girgis, Robert George, and Ryan T. Anderson. It is the absolute best case for marriage between one man and one woman that I have yet seen. 

The question about who should be allowed to marry cannot be answered without properly understanding what marriage actually is. "Traditionalists" (I have to be careful about the use of that word because it strikes up points from revisionists that there has been no traditional norm for marriage or family structure, but I'm going to use it anyway because it makes it easier on me) - or those who support the view of marriage as between one man and one woman, see the definition of marriage as such (pg.#246 of the "What is Marriage?" article):

"Conjugal View: 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."

"Aren't the arguments traditionalists make for marriage discriminatory against homosexuals? I heard they are making the same case against same-sex couples that were made against interracial marriages in the past?"

Sex, unlike race, is rationally relevant to the discussion of marriage and is therefore NOT unjustly discriminatory.

"So, if marriage is inherently oriented to children, does that mean people who can't or choose not to have children can still be allowed to marry? Seems like you're saying that they shouldn't be allowed to or that that might be a natural consequence of this whole conjugal marriage deal."

A man and woman, who together cannot or choose not to have children, whether by nature, age, health problems, or choice, can still create an organic sexual union to seal their marriage. It would be an undue violation of privacy to investigate the medical histories/intentions of people with regards to desire (or lack thereof), or ability to naturally become parents. Though conjugal marriage is naturally, inherently oriented toward child-bearing and rearing, children are not essential in completing the definition in legal terms. These couples serve a public good by setting a good example for others by being married, and often provide the stability and means to adopt children who are born in less than optimal circumstances.

The bulk of those who disagree with the conjugal definition, generally find themselves defining marriage as something like this (pg.246-247 of the "What is Marriage?" article):

"Revisionist View: 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."

Now, there are a whole lot of problems with this definition. Why? What are the problems with it? What might be the (unintended) natural consequences of accepting this logic to redefine the institution?

"What is your problem?! You must just hate gays!"

I absolutely do not hate gays. My best friend from high school is gay. And he is one of the kindest, most giving people I have ever met. I love him dearly and having him in my life has been a blessing to me in myriad ways. I could seriously probably write a book about him. I view him and others in the LGBT community with a depth of empathy and love that only God knows. It really hurts me when people throw labels at me because they don't see my heart, but I understand that they don't see that part of me. I am happy to have a discussion about what we can better do to make those with same-sex attraction feel more loved and supported, though I'm not sure that is relevant to this particular discussion. As I see this issue about marriage from a perspective of gender, not sexual orientation. I believe accepting a change in the definition of marriage will bring problematic consequences and so I am talking about them. That is all.

The consequence of changing the definition of marriage lends the institution a sort of shapelessness so that it cannot be limited or controlled, or ultimately exist at all. Those who support the revisionist view, cannot in fact offer legitimately, logically sound reasons why marriage should be limited to only two persons, or to those who do not have sexual relations with each other.

The Cascade of Consequences (perhaps unintentionally, but well on their way to actually happening nonetheless) from removing the inherent form of the most fundamental unit of society:

While many who support the revisionist definition of marriage want to keep marriage as a union of two people, others are seeing this as a (logical and very probable) opportunity for changing the law to accommodate polyandrous, polygamous, and polygynous relationships into the marriage definition.

Some argue that this would never happen, but I think many are surprised by how far the same-sex marriage movement has gone in the last 10 years. It is not an unreasonable, and certainly not an illogical concern to see where this is going next.

The logic of a revisionist view wouldn't prevent non-sexual unions from forming. 

While I haven't seen anyone petitioning for non-sexual unions to receive recognition, it isn't a far stretch to see that people could legally, potentially do this with the revisionist view for benefits they might get with their marital status. Many people choose to marry or divorce depending on which status might suit their financial needs best with relation to government benefits, taxes, etc. If the definition is changed, you cannot give philosophical footing as to why two friends, or two siblings of the same gender couldn't marry.

"What are some of the consequences of the legalization of same-sex marriage in states where the laws have already been passed?"

The changes we have seen in Massachusetts since same-sex marriage have been legalized have been well documented at this link. There is too much to cover here, but most of  the consequences are unsettling, at best.

How many parents for each child? California has recently passed a multiple parent Bill (due to surrogacy, same-sex marriage, and disputes over paternal rights with adultery) :

In addition, the violations of religious freedom, freedom of conscience, with direct relation to this issue are many.

Violations of religious freedom:

Individuals all over the country with religious beliefs against the idea of same-sex marriage are being forced to provide goods and services (like photography, wedding cakes, flowers, hosting sites, etc.) for the ceremonies/celebrations, with their private businesses.

It is probably safe to say that clergymen won't be forced to actually perform the ceremonies for same-sex couples . . . however a clergyman who spoke out against homosexuality in Massachusetts (where same-sex marriage is legal) now faces litigation:

Catholic adoption agencies are being shut down for choosing to have only couples who include one man and one woman qualify for their adoptions:

"Why can't every state just do its own thing with regards to marriage?"

The reason I am writing this post is because some are not content to let that be - as in Oklahoma and Utah! Since people move, you really can't have different definitions in different states. You need a consistent definition across a whole country.

"Marriage shouldn't be regulated by the government at all. It should be a private thing!" (Libertarian view here.)

"Legally enshrining the conjugal view of marriage is both philosophically defensible and good for society. . . enshrining the revisionist view is neither." (pg.#248 of the "What is Marriage?" article.)

"Well, what about the unwanted kids in foster care? Or kids needing to be adopted? Isn't some stability better than nothing? Why not let homosexual couples at least have access to those children for adoption? Two committed parents are better than none."

This is not  a discussion about sexual orientation, it is about gender. To make such a statement or suggestion that homosexual individuals are only worthy to be parents of the children who are "at risk anyways,"  is inherently homophobic.

"People with your view on this topic are outnumbered. You'll never win this debate!"

Well we certainly won't if enough people remain quiet or apathetic! If you care about this issue, now is a good a time as any to speak up and get involved. In any case, by talking about the family and responsibilities we have, we can still help to contribute to a healthy family culture in our society. This post talks about those issues in a very helpful and insightful way.

"Truth is just whatever the public sentiment is on an issue!"

Truth stands alone on its own merits, regardless of how much people want, wish, or demand it to be otherwise.

In conclusion:

Though my final point cannot be debated on its own merits (due to lack of sufficient research studies to conclude anything definitively - such is the nature of social science research), I will share my final personal belief. Other individuals share their value statements about this topic of marriage and relationships freely and so I will share mine. I believe that children are created by a mother and father and they deserve and need a mother and father. We owe it to them to strengthen and keep the structure intact which encourages their parents to remain loyal and committed to each other and to them. This subject matters.

Thanks for reading.

Please be kind and respectful in the comments section if you feel to chime in on the discussion.

Girgis, Sherif and George, Robert and Anderson, Ryan T., What is Marriage? (November 23, 2012). Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 245-287, Winter 2010. Available at SSRN:


  1. I guess I'm not understanding why you care about how other people live their lives. How does someone else's marriage or sexual preference affect you or your family? This is my main issue with Mormonism - the religion is constantly trying to force everyone into its narrow view of the world. Why can't you just live and let live? I don't judge or criticize your lifestyle choices because you are free to live however you'd like as long as you're not harming others. I feel the same way about gay marriage as I do about Mormonism. Is it what I would do? No. Do I care? Not particularly. I think differences in people should be embraced. As far as Courts taking away the will of the people, this is precisely the function of the Court - to protect the minority when the majority is wrong. Think Brown v. Board of Education. This is persecuting a group of people based on something over which they have no control. It's not right and it should not stand. Perhaps consider setting aside the dogma and just applying the good old fashioned "golden rule." If you don't want people questioning your consensual sexual preferences, marriage, and family choices, then don't do it to others. The world would be much better off.

    1. Holly - This blog post did not mention Mormonism's view on marriage and family. This post was made from a rational non-religious point of view. As I said above, sex, unlike race, is rationally relevant to the discussion of the institution of marriage and so it is not unjustly discriminatory. People, regardless of sexual orientation can live together as they wish. In many states they have access to adopt. In Massachusetts, I have heard that same-sex couples have even been given priority in adopting children over married couples with a man and woman - in some cases, against the wishes of the biological parents. While changing the definition of marriage may not actually affect the personal relationship I share with my husband, I see it affecting the structure of our entire society and the general well-being of children and communities as it becomes legislated out of its form to near pointlessness. You do see marriage as a valuable and stabilizing unit in society right? If we would follow the "golden rule" for legislation about marriage instead of a principled definition, how could we logically prevent polygymous, polygynous, polyamorous, non-sexual, incestuous, or even pedophilic relationships from being recognized by law? You see the problem with denying the principled definition using that logic, right? And, as I mentioned, this issue is also hampering religious freedom and freedom of conscience of people all over the country right now. Where are those pushing for same-sex marriage saying "remember the golden rule" when they pursue lawsuits against private businesses to provide services and goods for their weddings, against the religious conscience of the business owners? It affects a whole lot more than you think. Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate your concern for the issue, and for all involved. Though we disagree, it's good that you care. We all should.



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