Notes on the gay “marriage” debate

by Jimmy Akin

in Uncategorized

SDG here with some (lengthy) excerpts from a recent correspondence on gay “marriage.”

Q. Gay marriage is one area where I, as a non-Catholic, would begin to wonder if Catholic politicians who were supposed to represent me were actually trying to impose their religious hierarchs’ beliefs on me and my fellow citizens instead. The state must NOT take sides in religious disputes of this sort.

A. Religion is not the point. From a civil point of view, this is a socio-anthropological issue. To describe marriage as the union of man and woman as a “sectarian” issue or “religious dispute” is as nonsensical as defining sex or pregnancy as patriarchal inventions.

Marriage, i.e., the union of man and woman, is a fundamental cornerstone of human society as such, the common heritage of every society, every culture, every civilization. No religion invented marriage; religions, like states, merely regulate it. The universal recognition of this institution across cultural, social, community, and religious borders strongly indicates that the marriage of man and woman is irreducibly rooted in human nature and in the interest of the state and the common good.

Q. How? How is this institution “rooted in human nature and in the interest of the state and the common good”?

A. Because the union of man and woman tends to produce, and indeed is ordered toward producing, offspring; and human offspring require a high level of nurture for a long period of time; and a stable household with father and mother provides for that need better than other arrangements. Children raised in this way tend on average to be better cared for, and thus tend to be physically and emotionally healthier, more productive, and better educated than children raised in other ways, and less likely to become dependents of the state, or delinquents and criminals, etc.

Society thus has, and has always had, a vested interest in supporting the stable union of man and woman in a way that it does not have, and has never had, a vested interest in other domestic arrangements. And that is what marriage as a basic human social phonemonon IS, and has always been. That is what the word refers to.

Q. Would you be equally opposed to a politician who advocated “civil unions” for same-sex and opposite-sex couples, with all the same benefits and responsibilities that presently come with “marriage”? Or are you merely haggling over who gets to own and define a single word?

The word IS of great importance, as indicated by the refusal of determined gay activists themselves to settle for a separate-but-equal civil-union arrangement.

Having said that, the legal benefits and responsibilities of marriage are predicated on the historical socio-anthropological basis for marriage as a civil institution, relating to the procreation and adequate nurturing and rearing of children.

Same-sex unions not being ordered toward this end, I would say that society has no stake in supporting the stability of such arrangements, and would be opposed to any privileging of same-sex living arrangements that happen to be conjugal over other living arrangements that happen not to be conjugal, such as two siblings of same or mixed gender living together, a parent and child, platonic roommates, etc.

Q. Ah, but gay couples rear children, too. Why would we NOT encourage the stability of THOSE couples, too?

A. By the same token, there might be a child being raised within the context of any of the other domestic arrangements I mentioned. And certainly we aren’t going to stipulate the ACTUAL presence or absence of a child as the basis for whether or not to grant marital privileges and rights. So I see no conceivable reason (pun intended) to privilege gay couples above other domestic arrangements.

Q. People marry for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with children, and they often marry in circumstances where the procreation of children is impossible (e.g. where one partner is sterilized, where the female partner has already experienced menopause, etc.).

A. True, but the larger point is that if the union of man and woman were not where babies come from, and if babies didn’t require such intensive nurture for such a long period of time, marriage would not exist, either as a socio-anthropological category or as a religious institution.

In specific cases there may for one reason or another be no actual possibility of offspring, or very little possibility of offspring, or no intention of producing offspring, etc., but it is not society’s job to make such distinctions or to inquire into the likelihood, ability, and interest of this man and this woman in reproduction.

This is completely different from the case of two individuals of the same sex, which is NOT where babies come from, is not in any way ordered toward engendering and nurturing them.

Q. In what way will having two gay men down the street who are married undermine your marriage or your children growing up to get decent jobs and pay taxes?

A. For one thing, because society supports marriage as an investment, with a cost. By privileging married couples in certain legal and financial ways in order to support their stable union and potentially benefit any offspring that may result, society makes an investment in us as a couple on the understanding that we are participating in an institution that exists for the good of society, through the engendering and long-term nurture of children.

By definition, two gay men down the street cannot participate in the reality of that institution. However, it is true that society can privilege them in the same way as it does us.

This benefit to them, though, will come at an additional cost to society, and by substantially expanding the pool of living arrangements considered as “marriage,” society will have fewer resources to benefit each family individually.

Secondly, “marriages” in the gay community, because they are by definition not ordered toward the engendering and long-term nurture of children, will never offer society the same benefits and return on the social investment as true marriages of men and women.

Sociologically, too, civil acceptance of gay unions probably has deleterious consequences for marriage and family. Legal recognition of gay “marriage” further erodes the connection between marriage and child-rearing, thus creating less impetus for heterosexual couples to marry simply because they want to live together and possibly to procreate. This will lead to children being raised by couples who never bothered to marry, which will lead to more separations and more harm to the children.

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{ 12 comments }

Ben August 14, 2004 at 8:25 pm

Great post! I was personally having troubles understanding this issue. Your post helped tremendously.

Billy August 15, 2004 at 12:23 am

I had a similar discussion with a friend about six months ago. I used many of the same arguments…boy it isn’t easy! Especially in this day and age of the contraceptive society.
One of the big problems is that the other side considers this a “human rights” issue. So they don’t even think this is an issue that should be debated and voted on. They belief judges are making the right and just decisions in forcing states to recognize these relationships as equivalent to marriages, and rewarding them as such.
For them, marriage is about “true” love, sex, fuzzy feelings in your stomach, company and [maybe] “commitment”. Their definition of marriage is completely different from ours. So how do we even begin to convince them?

Jeff Miller August 15, 2004 at 9:25 am

As to your last section there was an excellent series of article by Stanley Kurtz on the “Death of Marriage in Scandinavia.” Scandinavia is a good test case since they have already gone down the road that others are advocating.
http://24.104.4.225/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/003/660zypwj.asp
and a followup column to reply to critiques of the orignal article
http://www.nationalreview.com/kurtz/kurtz200402020917.asp
And by the way I would like to really thank your for your work at decentfilms.com. Since I first learned about it it has been an excellent guide to what movies to see. I have never walked away from a movie you recommended and been dissapointed by the accuracy of your review.

Vincent August 15, 2004 at 12:40 pm

Excellent dialogue! I’ve found the first question and answer to be particularly important and something that I’ve been thinking about for the past few months.
There seems to be a disturbing trend of reducing ethics to religious matters. I noticed that a lot of Catholics do this, and are threated by Pro-Lifers who, these Catholics think, are trying to legislate the Catholic faith.
According to NCR reporter John Allen, the Holy Father is concerned about this trend:

So, what can we do to clarify to homosexual activists, pro-abortionists and cloning/embryonic stem-cell research activists– and even devout Catholics– that we’re arguing from the principle of human dignity rather than from religious beliefs?

Anonymous August 16, 2004 at 7:10 am

>>>”The state must NOT take sides in religious disputes of this sort.”
So says you. But for Catholics, the state MUST do so. Pope Pius XI expresses the Catholic doctrine in his Encyclical Quas Primas:
“…not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ. It will call to their minds the thought of the last judgment, wherein Christ, who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected and ignored, will most severely avenge these insults; for his kingly dignity demands that the State should take account of the commandments of God and of Christian principles, both in making laws and in administering justice, and also in providing for the young a sound moral education.”

Jason August 16, 2004 at 7:11 am

That was me above.

Steven D. Greydanus August 16, 2004 at 6:29 pm

: One of the big problems is that the other
: side considers this a “human rights” issue.
: So they don’t even think this is an issue that
: should be debated and voted on.
:
: For them, marriage is about “true” love, sex,
: fuzzy feelings in your stomach, company
: and [maybe] “commitment”. Their definition
: of marriage is completely different from
: ours. So how do we even begin to convince
: them?
It’s a hard sell, no question. Decades of contraception and increasing acceptance of divorce and homosexuality have made it very difficult for people to see the truth.
We have to make the case that true love, sex, fuzzy feelings in your stomach, company, and even commitment are not per se things in which the state has a vested interest, and are not why all societies have recognized and honored marriage.
We have to argue that marriage, like sex and childbirth, is a fundamental component of human nature, and that we can’t simply redefine it at will. This is because no matter what social or economic shifts may occur over the centuries, society will always need stable families to provide for and nurture babies into maturity, and the baby’s chances in the world are best when it is raised by a mother and a father, and that — not fuzzy feelings — is the reason all societies have marriage and the family.

Steven D. Greydanus August 16, 2004 at 6:30 pm

Jeff,
Thanks for the links. I read about this article in the National Catholic Register, but having the article links was helpful in my ongoing dialogue.
Thanks also for your kind words about my work at Decent Films.

Michael August 19, 2004 at 2:40 pm

This benefit to them, though, will come at an additional cost to society, and by substantially expanding the pool of living arrangements considered as “marriage,” society will have fewer resources to benefit each family individually.
Secondly, “marriages” in the gay community, because they are by definition not ordered toward the engendering and long-term nurture of children, will never offer society the same benefits and return on the social investment as true marriages of men and women.

This line of thinking is assuming that the sole benefit of marriage to society is pro-creation.
I’ll start by addressing a “lack of resources” for individual families. First, what resources? Are we talking financial? Last time I heard there was a slight marriage penalty. Tax breaks are given for dependents, which can be claimed either within a marriage or outside of one (since they are there to protect the children). Also, the Congressional Budget Office has published a study that shows that allowing gays to marry would generate $1 billion a year to the US economy. Not too shabby.
Your second point that I quoted is also off the mark. Gay marriage won’t benefit society? How won’t it benefit society? By not producing children? People who marry, make a public commitment together, live longer and healthier lives. They are there to support each other throughtout their lives and in their old age, putting less of a drain on the welfare system. More committed relationships means less promiscuity, more expectation for commitment and consequencely less spread of social disease and rampant depression.
So I’ve just named a bunch of societal benefits gained from gay marriage. All of which, interestingly, are the only benefits that society gets from letting barren couples marry. And yet we do it.
Lastly, separate-but-equal civil unions are inadequate precisely for the reason you’re claiming gays shouldn’t marry: the power of the word marriage. In your scenario of sisters or roommates marrying each other, you neglect the fact that this can already happen, and does a lot, in the form of domestic partnerships for two people of the same sex and actual marriage for people of opposite sex. I know a couple who got married precisely for insurance purposes. Funny thing is, they don’t refer to themselves as married. Why? Because the important socio-anthropological meaning of the word does not apply to them. But when I tell my boyfriend that I want to marry him someday, I’m not telling him I want to share a joint checking account and pay taxes together, maybe take out a life insurance. I’ll be telling him that I want to have him and hold him and cherish him and love him and honor him and raise children with him till death do us part as God as my witness amen.
The powerful meaning of the word “marriage” will never go away. No matter how many gays you let get in on the game. It’s not that gays want to subvert “traditional” marriage and not that they just want legal protection. It’s that they feel as strongly about the idea and meaning of marriage as you do.

Billy August 19, 2004 at 4:09 pm

…and raise children with him…
Children deserve a mother, Michael.

Michael August 20, 2004 at 11:04 am

Children deserve a mother, Michael.
Children deserve to grow up in a stable, two-parent home. Do you seriously believe that a child would be better off as third kid of a single welfare mother than with two upper middle class Ivy League educated queers? Or maybe the child would be better off aborted?
Of course the ideal situation for a child to be raised would be with loving biological parents who are independently wealthy and shower him with virtue. But kids grow up in less than ideal situations all the time. The home I could provide for a child would be a heck of a lot closer to ideal than most.

Michael August 20, 2004 at 11:04 am

Children deserve a mother, Michael.
Children deserve to grow up in a stable, two-parent home. Do you seriously believe that a child would be better off as third kid of a single welfare mother than with two upper middle class Ivy League educated queers? Or maybe the child would be better off aborted?
Of course the ideal situation for a child to be raised would be with loving biological parents who are independently wealthy and shower him with virtue. But kids grow up in less than ideal situations all the time. The home I could provide for a child would be a heck of a lot closer to ideal than most.

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