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A Tail is a Leg is a Marriage?

August 16th, 2010 | 4 min read

By Andrew Walker

As usual, The Public Discourse's latest article does not leave the reader disappointed. In its current post, Stephen Heaney offers an incisive argument on the illogical premises of gay marriage. His conclusion? Same-sex marriage and opposite-sex marriage are as similar as apple and oranges, but in his own rendering, the function of a leg versus the function of a tail.

For Heaney, proponents of same-sex marriage are guilty of defining marriage "according to non-essential characteristics." In other words, society has largely defined marriage and its prerequisites by something other than its functional end. This is hardly a novel concept though Heaney argues it well. Similar arguments have been put forth by Robert P. George who argues that a prerequisite for marriage qua marriage, pardon the phrase, necessarily requires "genital complementarity." Rightly so, the argument stands upon a commitment to natural law reasoning.

The premises of same-sex marriage, believed to mimic opposite-sex marriage, are the following: "Marriage is often characterized today as follows: 1) two people 2) who love each other 3) want to perform sexual acts together, so 4) they consent to combine their lives sexually, materially, economically 5) with the endorsement of the community. Since same-sex couples can meet the first four criteria, how can society refuse the fifth?"

Importantly, Heaney makes the insightful point recognizing that if we grant the status-quo interpretation of marriage and its function according to popular culture, then arguing against same-sex marriage inevitably results in its opponents being seen as judgmental bigots. Luckily, this need not be the case if its premises can be rejected. And, Heaney believes, as do I, they can. "If we accept the misdefinition of marriage using non-essential characteristics as the complete story, it would be impossible to reject same-sex marriage. Given the whole truth, however, it is impossible to accept it. No matter how superficially similar they are to real marriages, same-sex relationships cannot function as marriages." But, we must ask, what does function really mean?

We must ask the question of whether the above prerequisites offer an exhaustive foundation for marriage or merely part of its foundation. The missing element in the enumerated list above is the assigned task to marriage for producing and raising children.

If society at large has separated the responsibility of producing and raising children apart from marriage, then a whole different discussion will need to take place. Needless to say, even the most hardened proponents of gay marriage are not wishing to eschew the value of opposite-sex marriage.

We must arrive at the conclusion that the production and raising of children is not  an addendum to marriage; no, the production, stabilization, and raising of children must be placed squarely within it and hermetically sealed from allowing more transitory functions to define marriage. What am I arguing? I'm arguing that marriage qua marriage must place at its very foundation the ability to produce and raise children. Anything less than this condition must be seen as insufficient as to designating a same-sex couple's mutual interest in one another as a marriage.

Heaney  goes on to make the same argument showing the futility of desire and sexual intercourse as a sufficient basis for marriage:

If sexuality did not naturally bring us offspring, it is hard to explain why it exists, whether you believe in a purely material evolution or a loving designer of the universe, for it would serve no purpose. If sexual acts did not naturally lead to offspring, it is just as hard to explain how marriage would have appeared in human history, for it would serve no purpose.

This is a profound argument and one needing to be more heavily employed by evangelical discourse on the subject: the issue of legitimacy. Given our culture's obsession with "rights," it would be appropriate, I think, to establish the legitimacy and foundation of rights, even beyond their enshrinement in the Constitution. If same-sex marriage desires legitimacy, it needs to be able to express itself as as naturally occurring as opposite-sex marriage. Going back to the state of nature (which, I know, only hypothetically exists), proponents of same-sex marriage must argue  by means of its natural occurrence, that same-sex marriage has been occurring since the beginning of civilization and therefore easily recognizable. This has not been the case. Thus, for the state to "grant" legitimacy in the case of something that has no instrumental value is purely imaginative.

Opponents of this argument often equate the pursuit of the 1960's Civil Rights Movement along with their own current struggle. The issue, however, dissolves when recognizing that in a hypothetical state of nature, race would not be a factor in determining equality; all races (and genders) would be equal by virtue of their having been created. The problem with equating the struggle for marital equality with racial equality is that racial equality is something that did not need to be bestowed or granted to African Americans by virtue of an intrinsic inequality. No, the Civil Rights Movement simply aimed to confirm—whether by legal status or through lunchroom sit-ins—what occurs naturally, which of course is racial equality. The Civil Rights Movement had to peel back generations of embedded racism where proponents of gay marriage have to "create" an artificially and extrinsically occurring institution and manufacture "rights" around something that is neither naturally occurring nor sufficient as to provide any unitive or procreative value.

Andrew Walker

Andrew T. Walker is an Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.