Preface

“I will always love you.”

Many of us don’t remember the first time we felt such a sentiment; some of us may have never felt it at all. If we first encountered it in our youth, as most do, we were probably advised not to consider it very closely. The first word the sixteen-year-old in love hears is that the emotions will not last, that love is a choice, that the heart is untrustworthy, that he really should give the whole business some time. It is the responsibility of adults to help the young direct their erotic impulses, but it is easier and safer to destroy them altogether. Love is intoxicating. And it should be, for it moves us to willingly take on obligations and commitments that help make us adults. Only the one thing the young lovers want in the midst of their rapture—for it to go on, always—is the one thing our society tells him will never happen.

The torrents of passion the sexual revolution released are now receding, leaving behind the ruins and rubble of broken lives and homes. We once thought we might have all the feelings of love without any of the boundaries; but by trying to set eros free, we instead shattered it. Once eros became a god, he laughingly absconded. It is in his nature to do so. Eros awakens us to mystery, and now that we have broken all the taboos, there is nothing left to enchant.

Except perhaps glittery vampires. The Greeks worshipped the deathless gods; Stephenie Meyer made teenagers love the benevolent undead. The intense longing and passions of eros depends upon the presence of an always and of boundaries, a combination that Twilight amplified and exploited.

Because there is nothing sacred left to profane, at least in matters of sex, amplifying love’s rules and costs is the only way to keep meaning alive. Unfettered sex might sound “fun,” but sexual pyrotechnics without sharp boundaries eventually lose their luster. We don’t have romantic comedies any more because there is no romance to lampoon. It is the absence of erotic desire that is now our grave social crisis, not its presence.

In our response to the great crisis of marriage, social conservatives have frequently objected to how emotional construals of love and romance have overwhelmed the institutional, covenantal, or procreative aspects of marriage. We have chastened against grounding the commitment of marriage in our feelings, have objected to ‘merely emotional’ unions, and have argued our society is besotted by ‘companionate models of marriage.’

Such critiques are aimed at showing how our changing intuitions around love and romance have stripped the power from the traditional view of marriage. They are meant to counterbalance and reframe the emotions of love, not to undermine them.

But it is with eros that I want to begin, with all the sentiments and the yearnings and the hopes and dreams that make it easy to roll our eyes at googly-eyed teenagers.

For it is in marriage—and marriage alone—that eros finds its consummation and discovers resources for its ongoing renewal. Eros can destabilize us and make us go topsy, but it also helps us see why marriage matters. There is only an adventure if we accept its dangers. And marriage is a good great enough to justify its demands.

1. The Permanent Union of Two Particulars

I will always love you.” Let us begin again with what I hope we can all agree upon: Whitney Houston could sing. I don’t even care that she’s singing with synthesizers about Kevin Costner: with that voice, I would buy whatever she was selling.

We only dimly understand what we mean while making such rash vows, but it’s easy to see that the feeling that leads us to them leaves us a bit lightheaded. When Harry meets Sally, will they or won’t they ends with him realizing (at last!) that he has met the person he wants to spend the rest of his life with and wants to get on with it. It had to be her. For Hitch, being in love makes him feel like he can fly—straight into the dance line at his wedding. Julia Roberts is just a girl asking a boy to love her, and when he does she’ll linger in England “indefinitely.”

The joy of being in love is only complete when it is reciprocated: the heartsick, unrequited lover might feel a stabbing pain at the sight of the one to whom all his longing is directed. But when his “yes” is answered in kind, the boundless joy is too potent for a single moment to contain. It bleeds into the future, wraps itself in time, and engenders a willing and grateful selfimposition of obligations and burdens. A man knows no higher freedom than when he shuts every door to his romantic future besides this one. The joy of saying we belong to another is the glory of the lover. We make promises in such moments because we can’t help ourselves.

Besides, freedom is the least concern of someone in love. When eros grips us, we happily give our selves up. We relinquish our wills to the other, cheerfully establishing them as an authority over us. The joy of love consists in submitting to the goodness and beauty of the other. “As you wish”—what man does not want to meet a woman who moves him to say so? Love makes us beggars and servants; we plead and give, for when in love our lives are not our own. Erotic attraction depends upon the mutual humbling of ourselves before the other. Eros can only ask, and delights in asking: it cannot demand and long remain, for lovers will only have their beloved if the gift is given in freedom.

But I wish to consider the always more carefully. Love takes the form of a lock, as countless couples still understand better than the cynical New York Times writers. Love does not “alter when it alteration finds,” but is an “ever-fixèd mark, that looks on tempests and is never shaken.”

B&W-Locks

The moment of reciprocation fills us with the hope that such a love will endure forever—and with the fear that eros cannot endure the union. Whitney Houston’s song, after all, keeps eros alive only through the lover’s absence, rather than his presence. But there is an inevitable absence that any erotic sentiment must eventually come to terms with. Eros is shaped by the shadow of death. Joy, stretching us into the future, discovers our mortality and fosters the perhaps irrational hope that we might become stronger than it. Love “alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom”—and, if such a thing were possible, even beyond such an edge. Twilight used vampires because those in love hope to become like gods.

That erotic attraction reminds us of our finitude and mortality, of our impermanence and instability, should not surprise us: the movement between lovers attends to their bodies, to the locus of human fragility and vulnerability. Unless we deliberately resist, the delighted gaze moves naturally into a caress, as lovers extend their mutual welcome into an embrace. While the elevated atmosphere of eros prompts us to speak of a ‘mingling’ or ‘union’ of souls, such hyperbolic rhetoric only dimly describes a richer, more colorful bodily life than we know now.

Indeed, disciplining the attentiveness toward each other’s bodies is essential for safeguarding lovers from devouring each other and allowing eros to endure. The consummation that eros seeks is not a fusion: the absorption of both parties into a single, undifferentiated unit would make eros both suicidal and nihilistic. If the joy that another loves us can endure, the other person must as well. Learning to deny ourselves safeguards the otherness of the person before us and keeps intact the essential and inherent division that love depends upon. But such discipline takes its nature and shape precisely because a bodily consummation wherein both people remain separate, whole, unique individuals is both possible and desirable. Only a stunted love would be satisfied with an image or picture of the beloved.

The interested aliveness to the other’s bodily presence confronts us with our own needy vulnerability. The encounter with one who is lovely makes us feel the lack when they are absent. Tom Cruise destroyed the sentiment, it should be said, by banally approaching it head-on. Yes, Christian youth leaders everywhere reminded us that that only Jesus can complete us. But we should not ignore the half-truth present in Tom Cruise’s pleadings: when the whole person is awake to the beloved, life seems imperfect and unfulfilled without them.

That absence, however, cannot be filled by just anyone. To those suffering from a broken heart, no suggestion is more offensive than that they might find “someone else,” or “the right one.” And understandably so. In an important sense, there can be no one else. The lover does not seek an abstraction nor a person conceived as a member of a general class (‘woman’ or ‘man’). They seek a particular, a specific individual, whose life and history are irreplaceable and unrepeatable. The joys of falling in love again might make us dull to the loss of another—but they can never quite repeat or replace it.

Let’s walk through why that is a bit more closely. Instruments and tools are marked in part by what we might call their ‘fungibility’ or ‘interchangeability.’ They can be replaced by similar objects with no significant loss. When building a fence, two equal hammers are as good as each other. There’s no point to choosing one over the other. Persons, however, are not interchangeable in this way. We cannot swap one friend for another without some kind of loss. Persons are particulars: they have irreducibly unique histories and perspectives and in relationships where those histories and perspectives are the pre-eminent purpose—like love and friendship—they cannot be interchanged without being dehumanized.

The erotic impulse turns upon this irreducible particularity of persons: a man in love does not have any interest in transferring his affections to another person. He may not even be able to imagine such a possibility.

The departure of eros from our world is perhaps most clear from our rampant willingness to replace the objects of our love at our whim. Consider our use of pornography, which preys on eros in order to destroy it. The men and women presented within pornography are instruments for the sake of a viewer’s pleasure and become, as a result, almost entirely interchangeable for others who fall into similar “types.” Those on screen are not encountered as subjects with their own unique histories: they are objects, whose performances are not communications of love or interest to us as viewers, but rather theatrical displays meant to titillate an unknown audience. There is no eros in watching pornography, as the viewer and the actors do not interact with each other as persons.

The “I” and the “You” are the substance of eros: change either one and the aspiration itself changes. The idea that one party might be replaced (now or ever) appears to the person in love as a genuine sacrilege, a corrosion that undermines the very nature of the union. For eros aims at a permanent union of just those people and no others. “I will always love you.”

2. The Vow

Then the man said,

‘This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.’

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

 

We hear in Adam’s poetry a note of relief at having discovered a companion. It is easy to forget the terror that isolation can evoke, and the joy that can come from no longer being alone. Chesterton was at his most astute when he acknowledged that however right the mathematicians were about twice two being four, they botched one plus one. The proper answer is nearer 1000, for having another by our side offers us exponential comforts.

Adam’s poetry also contains a vow—a promise. The idea that Eve is “bone of [Adam’s] bones” is often read as having an ‘ontological’ dimension. That is, Adam recognizes Eve is made out of the same stuff he is, fully human, and as such an equal player on the scene.

But that does not preclude other meanings: “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” also means something like “strength of my strength, and weakness of my weakness.” Or as a more modern rendition might put it, “In sickness and in health, ’till death do us part.”[1] The elevated form of poetry is part of the point: vows are a human act wherein we bind ourselves to one another. We place our character in peril by doing so, opening up the possibility of fragmentation and dissolution if we break our word. They are a matter of great seriousness, if anything is.

b&w-hands-2

A marriage vow is a closure—the kind of closure that is easily looked at as foolish because of its demands. Those who make vows open themselves to the possibility of pain and suffering, betrayal and loss. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, we are familiar with the hurt of broken hearts. Tragedy is not inevitable, but its all-too-real possibility heightens our awareness of the unknown, potentially unstable path ahead of us. No aspect of human existence is as impenetrable as the future, and a vow pledges our selves to another “come what may.” The vow is not a leap into a void: we make the promise with the knowledge of our own character and with glimpses of our spouse’s. But the marital commitment brings us face-to-face with the fragility of our lives, with the threat of betrayal and our vulnerability. The vow reminds us that our futures are in the hands of providence.

Vows give form to the unknown and begin a new moral reality; they stretch our character out into the future, establishing new boundaries and opportunities for our character and our lives. When we make vows, we make ourselves. Vows give us new glories to attain and new levels of baseness to fall into. And so as we lose confidence in the promises that constitute the marriage, we lose confidence in ourselves—and vice versa.

It might seem that marriage, with its ceremonies and its rules, is an unnecessary restriction on eros. We would be better, the notion goes, with a future unfettered by the outdated notion of binding ourselves to one another for life. Yet some limits expand us. Even the joy of mundane activities like chess or piano depends upon their rules.

Marriage demands the strength of will to keep our word. But in offering our word, we can also discover unknown strengths to keep it. We undertake obligations, even of the most extreme variety, because fulfilling them demands every ounce of our creative and spiritual energy, energy we may not have tapped into otherwise. The man who wishes to join the ranks of Monet or Mozart will in many cases find himself adopting a monkish approach to life. His asceticism will be real, as he abstains from goods like sleep or sociality that he otherwise might enjoy for the sake of attaining the glories he seeks. But such costs are often the price of greatness; the goods truly worth having are those that we can live and die for.

The simplicity of the marriage vow is one of its greatest strengths. It is a vow made for all seasons of life, and enables those who make them to grow in wisdom as they face situations they could not have possibly anticipated at the outset. Making the vow dependent upon each party fulfilling specific behaviors—as polyamorous or prenuptial agreements do—undermines its intrinsic power and requires lovers to become prophets. “To have and to hold, from this day forward” is general enough that no two happy marriages will ever look exactly alike and broad enough to provide the couple creative resources to meet any situation imaginable.

Such vows make formal and public what every true lover knows in the heat of passion: that if we could harness and direct the impulse to remain together, forever, we might discover even deeper joys than those we can imagine in the moment. That this kind of union is very good, and that however good it might seem now, such goods will be even greater if we can endure to the end. Such vows, as Chesterton understood, take lovers at their word. But in doing so, they ennoble us and raise us to the heights of human expression, drawing us nearer the gods than the beasts. It is not surprising that our greatest art is either religious or erotic in nature.

But while we make our vows, and our vows make us, we do not create their form ex nihilo. If a man and a woman consent to a marriage, they form a new bond. But they do not create a new kind of thing. Marriage exists as an institution, yes, and is passed on as a tradition within a society. The vow makes public the lovers’ union and locates them in a pre-existing network of communal ties, which exist in part to create pressures that ensure they keep their word. But the institutional dimensions of marriage are not the deepest form. Marriage presents an opportunity that a man and a woman who marry discover, but do not create. We may be godlike, but we are not gods, and the moral goods marriage makes available to us existed long before any particular couple and will endure long after. A man and a woman are like that curious explorer at the beginning of Chesterton’s Orthodoxy who comes upon a land he thinks to be New England and then discovers it was Old England all along. In making their vows, they enter for the first time upon a new moral terrain—and then proceeds to discover that it is already well known by others, because they did not make it themselves.

Yet it is the self-imposed limits of the marriage vow that the drama and excitement of eros hinges upon. If a man could make the world in accordance with his own will or desire—as pornography mimics—he might experience an initial thrill of delight, but the sensation lacks the power to endure. Viewing the world as an extension of our wills leaves no room for the surprise that comes from discovering unexpected goods in the obligations we take upon ourselves, and the spontaneity that comes from the presence of another’s will. Overspecifying the conditions of our commitments to each other diminishes the risk of our own pain; but by arrogating to ourselves the power to determine what kind of union we shall have, we infantilize ourselves. The glory of humanity is found in creatively living within and responding to an existing world of goods, one of which is the opportunity “to love and to cherish, ‘til death us do part.”

It is a curious fact about eros that it pursues privacy between the lovers even while longing for public recognition. The man who wishes to keep his lover only beneath the secrecy of night may justly have his affections questioned. The lovers’ mutual “mine” establishes a boundary that others may not be admitted to. But boundaries are only real if they are known to the world. Walls demarcate gardens, but they only do this meaningfully if there is an ‘outside’ to set them apart from. The public and private are co-dependent: the shape of the latter is determined by the former and vice versa.

So the vow is the official public-making act of an erotic desire that wishes to privately delight in the union. The intense power of eros is too good for other eyes. The face-to-face intimacy of eros makes it beholden to the ‘observer effect’: the presence of a camera or third party invariably changes its nature by giving it an aura of performance. The communication of welcome, of delight, allows the other to absorb one’s attention and draw us out of ourselves. And so eros seeks privacy, for the intensity of the communion negates and denies the rest of the world. The face-to-face union of the couple appears in public through the vow of marriage, its native home and safeguard. If eros is sacred, it should be hidden. For to profane it—to shine a light upon it—destroys it altogether.

In the words of Genesis, both the vow and the union make the two “one flesh.” The two individuals become a visible unit, a social organism, with its own internally directed ends. They are a community—and while they are privately two, they are in public, one.

The traditional manner of making marriage vows known—though not the only possible one—is the wedding. To make such a promise is a civilized act, which is to say it founds a civilization, which is to say it is a human act. However much else we might learn from them, the birds and the bees do not gussy themselves up and go down to the chapel.

As acts of civilization, though, weddings are rational. They are made up of symbols and meaning and words and reasons and art and all the other kinds of things that go into the human world. But they are also rational moments of excess and abundance. As they begin one of the most transcendent opportunities for a human life, weddings evoke the finest and the best we can muster. It is a glorious thing to commit oneself to another for a whole life. Our current unhinged aesthetic arms-race started over engagements and weddings because we forgot the meaning of the symbols. But the impetus behind putting on our Sunday best for the union is the right one.

B&W Rings

Despite this heavenly vision of the vow, many of us are more familiar with marriages that come nearer the atmosphere of hell. My account is idealistic, because I am defending ideals. Few who are in love hope for anything less, because people in love are filled with a rational confidence that their story will end happily. Why would they not be? Such confidence is the wellspring of human greatness, and in many cases the beginnings of social renewal. Diminishing the ennobling possibilities of marriage for young people because their hopes are “unrealistic” or “unlikely” might keep them from broken hearts, but it will certainly keep them from even greater joys. If we expect little from our young people, that is what they will be. Some goods are only won through risking great unhappiness.

And some goods are so grand and beautiful that the risk is worth it. I have long thought the rationality of the marriage vow depended upon the unshakable conviction that the final five years of marriage will be better than the first five, despite the appearances around us to the contrary. Adopting such an outlook may be an article of faith—but it is a better, truer, more beautiful article of faith than the bland cynicism of our day. We bind ourselves to one another because we hope we both might become better and the whole union become greater than either of us could be alone. “Eyes have not seen, ears have not heard”—those goods that can be known within a marriage. All the great and deep emotions that motivate our deepest and most profound arts are in this union contained. We know the sorrows that an unhappy marriage leads to, and yet we refuse to be deterred completely.[2] We are either a colossally stupid people, or our hearts know more about the world than we might care to admit.

We do not know in setting out what marriage will demand of us. But this is part of its beauty and its point: in wedding ourselves to providence, we must be open to carrying a cross. A man who vows to live with a woman may not yet be ready to die for her. And he may not need to be—yet. He may not know that the vow will demand his life; all he needs is his ineradicable commitment to his own word, an unwillingness to break his bond. The growing good and glory of the marriage depend upon the willingness to forgive grave moral wrongs, or more likely, a thousand petty ones. Whether eros is stronger than death will be discovered only through testing. As lovers take up their crosses and forgive, they may find a path toward joys that their initial moment of delight in the mutual “yes” could only dimly anticipate.

3. What Love Demands of Us

Suppose two people are madly in love and wish to remain that way. Suppose they are not prudes with aversions to sexual pleasure, but that they are gripped by a vague, inarticulate intuition that the joys of mutual love they discover in their early days might lead on to even deeper, greater goods. What kind of practices would they undertake to discover them? What kind of mental disciplines might they strive for, and what kind of emotions or attitudes would they seek to cultivate?

Suppose they are a typical modern couple and have not only witnessed divorces first-hand, but are well-acquainted with lifeless marriages for whom the possibility of eros sounds more like a cruel mirage than a word of hope. They might eagerly wish to avoid such a fate; but it would not be fear that would animate them so much as an earnest hope that their love might become a thing of beauty, perhaps even a thing of legends, like Beren and Luthien or Coach and Mrs. T.

Such a couple might develop an incredible and exacting rigor in their relationship. To the outsider, they might seem obsessively, rigidly puritanical; they might adopt norms that seem hopelessly unattainable and downright masochistic. Their fastidiousness might seem as strange as the asceticism of the Desert Fathers or as irrational as the mysticism of the medievals. But their self-imposed burdens and practices would sound to the married couple like the very substance of love.

Let us give such a set of practices a name: fides, or in our own language, “faithfulness.”[3] While such practices might involve any number of negations or denials—“I will not…”—at its heart beats an unrelenting and uncompromising commitment to love and cherish the other. Those who cultivate fides understand and delight in the irreducible uniqueness of the other, and the other’s irreplaceability with respect to the union.

Bringing two lives together in the union of marriage necessarily involves a whole host of activities: couples cook, work, garden, do housework, and so on. But for those motivated by eros, sex takes on a heightened importance because of their attentive interest and delight in the bodily presence and openness of the other. In a sexual encounter, two persons meet as embodied subjects who have their own histories and obligations that shape their respective futures. Some people deliberately hide those histories and obligations, reducing the encounter to a purely transactional one. The particularity of the person is subordinated to the satisfaction of sexual pleasure. For those motivated by eros, however, the subordination of the union with that particular person to any extrinsic quality (like pleasure or procreation) corrodes it. It is not “sex” that the person in love wants as a general class of action, such that just anyone would do to “scratch the itch.” Instead, eros seeks a union with another “I” whom we encounter as irreplaceable, since our point is not something beyond them but the person themselves.

As sex has something to do with marriage, then, our hypothetical couple would need to consider what kind of practices they would undertake in order to keep eros alive and strong within the sexual union. How might they approach sex so that “I will always love you” has a meaningful chance of becoming true?

For one, this couple might fastidiously expunge any willingness to engage in any kind of sexual activities that would replace the other person with respect to their union. They might refuse to watch pornography, for instance, because it inculcates in the viewer a willingness to replace their spouses with respect to sex. Pornography habituates a person’s thoughts and attitudes toward sex to pursue some end—bodily pleasure—outside or beyond that delight which is had in the person of one’s spouse. Pornography “works” in part based on the viewer identifying himself with the scene in some way—an identification that treats one’s spouse as replaceable with respect to sexual activities and pleasure. And such exclusivity would clearly not be limited to porn. This couple would also be vigilant to deny thoughts or sentiments that were directed toward engaging in sexual acts outside their own marriage.

And there is another step they would take, a more controversial step but an equally important one: this couple would withhold approval from those who engage in sexual activities outside of marital contexts. To approve of a behavior is to treat it as morally permissible, not just for the people engaging in it but for anyone similarly situated—including ourselves. What we bestow approval on not only reveals our character, but determines it. To approve of someone playing golf is to render the judgment, “If I were similarly situated I would play golf.” Approval indicates we have a conditional willingness to participate in the same activity; by approving we admit that we would do the thing if our situation were the same as theirs.

To approve of two people “having sex” outside a marital covenant renders the verdict that if one were similarly placed, one would engage in the same kind of activity. Which is to say: approving of sex outside of marriage inculcates a willingness in the approver to have sex outside of marriage, and by doing so, treats sex within one’s own marriage as simply an instance of a general class of activities (seeking “physical pleasure,” perhaps). But the moral content of sexual activity is determined by marriage; within the marriage, sex is a specific, unique activity of the irreplaceable and irreducibly unique individuals. It is not an instance of a general class of activity with a general aim, like “seeking pleasure” or even “procreation.” Its moral and communicative prospects are uniquely determined by the presence of just those two people and no others. Merely having the willingness to ‘have sex’ as a general class of activity corrodes one’s commitment to the irreplaceability of the other—it corrodes one’s fides, that is. To approve of sex outside of marriage destroys the unique moral prospects of sex within one’s own marriage.

What good might such moral rigor be? To those in love, the question is silly: once we taste the joys of eros, the disciplines needed to preserve them take on a new and more gracious atmosphere. Fides may not seem like it is worth the hassle, especially initially. But that is only because we have not seen it practiced. To steal from Chesterton yet again, it is not so much that marriage has been tried and found wanting so much as that it has never been tried at all. The highest goods are inaccessible to those who have not the virtues to taste them, the way the finer arts or foods are impenetrable to those of us who do not speak the languages required. But the pure in heart will see God, and the pure of body will discover delights that will be inarticulable to the rest of us. They will have an atmosphere and aroma that, when encountered, will be beautiful even if we cannot give it a name.

4. Love’s Transcendent Hope

Eros longs for a beloved. But what happens when the union is attained? Is there a satisfaction of eros that will not extinguish it, but renew it and keep it alive? Can there be a searching that, when it comes to an end, begins again? If the beloved is not simply present to us, but makes themselves available to be known by us, to be explored and delighted in, will there be an end to our searching? Or will eros, “having” the object that we longed for, wither away and die?

Perhaps this also is an article of faith, but I have long considered the idea that love could be satisfied and renewed within the same moment to be a necessary part of an elegant, beautiful universe. Like the edges of the cosmos, love’s organic law is growth and its true power tends toward expansion. Those who give much will have more—to give, rather than to keep—and those who do not give, even what they have will eventually wither away.

Love must be open-ended, then, at least for those who are creatures of time. And so love of another is. When encompassed and motivated by eros, the knowledge of a person becomes a renewable resource. It is not as though once a person is known they are somehow possessed or determined, that such knowledge is a closure. Our understanding grows with them; the other perpetually evades our grasp, surprises us, and is encountered again as “unknown.” Intimate knowledge is a never-ending business. We are not wholly new in each moment—but as long as there are movements left in the symphonies of our lives, our character and our persons are not fixed. And so eros, while delighting in the knowledge of the other, remains open to the future and to the freedom of the other.

b&w-landscape

All this is present in the intimate union eros is most closely associated with. In the throes of desire, lovers—as we so inelegantly say these days—“make love.” Their delighted exploring may be spontaneous and carefree, or done reverently, soberly, and in the fear of God. The secrecy that such lovers pursue for such intimacy demands our respect, and I see nothing to be gained by profaning such moments with crass or medicalized descriptions. Poetic speech about the union of husband and wife is not motivated by fear, but the truth, for only such speech reflects the ennobling opportunity such marital love presents to the world.

Still, the dignity and glory of this human action is not something separate from its animalistic quality. For those who are married, who meet in such a union as subjects, the physicality of the act is embedded within a history and context that transposes it into a new key and gives it a texture and meaning that it nowhere else has. Sex within marriage is not the same kind of thing that other animals have; its meaning and content is inextricably determined by the vow, and vice versa, even if the lovers are wholly unconscious of those dimensions in the middle of their pursuit of it.

The bodily union that consummates the lovers’ open-ended knowledge of each other is one that perfectly expresses its character. Their union is as open-ended as their love; it gives a particular form to an unknown future, establishing a new opportunity and depth for their lives that they can know in no other way. Their communion may have moments of ecstasy, but it makes possible a lifetime of joys—or sorrows.

Always. The I and the You who meet might even hope for the perpetuation of their bodily union beyond the death they know will inevitably tear them asunder. But only one path can provide the hope of such satisfaction. And here we come to the center of the argument: The bodily union of fides can lead to children, can bring about new members of the community who are not equal sharers of every aspect of it, but who are embodied icons of the exclusive and unmediated devotion of the husband and wife to each other and no other.[4] The “I” and the “You” who express their undying love to each other alone can experience a kind of satisfaction in a child who can outlive them both, who is uniquely begotten as the heir and embodiment of their union, who carries in his own character and identity the exclusive, permanent commitment of his parents love. The “I” and the “You” come together into one who is neither—but for whom both are required.

The husband and wife’s resolute commitment to the irreplaceability of each other with respect to their union—their fides—with all its joyous, self-imposed, exacting rigor establishes a moral environment wherein the child has the security of knowing that their identity and personhood has its foundation within the exclusive devotion between just two people. The child’s life and origin begins in the secret, hidden mystery of love between the man and the woman whose shape is made public in their vows of marriage.

To be clear, my point is a moral one and not about biology per se. But what’s true at the moral level is also true biologically: if either member of the union were replaced, the DNA of the child would obviously come from a different pool. To the extent that matters for the determination of a child’s life—and it clearly matters some—that would be enough to indicate that there is something about being begotten from just those two parents and no others that matters to the child’s future.

B&w-Feet

To be an icon, and to know that one is an icon of their parents’ love, is a peculiar kind of good. It is a status, a morally-laden status, which provides an important sense of security to a child, even if the conditions of their biological life are vulnerable. To know whence we come is one of life’s great questions. And fides secures the knowledge not simply of one’s biological parentage, but of the moral conditions of one’s own birth. For those moral conditions are inextricable from the knowledge of one’s own parents as persons and agents. We know each other in part by discovering their character, and to know that one’s parents fastidiously cultivated an ecosystem that was oriented toward the exclusive and permanent erotic attachment between them and no other is to learn something deep and important about them—and about one’s own origins. It is something more than simply knowing that I am the son of my parents: being an icon means the possibility of knowing that such sonship means being an extension of the devotion a father and mother have for each other, and that my origin was contained in their mutual ecstatic joy and sacrificial love. To recognize this is to see not simply that the union of their bodies created mine; it is to see that their love for one another brought me into existence.

If the union eros seeks is good for humans to pursue, then being born into an environment determined by it is also a good—and its absence would be a moral injury. But paradoxically, such an absence may not be discernible as such to those who lack it, just as those who are born into a society that lacks clean water, or penicillin, or equal voting rights for women may not recognize their absence as injuries. Or consider a person who is slandered and so denied opportunities he otherwise might have chosen, but who never learns of it. Such a person has suffered a real loss, even though it is invisible to him. The moral injuries children suffer may only dimly appear in the present to our empiricists, if at all, for their effects may only be seen when aggregated over an entire society over multiple generations, while “chastity” and its norms recedes further into our cultural memory.

If my argument is right, gay marriage is not a revolution; it is simply the final stage of the erosion of eros. The divorce revolution destroyed eros by attacking its foundation, namely the commitment to the permanent union with just this person and no other. Remarriage is predicated on the possibility that we can swap out our marital partners with respect to our vows without loss—it denies the permanence eros aspires to, and so cannot make sense of how children uniquely satisfy that aspiration. And by considering one’s spouse to be replaceable with respect to one’s marital vows, remarriage generates a moral outlook that inevitably leads to gay marriage. It is not just any man and woman who can appropriately or fully satisfy eros and generate the kind of community wherein children are icons of the love of their parents: only this woman and this man can fully do so. The divorce revolution simultaneously undermined the irreplaceable particularity of a man and woman, and the permanence of their vow, making gay marriage immensely more plausible than it ever would be otherwise.

But the cruel paradox is that societies immersed in atmospheres of injustice are least well equipped to see them as such. Our standards of ‘normal’ for what constitutes marital flourishing are themselves the problem, as they rarely get beyond the mammon-worshipping categories of wealth and economic status. Having considered each particular, individual men and woman as fungible with respect to their marriages for the past fifty years (due to our rampant acceptance of remarriage), we have no ability to see why men and women as general classes might not be fungible as well. But going on further in the direction we are headed would be a wrong nonetheless, one which a society ordered toward promoting and promulgating the good for its citizens would take with the utmost seriousness given marriage’s central role to the child’s life and moral outlook.

One final word about the moral opportunity that eros leads us to. Childbirth is a process that, once begun, happens without intervention. While we have learned to support the process and to intervene when there is danger, such decisions respond to an existing natural process that happens outside the direct, voluntary control by the mother. As such, an intimate, bodily union of a man and woman that can begin the procreative process has a twofold open-ended quality that makes it unique among any human actions. It can start a biological process that carries on long after the momentary action, and that process can culminate in the appearance of new human life into the community begun by the exclusive, permanent commitment of the husband and wife. Of all the acts that communicate love, devotion, or commitment to each other, only procreative acts require our intervention to ensure they do not generate human life.

This open-endedness toward the future is what lovers bind themselves to in the height of their expressions of erotic love: “I will always love you” casts us upon the fortunes of providence in a way that the biological processes of procreation mirror. A couple that longs for the fulfillment of their eros opens themselves to tragedy. Procreation is (still) risky, and makes us vulnerable to serious sorrow and loss. It puts the life of the mother at risk and begins human life in the most fragile of ways. And some couples may find—or even know in advance—such fulfillment is not available to them. Providence does not smile on us all—but the possibility of such suffering or frustration is contingent upon and discloses the uniqueness of the good. Infertility is tragic because joy is possible, and because new life can appear. The openness to sorrow, loss, betrayal and heartbreak that the great goods of the marriage vow demand of us are contained in bodily form in the possibility of procreation.

5. Fine Tuning In Response to Objections, Including Thoughts on Adoption

That is the core of the argument. There are objections to it, to be sure. And I wish to provide a few brief responses to those here. My aim is twofold: first, I want to show that the above view provides reasonable answers to them. To do that properly may involve clarifying some of what I have said. But we should not let that scare us: sometimes the truth emerges dialectically, through the giving and taking of reasons and counter-reasons. Second, I want to try to articulate what I think are the underlying presuppositions of the objections, to provide a glimpse of the kind of comprehensive outlook that I think makes gay marriage more plausible.

The first and most obvious objection is that not everyone who marries is capable of engaging in “procreative acts.” That is to say, some couples are not simply infertile: they may be incapable of engaging in any sexual activity at all, or be missing organs that are essential for the procreative process. How does the above view allow them to marry, while denying those who are of the same-sex?

This is a serious objection; answers to it might seem like special pleading or overly technical. But as with the moral rigor the couple engages in to preserve the vitality of their union, so here as well such distinctions are the substance of love and ethics. The careful pursuit of precision in response to a question like this may not indicate a deep aversion to people with same-sex desires, but an urgent sense that such distinctions really matter for living our lives together well.

So, then: Whether a man is willing to engage in sex with someone who is not his spouse, and whether he actually does, makes a real difference in how we evaluate him. We might be tempted to give him a pass, to overlook it as a mere indiscretion (but would we if the woman said this?). But to his wife, his willingness might seem much more grave and important, and appropriately so. It might feel like a personal slight, a violation of their marriage vow, a tacit suggestion that she is replaceable with respect to their union and its central activity. If such a willingness is justified because such an act ‘wouldn’t mean anything’ or is ‘just for pleasure,’ the wife would rightly be justified in calling into question precisely what the same physical acts meant even within their own marriage, and whether she at any point was reduced to a disposable means for his pursuit of physical pleasure. His approval of the depersonalized pursuit of sex reveals something about his character, after all, which cannot be extricated from his own union. In short, willingness matters for moral evaluation as much as the act itself.

Whether a man and a woman can marry depends not upon their ability to have children or even engage in procreative acts per se, but rather whether it makes sense for them to be willing to do so—even if they choose not to. It makes sense that a man and a woman who are incapable of engaging in procreative acts could be willing to do so under certain conditions, namely the conditions wherein their bodily functions were restored. Regardless of how unlikely those conditions are, most of us would recognize that the medical interventions that would enable them to engage in such actions would be choice-worthy for them to pursue, and would restore certain capabilities and functions that human beings naturally have. Their willingness to have children has a clear and intelligible logic to it, one that even comes through in the emotions that might take root in their union: such a couple might feel a deep sense of frustration and sorrow over their inability to engage in such acts despite their erotic longing. And such frustration would be entirely reasonable.

Could we say the same about a couple of the same-sex? It seems unlikely; for the moral opportunity inherent in procreative acts to be intelligible to them, one member of the couple would necessarily have to be replaced (with one potential exception that I will discuss below). Their non-procreativity is of a different kind than the incapacitated opposite-sex couple; any “willingness” to have a child on their part must violate the conditions of fides. The inability of some male and female couples to have children is a tragedy, and easily seen as such; for the same-sex couple, it is a structural feature. It would be strange for a same-sex couple to “regret” their non-procreativity; there is nothing to regret, because no moral opportunity has been lost. Even if one member underwent the radically invasive, non-curative surgeries required for sex-reassignment, they would still require a third-party to provide either the sperm or egg required for conception. As such, any ‘willingness’ to have children within the union is, quite literally, unintelligible.

Now, this establishes at a certain level that same-sex unions and different-sex unions are morally distinct, and that same-sex unions lack certain features that allow and enable them to experience the satisfaction of the kind of love that motivates them to enter the union. Same-sex unions might share in any number of goods, even if they are not marriages. But the aspirational love that aims at extending the union itself past the death of its members is impossible in same-sex unions in a way that it is not impossible in different-sex unions. It is in principle impossible in same-sex unions, whereas in infertile or incapable different-sex unions it is only conditionally impossible.

What of those different-sex couples who do not want to have children? One implication of my argument is that such individuals permanently frustrate the very aspiration that originally brought them together. They work against the very grain of their union’s existence. This is an implication I am happy to adopt; the existence of those who seem happy and content while willfully denying themselves the possibility of children does not on its own establish that my argument is wrong.

Some readers might also object to the above because same-sex couples do have children via adoption. Given that’s the case, why should we not grant that such couples are married? It’s important to underscore that a child’s life might be improved by being adopted into any number of relationships, and that is no small thing. For a child in foster care, the stability and opportunities that come through being adopted into a new home are considerable. Their social status and economic prospects may quite literally be transformed overnight.

But adoption into any family still either constitutes or depends upon a moral injury to the child, as it entails they no longer are present with the mother and father whose love they are an icon of. It is sometimes said that adoption is “redemptive”, and that may be. However, it is no substitute for biological parentage; adoption establishes some new goods, but it does not replace those that are lost.

Childhood as childhood has something to do with marriage: the moral norms by which a child comes to know himself and the world are, in part, determined by the marital status of those who raise him. If there is a morally-laden status of being the “icon of the parents’ devotion to each other and none other” that biological parentage can provide a child, then we should strive, as much as possible, to preserve the child’s presence within that communion and view adoption as a last-resort. As the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child puts it, every child should grow up “wherever possible…in the care and under the responsibility of his parents.” Adoptions happen only because tragedy exists.

B&wChild_01

But sometimes adoption does happen and should happen. What then? Different-sex couples who adopt welcome children into a community where the moral opportunity of marriage is intelligible, even if that moral opportunity is only imperfectly realized. But as same-sex couples have no similar opportunity, adoption doubly deprives a child of a first-hand encounter with the goods of marriage; having been deprived of their biological parents, adoption into a same-sex couple also withholds first-hand, pervasive encounters with the unique moral opportunity at the heart of marriage, even if the child’s socio-economic status improves (which, again, is a considerable good in its own right). It is not simply the presence of children within a community that establishes that community as a marriage; it is marriage and its goods that establish the moral contours and opportunities of childhood.

The cases of children entering a same-sex union through IVF or surrogacy most clearly demonstrate marriage’s distinctive moral opportunity. If a different-sex couple uses IVF, the child who enters the union might have the biological lineage of just those two parents and no other. I am opposed to IVF as a general practice; but for same-sex couples, these means of childbirth require replacing one of the members of the couple. Such methods make one member of the union fungible for purposes of having a child; this difference alone should be enough to show that the unions in question have different moral structures and opportunities inherent in them.

I said above that there was only one way in which same-sex couples could generate a child who was the “icon” of the non-fungibility of their parents. And it is this one: If researchers are able to engineer sperm and egg cells out of genetic material from same-sex couples, it would provide them an approximation of the moral opportunities inherent in opposite-sex couples. Such children would share, it seems, the DNA of both parents and so in that sense would be a “biological child.”

What should we make of this? For one, it is helpful to see the kind of universe that same-sex unions need in order to mimic the moral opportunities inherent in opposite-sex unions. This possibility would not have been conceivable without the developments in scientific knowledge and practice over the past 50 years. The gay marriage argument is persuasive to many people partly because of those developments—without IVF or surrogacy or improved contraceptive practices, the moral differences with respect to childbirth would have been much clearer. Adopting the arguments for the moral equivalence of gay marriage may commit us to accepting this technologically determined ecosystem. But it is not a very elegant system, and it should give us pause. Different-sex unions have a simplicity that the technological artifice beneath same-sex marital unions lacks: if sex makes babies, we don’t need scientists to.

No one should question that any biological children who come about in such a way are fully and properly human. But they come into the world as subjects of moral injury and harm, through no fault of their own, that children of opposite-sex couples (generally) do not. It is important to understand why.

The child who arrives through procreation is not, strictly speaking, chosen. While a different-sex couple may strive for health, identify the optimal time to conceive, and so on, indirectly supporting the procreative process is the best they can do. Parents directly choose to engage in an action that begins a process that they then can only choose to stop or support, but which will otherwise carry on without their intervention: parents do not, strictly speaking, choose to have a child. That possibility exceeds their direct grasp. The conception of a child is, instead, directly and immediately linked to the face-to-face encounter between a husband and wife, an encounter of love that is unmediated by any third party and that happens in secret, wherein each member of the union fully reveals themselves to the other in a loving embrace. The parents may welcome and accept the child, as indeed they should. But as much as they might hope for and want one, the conditions by which children come into the world mean ‘having a child’ cannot be a choice by them.

Mediated practices like IVF turn children into objects of choice. The trajectory of agency is very different in IVF than in natural childbirth. In procreation, the one moment of decision makes parents subsequently passive and hostage and vulnerable to fortune. IVF and other processes seek to remove this passivity as much as possible, to improve the chances and eliminate risks. Doctors play an instrumental role in the process, distancing the birth of the child from the initial and fundamental encounter of love between the two parents alone. This makes it much more likely that the child will be instrumentalized by the parents, as undertaking more direct control over the process will require reasons for choosing a particular embryo over another, instead of passively awaiting whomever appears. (The logic of ‘designer babies’ is already incipient in IVF; if we have to select embryos to implant, why wouldn’t we try to evaluate them and choose ones that match our wish list of potential qualities?)

But such a process also instrumentalizes the parents’ union for the sake of having a child, as it does the woman’s body. The inability to directly choose to have a child through natural procreation means that the only reasonable point of the sexual union is the union itself, especially since physical pleasure can clearly be had in different ways. However, those limits chasten both husband and wife from instrumentalizing each other or their union for some third-end beyond it (including children), a limitation that the direct aspirations of IVF seeks to overcome. And IVF brings the disproportionate burdens of childbirth into the very origins of the process as well. The consent and self-giving required by the sexual union is symmetrical; procreation clearly is not. But IVF intensifies that asymmetry by requiring women to undergo elaborate procedures to harvest their eggs even before they bear the child for nine months. Such a process risks instrumentalizing women and their bodies for the sake of procreation, rather than viewing them as equal even if asymmetrically burdened participants in the process.

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It is important to see how counter-intuitive the above is: the logic of the pro-choice movement has inculcated into all of us the idea that children are best served when they are chosen directly. The view treats children as isolated individuals who have no prior connection to the parents until they are chosen by them. But the child is welcomed and received into marital unions, not chosen. The life who appears to us in procreation is an authoritative good who justly demands the submission of our plans, lives, and aspirations to their well-being until they can become independent of us. In that sense, the eros that kneels before the authority of the beloved is heightened and de-sexualized in the face of the child, who enters as an irreplaceable, equal member of the community, even if that community is asymmetrically ordered. The child is the son or daughter of his parents regardless of what his parents ‘decide’. He bears the status as an icon of their devoted love prior to and before their “choice.” It is not their choice of him that makes him a child; their exclusive and non-instrumentalizing love for each other organically brought a child into the world.

The logic of gay marriage, then, and the logic of abortion come together at this crucial point. To support gay marriage, and to support the notion that the children who are brought into same-sex unions are “no different” than those brought into opposite-sex unions, is to adopt an understanding of the child at the heart of the pro-choice outlook on the world. All children deserve respect, care, and love. But that means that they also deserve to be welcomed into the world as those who come from outside our wills, whose lives are formed in the secret and hidden recesses of the most intimate and powerful act of human love known to humanity, whose sanctity and well-being exists outside of the direct choices of the rest of us.

Even if that argument isn’t persuasive, it will always be the case that same-sex couples are dependent upon either the tragedy to which adoption responds or third parties for the introduction of children into them. There is some wisdom to the adage that opposite-sex unions are “pre-political”; it is possible for a community to emerge from a male and female pair in total isolation, without the assistance even of a midwife. Such a simplicity is part of marriage’s power and why, as an institution, it is so structurally important. Its decline and erosion invariably leads to the expansiveness of other institutions (especially the government), which must fill the gaps left behind and attempt to correct the harms done within such failed marital relationships.

6. Some Further Reflections about the Debate

One position in this debate is wrong, which means that one group’s critical and rational reflecting has led them astray. One side is ‘deceived’ on some level; either they have made certain deliberative mistakes, or they have closed themselves off to certain thoughts or arguments, or they not had enough experiences, or they have drawn the wrong lessons from the experiences they have. One side is giving approval to what the other thinks is a grave moral wrong. There are a host of ways in which our critical reflection about the world can go wrong; there are far fewer ways that it can go right.

On this question, the suggestion that one side is morally wrong rarely leads to a self-reflective conversation about the merits of the arguments. It is easier, more politically potent, and safer for individuals on both sides to dispense with arguments altogether. After all, to enter into the process of giving and exchanging reasons is to momentarily open ourselves to the possibility that we might be wrong. And for gay or lesbian individuals, in particular, the burden is even heavier. The inevitable implication of this debate is not simply that their reasoning might be misguided—that is possible for heterosexual supporters of their view, as it is of opponents of their view. Instead, the implication of this debate is that the ‘experiences’ of gay and lesbian individuals of love, joy, happiness, acceptance, welcome, and so on do not hold the meaning or moral content that they think. There is an unavoidably disproportionate burden here; the conclusions I come to will unquestionably affect some people’s lives more seriously than they do my own.

But this disproportionate burden is also an inescapable feature of moral reasoning. Consider the arguments against eating meat, for instance. To those who think that vegetarianism is mandatory not simply for health reasons, but because killing animals is unethical and inhumane, eating meat seems like a grave moral offense. Even more to the point, the pleasures and delights that meat-eaters have in consuming meat are, on this hypothesis, not sufficient to justify the practice—and may even be part of the problem. The intensity of the enjoyment of eating meat deepens the meat-eaters attachment to his own outlook, so that relinquishing the practice would require an ascetic abstention from delights he otherwise would enjoy. The conversion would cost him something, and those stakes make it understandably difficult to change his mind.

The analogy is an imperfect one. Food is not sex; sex entangles us with other human persons in a more immediate way, and sexual desires may be more pervasive in our consciousness and resistant to change than our desires for food. It is relatively easy to learn to like tomatoes or curry; finding someone to love, on the other hand, is one of life’s great challenges. But my point is a narrow one here, and should be (I hope!) uncontroversial: not all that appears to be good for us truly is, and not all pleasures reinforce moral outlooks that are justifiable upon reflection. Our experiences of happiness or joy or sadness are not infallible or translucent to us.

Additionally, I argued earlier that the moral rigor embedded in the aspiration to keep eros alive is a universal one. It places an equal demand on all those who are in love, namely to expunge any sentiment, thought, impulse, desire, or any other psychological feature that engenders a willingness to replace one’s beloved with respect to the marital union. While my ‘form of life’ may be nearer that which I think is morally permissible than, say, an active and practicing same-sex couple, the moral scrutiny my view engenders of my own practices are not exactly an easy burden either. (So much moreso, I note, my pleas for mercy in my own life, unable to bear up this weight perfectly as I am.)

7. A Concluding Word, At Last

There is much more that deserves saying. Despite having gone on too long already, the above is nearer to an outline of an argument than it is a complete case. I have said less than I should have about the institutional dimensions of marriage, for one. Vows generate obligations, and in marriage where in most cases children are a possibility, those obligations are of the most serious kind. The government should allow couples to live their lives as they may, but it does not, should not, recognize those unions as marriages that lack the marriage-making features I have tried to articulate above. On what basis the state might do this while preserving the equal dignity of its citizens deserves an essay at least as long as this one—if not three times the size. But I have also not demonstrated how my above argument shows why polygamy and incest are wrong. And I have not mapped it on to any of the existing social science research, psychological research, or any other field that has some role in this debate, or explained why I think such fields are subordinate to the kind of critical reflection I tried to undertake here. Many others have taken up aspects of those arguments already; I have no plans to fill them out in the near future.

However, I will note that nothing in my argument depends upon any kind of special revelation. I am a Christian—a Protestant, specifically, an evangelical even, and a conservative evangelical at that. While I deployed a text I hold to be sacred and inspired, it can function in this context simply as an account of the world that has an authority similar to Plato: the authority of wisdom, from which we might learn something about ourselves. Even so, readers need no existing religious commitment to find the above essay intelligible and, I hope, persuasive.

Still, I am a Christian—and I am enough of one to know that the above comports well with traditional Christian doctrine on the subject. In that way, I am happy to admit that my arguments here have bearing on my religious commitments. But bearing in which direction? I might just as well say that the above arguments are why I believe the witness of the Gospel, rather than that the Gospel is why I believe the above arguments. I might as well say that because it is true. I began thinking about this argument for the first time by reading Plato; if we speak from the standpoint of faith, I see only more reasons to think that same-sex sexual relationships cannot deliver on what they promise.

Marriage is an institution that elevates us and ennobles us, that helps us aspire to a kind of greatness that we still—despite our attempts to obscure it—can glimpse today. We can always love another person. We can commit ourselves with the single-mindedness of devotion and discover that there are depths to ourselves and one another that we might never have known otherwise. Our marriages can get better—but only if we learn their meaning and begin to submit to their moral demands.

Treating same-sex and different-sex erotic relationships as equivalent removes from eros the glorious possibility that we might discover a love stronger than death, that a man and a woman might be so devoted to one another alone that they would form a community whose children would be icons of their exclusive, permanent commitment. That glorious aspiration and the hope of its fulfillment make us vulnerable to nearly infinite depths of sorrow and loss. But they also make the world a more exciting, dramatic, and beautiful place to live.

Notes and Credits

All but two of the photos are taken by Allison Oh. The final two are used with permission from Unsplash, and were also selected by Ms. Oh. 

This essay is available as a PDF for those who, like me, do not enjoy reading on computers or screens of any kind. If you wish to reprint it, all I ask is that you send me an email at matthewleeanderson.84@gmail.com as a courtesy.  

I am grateful for the editorial help of James Arnold, and for the very helpful comments I received on previous drafts from a number of readers, including Andrew Walker. I make clear my most recent intellectual influence below. The other figures that have shaped this in some way are too many to name here. However, the content of the above, and especially its errors, are my responsibility alone.

Finally, I have long thought that the comments at Mere Orthodoxy have hosted some of the most rigorous and irenic discussions about important issues. I hope, sincerely, that readers do not in this instance prove me wrong about this, even if arguing I am wrong about everything else. 

[1] See the argument Walter Brueggemann makes in “Of the Same Flesh and Bone” is contained in Catholic Biblical Quarterly, volume 30, 1970, pages 532-542.

[2] Yes, marriage rates are declining. However, even if they are waiting for it, young people still seem to think that marriage is an important part of their future.

[3] I am heavily indebted to the work of John Finnis throughout this essay, but especially for his language of ‘non-fungibility’, the notion that children are “icons” of the non-fungibility of persons, and for the argument that approving of particular acts implicates us in them. Any and all errors are, of course, my own. See especially Finnis, John. “Marriage:  A Basic and Exigent Good.” The Monist 91, no. 3 (2008): 388–406 and also “The Good of Marriage and the Morality of Sexual Relations: Some Philosophical and Historical Observations.” The American Journal of Jurisprudence 42, no. 1 (January 1, 1997): 97-134.

[4] The language of ‘icon’ here is directly taken from Finnis.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

  • I have significant sympathy for this argument. However the procreative underpinnings of marriage are a difficult thing to carry forward within the convoluted mess of day to day life.

    “””the conclusions I come to will unquestionably affect some people’s lives more seriously than they do my own”””

    An objection of legitimacy can be made here; How often have those in the position privileged by society or custom made a moral determination that DOES impact their own lives more seriously than someone else’s? It is important not to run away from or shush this question away. From the outside it hangs like a dark cloud over Evangelicalism, and the resentment it engenders has moral legitimacy.

    “””But adoption into any family still either constitutes or depends upon a moral injury to the child, as it entails they no longer are present with the mother and father whose love they are an icon of. It is sometimes said that adoption is “redemptive”, and that may be. However, it is no substitute for biological parentage”””

    Can this statement be carried into an understanding of real life? The parents may or may not have been engaging in a union of Eros, it may have been a predatory union of appetite, one involving violence. And still the child is an icon of Love? This position sounds well in prose, but it is quickly mired in darkness of day to day life. It is all too often a moral injury to fail to rescue a child from its biological parentage.

    “””While I deployed a text I hold to be sacred and inspired, it can function in this context simply as an account of the world that has an authority similar to Plato: the authority of wisdom, from which we might learn something about ourselves.”””

    Our state has no resemblance to Plato’s republic. It is a Madisonian construct resting on the political principles of Aristotle’s ideal constitution – a thing very much at odds with, if not an opposite of, Plato’s republic. This has significance as to how moral considerations – such as those reasoned from a belief about Eros or the nature of procreative union – can be brought into the forum of the state.

    • Thanks for the comments. A couple quick replies:

      “How often have those in the position privileged by society or custom made a moral determination that DOES impact their own lives more seriously than someone else’s?”

      I don’t think I ran away from the question. In fact, I think my account is unique for even acknowledging the disproportionate burden. But let’s say “never,” just to make the case as difficult as possible. It’s not clear what this should establish for us. Resentment has “moral legitimacy” in what respect? Moral truths are not determined by a majority. It’s possible that we might give a heightened scrutiny to moral conclusions that are held by a majority position, but that’s a relatively unstable and weak position to take. After all, majority positions can shift very quickly, as we have seen. So it’s not clear that the disproportionate burden should impinge on the legitimacy of a position *at all.*

      Besides, if my view is correct, its norms are as invasive in different-sex marriages as they are into same-sex unions. So they are, in that sense, equally burdensome.

      “Can this statement be carried into an understanding of real life? The parents may or may not have been engaging in a union of Eros, it may have been a predatory union of appetite, one involving violence. And still the child is an icon of Love? This position sounds well in prose, but it is quickly mired in darkness of day to day life. It is all too often a moral injury to fail to rescue a child from its biological parentage.”

      I think I framed this throughout as an *opportunity* that is unique to marital unions; that is a different claim that than the opportunity is always and everywhere fulfilled. It may indeed sometimes be a moral injury to leave a child with their biological parents–but preserving them (say) from bodily harm does not mean that they are not also deprived of what I’m calling their iconicity.

      “Our state has no resemblance to Plato’s republic. It is a Madisonian construct resting on the political principles of Aristotle’s ideal constitution – a thing very much at odds with, if not an opposite of, Plato’s republic. This has significance as to how moral considerations – such as those reasoned from a belief about Eros or the nature of procreative union – can be brought into the forum of the state.”

      I don’t think I did say it was the Republic (thank God it’s not!). But I don’t think anything I’ve argued is incommensurate with a Madisonian republic.

      Matt

  • Matthew Miller

    All right, I read the whole thing. *phew*

    I just wanted to add a note about the idea of children as icons, because I suspect you’ll get some pushback on that. It’s a weird idea in our current regime of individualism/choice/etc., but it makes a great deal of sense to me: I’m one of six siblings, now somewhat scattered, and any time we are all together the sense of wellbeing practically radiates from my mom. Nothing, I’m pretty sure, makes her feel so contented as having all her children at home together. Children-as-icons gives that a compelling texture: she’s not happy just because of, I dunno, pleasure in the stuff we do together–no, our collected presence *says something* about the love that constitutes our family.

    • Joe

      My mother viewed her five children as utilities (primarily welfare payments) to be dispensed with when they no longer served any useful function. I don’t think all five have ever been at home together.

      Children-as-icons makes a lot of sense to me.

      • Thanks very much to both of you! It’s very difficult to escape the individualism inherent in most of our concepts, so I’m very glad that you detected that I was trying to do something like that with the language of ‘icon.’

        Matt

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  • Matt Crutchmer

    Great, great essay, Matt.

    Re: §4, Love’s Transcendent Hope. You say, “Like the edges of the cosmos, love’s organic law is growth and its true power tends toward expansion”: exactly right. I’d add something from Steven Guthrie’s book on the Holy Spirit (Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human) that because persons are *mysteries*, we can never come to the end of knowing them. “It is persons with whom we speak and who speak to us, and it is persons who remain always beyond what we can say about them. It is persons whom we most genuinely speak of ‘knowing,’ and it is persons who are most truly always beyond our knowing, who always remain, to some degree. mysterious. Indeed, the mysterious is preeminently the domain of the personal.” Love within marriage can be sustained by exactly these sentiments since it is the desire/longing to know and the joy of discovery that brings meaning and motivation to our living.

    • Thanks, Matt. That’s a great section, and just the kind of thing that I’ve been working on in my other (unpublished) attempts to frame this pursuit around ‘knowledge.’

  • wmrharris

    The view of marriage as fundamentally erotic strikes me as being a young person’s vision, and one deeply Romantic, at that. To hold to the erotic as the fundamental dimension of marriage carries an assumed complementarity: it is a mutual giving. This mutuality participates in the basic egalitarian construction of our social relationships, this being the same construction that likewise supports same-sex marriage as an extension of egalitarian thinking.

    However, this strikes me as a young person’s argument, the sort where marriage is construed as the locus for sex. Yet the testimony of many long-married couples is not the occasion of sex, but the development of mutuality. It’s finally not so much erotic as it is agapaic. The body soon enough betrays you (trust me), it is the wending, welding, blending of life that keeps you together.

    Also, as noted, this comes across as Romantic, anchored in the cultural ways of emerging middle class life of the early 19th C. The evidence is clear that in other times, the child was far more a utilitarian attribute of the family than an icon. Marriages too, were asymmetrical in power, rights and duties. As presented, it is hard to see how the fundamental focus on eros fits in with these other cultural constructions of marriage.

    And finally, much of the writing is simply lovely. The notion of the child as an icon of love glows (though the paedo-baptist here wonders how this fits in with believers’ baptism). You have given much to reflect on and even to celebrate. Thank you.

    • Thanks for the kind words. It may be a young person’s vision, but I hope that it’s still mine when I am old. It certainly was Chesterton’s as he grew up.

      I don’t think the ‘erotic’ is simply built on ‘mutuality.’ In fact, I tried to highlight the ways it is experienced as an asymmetry: we kneel before our beloveds, because we wish to give up any claim to equality! If we are equal in fact, it is not a fact the person in love has much interest in. But either way, such a mutuality or equality doesn’t get you to same-sex marriage, at least not without *giving up* any meaningful pursuit of the permanence through *just those two* individuals and no other.

      You’re right, though: there are lots of other visions of marriage, and this is simply one. My point was simply that even *if* we take our romantically motivated, middle-to-upper class presuppositions as our starting point…we still get around to the ineradicable uniqueness of the opportunity inherent in male-female marital relationships.

      Matt

      • James

        Except that you are negating the existence of God’s gay and lesbian children. For most same-sex couples, I’m sure that their unions are just as sacred to them and just as emotionally fulfilling as for most opposite-sex couples. Why would you want to deny to any of God’s children what you want for yourself?

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  • Bowman Walton

    Michael Sandel’s Case Against Perfection objects to the parental abuse of biotechnology to conceive children who are perfect representations of their idealized selves. Against this, he posits a parental virtue of the ‘openness to the unbidden’ mentioned by Leon Kass. To that extent, Sandel appears to be opposing most ideas of the child as icon of his parents, including perhaps Anderson’s. But these two arguments have other formal similarities, and it would be worthwhile to see whether some careful horticulture could give us a single argument with hybrid vigor against both anti-procreational theories of marriage and narcissistic manipulations of genes. I suspect that an ultimately useful argument will have to work in both forums to work in either.

    • I meant to say ‘thanks’ for this yesterday! Sandel’s book is on my ‘to-read’ list; and you are seeing the exact train of thought that I might be developing in my DPhil.

      I don’t think his view would oppose mine, though. I developed a lot of language of ‘openness’ to the future in the essay above, and iconicity has precisely to do with not instrumentalizing either party in the marriage *for the sake* of children. I didn’t develop that particular argument as much as I should have…but then, one can’t do everything in an essay. : )

  • Bowman Walton

    The argument is an erotic account of monogamy for procreation. That is all, and that is enough. But the title is infelicitous, even if it happens to be a true autobiographical account of what made up Anderson’s mind on That Topic.

    The essay does not directly engage reflections on what makes coupling theologically significant. Thus it is possible to agree with this erotic argument but disagree with most or all theological reflections on couples. And agreement with some of those reflections would not give any concomitant support to the conclusion of the essay.

    Nor does the essay directly engage the several policy arguments advanced for extending state registry to all couples. Indeed, it forswears discussion of the usual epistemic warrants for public policy. So one convinced by the argument here could also be convinced by some combination of the usual policy arguments for extended registry. Conversely, accepting a policy argument for such registry– eg it promotes public hygiene, enables all citizens to order their lives and property, assists employers in extending employment benefits, etc– do not make it more difficult to agree with the essay, or even to live by its conclusions.

    For these reasons, the essay does not in fact present an argument against state-registered gay couples. This limited scope is not a vice– the focus deepens the discussion– but the title obscures its strengths, arouses prejudice against its claims, and invites unreasonable criticism.

    In a fairly short time, That Topic has become two topics. Arguments promoting a workable account of marriage for the Church do not usually count against the civil registration of gay couples. And one can believe that such civil registration is good public policy even while one chooses to live by a vision of marriage like the one proposed here. If any believe these apparently distinct concerns in fact belong in the same conversation, then they need to advance some further argument, maybe a political theology, to show that. And that is yet a third conversation.

    • This is a very good comment.

    • Thanks for the (excellent) and kind comment.

      I think the argument can, and does, satisfy a Rawlsian-inspired constraint on ‘public reasons’ and as such does, in fact, provide reasons for why judges could treat different-sex and same-sex relationships differently. You’re right that I do not address the “several policy arguments” for extending “state registry.” However, none of the warrants you briefly mention get us around to the question of whether such ends should be consigned under the concept ‘marriage’ or whether there are other means by which a state could secure them.

      So, the argument is (in fact) still one. Claiming that it is an account of “marriage for the Church” does not make it so. But you’re right: I didn’t fill in all the details of my political theology because, well, I was already at 10K words and it is the internet and I’m not being paid.

      Matt

  • Travis

    This might be the single worst (and longest) refutation of a human right I’ve ever read. Word games (structural vs. conditional impossibility of children) will never get you to the truth. Only love will.

    • T.A.L.L

      “Only love will.”

      That is a really judgmental statement. Buddhist don’t believe that, in fact they believe the opposite. For Buddha, truth/salvation is found when one is empty of such things. Hindus don’t believe that either. They believe that truth/salvation can only be found in climbing the social ladder through a death and reincarnation system. Muslims don’t believe that either. They believe truth/salvation can only be found in success and advancement socially, economically, and militarily.

      The reality is “love is truth” is not a neutral non-judgmental position. It is also not a legitimate philosophy. Living this way means you on some level expect to find truth in your love of an ice cream sundae. Ice cream sundaes don’t love you back.

      • Travis

        I’m not sure why you’re bringing in other religious viewpoints (some of which I think you might be woefully misrepresenting, but that’s not the issue). Is it to say that “love is truth” is an intrinsically Christian statement, and therefore exclusive and judgmental?

        I’m not sure I agree, but I do think that Jesus is the perfect picture of God’s love (which is the only true Love, capital L). My point was actually that if you’re trying to figure these things out by devising ways to categorize this couple as this and that couple as that (structural vs. conditional impossibility of children) you’re missing the point of Jesus. An author like this should be more honest and simply say (which he somewhat does at the end, but with Satrean bad faith) that all of his arguments start with “I believe Christianity teaches this is wrong” and then tries to figure out “secular” or “reasoned” ways to back this up. If you just go about these things praying “Lord, make it so that I see EVERYTHING with your love, every person with your love, ever situation with your love, including myself and my selfishness and hopes and dreams” you won’t rely on arguments like this, because there won’t really be much of a discussion anymore.

        • T.A.L.L

          “Love is truth” is not in fact a Christian statement. You will not find it anywhere in Scripture. What you will find is, as you point out, that love is a person and is personal. That person being Jesus and Him personally and actively loving people.

          On one hand, if my non-affirming position can be changed and influenced by getting to know gay and transgendered people then my position is based on bigotry and discrimination. To that I would say good riddance.

          On the other hand, if my non-affirming position is based on a belief that the God of the universe has spoken and declared homosexual sex as sinful and is not part of human thriving and is in fact hurtful to both individual and community thriving then it would be the most loving position to seek and desire to see people be ride of such things. I do not dare though seek and desire such things outside of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit who helps me seek and desire such things while displaying the fruit of the Spirit such as gentleness and patience.

          I do believe that Jesus teaches us that we should love. He is the example of love. In His example He seeks to deliver people from sin. One has to deny self, and all that means, in order to be a disciple.

        • T.A.L.L

          Although I agree that even Hindu and Buddhism are not monolethic (all the same) I do believe I accurately portray the main tenants of their historical roots.

    • This might be the single worst..nah, nevermind. Thanks for the comment!

  • mamazee

    beautiful longread :) As a mom of eight, i concur with the commenter further down the page, that the idea of children as icons – as symbols of something unutterably beautiful – is exactly my heart when i look on their faces… As a mom who has deliberately chosen not to take part in the “planning/management” of childbearing, but decided to accept these children as they arrived with joy, i wonder, often, if the Church’s incoherence re: gay marriage has something to do with the fact that the homosexual activists pose questions that have no clear answer for a Christian couple who has decided to use contraception. I think you answered those questions with a great amount of beauty, and a lot of creative language. Well done…

    • Thanks *very* much. Iconicity is a concept that needs further elaboration, but it’s one that I’ve found very important.

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  • tb03

    Nothing new here. Rehashed Natural Law minus God that reads a lot like Garfield minus Garfield. It starts out silly and ridiculous, but gets sad and pathetic really quick. No offense to Aquinas since he’s taken out of context (There are many types of natural law and Aquinas was against homosexuality, but because homosexuality violated natural law in society. To put it in context, he though long hair on men was also against natural law). The entire argument relies on presumption that children raised in straight marriage is best, yet they cannot seem to demonstrate this in any objective way. Their view that this is common sense can also explain why people once thought the Earth was flat…its common sense. No, it’s just not reality. Your view of the world is not the ENTIRE world, so you can’t say what is best for all. Yet even though there is moral presumption, he extends an olive branch to those who cannot meet his ideal. Except for gays because, well, they’re gay. There’s a word for that.

    No sense in going through all this again, but I will question a tidbit that was mentioned in the article about pro-choice logic being that parents should choose when they want to be a parent and that’s best for the child. This is not the underlying argument of pro-choice position. The underlying argument is recognizing that biologically all pregnant women risk their lives by being pregnant and it is their choice if they wish to assume that risk. It’s that simple. So this is a good example of how the article’s view is skewed. This is the unenriched, flat voice of a straight, childless man who will never assume the risk of pregnancy, yet feels he can stand in the bleachers mansplaining what’s what to all.

    • John

      Nope. Your first paragraph ignores the main idea of the piece- that “love” as defined by the current culture, is an insufficient foundation for marriage. Your second paragraph has me both afraid and mystified- you make motherhood sound as cold and calculating as an actuarial report. I’m not even sure most pro-abortion people would be comfortable with the image you depict of a mother deciding to end the life inside of her because she’s not much of a gambler. Yikes.

      • tb03

        The only distinction between his ideal of love, which can be had by gays, is the lack of reproduction. When cancelling out all other common denominators between gay and straight marraige and love what is left is the absense of sexual reproduction in gay marriage.

        Your flowery, fluffy ideal of “motherhood” blindly ignores the real risk of pregnancy. I have kids and willingly assumed that risk, that was my choice. Have you? I cannot expect the same from another person. All pro-choice people recognize the worth and autonomy of a woman. Pro-“life” people, you included apparently, often ignore or trivialize that fact. Pro-“life” is a contradiction in terms based on your logic.

        • mamazee

          should read : all pro-choice people recognize the worth and autonomy of woman.

          Because the praise heaped by the pro choice crowd on the mother in Vietnam who aborted eighteen daughters in a row before she conceived the son she allowed to live shows that they do not, in fact, recognize the worth and autonomy of those children.

          • tb03

            Forcing a woman to risk her life for a fetus is wrong. It’s tough, but the mother’s life comes first. Almost ALL pro-life people agree with that. That’s the basis of the pro-choice movement. Seriously curious, how is a fetus autonomous?

          • eddiestardust

            Your mother did it and that wasn’t right? She chose to bring you to term….

          • mamazee

            preborn humans have their own unique DNA, different from the mother or the father’s. They differ in size (little people are still human, right?), level of development (toddlers are still human, right?), environment (they don’t have to use their lungs to breathe air til after birth) (astronauts are still human, right?) and yes, they are dependent for a few months, just like a person in an accident (who are still human, right?). As a mom who has “risked her life” nine times, i can assure you that the vast majority of us mothers would gladly give their lives for their children (and do, untold numbers of times a day, all over the globe.)before, and after birth.

          • tb03

            A fetus exists as an accommodation of the woman’s body, and
            does place the mother’s life at risk. That’s not autonomy. Mothers
            cannot be forced to take that risk. Just because you and I have chosen to
            carry children to term we cannot assume our experience is the same as other
            women. A mother with cancer, end stage renal disease, pre-eclampsia, etc.
            cannot be forced to risk her. Just like a father who may be a match as a
            bone marrow donor for his child with cancer cannot be forced to donate. As a
            NICU nurse I see just how many mothers risk their lives with very high risk
            pregnancies, and seeing what they go through I would never dream of FORCING
            them to assume those risks. I’m sorry, but I can’t see how someone can
            justify your position and still call themselves pro-“life”.

    • Thanks, I suppose, for reading it at least. I keep reading your comment trying to find an argument for why anything I’ve said is actually wrong…and coming up empty.

      • tb03

        Really? I’ll start with the low-hanging fruit. The underlying logic of the pro-choice movement as characterized by you is plainly wrong. Also, the entire idea of “natural theology”
        (that’s what I’ll call it for lack of a better word) is wrong. Anything that can be used to justify slavery, eugenics, misogyny, or any other dehumanizing behavior, which many argued as having a basis in nature, is flatly incorrect. Which is why your family ideal of biological parents was simply not taught by Jesus (seriously, if your characterization is correct even
        Jesus had a lack of “moral knowledge”. Yikes!), so that’s another reason that you’re wrong. Let’s be honest, out of the 10,000 plus words in this essay, maybe a 1000 is actually
        relevant because the love and commitment characterized can be had by a same sex
        couple. Everything else you wrote is fluff. All that’s really left is an argument about
        the lack of sexual procreation. Your characterization of children born or raised by gays as not having the moral knowledge that children of straight, married sex is really not an argument of biology since as you confessed LGBT couples can have children, but an argument against same sex child rearing. Your complete silence on any objective justification of why children of same sex couples fare worse is very telling. Not only is it just bad scholarship, but a bizarre, ironic departure from a natural theology worldview which is the basis of your argument. How is this lack of moral knowledge manifesting in children? In short, I’m saying prove it. It should be easy because your natural law view by definition should be objectively provable since it should be reflected in nature. How are children of same sex couples suffering? I’m sure all professional organizations and thousands of scientists that deal with children’s health and well-being for a living would love to know how they are getting it all wrong. I’m sure that dozens of lawyers and social commentators/”academics” that have made this exact same argument you’re making for
        years (and failed) would love someone to elaborate in a convincing way. I’m sorry that you can’t see it, but so far you’re not convincing at all.

        • TB03,

          Come on now, you’re smarter than this. Assertions that I’m wrong do not arguments make. Neither does the ‘guilt by association’ fallacy for a form of reasoning. I mean, ‘science’ was used to justify…slavery, eugenics, misogyny, etc….so why should we take that form of reasoning any more seriously? In fact, “scientific” and empirical arguments had *much* more to do with the justification than those regimes than anything that smacked of theology (though my essay is more philosophical). Let’s throw out the whole discipline, then!

          You do know that Mary and Joseph were married, yes? Jesus is a curious example, yes, but also an intrinsically non-repeatable example and one who is meant to not overturn the goods of creation but highlight their contours and their importance. I also think that my position explains Jesus…but then that’s an essay for another time.

          “Your characterization of children born or raised by gays as not having the moral knowledge that children of straight, married sex is really not an argument of biology since as you confessed LGBT couples can have children, but an argument against same sex child rearing.”

          What I said was that LGBT couples adopt or they can “have children” only by *replacing* one of the members of the union. So their relationship to children, unlike different-sex marriages, depends either upon the brokenness of natural families (via adoption) or on treating one member of the union as fungible with respect to children, a move which intrinsically instrumentalizes (and yes, objectifies!) that person with respect to the union.

          I also gave reasons why social science research may not, on this issue, be as decisive or revelatory as you clearly think. But then, simply asserting that we should all make this decision *only* on the basis of social science research does not an argument make. Given that, for instance, the vast majority of people who supported no-fault divorce made an identical argument in form to the one you are making when that revolution happened, and given that today there isn’t a serious social scientist alive who thinks that regime has improved children’s well-being in the aggregate, why should we trust the comparatively thin shred of ‘evidence’ that the social sciences give on this question to be determinative of an issue of grave moral importance?

          So far, in other words, you’re not convincing at all. : )

          Matt

          • tb03

            I’ll try to keep it brief. How is using a straw man answering my question? Comparing marriage to, well, basically the opposite of marriage is an odd way to go. First of
            all, no-fault divorce effects could be felt immediately. There was no “well, let’s wait and see. Maybe ten, twenty, 100 years we’ll know better”. As a side note, the purpose of no-fault divorce was a reaction to abused women being forced to stay married because some judges refused to acknowledge their evidence of abuse or
            infidelity. The way the system was pre no-fault was deeply flawed and misogynistic, and recognizing women as equal citizens necessitated change. Besides, the
            divorce rate pre no-fault was 25% and most of those were uncontested, so far
            from being idyllic. On the other hand, same sex marriage and parenting has been
            studied for decades with 70+ studies. Almost all have reached the same conclusion leading all major professional organizations supporting the consensus. Your position here is weak at best, even accepting the straw man as a legit comparison. I have to say, even though I fully disagree with the Catholic position (which is essentially the same as your position) I respect their understanding that the proof needs to exist independent of philosophy and religion. For some reason you cannot be bothered. Weak.

            Your theology/philosophy has roots in supporting slavery and many other evils, and your response is essentially “well, just cause it’s always been wrong doesn’t mean it’ll be wrong this time”. Nice! Oh, and science never recognized slaves as being a separate species, and it was a well-known fact that slaves had a much shorter life expectancy. Justification of slavery has always been “moral”. Justification of eugenics and misogyny was also primarily “moral” and philosophical.

            Jesus was different, yes. But he encompasses all that is morally possible for humans being human par excellence. How can your ideal be shared by God when his family on Earth was not the shared image? It’s impossible. Beside, Jesus clearly didn’t have the same view and even expressed contempt when it was suggested he recognize his biological family first. I don’t see any biblical footing for you here.

          • I think we’re going to have to disagree, as we clearly have very different understandings of the nature (for instance) of the role the social sciences played in divorce laws. Yes, some of the effects could clearly be “felt immediately”: people could get divorced without fault! And gay people are going to be able to get married! But my point in both cases was more narrow, and you’ve (again) misread it. My point was that the effects on children were disputed, and not at all obvious when the renovation happened, because the social sciences are a lagging indicator. 70+ studies is a ludicrously small number for an innovation of this importance,

            It’s fine if you want to insult me. But the reason I ‘can’t be bothered’ is because I don’t view those studies as determinative epistemically of the case in the way you do, and lots of people besides me have already made all of these points for me. May I propose you simply start reading http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/?

            As to science and racism….uh, well, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_racism. Sorry. I know it’s lame of me to drop a wikipedia link on you. But you seem to have a rather rosy-colored view of “science” and its historical uses, which simply isn’t the case. My point is that your argument is simply a fallacy; my argument above no more supports the parade of evils that you are trying to associate with it than your scientism supports the kind of racism that has sometimes been defended by it.

            If you think Jesus expressed “contempt” for the natural family, perhaps you should read the text more closely.

            Either way, I think we’re probably done here. Until you want to start reading a bit more carefully and interacting in a more charitable manner with what I’ve written, I have little more to say.

            Matt

          • tb03

            The Public Discourse homepage? You know Public Discourse recently posted an article comparing the sexual “freedom” of same sex marriage to pedophilia. http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/05/14810/ You support that as well? I guess so since it’s a generic link. Public Discourse=Witherspoon=Regnerus. When corrected, his study SUPPORTED the concensus! So, thanks! Oh, and wikipedia. Wow, blown away by the academic rigor, how silly of me to think otherwise. I must seem so cruel to be offended at those comparing me to pedophiles and working to destabilize and destroy my family. You look good clutching your pearls. Yeah, we’re done.

          • I hadn’t (and still have not) read that piece because I don’t agree with everything.

            You might try this brief as well, which outlines the argument against the social sciences from a methodological standpoint. http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/supreme_court_preview/briefs-v2/12-144_pet_amcu_lrk-etal.authcheckdam.pdf

            I’ve written critically about the Regnerus study; I think my friend John Corvino’s analysis of it was basically right. But no, you don’t seem cruel at all. You seem like a nice person who is having a really tough time making arguments on behalf of your position, and who is flatly failing at understanding mine. I am sorry for the wikipedia link; I only used it because it is nearest at hand, and because your claim that “science” has never been used in the service of moral evils is so astonishingly false that it needs severe qualification or you should recant it altogether.

            Best,

            Matt

          • tb03

            Good grief…You disagree with Regnerus yet cite public discourse. You believe there is inherent moral understanding in children conceived in marriage, yet stumble, deflect and struggle to prove your position and then cite a paper saying basically “we don’t know”. That wasn’t your position in this essay, unless I’m now misunderstanding that. You say I’m not understanding the bible, yet you incorrectly state that Joseph and Mary were married but Jesus was conceived and born before they were. You patronize me and your belief of my misunderstanding, but maybe you need to spend more time correcting your own confusion. Good day

          • I am large. I contain multitudes! : )

            Seriously, it’s possible to agree with a lot of what goes on at PD and still disagree with other aspects. I haven’t stumbled or deflected *at all*: I’ve argued with you about the role “science” should play in these moral judgments after giving you a carefully reasoned argument that is not rooted in the social sciences. I addressed *within the essay itself* reasons why the social sciences might be untrustworthy to answer the moral questions involved, and then linked to a brief that argues that exact same thing. I’m pretty sure the misunderstanding isn’t on my side; you haven’t once even bothered to correct your own misreadings or misinterpretations, despite clear arguments against you.

            I am sorry that we have reached an impasse so quickly, but, um, good day!

            Matt

          • tb03

            I need to clarify your
            misunderstandings. 1st. If your going to put the homepage of Public Discourse
            up as a citation don’t be offended if someone suggests it’s an endorsement of
            the entire website. Most of Public Discourse’s writings on population studies
            and same sex parenting is either about Regnerus or written by Regnerus himself.
            Public Discourse is after all the online website of Witherspoon who was the
            major funder of his flawed study. So it’s odd that you would cite the ENTIRE
            website, then pull a 180 and disagree with Regnerus.

            “Carefully reasoned argument not rooted in social science”, yet you
            make an argument to nature. You CANNOT make that argument and
            then avoid the burden of objective proof. They naturally go hand in hand, it’s
            the entire point. Catholics know this, although fudging research like Regnerus
            did was very unfortunate, but they don’t pretend that they escape burden of
            proof. So when you say we don’t know or may never truly know, you’re really
            saying that your position is wrong. You cannot escape the burden of proof here,
            any attempt at doing so is admitted defeat. Also, dismissing decades of research
            and the opinions of well-regarded organizations that promote the health and
            safety of children is disrespectful, not only to them but of your own argument.

            Genuinely curious about your opinion of this:
            http://diannaeanderson.net/blog/2015/6/humanity-subject-moral-reasoning

          • As to the first, okay! I should have qualified the endorsement. I am sorry that I didn’t, as I did not expect you to read a link to a page as an unqualified endorsement of all of its contents. That seems like an unreasonable expectation to me, but I suppose we’re clear.

            “”Carefully reasoned argument not rooted in social science”, yet youmake an argument to nature. You CANNOT make that argument and
            then avoid the burden of objective proof.”

            I’d commend the brief to you in full. The social sciences are not the only way of making “objective” moral claims. In fact, they’re highly, contestable, and purely descriptive. They don’t get us to “objective” moral knowledge at all, unless you want to ignore the naturalist fallacy and simply say how things are is how they ought be.

            So I’m not dismissing “research.” I’m saying it doesn’t have the evidentiary status you are claiming for it; it’s not definitive of the moral question. And it’s not nearly as conclusive or as strong as you are claiming. Simply throwing a bunch of studies up in the air doesn’t actually address any of the argument I’ve made above, or disconfirm it in any way in the least. It is, for that argument, a total non-sequitur.

            Given that Dianna says these things are outside the boundaries of reason altogether, I’m not very confident we will have a very meaningful or productive disagreement about things.

            Best,

            Matt

          • Justin Vest

            “You cannot escape the burden of proof here, any attempt at doing so is admitted defeat.”

            Having carefully read this entire thread, you have not grappled with any of Mr. Anderson’s arguments. His second reply to you in the thread (the first with substance) found you accusing him of a straw-man argument, but a careful re-reading of his comment revealed no straw-man. I did notice that you, right away, appealed to the logical fallacy of Appeal to Authority, which was deftly refuted. Only, when it was pointed out that you were guilty of exactly that, you brushed away the unimpeachable point about social sciences utterly failing to predict the harm that no-fault divorce has wrought, and you did so with its original justification–to protect women! So, great. Incalculable damage to families, boys, girls, and the grown-ups they’ve become, but we did make it easier for women to leave men–that is, if they wanted to. Sounds to me like we paid $100 for $10 worth of improvement, in the case of women and in the case of men. I wonder if a better method for helping women get out of abusive relationships might have been tried without severely weakening the family structure?

            The burden of proof lies not with those whose understanding of the Christian faith has remained mostly unchanged for millennia, nor with those who ask why we should change the definition of marriage. It lies with the “reformers” and the radicals.

            I wouldn’t bother trying.

          • tb03

            Oh good grief, no. He (and you) missed my point. 1st. Divorce and marriage are different, so using one as a defense to the other is an odd distraction. 2nd. He was incorrect. The negative effects of divorce we seen right away on children with studies in the 1970s that came to similar conclusions to those found today only a decade or less after no fault divorce was starting to be passed in some states. We saw the effects right away on children, yet this point was confused and dismissed. I’ll add that studies have shown that when abuse was cause of the divorce children did better with divorced parents than those who were forced to live with abusive parents. So, the claims for no-fault were not unfounded, not to mention that there were lower amounts of depression and suicide in women divorcing, but who really cares about them? I guess I did believe that this was a distraction so didn’t bother to take it further since it was clear he didn’t understand the history and social science behind no-fault divorce, and I thought the irony of his position was glaring (using yet dismissing social science) so I left the no fault thing at that. Yet here you are making the same mistake. Never underestimate the power of blind moral assertion. Same sex parenting and effects on children have also been studied since the 1970s, but he dismisses those as not being proper evidence even though at this point they’ve spanned decades. Same sex marriage has existed for over a decade, yet even this isn’t proper evidence to refute his “moral” claims. Sigh…This is typical of these arguments, often times people like me are accused of not understanding an argument when accusers themselves either don’t understand the position they are taking or misreading themselves.

            “Millennia”, you mean like women being regarded as property? Arranged marriages with children? What aspect of “millennia” are you referring to that I have the burden of proof to refute but shouldn’t bother trying? What is this all encompassing, universal “definition of marriage”? Because in my history book it depends a whole lot more on when and where one was born than your attempt at a “Appeal to Authority”.

          • No one suggested that there were no reasons for no-fault divorce. I’ll grant your reading of the history of the social science of it; either way, it doesn’t prove anything beyond that they got it right in that instance.

            I’m curious what you make of the Loren Marks article which was released at the same time as the Regnerus study and was, I think, more important and telling than it? His analysis of the studies that the APA used in their claim that there is no evidence same-sex marriage “harms children” (in the way they evaluate) was that they were, on the whole, badly flawed and unreliable. As Marks put it, “strong, generalized assertions, including those made by the APA, were not empirically warranted.”

            Also, the fact that “same-sex marriage has existed for over a decade” doesn’t necessarily get you to the kind of widespread sample-groups that the social sciences need to do non-biased research, especially adjusting for different socio-economic classes. The idea that the social scientific literature is somehow conclusive on this question simply affords that research too high a place in our moral reasoning.

            But we could probably go back and forth on this for a long time. I’ll give you the final word.

          • tb03

            More important? How? Lauren Marks did not do a meta-analysis. This was from the Prop 8 trial:

            “Plaintiffs’ attorneys last week introduced video of the deposition of Loren Marks of Louisiana State University, who had been expected to testify for the defendants that the ideal family structure is for children to be raised by two married “biological” parents, which Marks said meant the genetic parents.

            Marks admitted that he only read parts of the studies he relied upon in making his conclusion. It was then pointed out that those studies actually defined “biological” parents in a way that included adoptive parents — not just genetic parents. Marks then stated that the word “biological” should be deleted from the report he prepared for this case, and also admitted he considered no research on gay and lesbian parents, effectively revealing his research as fatally flawed.”

            Judge Friedman from the MI SSM trial says it best: “The Court was unable to accord the testimony of [Loren] Marks, [Joseph] Price, and Allen any significant weight. … They, along with Regnerus, clearly represent a fringe viewpoint that is rejected by the vast majority of their colleagues across a variety of social science fields.”

          • In fact he did. This was published after the Prop 8 trial. Your own lack of awareness of it suggests to me that you are less up on the social science literature in this dispute than you claim to be. http://www.baylorisr.org/wp-content/uploads/Marks.pdf

          • tb03

            I’m not a social scientist, true, but this article does not read like any meta-analysis I’ve encountered. It clearly has a biased agenda. He doesn’t recognize the variety of different methodologies used to support similar conclusions found in the APA cited studies. He mostly argues for large size random populations and survey style analysis yet some studies that he dismisses or fails to recognize that support SS parenting uses that methodology. It’s basically a companion piece to Regnerus, you’re right, their timing was not an accident. It tries to set the stage strategically for his preferred methodology. But ironically Regnerus uses even a smaller sample size than many of the studies Marks dismisses (like, Regnerus only had 2 kids in his study raised in SS homes. Not 2%, but one-two. And Regnerus admitted they did well overall). Either way, it seems that Marks argument has been completely dismissed by the APA, ASA, AMA, ect. It’s far fetched to dismiss the entire APA 2005 statement, voted in unanamously 157-0, as total groupthink. I don’t know what more to say.

          • Justin Vest

            SSM is a new concept; not just for civilization, but for the LGBT community, as well. As recently as the early 90s they mocked the idea of “marriage”, seeing it as an incompatible bourgeois value they wanted nothing to do with. It was only once they realized they could use it as a battering ram against the impervious-to-propaganda* Christian right that it became oh-so-important. Please don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.

            *I ONLY mean in regards to SSM. The Christian right can and is manipulated on other topics.

            By the way, this:

            “women being regarded as property? Arranged marriages with children?”

            Your contempt for the institution of marriage and its roots reveals itself. It’s about time. I note also 1) how you abandoned Christian terminology a few comments ago, 2) that your user activity is private, 3) you continue to comment well past the time when fruitful discussion is possible, and 4) your arguments are growing weaker, suggesting you are getting bored or are busy in other threads or with other sock puppets. I suspect you’re a paid troll.

          • tb03

            Paid troll? That’s a real thing? Where do I sign up?!

          • Justin Vest

            Hmm.

      • James

        You are refusing to take off your blinders and honestly look at your own essay, which is itself empty of anything except your personal wish to deny equal justice to fellow human beings.

  • Bethany Persons

    We say that marriage is making one of two, though we often struggle with what that means. Here, Matt says we become publicly one and privately two. I have seen others point out that the reproductive system is the only human organ system that is complete when two opposite sex people join together. Finally, when two people conceive a child, their union takes on an eternal dimension in the very flesh of the new person. If my husband and I, God forbid, were to divorce, our marriage would live on, eternally, in the body and life of our child. She is literally the physical and spiritual manifestation of our love. She is two in one. And so am I. And so are you. This is one of few instances that physical and spiritual realities are so aligned in description and timing, that we realize they must be the same thing.

    I am completely humbled that the one (so far) who came from me, who is the product of the love I share with my husband, is also my equal in dignity and worth. My greatest prayer for her is to one day call her sister, for in Christ there is no mother or daughter.

    I believe good arguments for male-female definition of marriage, like this one, must account for the child and the uniquely feminine role of bearing said child into the world. Arguments for both abortion and alternative sexual unions depend on the negation (or at least the steep discounting) of life and life bearing as inherently very good. And before you tell me that people who believe in abortion and the moral goodness of alternative sexuality also value children, I will tell you that these beliefs necessarily commodify life, and you cannot treat with equal dignity someone you have also commodified.

    When we accept the idea that the life of the child is not worth the life of the mother, we devalue all life, for someone gave birth to us. When we accept the idea that children interfere with a woman’s ability to achieve the same way men do, we devalue the femininity of women, for there is nothing more feminine than bearing a child. It is ironically oppressive to women to deny their femininity in order to make them equal to men.

    • tb03

      You would use your child as a tool for immortality of yourself and your marriage, yet people like me are “commodifying” life? Wow, the irony is burning my eyes.

      • Bethany Persons

        Perhaps you are unaware of the orthodox Christian belief that human beings are eternal, regardless of whether the parent intends it or not. Thus, every union that produces a child takes on an eternal dimension. The question then is whether the union is one that will result in moral harm or blessing, given the eternal nature of the child.

        • tb03

          The eternal nature of a human does not lead to the eternal nature of a marriage. Jesus never had that view of family, so this is invention. Marriage without children can still be permanent. Your argument obviously self serving.

          • Bethany Persons

            I cannot take you seriously. You are putting words in my mouth and using arguments against me that you use in favor of yourself.

          • tb03

            How so? When did I put words in your mouth and what argument?

          • Bethany Persons

            I said “their union takes on an eternal dimension in the very flesh of the new person” and you shortened that to “eternal nature of a marriage”. All I am saying is that my child will represent my marriage in eternity, because that is where she came from. We are not cut off from our history or families once we are resurrected, our history is part of who we are. That is not the same thing as saying my marriage is eternal. The icon language that Matt uses is appropriate. An icon is an image, a representation of the real thing, but it is not the real thing. For example, we are icons of God, but we are not God.

            Meanwhile, you say “Jesus never said,” as though it dismisses my argument. Yet, pro-gay marriage arguments are made all the time under the same basis.

            You also said my argument is self serving. Ok? I don’t see how your condescending tone and dismissiveness are allowed while I am not allowed to describe something good about being married and having a child.

          • tb03

            Whe I said that “Jesus never said”, I was referring to the view expressed about the importance of biology in family as not important to Jesus (Matt 12: 46-50). The biological connection is no where near as important as spiritual connection. This view of family that is being expressed is simply not biblical. Jesus never spoke of same-sex marriage, true, but that’s not the point.

            I think that marriage and children are good, but calling children idols of a marriage diminishes them. Commodifies them, to use your word. Remember, your the one calling gay families immoral, don’t clutch your pearls over condescending tones.

          • Michael Dwyer

            I believe “icons” was used, not “idols”. And, as I am sure Bethany would agree, everyone is immoral, not just gay families (“families” being used in a secular sense).

            So you are saying (parentheses are my own thoughts): If a man and woman (the union of which is an “image of God” as discussed in Genesis) come together and create a child, and we call that child an icon (or “image”) of the parents – that means we have turned the child into a commodity?

            Does that mean God, having created us in his image (icons), considers us a commodity?

          • tb03

            She did say icon, yes. You’re leaving out an important component, that because of biological creation within marriage that child is given the task not only to be an image of God but to be an image of the marriage from which he/she was conceived. This is a problem because it elevates the marriage to godlike status. She even used the word “eternal” when biology is anything but (maybe “idol” was the better term for the child). At the very least it forces the child to represent what they were never meant to represent, nor is it the most important relationship according to Jesus. So it’s ironic that she accuses those who may have purposely worked to have a child as commodifying that child even though the value of that child is the mere presence of that child, yet she places alternative value in what the child represents if created sexually. A value that is not held by Jesus. And that is commodifying children to me.

          • I’d note that I nowhere proposed that iconicity is a “task” for the child; rather, it’s a status that the child can *receive* and which can establish the conditions for a certain kind of moral knowledge that they may lack otherwise. So framing it that way misunderstands how the term functions.

          • tb03

            Icons have a purpose, therefore they have a task. If you seriously think that a icon (child) just IS then your objectification of them is worse than I thought. I’m curious, what if a child was conceived of incest, is that child a “icon” of that relatonship?

          • Well, I don’t know how you’re using “task.” Or “objectification.” But saying that a status “objectifies” someone is highly counterintuitive. There are many individuals, for instance, who have the status of ‘friend’ for me, but if friendship is a ‘task’ then it’s not much worth having. And it certainly doesn’t objectify them to suggest that they have that status.

            As to the child conceived of incest–or rape, or even out of wedlock–they have received a moral injury by being deprived of the iconicity of which I have spoken. I don’t think it follows that they necessarily have a ‘negative’ iconicity, in the same way that someone who lacks the status of ‘friend’ does not necessarily have the negative iconicity of ‘enemy.’ But in the case of children, it is clearly a moral harm.

            But perhaps you think that there is no wrong done in an incestuous relationship between consenting siblings?

            Matt

          • tb03

            I always believed I’ve earned friendship, and being a friend does have certain requirements (not gossiping about each other, helping when needed, listening when asked). I’ve never felt so privileged or arrogant that by my presence I should be considered a friend.

            “Deprived of iconicity”? Know this, you are the only one who would deprive them. All humans are fully human, fully an image of God no matter their start. Anything that detracts from that truth is wrong, but what’s more bothersome is the language drawing a parallel between the Creator and creating humans. Matt, this is idolatry plain and simple.

          • It’s absolutely true that all humans are fully human and fully an image of God. Where have I said otherwise? It’s also the case that not all humans are born into equally legitimate moral contexts, and that some humans are deprived of certain goods and opportunities that we might judge important for a fully flourishing life. Why is that controversial? Some humans are born into situations of gross impoverishment and without any kinds of political recognition or rights; they are, by virtue of such constrained situations, subject to different constraints than other children. The same is true of moral contexts.

            Your repeated suggestion that this is “idolatry” makes me think you’re not working very hard to actually understand the argument. As I said above, that’s certainly a possibility; but the possibility is derivative upon the goods which I am defending, rather than the other way around.

            I’m not sure how much further we can go on this.

            Best,

            Matt

          • eddiestardust

            Importance of Biology? Reference Genesis….Man should not be alone…

          • tb03

            So…that means that gays can’t marry? Hmm…no.

            I have to say that the imagery of children as icons is troubling to me. Why are we placing married straight couples with children almost on par with the Creator? The reference to Genesis only tries to make the attempt at a parallel stronger. This is idolatry and is heretical.

          • eddiestardust

            I never said anything about children as icons…

          • eddiestardust

            Jesus (being God The Son) said that two shall become one…reiterating Genesis.
            He didn’t need to talk about gay marriage because that was wrong. Now if you want to disbelief that Christ is God The Son…that is your problem , not mine. It’s also your problem to explain why for all eternity we have never had same sex marriage. You and I and everyone else who has ever lived did not come from same sex pairings period. I have no understanding of why that fact isn’t real to you.

          • Eddiestardust, if you wish to advance and defend your own lines of reasoning about such things, I’d suggest you get your own blog to do so, rather than filling up the comments section. Comments are meant to be places for constructive dialogue which have *some* reference to the post written. Since you’re ignoring what I wrote above, you’re being far less helpful for the conversation than it might seem to you like you’re being.

            Best,

            Matt

          • eddiestardust

            Mr Matthew Lee Anderson,

            While I respect you for sticking around and talking to your commentors, I have no idea what your exact problems are with what I have said here.

            I’m a practicing Roman Catholic who prays..

            And I’m also a bit older than you are…

            May God Bless you.

            Ed Murray

          • If you’re older than me, you should know how to behave in an internet comment box much better than you are. I don’t care if you’re a Roman Catholic who prays. That doesn’t excuse poor commenting practices.

            The comments are to make reasoned arguments about the essay and its subjects. The fact that you seem to be ignoring the essay means you should take your thoughts elsewhere. If you persist, you will be blocked.

            Best,

            Matt

          • eddiestardust

            Mr Anderson,

            It was certainly not my intent to go out of my way to hurt your feelings.
            And I apologize for whatever it is that I may have said that you obviously have
            misconstrued.

            You will be in my prayers,

            Sincerely,

            P Edward Murray

          • Justin Vest

            Colossians 4:5-6 is the relevant passage: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”

            To me, this passage has a lot of relevance to the era of Disqus. You closed a previous comment with: “I have no understanding of why that fact isn’t real to you.” There’s no GRACE there. It’s just cold debate. If I was trying to get a loved one to see things a certain way, that’s not what I would say. Because it makes people defensive, and unlikely to consider whatever else you might have to offer. Since you’re older, though, I certainly understand your frustration…and yet, what if the world does just, you know, lose it’s mind? God’s still in control, right?

          • James

            Same-sex marriages have always existed. The only reason that you believe otherwise is that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people throughout much of human history have felt it necessary to hide from the hate and violence of anti-gay societies in which they lived. The only difference now is that lgbt people are no longer willing to put up with being treated that way, and are insisting on being treated fairly. And that includes legal recognition of the marriages of same-sex couples.

          • James

            The one pro-gay marriage argument that is decisive is that Jesus taught that ethical behavior is to treat others as one would wish to be treated. By that principle, opposition to equal justice, including marriage equality, is incompatible with the Gospel of Christ.

          • eddiestardust

            Jesus himself taught about marriage period.

      • Bethany Persons

        Furthermore, the only difference between my claim and Matt’s claim of the union lasting beyond death is that I took the next step within Christian teaching to say that the child is eternal.

    • “””the only human organ system that is complete when …people join together”””

      Or there is the brain, complete when people, two or more, gather together to engage in communion; conversation is the identifying and pinnacle of human behavior, not reproduction [which Lobsters can also do].

      • Bethany Persons

        I don’t understand your issue with my statement. I was exploring different aspects of the mystery of oneness in marriage, I was not making a claim as to the pinnacle of human behavior. That said, no amount of talking or lobster sex can result in the creation of a new human life. It is due to this eternity impacting potential that we assign moral weight to human sexuality and family formation in ways that we do not assign weight to lobster sexuality and family formation, or even to human non-sexual communication.

    • Philmonomer

      I’ve yet to see a traditional-marriage argument that hangs its hat on the reproductive abilities of heterosexuals explain why post-menopausal women can get married. My guess is that you think such women should be able to get married. But why? Is there a reason that doesn’t 1) rely on religion or 2) applies to post-menopausal women, but not gays?

      • T.A.L.L

        The argument of pro-creation is not based on the actual physical ability to pro-create. If that was the case then the forbidding of heterosexual relations would not make sense. It is a picture. A man and a woman who, regardless of physical actuality, still picture the created order. If you notice in the sexual morals section of Leviticus there is a descending idea away from the picture. Heterosexual non-related couple (acceptable) -> Heterosexual closely related couple (forbidden) -> Heterosexual multiple partners (forbidden) -> Homosexual engagement (forbidden) -> Animal-human engagement (forbidden). The idea is that even a man and women who are infertile due to genetics or age can still represent the picture found in Genesis 2.

        • Philmonomer

          Sure, I have no problem with a traditional-marriage argument that says “Marriage is the union of one man and one woman because that is the way God set things up and wants it.”

          But 1) that isn’t the argument being made in this blog post (indeed, the Author writes: However, I will note that nothing in my argument depends upon any kind of special revelation. I am a Christian—a Protestant, specifically, an evangelical even, and a conservative evangelical at that. While I deployed a text I hold to be sacred and inspired, it can function in this context simply as an account of the world that has an authority similar to Plato: the authority of wisdom, from which we might learn something about ourselves. Even so, readers need no existing religious commitment to find the above essay intelligible and, I hope, persuasive.)

          2) With regard to “picturing the created order,” my picture is different. Indeed, I see it similar to Plato (again, citing him as an authority), as found in Aristophane’s speech in The Symposium. (where men seek men, men seek women (and vice-versa), and women seek women.)

          3) The argument from pro-creation, does actually seem to be based on the physical ability to pro-create.

          • T.A.L.L

            I think you point out a critical flaw in the authors argument. I believe there is no basis to declare homosexual relations wrong outside of an authority such as God declaring it to be so. Morality is tied to the authority to which the person submits (everyone submits to some authority). The only argument against same sex marriage that even can come close to being based on something other then Biblical argument is the argument that asking a government to determine the definition of marriage for an entire country and legal system is handing over power to the government that it was never meant to have and has historical never wielded. Even that argument though is dependent on a moral position on the purpose of government and how government gets its authority.

          • T.A.L.L

            I was though trying to answer your question of why two old people who can not have kids should still be allowed to marry.

          • Philmonomer

            Sure, I get that for Christians “God wants it that way,” is a fine reason. Again, though, this essay isn’t offering that as a reason to oppose Gay Marriage.

            My question is thus, within the internal logic of this essay, why can a post-menopausal woman get married?

          • eddiestardust

            Without God where is morality?

        • Travis

          But according to your logic, wherein gay couples don’t “picture the created order” because they cannot possible procreate, the man and woman who can’t procreate don’t either. It’s a formality that you consider them to because of their genitalia, when in actuality, their genitalia doesn’t “work” in exactly the same way that the gay couple’s doesn’t.

          • T.A.L.L

            I would suggest you re-read my post. A same-sex couple can never portray manifest the created order of Genesis 2. Whereas an aged or infertal couple can still portray the picture of one man and one woman without ever reproducing. Philmonomer understood the point.

            Ephesians 5 helps in understanding this. The Bible tells us there that marriage between a man and a women is intended to picture the husband/wife relationship between the church and Jesus. You can not have that picture with a same sex union.

          • James

            You most certainly can have that picture. You are being dishonest in an attempt to justify your prejudice against fellow human beings. It won’t work. You have missed the whole point of the Gospel of Christ.

        • James

          Two gay men or two lesbian women also can represent God’s created order, because God created all people, not only heterosexual people. Opposition to marriage equality is simply incompatible with the Gospel of Christ, because to oppose equal justice violates the foundational principle of Christian ethics – the Golden Rule.

      • I think it does. I didn’t include this case in the essay, and almost certainly should have, but the kinds of *willingness* that (say) knowingly infertile couples can have with respect to children which I argue about within the essay clearly apply to post-menopausal women as well.

        • Philmonomer

          I don’t think it does. I can explain more, if you’d like.

          A couple random thoughts:

          1) It is clear you spent some time on this, and it isn’t a hack job dashed off–so I appreciate that.

          2) I doubt I’m going to say anything you haven’t already (wrongly, IMHO) rejected. — I’m just not that smart. ;)

          3) We may actually be closer in opinion than it looks–my first preference to resolve the entire SSM debate would be to dissolve marriage as a civil institution–to be replaced by civil unions. Then, if you wanted the word “marriage,” you could get married in your church, temple, mosque, etc. But it would have no legal force. Unfortunately, this is an unworkable solution in the US, given our legal system.

          • People have a kind of ‘willingness’ for the past that is intelligible all the time. Post-menopausal women might, for instance, very easily regret that they did not mean their spouse sooner and be able to have children with them. However, a similar regret is entirely unintelligible for two members of the same-sex. So there is a sharp difference between the two cases which my account explains.

            I don’t know that we’re as close as you think. : )

            Matt

        • James

          Be honest.

  • Phil James

    Matthew, I agree.

    It seems to me that if in order to avoid ‘discrimination’ we are to treat homosexual relationships as being in every way identical to that of a heterosexual couple, then fertility, fecundity… the significance that comes from the ability to have children must be stripped from our legal conception of all marriages. The significance of biological relationship must not be acknowledged. It is unallowable, because unavailable/nontransferable to the same sex couple. It discriminates, and so must not be a part of the legal institution.

    ‘Gay’ people don’t get what ‘straight’ people have; rather in the eyes of the law, all men and women will be entitled to only those rights that a same sex couple are capable of enjoying. Anything more would be discriminatory. Marriage- all marriage- is reshaped in the image of Same Sex Marriage.

    If society can no longer be based on ‘extended biological kinship,’ then what is left? Children are left belonging to the State or the Market- either cogs in the Collective or commodities for acquisition. Without biological families, what else is there?

    • Bethany Persons
    • “””to avoid ‘discrimination’ we are to treat ______ relationships as being in every way identical””””

      Yes, exactly as we all do every day in a myriad of ways regarding myriad types of relationships and affiliations. What is the problem? This is the most basic principle of civil society; if whatever attribute X does not clearly and directly effect me – then I conduct myself in the manner as if I do not care, as I have no clear and direct motivation to interfere. Again, we all do this every day.

      “””If society can no longer be based on ‘extended biological kinship,’ then what is left?”””

      What is left? Voluntary Affiliation. This is been the bedrock of American society, Alexis de Tocqueville recognized this as far back as when Ohio was ‘the west’. The shedding of tribal and sectarian obligations was the true American innovation.

      • Phil James

        ‘The shedding of tribal and sectarian obligations was the true American innovation.’

        But it pales in comparison to this innovation: the shedding of parental obligations.

        How is a totally dependent person able to enter into a voluntary affiliation? Until such time as they are capable, who are they; and who decides?

        https://dappledthoughts.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/letters-to-my-kids-same-sex-marriage-iv-human-stuff/

        • “””But it pales in comparison to this innovation: the shedding of parental obligations.”””

          This is a straw man argument. Human beings have been abandoning their children and the elderly for millennium, As a child or an elderly person you are incalculably better off today, in the 21st century west, then hundreds of years ago.

          “””How is a totally dependent person able to enter into a voluntary affiliation?”””

          Which has what to do with recognizing unions? Mentally incapable people cannot enter into marriage, or most all civil, unions. This is unrelated to the argument.

          “””Until such time as they are capable, who are they; and who decides?”””

          Who decides? The state. Same as anywhere and always. This is true regardless of if that state is a western democracy or a caliphate.

          • Phil James

            The abandonment of children is not new. Treating it as normative, is… the bit about being better off is oddly out of place.

            You assume that we all know what is meant by ‘their children.’ That assumption is the very thing, which your position is undermining.

            **
            My argument may be as flimsy as you seem to think, but this comment makes it clear that you have yet to understand it.

            **
            You demonstrate a failure of imagination here- apparently caused by captivity to a rather (historically uninformed) statist view of society. Communities exist and extend beyond the state.

      • In what sense is the child’s affiliation with their parents *voluntary* while still a child?

    • Philmonomer

      It seems to me that if in order to avoid ‘discrimination’ we are to treat homosexual relationships as being in every way identical to that of a heterosexual couple, then fertility, fecundity… the significance that comes from the ability to have children must be stripped from our legal conception of all marriages. The significance of biological relationship must not be acknowledged. It is unallowable, because unavailable/nontransferable to the same sex couple. It discriminates, and so must not be a part of the legal institution.

      This is (IMHO) simply wrong. Fertility and fecundity are non-issues for any heterosexual couple who are getting married where the woman is over 50 years old. We already have this world.

      I’d be impressed if people who hang their hat on marriage-is-only-for-heterosexuals would say that marriage is only for those who have procreated: you get to get married once the woman is regnant. That would at least be consistent.

      Unless and until you are willing to say that women over the age of 50 cannot get married, the focus on fertility and fecundity is just (IMHO) intellectual rationalizations to deny homosexuals Same Sex marriages.

      • Phil James

        You confuse the purpose of an institution with the reason particular people enter into it e.g. Wild parties happen at UGA, but UGA oughtn’t write wild parties into its
        mission statement or recruit potential students on the basis of their
        ability to contribute to the memorability of UGA parties. If it did so,
        UGA’s Education would suffer, and the same is true for all the other
        (even laudable) reasons for which people apply to UGA. That’s how an
        institution dies as an Institution. It is de-institutionalized, which
        means it ceases to transcend the individual lives and intentions of
        those who enter into it for a societal good. It becomes simply an
        opportunity for individual experience.

        Marriage as an institution has never been first and foremost about romantic love or even the propagation of our species. Rather it
        is there to answer the questions that arise from the biological givens of our humanity (despised and embarrassing as they seem to be to some) that are inevitably involved in the propogation of our species- questions of identity and legal and societal
        responsibility that result from the begetting of children by men who can
        simply walk away from a pregnant woman.

        • Philmonomer

          You confuse the purpose of an institution with the reason particular people enter into it

          If the purpose of the institution is to provide for the raising of children with a mother and a father, then why do we let some people enter the institution who have no intention (or ability) to raise children? Indeed, we know from the get-go that some relationships cannot ever have children.

          To your example: its as if we let people into UGA who have no ability to learn, have no desire to learn, and clearly are going to UGA for the parties. (Indeed, we know this even before they apply to UGA, but we let them in anyway.) So the question becomes, why do we let some into UGA, the heterosexuals who are just there to party (and not learn), but not the homosexuals (who are there just to party and not “learn” as well)? That looks like simple bias to me.

          Rather it is there to answer the questions that arise from the biological givens of our humanity (despised and embarrassing as they seem to be to some) that are inevitably involved in the propogation of our species- questions of identity and legal and societal responsibility that result from the begetting of children by men who can
          simply walk away from a pregnant woman.

          I’ll concede that this has been an important part of marriage, historically. But it isn’t all of marriage. Indeed, if it were, we wouldn’t let women over the agency of 50 get married. We would think it right, and proper, to not allow them to get married. But no one thinks that, because no one thinks marriage is only about the begetting of children.

          • Phil James

            I didn’t say that the purpose of marriage is the raising or begetting of children. Nor did I claim that the ends of marriage AS AN INSTITUTION are the only (or only laudable, for that matter) reason to enter into it. Rather marriage provides the default answers to questions of identity and responsibility that reproduction (i.e. human nature) gives rise to in regards to children.

            **

            People go to college to meet partners, to experience ‘college life’, to play athletics etc; but none of these things is the purpose of UGA. UGA is there to provide an education; UGA does not admit people who are unable to learn. To do so would undermine its purpose as an institution. It most certainly admits people who have no interest in learning; but as long as it does not change its purpose (As evidence by its standard of admission), then this does not affect it as an institution of higher learning.

            **

            There is nothing about an infertile man or woman getting married that undermines the purpose of marriage because the purpose is not to produce children. The same cannot be said for a homosexual couple whose union society demands be treated in all respects as that of a married man and woman. Such equality requires- because it consists of- the dissolving of biological parental identity and responsibility.

          • Philmonomer

            In your analogy, you provided that the purpose of UGA is to provide an education. I took that as analogous to the purpose of a marriage, which is to raise/beget children. I got that purpose from your statement here: marriage is there to answer the questions that arise from the biological givens of our humanity (despised and embarrassing as they seem to be to some) that are inevitably involved in the propogation of our species- questions of identity and legal and societal responsibility that result from the begetting of children by men who can simply walk away from a pregnant woman.

            Given this, I am confused as to why you say “I didn’t say the purpose of the marriage is the raising or begetting of children.” It is clear, whatever you think the purpose of marriage is, the concept of marriage is necessarily tied to the propagation of the species.

            So, why do we admit people to marriage (women over 50) who cannot propagate the species?

            **

            With regard to your UGA analogy, again, allowing married women over the age of 50 to get married is exactly like allowing people to UGA who do not have the ability to learn (to get an education).

            **

            There is nothing about an infertile man or woman getting married that undermines the purpose of marriage because the purpose is not to produce children.

            Ok. So there is nothing about two men or two women getting married that undermines the purpose of marriage because the purpose is not to produce children.

            The same cannot be said for a homosexual couple whose union society demands be treated in all respects as that of a married man and woman.

            Why cannot this be said for a homosexual couple?

            Such equality requires- because it consists of- the dissolving of biological parental identity and responsibility.

            I don’t understand this sentence. To the extent I can hazard a guess, it means that two men or two women “dissolve biological parental identity” (meaning a man and a woman), and that is wrong. Why is that wrong? (Especially since “parental identity” is not necessary for a marriage!)

          • Phil James

            If you reread the passage you quoted, you’ll see that I nowhere claimed that the end of marriage is creating children. People (that is men and women) can have children without reference to the institution of marriage.

            Creating children isn’t the purpose of the institution of marriage. The purpose of the institution of marriage (across all cultures and times as far as I can tell) is to deal with the resulting questions that arise from the peculiarities of the creation of children e.g. who is this child- to whom do they belong, for how long, who is responsible for their education, welfare and actions; inheritance etc. In a related way this implies questions about the woman who carries, births and raises the child over an extended period of time. (Something that is not necessarily replicated in the man who fathered the child); etc. I’ll put a link at the bottom, if you’re interested in what I mean.

            Anyway, saying that marriage is TIED to the propagation of the species is not the same as saying the end of marriage is reproduction. The end of marriage (common to all cultures, apart from this generation’s brave innovation) is tying together all the questions that arise from the result of sexual activity in one obvious knot. One of Matt’s points is that perhaps what ought to be the most central concern is that a child belongs, in her own eyes and the eyes of the community, to the man and woman who begat and birthed her. Of course she should.

            In the case of a homosexual family: where did the child come from? If this is to be considered normative, then the identity that society presumes between child and biological parent must be dissolved. It cannot be privileged without discrimination against ‘gay’ parents who can only acquire children through the technological overcoming of the limitations of their humanity (not a promising sign regarding the celebration of their humanity), the made to order producing of a child by a third party; or as a result of what used to be regarded as a tragic situation- an unwanted child.

            All involve depriving the child of his biological parent and severing the cultural and legal ties with the biological parent. This is precisely the opposite of what the institution of marriage has always attempted to accomplish. An infertile man or woman doesn’t do this.

          • Philmonomer

            Thanks for the reply. I realize that you didn’t say that marriage was only for begging children. It is also for raising them. Specifically, for all the things you said.

            But you still haven’t answered why we let 50 year old (and older) women get married. Their marriages are not about “tying together all the questions if sexual activity.” They are not going to have children.

          • Joe

            Perhaps the answer has something to do with the fact that we haven’t always known why some people are infertile. There was always an option to question the legitimacy of a marriage that had not been consummated.

          • Philmonomer

            Well, now it is easy to know. You can ask a woman her age, you can ask if there are known impediments to bearing children, etc.

            in fact, it would be fairly easy to limit marriage to only those woman of child bearing age now (with maybe having to sign an affidavit saying they have no known impediments).

            If it is necessary to have a woman and a man to have a marriage (because, children), then it would be easy to limit the institution now.

            Indeed, my suggestion seems the best: you are only allowed to get married once the woman is pregnant (or the adoption is completed).

          • Joe

            Fair enough, I see your point and agree that most people (gay and straight) now see it the same way as you do – having largely forgotten many of the obligations and restrictions that used to be closely associated with marriage.

            But I think MLA is saying something more interesting

          • Phil James

            The human race is perpetuated through a specific act between a man and a woman. People don’t seem to like that reality; but its a stubborn one. Another stubborn reality is that men and women are really interested in the activity. This activity often- but not always- results in children. So- at the very least (for I have Xian convictions that add many more layers to my interpretation of marriage)- the institution of marriage combines the felt need for this activity (and all the non-reproductive goods it entails ) with specific assumed (and long term) answers regarding responsibility ‘for’ and identity ‘of’ the children that result from this activity/relationship.

            As I’ve said, the institution expends beyond the two who are married. Its significance, protection and sanctity are upheld by the community around them (e.g. condemnation of promiscuity and adultery, etc)

            There is nothing about an infertile man or woman that undermines this. Rather, an infertile man or woman uphold the institution by keeping their sexual relations within the marriage institution.

          • Philmonomer

            The human race is perpetuated through a specific act between a man and a woman. People don’t seem to like that reality; but its a stubborn one.

            Huh? Reality shows that that specific act isnt the only way to produce people. There are fertility treatments, other ways to get the sperm and egg together, etc.

            Another stubborn reality is that men and women are really interested in the activity. This activity often- but not always- results in children.

            Again, reality shows that people are interested in a lot more vaginal intercourse. Sure, some people are interested in vaginal intercourse, but it rarely results in children. (Children are rare when compared to the number of times the activity is done.)

          • Phil James

            Its telling that your imagining of procreation requires that people be ‘produced.’ Children as commodity; I mentioned that as a necessary result of the current social experiment. Remember?

            Sure; people can be fed through tubes, respirated with machines and produced
            in laboratories; but none are necessary for healthy human beings. Nor is a vision of society in which these things are considered normative and constitutive of daily life, obviously desirable. In the past each was an obvious admission of something gone wrong.

            So our positions differ on whether the normalization of the technological overcoming of the limitations of human nature is a good thing; and whether embracing the Huxlyan account implies a healthy comfort with what it means to actually be human.

          • Philmonomer

            Its telling that your imagining of procreation requires that people be ‘produced.’ Children as commodity; I mentioned that as a necessary result of the current social experiment. Remember?

            You got me. ;)

          • You know, this whole ‘discussion’ business works a lot better if you include all of your replies in a single comment. It’s much easier to keep things organized that way. : )

          • Philmonomer

            True. But

            1) it’s hard to make long replies on a phone. I keep not being allowed to comment further (either a bug in disqus, or my iPhone). Hence the short comments (I wouldn’t be doing it if i weren’t on a phone).

            2) i italicize the part I’m replying too, for ease of reference.

          • Philmonomer

            Sure; people can be fed through tubes, respirated with machines and produced
            in laboratories; but none are necessary for healthy human beings

            This seems to be mashing together several different things, and just leaves me confused. Are you saying we should never do these things? But Sometimes they are necessary for healthy human beings.

            Nor is a vision of society in which these things are considered normative and constitutive of daily life, obviously desirable. In the past each was an obvious admission of something gone wrong.

            Hospitals do these things everyday, and we view it as good. Are you saying hospitals should not do these as part of “daily life?”

          • Phil James

            No; they are necessary to fix a broken human being… a stroke victim who can not chew; a victim of spinal cord injury who can not breath on her own; a couple whose reproductive systems are dysfunctional or diseased.

            What is broken in a ‘gay’ family?

          • Philmonomer

            So our positions differ on whether the normalization of the technological overcoming of the limitations of human nature is a good thing; and whether embracing the Huxlyan account implies a healthy comfort with what it means to actually be human.

            Sometimes technology seems good, sometimes bad. I’m not sure what you mean by the “Huxlyan account.”

          • Phil James

            That’s right.

            A feeding tube to allow the recovery of a comatose patient is a good use of technology. We look forward to the day when the patient no longer needs it; and the prospect that such a day will never arrive is a terrible one.

            A feeding tube to simply relieve us of the trouble of eating during the day is a bad thing in that it assumes a sad understanding of food, human dining and the meaning of life. A vision of a society in which this is normalized is horrific in all sorts of rippling ways.

            Huxlyan: http://www.amazon.com/Brave-New-World-Aldous-Huxley/dp/0060850523

          • Julia Soler

            I think we can be quite sure most people will continue to predict the children by sexual intercourse. But what is wrong with a man and a woman married to each other who can only have a child together via IVF? I have known several such couples and their children, whom they view as precious gifts because of the effort they had to go through to have them.

          • Philmonomer

            So- at the very least (for I have Xian convictions that add many more layers to my interpretation of marriage)- the institution of marriage combines the felt need for this activity (and all the non-reproductive goods it entails ) with specific assumed (and long term) answers regarding responsibility ‘for’ and identity ‘of’ the children that result from this activity/relationship.

            Sure. I’ll freely grant this has been one of the purposes of the institution. But it isn’t the only purpose. If it were, everyone would be ok with denying marriage to post-menopausal women. But no one is. This tells me that marriage is about more than children.

          • Philmonomer

            As I’ve said, the institution expends beyond the two who are married. Its significance, protection and sanctity are upheld by the community around them (e.g. condemnation of promiscuity and adultery, etc)

            I agree. Let’s let gays get married. It will be better for them, and the community.

            There is nothing about an infertile man or woman that undermines this. Rather, an infertile man or woman uphold the institution by keeping their sexual relations within the marriage institution.

            Likewise, same sex marriage can do the same.

          • Phil James

            I
            think the only new bit is the comment following [some thinking aloud:] In
            reference to that…..

            Two women- even ‘gay’ women- can certainly get married. No one has ever denied
            gay people the right to marry. What has been denied is the redefinition of marriage
            so as to allow two (or three or five) gay women to ‘marry’ each other.
            This isn’t about the extension of a ‘right.’ It is about the redefinition of an
            institution.

            Anyway, marriage as an institution (both in its direct demands on the couple
            and in the wider cultural protections that extend even to the unmarried (e.g.
            condemnation of conception out of wedlock, an unfaithful spouse, married person
            being ‘off limits’ etc.)) is there to affirm and protect the expectation that a
            child belongs (in terms of identity and responsibility) to her biological
            parents and vice versa.

            An infertile man or woman does not undermine this institutional end in any way.
            Defining marriage so that in its quest for ‘equality’ it denies that a child
            belongs (in terms of identity and responsibility) to her biological parents is
            as direct an assault on the institution as is imaginable.

        • The distinction between the structure of an institution’s justification and the participants of an institution is one of the most important distinctions in this entire debate. It’s one I have been musing on for a while, and decided to keep out of this piece because I was trying to keep things less complex (really!) and focused, but it needs a lot more development and work. Nice job with it here.

          • Phil James

            Thank you, Matthew. It an example of Alastair’s reach – all the way into North Georgia, USA. :-)

            Y’all keep it up.

          • Philmonomer

            The distinction between the structure of an institution’s justification and the participants of an institution is one of the most important distinctions in this entire debate.

            I’m not sure whether the “structure of the institution’s justification” and the justification itself are one and the same, or if you mean them to be separate ideas/concepts.

            Regardless, I don’t see this important distinction (I’d be curious to see the idea developed). The justification, to my mind, defines who gets to participate. In this regard, allowing some people, for whom the justification does not apply, to participate (moreover, thinking it good and right that they participate, and not being willing to exclude them) necessarily means the justification is wrong/mistaken/inapposite.

      • eddiestardust

        And each time you talk about denying gays marriage you are actually saying that gays are more important than other Singles who are not gay and never married!

        • Philmonomer

          Huh? I’m not following you. We are talking about marriage. Single people aren’t married.

          • eddiestardust

            Singles pay more taxes than marrieds or didn’t you realize that?

          • Philmonomer

            1) I guess I didn’t realize that. Can you point me to some research showing they pay more in taxes? I know for a long time there was a tax “marriage penalty.” Did they fix that?, and now it’s better to be married?

            2) Even if it is true, doesn’t it make good sense? I believe social science points to lots of social benefits for marriage (married people live longer, less a drain on social resources, happier, etc). It seems like a social policy we may want to encourage.

          • eddiestardust

            Think about it….you get allowances for children…I don’t because I never got married and never had children. Now I’m not saying that I disagree with giving families a tax break but I wonder why gays just can’t be single instead of married?

            Sorry but there are all kinds of benefits of marriage that singles just can not have…

            Of course…when marrieds have to do married things….oh wife has a problem or kids do or whatever…

            Who comes to the rescue?

            The single guy or gal at the office…

            Now, what happens when your Mom or Dad gets sick…getting older…

            It falls on your single brother or sister…

            I just did that….

          • Julia Soler

            And who pays for the childless people’s social security? The children that others produced. Also those children have to pay for and help their own parents. Government pension systems are Ponzi schemes; one needs to get more people in to keep it going. So yes, people who have kids should get tax. Breaks. (Married without kids is a separate question

    • Phil, I think (contra Philmonomer) that is basically right. The law should treat equal cases equally; but the opportunity at the heart of marriage is unique and irreplicable by any other form of union. By denying that uniqueness, the state loses any reason why it shouldn’t admit any number of types of union into the category of ‘marriage.’ And I think the other consequences you mention follow as well.

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  • Juan

    i read the entire article and felt like I just wasted 10 minutes of my life. Not what I expected and it took forever to actually get to a pointless and weak argument against same sex marriage. It lacked any clarity in issues outside of just opinion and bias. The author should have started the article with the claims in the conclusion. Claims of not backing up any of his opinions with social and psychological research and support and how he would try to dictate the criteria for which the government should approve marriage. At least I would only have myself to blame for reading this useless article.

    • But it at least moved you to such a penetrating an incisive comment!

      • Justin Vest

        “Mr. [Anderson], what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this [thread] is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

  • Mr. Anderson, one of my favorite things about this is your plethora of references, drawn from pop culture, to the flippant assumptions the general population under the age of 65 make about love. Anybody who reads this can identify with if it from the start. And, you have taken the argument from its foundations in people’s minds and drawn it out toward the natural and logical conclusions that come about if any educated person actually THINKS about this issue.

    Who cares that it is 10,000 words long when it covers such a scope?

    :)
    THANK YOU!

    • Thank you, Heather. You nailed what I was trying to do in the piece by drawing people in and then making an argument out of it. So I really appreciate you wading through all of it.

  • Vanina d’Ambrosio

    Are you gay ? If you answered “NO” then you should probably mind your own business and funnel all that educated jargin into something more meaningful.

    • eddiestardust

      No I’m not but then I don’t think it’s right to sue folks just because they do not believe in gay marriage and I believe that each child has the right to have both Mom & Dad if at all possible and gay marriage denies that right to them!

      • Vanina d’Ambrosio

        The thing is though, kids are growing up without moms and dads for reasons having nothing to do with gay marriage. Why not fight for justice regarding incarceration? Mental health? Poverty? Divorce? Abuse? Teen pregnancy? Why fight against two happy and helathy people who want and deserve children (which by the way has nothing to do with marriage) just because they aren’t 1 man and 1 woman ? Plenty of single women adopt children, is that any different ? Denying someone a certificate does not deny them the ability to love. Humans will never have the ability to take that away from eachother.

        • eddiestardust

          Yes parents do die and some get divorced but these things do happen in the natural course of life, sadly. Try looking at black families…Mothers trying to take care of kids without Fathers. Yes, some kids do make it through somehow…but they can tell you the cost. Try asking folks who lost their fathers at age 12 or 13?

  • Painfully verbose nonsense. Moreover, it overlooks (it has to) the fact that gay couples are raising children. Those kids deserve married parents. Gay couples deserve the right to create a marital estate with, or without, children as beneficiaries. That’s what Windsor was all about but the author isn’t listening.

    • eddiestardust

      Two guys or to gals can’t biologically create a new being..they have to adopt. Of course the children who are adopted do not have both Mother and Father either.
      Children are not commodities ….

      • Gay couples are going to adopt children whether they are married or not. These are often kids in the foster system. If a gay couple is raising a child then it is indisputable that child is better off if his or her parents are married. Moreover, unmarried people are permitted to adopt children.

        Ultimately, your objection is to gay couples adopting children (the Ratzinger paradigm). That ship sailed decades ago.

    • If you read carefully, I think you’ll see that the piece recognizes the *possibility* of gay couples adopting children…and then argues against it! So the simple fact that it happens is hardly a counter-argument, is it now?

  • Oliver Ford

    I don’t recognize as Christian this attempt to deny gay marriage by focusing on procreation. It seems to me materialistic, Darwinian, and atheistic. It reminds me of the ideas of Dawkins and others who say that organisms are only there so genes can reproduce. I’m a father and am proud of continuing the human species, but I still have a life of my own and a relationship with my wife that’s valuable on its own terms.

    And I still see no reason to deny that to same-sex couples. There is no good reason to. Don’t devalue all marriages out of this pointless opposition to homosexuality.

    • eddiestardust

      Did you have the same opinion say 20 years ago?

      • Oliver Ford

        No, but what’s that got to do with anything?

        • eddiestardust

          Yes it does…please tell us why you think differently today….

          • Oliver Ford

            My views evolved like a lot of people’s. When I was little “gay” was a common playground insult, and same-sex relationships were banned from “promotion” in my country. That all changed and now gay marriages are legal. Acceptance of homosexuality has been a major cultural change that is very recent. I think it’s a good thing. Why are you against it?

          • T.A.L.L

            Sorry but not sorry to butt in Mr. Ford, but I don’t think you actually answered the question, why do you think differently today? Your reply gives the impression that your change of mind came about because of the change in mind of others. In other words, it became socially acceptable so you accepted it. So is public approval or disapproval the authority by which you make moral choices? Can’t the public get it wrong? What about mass hysteria? What if by some reason the it once again becomes unacceptable, will you change your mind once again or will you accept being marginalized?

          • eddiestardust

            Because it’s regressive not progressive.

            I never called any person a fag or queer..

          • eddiestardust

            Because I believe it’s regressive not progressive.
            Gays will also want married tax breaks..Singles don’t get those…
            Most folks don’t really understand that there is a darker side to all of this.
            None of us came from gay families….
            Our Federal Government doesn’t have the right to re define marriage either.

          • Oliver Ford

            What darker side are you worried about? That the world will turn gay? It’s just not going to happen.

          • eddiestardust

            This is what the late Cardinal George said…
            I will die in my own bed, my successor will die in jail, his successor will die in the public square and his successor will be there to pick up the pieces of a ruined civilization.

            Meanwhile.. in the rest of the world.. folks are not doing this and membership in The Catholic Church is exploding…

    • Well, at least you were able to see that I wasn’t depending on any special revelation!

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  • Feser’s great! But I don’t think it depends upon the claim that death was *necessary*. I’d note that the moral opportunity is the same even if death had never happened: the child would still be deathless, and still be an icon of the parent’s love. It takes on a new dimension, certainly, in a world where death happens. But if I’m right, such an iconicity is a kind of ‘natural grace’ which offers a limited vision of the permanent community and goodness that the resurrection of Jesus guarantees.

    Matt

    • Physiocrat

      Thanks for the reply. It would seem you’ve spent nearly as much time on the comments as you did in writing it.

      I don’t deny that children would still be icons in the absence of death, however your main thrust for the purpose of eros was the following:

      “The I and the You who meet might even hope for the perpetuation of their
      bodily union beyond the death they know will inevitably tear them
      asunder. But only one path can provide the hope of such satisfaction.
      And here we come to the center of the argument: The bodily union of
      fides can lead to children, can bring about new members of the community
      who are not equal sharers of every aspect of it, but who are embodied
      icons of the exclusive and unmediated devotion of the husband and wife
      to each other and no other”

      The only way, according the above, to extend the I Thou love beyond death is children. In the absence of death this imperative is absent. Consequently human death was always necessary or that it was a contingency and not rooted in man’s nature. So unless death was necessary this argument weakens your case against Gay Marriage. I think the best argument against Gay Marriage is the argument against gay sex itself in the form of the Perverted Faculty Argument. Ed Feser has a talk on it on YouTube. In summary the end to which a penis is directed is inseminating a vagina to produce children. Therefore if the episodic act of sex deliberately fails to inseminate the vagina it is has perverted the faculty and is bad for the people involved – as such bestiality, homosexuality etc is wrong. This obviously commits one to an anti-contraception position although I think it could be modified into a structural rather than a specific act argument.

  • Jeff Hart

    I loved the article, and I appreciated the fresh approach to the argument. I think this has power to resonate with people where many other natural law arguments do not.

    That being said, I wanted to articulate a few critiques that I’ve seen raised against your argument in hopes that they would provide you with an opportunity to sharpen certain aspects of it (and because I’m genuinely interested in how you would respond).

    Unsurprisingly, many people had difficulty with the idea that children adopted by a same-sex couple would be “doubly deprived” of moral goods, even though they might benefit greatly by an improvement in socio-economic status. You didn’t state this explicitly (perhaps for good reason), but would you reject same-sex adoption on the grounds of that deprivation? If you would, by what logic? It seems that you would need to say that the socio-economic goods that may result from adoption by a same-sex couple would somehow be outweighed by the harm caused by the goods that are
    withheld. And that seems to be a difficult claim to substantiate. In addition, by the logic that is used to reject same-sex adoption (if that is, in fact, where your logic leads), wouldn’t we also have to reject single-parent adoption? That too, it seems, would deprive adoptive children of the moral goods
    available only from different-sex couples.

    Regarding your comments on different-sex couples who do not desire children, would the marriage of such couples be invalidated by their eros-frustrating actions? You seem to hint that they would without saying it directly (again, perhaps for good reason). If I’m reading you wrong and their marriage would not thereby be invalidated, how does that mesh with your argument?

    Finally, one person I’ve been dialoguing with made the point that even if we assume children are icons of faithfulness, that doesn’t seem to imply that faithfulness requires such icons or that vows wouldn’t also qualify as icons of faithfulness in some way. In addition, while you place much emphasis on the vow, it seems that the vow could equally apply to same-sex couples. It seems like there may be a link missing (or at least, not stated quite explicitly enough) between the vow and the uniqueness of the different-sex couple in what you’ve written. The only link that I can identify (although, I certainly may be missing something significant) is that the vow admits of no third party, while the same-sex couple would *require* a third party in order for eros to be fulfilled in children-as-icons.

    Thanks for all your hard work on this issue. I can only imagine how many hours went into what you’ve produced here.

    • Thanks, Jeff. You’ve raised some really good questions.

      “You didn’t state this explicitly (perhaps for good reason), but would you reject same-sex adoption on the grounds of that deprivation? If you would, by what logic?”

      Yes, I would, on the logic that economic well-being is not a proportionately grave reason to deprive children of their biological parents. You say it’s difficult to substantiate; well, everyone has that problem. How impoverished must a family be before we step in to take their children away? If the question of a child’s well-being was *purely* a question of economics, we ought remove children against the consent of any number of impoverished families. But we don’t, and for good reasons! For what it’s worth, my view of ‘adoption’ is increasingly moving toward a ‘family-centric’ model, where in as many cases as possible (though it won’t be possible in all), we adopt entire family structures with the aim of keeping children with their biological parents as frequently as possible. If a single mother, for instance, gives up a child to a middle-class family because she feels she cannot support the child economically, but would keep the child otherwise, then I think the first obligation of the family would be to support *both* mother and child with the money they would use adopting and raising the child without the mother. But yes, my view would suggest that adoption should only happen into different-sex, and even only into married couples. We could discuss ‘accommodations’ to that for the sake of some sort of practical ‘compromise,’ but such accommodations shouldn’t be viewed as normative or per se permissible.

      “Regarding your comments on different-sex couples who do not desire children, would the marriage of such couples be invalidated by their eros-frustrating actions?”

      Yes, in a sense. If one person, for instance, took action in eros-frustrating ways without telling the other, that would be grounds for nullification of the marriage. In most normal cases, couples ought remain together, but reverse their course (repent!) and enter into the good of marriage which they have, in fact, been missing out on even though they may be very happy otherwise.

      “Finally, one person I’ve been dialoguing with made the point that even if we assume children are icons of faithfulness, that doesn’t seem to imply that faithfulness requires such icons or that vows wouldn’t also qualify as icons of faithfulness in some way.”

      There are two separate issues here. I don’t think that faithfulness ‘requires’ icons in the sense that children ‘have to be born into’ the marital community for it to be a marriage. I emphasized the ‘willingness’ and ‘openness’ of the couple, and I think that’s enough. (Such willingness and openness explain Josephite marriages, I think, for Roman Catholics.) I’ll think more, though, about whether I’ve shown the links between the vow and the icon. I suspect I haven’t done enough.

      But you’re right about the ‘third party’ problem. Only in such a case, the child *doesn’t* become an icon of the same-sex couple at all, precisely because one member of the party was replaced in order to bring the child into the world. So iconicity of the married couple is the kind of thing I’m suggesting can only happen between two, and between a male and a female, even if it doesn’t happen in all such cases.

      Matt

      • Julia Soler

        So infertile married couples who wish to adopt should instead give the money they set aside for adoption to biological mothers so they can rear their own bio kids.

        Let us know when that starts to happen.

  • hoosier_bob

    I’m unpersuaded.

    First, it seems to run counter to the view of sexuality and marriage set forth by Paul in I Corinthians 7 and illustrated by the fact that God became “fully [hu]man” in the person of a single bachelor who never had sex. In that sense, the pragmatic view of marriage that you derogate actually seems to lie closer to what Scripture commends. Even so, at least you admitted that your view owes more to the teachings of Plato and a Roman Catholic philosopher than to those of the Bible. In fact, I’d suggest that Christ and Paul set forth an eschatological reordering of sexuality and marriage in a way that obviates eros.

    Second, reducing the complementarity of the male-female dyad to erotic love seems to be more Freudian than Christian. Males and females complement each other in a whole host of ways, many of which have nothing to do with erotic attraction. If we insist on reducing that complementarity to erotic attraction, what happens when that attraction fades? And if erotic satisfaction is the sine qua non of marriage, can the church be too critical when folks divorce when the satisfaction proves to be too elusive?

    Third, I sense a certain danger in constructing our identities primarily around erotic love. As Lisa Diamond has noted, the most comprehensive survey of gay-identifying men and women showed that gay-identifying men and women both tend to be sexually attracted to the opposite sex more than to the same sex. In that sense, the cultural stigmatization of same-sex attractions (whether sexual or not) led them to have an exaggerated sense of the importance of those attractions to their identity. This has led to a tendency to sexualize attractions that were otherwise merely non-sexual, e.g., emotional. It also explains why, in many European countries, the social acceptance of same-sex partnerships has actually led people to choose them less frequently. When the stigma against same-sex attraction fades, men are able to develop same-sex friendships without coming under a societal suspicion. When that happens, they choose to marry women and simultaneously to maintain non-erotic friendships with men. All this to say, I think we need more than eros. The love that one observes in most same-sex relationships is not eros; it is something more akin to phileo or storge. If we construct our social identities exclusively around our erotic passions, then we run the danger of creating identities that have no room for expressing other types of love except towards our children. Thus, I sometimes wonder whether the experience of being gay isn’t better defined by one’s having a stronger desire for phileo or storge than eros. In other words, as Wes Hill has noted in his recent book, the experience of being gay may often relate to possessing a strong desire for same-sex friendship–a desire that could not be pursued if we’re forced to construct social identities around our erotic attractions.

    Lastly, what do we do with opposite-sex marriages that lack eros? When an older couple decides to marry because they enjoy each other’s company, do we permit them to marry? Or what about when the eros fades and the marital relationship comes to be defined more along the lines of phileo and/or storge love? Even though marriage may center around eros and the rearing of children, we have generally not prevented opposite-sex friends from marrying. Why then should we prevent same-sex friends from marrying? After all, if, as Calvin suggests, marriage is a pragmatic thing with no more spiritual significance than hair-cutting, then who cares? In my view, the key ethical question for Christians centers more on what kinds of sexual ethics ought those in committed same-sex relationships practice, and not whether they can enter such relationships at all.

    • Thanks for the comment, as always.

      First, I don’t think it runs counter to Scripture at all. How it integrates with Scripture is clearly an important question, but one that took me well beyond the boundaries of the essay itself. There is nothing in the essay *at all* that undermines or ‘marginalizes’ singleness as a perfectly valid and even highly estimable form of life.

      Males and females *obviously* complement each other in many ways besides erotic attraction. Nothing I’ve said denies that. I’ve simply given eros it’s due, which may have something in common with Freud–but it would be the late Freud of Eros and Civilization, rather than the early Freud. As to your final two questions there, when eros fades…we press on and wait for its return. And no, we shouldn’t be sympathetic to those who break their word. Such giving up is both a denial of eros, which motivates and lives within the vow, and destructive of the character of the individual, which besides being bad in itself, I suspect also makes it harder for eros to arise within them.

      Third, I sense the same danger–which is why I never proposed anything of the kind. All the language of ‘identities’ is yours, not mine, for one. And I doubt anyone read these 10K words and thought I said everything about love, or even eros, that needs saying.

      Fourth, I developed a highly romanticized account of marriage here because that is the form most of us are most familiar with. However, everything that’s true about the young couple can be true of the older couple, provided that the older couple has a kind of ‘willingness’ to have children. If they only ‘enjoy each other’s company’, then there is no reason for them to marry besides tax benefits. Presumably, if they are pursuing marriage, they enjoy each others company in a particularly comprehensive way; they wish, if nothing else, to be with each other when falling asleep and when waking up. But the form of their life is commensurate with the young couple who is fertile; they can have the same kinds of willingness as the young couple with respect to children, and even the same intelligible aspiration to the *permanence* of their union beyond death. But neither of those are intelligible in same-sex relationships in the same way.

      Clearly people of the same-sex can enter “committed same-sex relationships.” The question is of what kind? The ‘vowed friendships’ that Wesley defends are such a form. But if you mean sexual relationships, then I fail to see why the question of whether they can or should enter such relationships is of any less pressing importance than the question of sexual ethics inside of them. Indeed, it seems to be a much more important question, as if we answer it in the negative (as I think we should), the other questions become irrelevant.

      Matt

      • hoosier_bob

        I think Jesus was rather clear that there is no permanence to marriage after death. I see nothing in Scripture to suggest that marriage ought to aspire to be anything besides a temporary, pragmatic construct that belongs exclusively to the present eschatological age. If anything, Paul suggests that the purpose of marriage is to restrain our erotic desires, not to create a safe harbor in which we can indulge them.

        Again, when I read this, I see a lot more of Voltaire and Freud than Jesus and Paul.

        By the way, you are always adoption a social identity, whether you like the term or not. Generally, those who avoid discussion of identities do so because they want to avoid the fact that their views implicitly privilege certain social identities at the expense of others. Your views necessarily require that males and females adopt masculine and feminine identities that are centered around erotic expression. In that sense, this seems like little more than a fancy-pants was of channeling Owen Strachan.

        • Right. But the ending of marriage as a form within the eschaton does not entail that same-sex sexual relationships are thereby permitted.

          And I’m pretty sure my argument above is quite rigorous in its claims about the way in which we need to “restrain” our erotic desires. Any kind of instrumentalization of one’s own spouse, even for the sake of one’s own physical pleasure, is impermissible on the above view. So it’s quite an extensive reordering of sexual desires as much as it is an affirmation of them.

          You can see all kinds of things. Whether they are there is the more interesting question. In this case, they aren’t.

          Whether and how we encounter each other as male and female is certainly an important question. You may use the language of ‘identities’, if you want. I think Owen’s views are right in certain respects, and very wrong in other very important respects. For instance, I have (I think) a much more sensitive and subtle account of what a sexual desire is than he does, which I have written about before here at Mere-O. But yes, I think my position commits me to the position that males and females are different.

          Matt

          • hoosier_bob

            It doesn’t mean that they’re forbidden either, although certain sexual acts within the relationship may be off limits. But that’s the case with opposite-sex committed relationships too. After all, I don’t deny that eros may play some role in marriage; I just deny that it’s a necessary element of a marriage.

            Further, I would agree that marriage is centrally concerned with procreation and childrearing. Even so, we accept a number of committed relationships as “marriages,” even though they fall short of this central pattern (e.g., grandma remarrying in her 80s). In that sense, we have generally treated the Bible’s definition of marriage as describing a central model rather than as defining an outer boundary. To determine whether a committed relationship ought to qualify as a “marriage,” we measure it against the model and make a pragmatic judgment. I suspect that we would have few qualms marrying two opposite-sex asexuals, even if they indicated that they intend to remain celibate. So, why couldn’t the same apply to two men or two women who enter into a committed relationship with a commitment to refrain from sodomy?

            Put another way, I just don’t think that I can categorically say that no committed same-sex relationships can ever qualify as a “marriage.” I see it as an issue that is better addressed on a case-by-case basis.

          • I don’t think eros is necessary for marriage either; I’m saying it’s the only means of keeping eros alive, and that marriages are at their best and most rewarding when eros is an element.

            Josephite marriages are a thing within the Roman Catholic tradition, so your question about two asexuals is a real one. However, as I explained in the essay, the kind of ‘willingness’ and moral opportunity that inheres in even marriages where procreation is an impossibility is of a different species than those of two individuals of the same-sex.

            So it’s categorical. No relationship of the same sex could fulfill the moral opportunity of marriage, even if two individuals of different sex opt not to.

          • hoosier_bob

            The “moral opportunity” argument strikes me as bit too contrived. Again, I fear that it implicitly elevates heterosexual erotic desires to some kind of totemic status wherein the satisfaction of such desires becomes a central element of what it means to be human. Paul speaks on quite contrary terms, particularly in I Corinthians 7. And Jesus’s singleness screams against such a conclusion.

            I’m not suggesting that a married couple can’t elect to center their marriage around certain erotic desires for each other. But I see nothing in Scripture to suggest its necessity. Therefore, I can’t conclude that its absence represents some kind of lost “moral opportunity.” And thus can’t conclude that committed same-sex relationships are necessarily disqualified to bear the moniker of “marriage.”

            I still have some doubts concerning the wisdom of same-sex marriage. I tend to think that our sexuality is far more fluid than our North American social scripts often allow us to acknowledge. I tend to attribute that social flaw to our North American tendency to give excessive weight to things romantic and too little weight to things pragmatic. In that sense, I’d suggest that opposite-sex marriage is a far more earthy, pragmatic institution than an eros-focused view of it permits. Put another way, I’d suggest that there’s a certain mystery to love and marriage that eros simply fails to capture.

          • Julia Soler

            Same sex couples cannot yet procreate. What happens if they develop the technology to allow it–and they will if it is possible–some say it is not because of epigenetics differing between ovum and sperm–but we shall see.

    • Julia Soler

      Please site where Ms Diamond said this. She has stated the vast majority of people, especially men, are either same sex or opposite sex attracted. There is a group of bisexuals but by no means does she use that to negate the existence of ssa people.

  • Scrumpy Jack

    Hi, Matt. You write: “To approve of someone playing golf is to render the judgment, ‘If I were similarly situated I would play golf.’ Approval indicates we have a conditional willingness to participate in the same activity; by approving we admit that we would do the thing if our situation were the same as theirs.”

    This strikes me as pretty plainly false. There are plenty of things I approve of others doing (such as allowing themselves to be covered with spiders to win a $100 bet) that I would not do if I were in their situation. Similarly, one could admit that one (probably) *would* do something if placed in a certain situation (such as attacking a person who assaulted one’s child or lying to avoid going to prison) without also approving of the behavior (that is, judging it to be morally permissible). So judging that one would do a thing in certain circumstances seems neither necessary nor sufficient for approving of it.

    • I’m glad this brought you out of the woodwork. It’s been a long time!

      You’re right that, as it stands, it needs further specifying. FWIW, I meant ‘approval’ in an exclusively moral sense; there are clearly lots of morally permissible actions which we might approve as as actions while not undertaking ourselves, as you point out. But the conditions of this logic have to be specified a longer ways down than I think I am doing: so, on the matter you suggested, the approval indicates a kind of joint willingness where we support and affirm them as them doing that practice because its tied to the particularities of them as a person. But that still commits our will to the action in a peculiar way. If we knew, for instance, that the person was allergic to the kind of spider being used and they didn’t know that, our approval of their behavior would become a grave moral wrong. So as long as the conditions are underspecified, as in your scenario, I think your point is right. But in fact, reasoning only happens in a much more specified context.

      I also agree with you, though, that we can have the willingness for lots of things without actually doing them, as I make clear in the later part of the essay. So incapacitated couples can have a willingness to have children, even though they can never undertake the activities that would lead to them.

      Matt

      • Scrumpy Jack

        I’m afraid I’m still unclear about the sense in which one’s approving of an action (morally speaking) involves or implies either that one is willing to perform such an action or that one believes that one would perform such an action if similarly situated. (In your post you seem to regard believing that one would A in certain circumstances as amounting to being willing to A, at least in a conditional sense, but I think there are good reasons to think these things are quite separate.) In your reply, you suggest that, even if I am not willing to perform a certain action myself, my approving of another’s doing it “still commits [my] will to the action in a peculiar way.” What way is that? Believing that an action is morally permissible and being willing to engage in it (in certain circumstances) strike me as two totally different things. I just don’t see the connection.

        At one point you seem to suggest that approving of a person’s behavior “indicates a kind of joint willingness where we support and affirm them as doing that practice.” Perhaps that is the connection you have in mind? If so, I’m afraid it still doesn’t help me out much since it also isn’t clear to me how mere approval of a person’s behavior (that is, judging it to be morally permissible) involves supporting and affirming that person’s behavior–unless this is just another way of referring to one’s believing that the person’s behavior is morally permissible, in which case it is trivially true. But, then, I still don’t see how this amounts to any kind of “willingness”.

        • Your second paragraph is a bit confusing. In ordinary language, we use “approval” in the sense of affirming all the time. In fact, approval seems to connote much more than that an action is morally permissible; it seems to indicate that we are affirming the proposition that the course of action is the right one for them. If we have reason to think that it is not the right action for them, even if it’s ‘morally permissible’ either in its specific or as an abstract form of action, then I would think we wouldn’t be ‘approving’ of the action in any sense. But if we approve, then we have reasoned alongside someone in such a way that we can see how they came to their conclusions and affirm them as such, even without committing ourselves to the same course of action. And that reasoning process seems to entangle our own wills within the matter.

          I’d also note that treating a course of action as permissible means that it is an eligible course of action for me, even if I choose not to take it. I’ll quote Finnis: “[Conditionally willing] is the definite intention not to exclude the option of doing X from (further) deliberation, as a mere temptation, but rather to retain that option within one’s deliberations as still an eligibilium, as choiceworthy (choosable by me). In that sense, one gives a real though limited assent of the will to that option (while not yet preferring it to others by choosing to adopt it).” I think something like this is right, and it’s what I’m trying to get at with the language of willingness.

          Matt

          • Scrumpy Jack

            Well…how much of your argument is going to hang on understanding “approve” in this way–namely, in a way that implies affirmation and support? *Perhaps* the term is sometimes understood to carry this connotation (though it strikes me as somewhat nonstandard), but that’s certainly not the only way to understand it. And it’s not the way you seemed to be using it in your piece. You write, “To approve of a behavior is to treat it as morally permissible, not just for the people engaging in it but for anyone similarly situated—including ourselves…To approve of someone playing golf is to render the judgment, “If I were similarly situated I would play golf.” There, you seem to be thinking of approving of something simply as judging it to be morally permissible. But my judging that it is morally permissible for you to do something (dye your hair, get a tattoo, wear a dress, eat Cheerios for breakfast) needn’t involve my thinking that this is the *right* thing for you to do. And my not thinking that it is the *right* thing for you to do doesn’t imply that I think you shouldn’t do it or that something else is the *right* thing for you to do. It may be (as is often the case) that there is no single *right* thing for you to do but, rather, a range of morally permissible options. (Saying that A is the “right” thing for you to do implies that it would be wrong for you not to do it.)

            In any event, I don’t see how simply judging that one’s doing something is morally permissible (or even “the right” thing, for that matter) “seems to entangle our own wills within the matter.” It looks like the reason you think this is true is because you think that “treating a course of action as permissible means that it is an eligible course of action for me, even if I choose not to take it.” And, presumably, by “eligible course of action” you mean something along the lines of the Finnis quote. Is that correct? If so, then the good news is that I have a better understanding of what you are thinking. Unfortunately, it still strikes me as wrong for the same reasons mentioned earlier.

            Recall the spider example. I approve of your allowing yourself to be covered in spiders to win a $100 bet–which is to say that I judge it to be morally permissible for you. This doesn’t mean I think it is the *right* thing for you to do, nor does my not thinking it is the right thing for you to do imply that I think you shouldn’t do it or that there is something else you should do instead. I think it is one of many morally permissible options open to you. Most importantly, my approving of your doing this doesn’t imply anything about what I am or am not willing to do. My treating this course of action as permissible does *not* mean that it is an eligible course of action for me (in the way Finnis describes); it is not. I do not regard it as an open option to be included in my deliberations. I have excluded it. And none of this seems incompatible with my approving of your doing it.

            The main point: I don’t see anything wrong with describing what Finnis characterizes as a kind of willingness. I just deny that merely approving of something is necessarily connected to a willingness to do it in any of the senses you’ve described.

  • Hey Matt, thanks for this. I’ve read it twice and am still trying to wrap my mind around it. Reading all the comments have been quite an interesting experience too. My views on gay marriage are still evolving and reading this has been most insightful. Out of curiosity, how long did you spend writing this lengthy post? And I’m interested to read anything thrice this length with all the arguments you mentioned you left out just to keep this one focused. Fascinating stuff!

  • Jack M.

    I’m 5000 words in. I have to take a break until the fatigue passes. So far, I’ve learned his opinions on romantic comedy, Whitney Houston, and teen vampire romance. Does he ever get to the point? Also, is this what qualifies as a Christian deep thought piece?

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  • IPAC

    Matthew – Have you seen this blog about this article written by Dianna E. Anderson “My Humanity Is Not Subject To Your Moral Reasoning”? – What are your thoughts on it?
    http://diannaeanderson.net/blog/2015/6/humanity-subject-moral-reasoning

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  • Wildcard

    Predictable view, your hypothesis is that homosexual love cannot be as wonderful as straight love, (please don’t attempt to lie. That was your point) or as eternal, or that their children can grow up as well. You may well believe that, but your overly long rambling essay provided not a single shred of evidence to that effect, or even much of a conclusive or persuasive reason.

    Not providing any good reasoning, (as there isn’t any) is why you lost the debate, and why you will continue to lose whenever it comes to reasonable sexual ethics.

    It seems as if you believe Homosexual marriages are exclusively based on sexual attraction to each other.

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  • greenpointguy

    Meanwhile, my husband and I are madly in love, feeling so blessed to be living in a time and place when we have legal recognition and all the benefits provided by marriage. For the past 15 months we’ve also been blessed beyond belief by the arrival of our son through surrogacy. Our home is filled with love, joy, laughter, and the support of family and friends. You could write 10,000 or 100,000 words and you’ll not take away one iota of our joy. Sorry.

  • Gregory Peterson

    Disparaging and dehumanizing minority relationships, however condescendingly, as just being erotic impulses has been done before.

    Anderson wrote: “To steal from Chesterton yet again, it is not so much that marriage has been tried and found wanting so much as that it has never been tried at all.”

    In which case, it’s not like Gay couple are going to mess it up.

    “But what’s true at the moral level is also true biologically: if either member of the union were replaced, the DNA of the child would obviously come from a different pool.”

    So? While it’s nice to look like your parents, it’s vital to have loving parents. Gay couples (and straight couples) can be those loving parents, and there is a need for loving parents to children who’s biological parents are unable to care for them.

    Anderson keeps tacitly saying that Gay people can’t really be loving people, that their children can’t really be extensions of their parents’ devotion to each other, that they are incapable of sacrificial love, that even contact with Gay people is a moral injury.

    Why does Anderson compare Gay couples getting married, a celebration of love, hopes, responsibilities, with divorce in the same paragraph, other than defamation and dehumanizing minority relationships as being incapable of permanence?

    Ohh..”fungible.” Let’s further disparage minority relationships to just being a commodity, as about the exchange of undifferentiated goods, unlike with the differentiated goods of man and woman. I hate to break the news, but…Gay people are not all alike.

    Of course the primary purpose of human sexuality isn’t procreation, but pair bonding. That is the foundation of human society. Most bonding couples will be other-sex and of fertile age. But that’s not true for every couple. Yet, every couple, every human, for that matter, is an active agent in creating the societies we need to raise our young and care for the ill and aged.

    If the primary purpose of human sexuality was procreation, women would have an estrous cycle and we wouldn’t be human.

    “The first and most obvious objection is that not everyone who marries is capable of engaging in “procreative acts.” Of course, everyone is capable of creative acts, of the sort that build our societies.A childless adult can be a teacher, a police officer, a health worker and so on, all of whom are helping parents raise their children.To idolize parenthood as the only thing society needs is to hack at the foundation of society… being a social animal.

    Gay couples have married, do marry, will marry, with or without legal and religious recognition. Anderson’s deeply immoral creation of dangerous, unjust minority stress for a minority community to justify perpetuating economic and social injustice has been done before along much the same lines.

    Homophobics get all hysterical and exaggerate the alleged lack of differences in same-sex couples….apparently obviously sexist wannabee patriarchs like Anderson are threatened by relationships that suggest equality within the relationship, similar to the racists of my youth who got all upset about the exaggerated alleged differences in interracial couples which suggested equality among the “races” (“race” is a much abused, modern era social construct with a lot of long discredited scientific baggage…like “homosexuality.”)

    This fear of threats to a sense of divine entitlement to unearned patriarchal privilege and power leads both the white supremacist and the homophobic to use a similar religious self-privileging eisegesis, dubiously scientific sounding claims and “Massive Resistance” political tactics.

    “It is marriage and its goods that establish the moral contours and opportunities of childhood.”

    So, marriage is marriage, other-sex of same-sex. This shameless assault on the morality of minority adults is disgusting…and very much in the tradition of the business class racist shedding copious crocodile tears over the children of minority relationships.

    Which is, of course, a not so subtle threat to make the children of minority relationships suffer for daring to have parents who are “those people.”

    I mean, I heard all this before, decades ago.

    I hope that in the two years since Anderson’s essay was written, that he has discovered a clue on how to be a moral person.