Tom Gilson

What Is This Elderly-Couple Argument for Same-Sex Marriage?

I would like someone to explain something to me, please, with respect to an elderly-couple argument for same-sex “marriage.”

It seems to go like this:

1. Man-woman marriage proponents like myself stake our position partly on the following:

a. Marriage is the comprehensive union of a man and a woman, and it is rightly thought to be so because of that which follows (b through f).

b. One central and unique aspect of a man and woman’s union is their unique bodily union, the one human biological function whose completeness is only attainable through two people of opposite sex coming together physically.

c. There are socio-psychological purposes for that union (pleasure, unity, intimacy). It is granted that these purposes are not unique to married couples, or even opposite-sex couples.

d. Along with that, however, there is also the unique biological function mentioned in b: procreation, only attainable through the physical uniting of a man and a woman.

e. Because marriage involves procreation and the nurturing and development of children, society has an interest in promoting marriages’ strength and longevity.

f. Therefore marriage is specifically for a man and woman.

2. But custom and law allow men and women to marry even if they are obviously not able to bear children, usually because of advanced age, or sometimes because of other obvious infirmity (quadriplegics, for example).

3. Therefore the argument in 1a through 1f is invalid.

(Not incidentally, the proportion of obviously non-childbearing marriages is very, very tiny with respect to the whole.)

Now, I’m having trouble seeing how 3 follows from 1 and 2. Could someone explain it for me, please, with some kind of valid logic?

Note by the way that the man-woman marriage position is based on other factors besides 1a through 1f; but this is the argument in focus for now, and it is admittedly an important one for our position. So if there is a valid objection here, we need to recognize it and deal with it as such.

If on the other hand there is no validity to this objection, then this would be a good time to drop it for good.

I’d be glad to know which is the case.

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128 thoughts on “What Is This Elderly-Couple Argument for Same-Sex Marriage?

  1. You’re sketching out a more subtle and interesting framework that never, ever happens, in my experience; the Koukl video you posted is a much more authentic demonstration of how the argument appears in practice:

    1. Procreation is why marriage gets special privileges.
    2. Only a heterosexual marriage can naturally procreate.
    3. Therefore only men and women should be allowed to marry.

    To which the response “Then why can the elderly and the infertile marry?” is a perfectly appropriate and sufficient response.

  2. 1a: “comprehensive union of a man and a woman” appears to carry some symbolic baggage: what does “comprehensive union” imply?

    Is it limited to married life-partners? Can unmarried people have a “comprehensive union”?

    Imagine person A is forced to marry person B: do they have a “comprehensive union”, or is there something required for a “comprehensive union” that is separate from the marriage ceremony?

    Let’s say person A actually loves person C, while married to person B. Does person A have a “comprehensive union” with B, C or neither?

    How does a “comprehensive union of a man and a woman” differ from a comprehensive union of a man and a man, or a woman and a woman?

    1b. You state the bodily union between a man and a woman is unique and different from the bodily union between two men or two women. What evidence is there for that claim? Do we know of something that happens during heterosexual coupling that doesn’t happen during homosexual coupling?

    1d. If procreation is only possible through the physical uniting of a man and a woman, how do we describe procreation through IVF or other artificial means? How does procreation through the physical uniting of a man and a woman differ from a woman (married or not) procreating via a sperm donor?

    1f. I don’t think so. Should I agree to 1a-f, there’s nothing that should limit marriage to heterosexual couples.

    Were people allowed to marry dolphins, none of 1a-f would change, from the perspective of the married, heterosexual couple in this example.

    So why exactly do they care?

  3. The argument I’ve sketched out is in Girgis, George, and Anderson’s paper and book on this topic, widely quoted and considered to be the most complete and helpful statement on what marriage is. If you haven’t seen it, it’s because you’ve missed it. I’ve referred to it more than once here, although I have not quoted it in this form before now.

  4. Keith, you ask some good questions that I don’t have time tonight to answer. I am still on a very busy road trip.

    But I wish you had answered mine, and perhaps you will after you have read the paper (thank you for that response, btw). You said “I don’t think so” to 1f. But I had asked for some logically valid reason to think the elderly-couple argument had force against this. Of course you know that “I don’t think so” is not that reason.

    (I would certainly open the door to other logically valid objections besides the one I have specifically called for here, although with the caveat that I have only outlined the bare-bones version here. But I still want to get to the point of knowing whether SSM proponents really need to give up on the elderly-couple objection, or whether I need to give up on this argument 1a-f.)

  5. OK, a little frustrated. I understand now where the phrase “comprehensive union” comes from, it’s all over Girgis’ paper.

    But, as far as I can tell, it’s an undefined term. Where does the paper define “comprehensive union”?

    It’s clear it requires sex, it “involves” lives, resources, minds and wills, but we’re never told what else it requires (if anything).

    What am I missing?

  6. I’m giving up for tonight, but I’m struggling more with this paper than I anticipated.

    I skipped ahead to the part to the discussion on infertility, I thought it might be more specific to the post.

    Here’s a few sentences I think worth quoting:

    This is because in truth marriage is not a mere means, even to the great good of procreation. It is an end in itself, worthwhile for its own sake. So it can exist apart from children, and the state can recognize it in such cases without distorting the moral truth about marriage.

    Why doesn’t that blow his whole argument about procreation out of the water? He flatly says marriage is an end in itself, and the state can/should recognize it.

    I’m sure Girgis’ would say that SSM “distorts the moral truth about marriage”, but he never defines the “moral truth”. In this paragraph he says the moral truth has nothing to do with children or procreation, what else is there?

  7. Tom,

    I’m a little confused by (f) – it seems like it should be tweaked a little, to something like:

    f. Therefore the state should only solemnize man and woman relationships as marriages.

    Otherwise, it almost sounds like you’re using state’s interest in marriage as a basis for its ontological reality.

    But putting that aside, it’s pretty simple…

    In some heterosexual marriages, this completeness you speak of in (b) (procreation) is impossible to realize.

    But it is claimed that the only driving reason for the state to solemnize marriages at all, is because of this completeness (ie. procreation).

    It and so it necessarily follows that the state has no interest in solemnizing man/woman marriage per se, only marriages between fertile men and women.

    So (f) is clearly invalid. The categorical boundary where the state would ideally draw its lines, is fertile man/woman, not simply man/woman. In other words, if the government could selectively only recognize fertile hetero unions as marriages, it should.

    When presented with a challenge of this sort, the usual, predictable next move is to fall back on practical concerns of the type:

    – It would be impractical or impossible distinguish the infertiles from the fertiles and would invite inappropriate government intrusion into the private lives of people.

    At which point its game over – absurdity exposed. Marriages between infertiles are not simply slough to be cut away if they could be, but things which are worthy of state protection. This view of marriage is an obvious farce.

    I suppose one could try to argue that the state need not prohibit everything that doesn’t directly serve it’s interest, but that just blows the door to SSM wide open again (conceding for the sake of argument, that the state’s interest in marriage is singularly the raising of the next generation, and SSM does nothing serve that).

  8. b. Who determines when a biological function is “complete”? If sex is only considered “complete” when a baby is conceived/born/survives (you can see the arbitrariness already), then it should be obvious that a “comprehensive union” that depends on this completeness will be, well, NOT very comprehensive if a couple cannot, or even does not, conceive.

    c. Not sure why this is here. Regardless, the fact that there are purposes OTHER than procreation for sex is problematic for (b) above. If one intends to have sex ONLY for one of these, why is it considered “incomplete”. The act has fulfilled its purpose. If I buy a hammer only to remove nails, is that hammer not “complete”?

    d. WRONG. Granted, we may be splitting hairs here, but we all know that thanks to science, sex is not necessary for procreation. And while there is no doubt that ultimately you need a sperm and an egg, this is not the “physical uniting of a man and a woman”.

    e. Marriage MAY involve procreation and/or child development, but this is not exclusively so. Procreation obviously occurs outside marriage, as does child development. Some marriages don’t procreate, but do raise children. If one phrases this as “Society is interested in promoting relationships that procreate and/or raise children”, suddenly it’s a much different ballgame.

    f. EVEN IF one ignores all the objections raised, (f) does not follow from (b)-(e). It is a non sequitur. The conclusion should be “Therefore marriage is specifically for a man and woman who can procreate and raise children together”.

    As such, it should be obvious why the “elderly couple” objection is legitimate.

  9. Keith, I could be wrong, but I believe the “comprehensive union” part comes from (b), (c), & (d). It requires sex AND procreation. Sex without procreation would be INcomplete. One would think that this would make the union NOT comprehensive as well.

    Interestingly, if “comprehensive” here is taken to meant “fulfilling all the purposes”, then that includes (c). So, if a spouse is not getting pleasure, unity, and/or intimacy from the union, apparently it’s not a “comprehensive union” either. One has to wonder how many traditional marriages would have to be nullified.

  10. e. Because marriage involves procreation and the nurturing and development of children, society has an interest in promoting marriages’ strength and longevity.

    I think this point is dubious – I’m not sure this is the only reason for society promoting marriages’ strength and longevity. Yes, it’s the primary reason. But perhaps there are other reasons why society might have an interest in promoting marriage.

  11. As far as I can tell, Girgis & Co. never define “comprehensive union”.

    As far as I can tell, they believe a “comprehensive union” involves lots of different things every one of which is present in both opposite- and same-sex relationships, with a single exception: sex is different in an opposite-sex relationship. As far as I can tell, that’s the only exception they raise in this article.

    Girgis requires sex for marriage:

    If two people want to unite in the comprehensive way proper to marriage, they must (among other things) unite organically — that is, in the bodily dimension of their being.

    Which brings us to how infertile couples can marry. I’ll quote the big paragraph:

    Any act of organic bodily union can seal a marriage, whether or not it causes conception. The nature of the spouses’ action now cannot depend on what happens hours later independently of their control—whether a sperm cell in fact penetrates an ovum. And because the union in question is an organic bodily union, it cannot depend for its reality on psychological factors. It does not matter, then, if spouses do not intend to have children or believe that they cannot. Whatever their thoughts or goals, whether a couple achieves bodily union depends on facts about what is happening between their bodies.

    In other words, intercourse, regardless of the actual potential for conception, is both required and sufficient for marriage.

    The first problem I have is Girgis’ argument that intent and capability don’t matter. As far as Girgis is concerned, a couple having intercourse, neither of whom want or anticipate children, where one has had a vasectomy and the other has had a hysterectomy, are somehow engaging in a procreative act. I don’t think I can do his argument justice so I won’t even try, but I think it’s a stretch, to put it mildly.

    To make the same point on an uglier, emotional level: In Girgis’ world, an act of romantic, consensual, physical love in a same-sex relationship doesn’t qualify you for a “marriage”, but a woman being forced into a marriage by her family and then raped by her husband, does.

    The second problem I have is that even if you agree with Girgis, he’s put himself in a bad position. If marriage requires this specific act of “bodily union”, can a person for whom sexual intercourse is impossible be married? Girgis simply assumes all people can have intercourse and proceeds from there, but that means some of the elderly and people suffering specific medical conditions (for example, certain types of quadriplegia) cannot be married.

    To come full circle, Tom, I don’t see how you can distinguish between the elderly and SSM.

    Has anybody read the book version of this article? Does it address people who cannot have intercourse for whatever reason?

  12. I understand where Tom’s logic is going, but I think it’s leaving a couple a key factors out.

    First, he’s missing a key word: natural. Men and women come together and procreate naturally. Sure, there are some exceptions such as in the case of elderly couples, infertility, or other medical problems, but that’s all they are: exceptions. The same can not be said for same sex couple. Even if both individuals are completely healthy, they will never be able to procreate naturally as a couple.

    Second, points c and d should not be separated. The union between a man and a women involves pleasure, unity, intimacy, and procreation, but necessarily altogether every time. For example, a couple trying to procreate may forego intimicacy, and obviously procreation doesn’t happen every time a couple unites. But, unless a couple is unable to procreate because of age, infertility, or a medical condition procreation must be considered together with the others. It is only through unnatural steps – birth control – that it can be removed from the equation.

    Same sex couples can not say the same thing. Procreation will never be a part of the union, unless a third person is involved. In the case of two women, a sperm donor needed. In the case of two men, a surrogate mother is needed.

    D. While children can be conceived through other methods, they can only be conceived naturally with a man and a woman. A man and a woman are required. This can only be obtained naturally through a union of two people of the opposite sex.

    E. This is true, although I would add that the evidence shows children do best in a family with their biological father and mother. Yes, there are instances where children don’t do better, but it’s a smaller percentage than those who do better. By the way, this also holds true when compared to other families such as single mother. It’s not just an anti-SSM argument. This is why society has an interest.

    F. True.

    2. While it may have roots as a custom, it’s also practical. Are we going to test every couple for fertility? How about a ten question quiz, followed by a lie detector: Do you intend on having children? It’s really not practical to enforce. Same sex couples, can’t even fake it.

    If an elderly couple wants to get married, despite the fact that they may not be able to procreate, it doesn’t change the natural order of things. Men and women come together in a way that their bodies are meant to. Whether you believe they were created that way, or evolved, there’s a unique “fit.” A natural fit that same sex couples can not achieve.

    The elderly couple argument is an exception to what’s a good rule, and exceptions aren’t a good reason to make a rule invalid.

  13. Keith, I’m not impressed with you “skipping ahead” and then asking,

    Here’s a few sentences I think worth quoting:

    This is because in truth marriage is not a mere means, even to the great good of procreation. It is an end in itself, worthwhile for its own sake. So it can exist apart from children, and the state can recognize it in such cases without distorting the moral truth about marriage.

    Why doesn’t that blow his whole argument about procreation out of the water? He flatly says marriage is an end in itself, and the state can/should recognize it.

    You start your quote with a pronoun whose antecedent you left out. The sentence preceding the one you quoted begins with the word “thus.” In other words, you yank it completely out of context and tell us you can’t understand why it comes to the conclusion it does.

    Sorry, but this is not telling us why the elderly couple objection carries any weight. In fact, it’s not telling us anything at all.

    I’m sure Girgis’ would say that SSM “distorts the moral truth about marriage”, but he never defines the “moral truth”.

    Wrong. This is an argument about what marriage is, not about morality. You guessed incorrectly there.

    You say they never define “comprehensive union.” Did you read part 1, beginning on page 253, the section titled, “Comprehensive Union”?

    I’ll have other things to say about what d and JB wrote. And I need to spend more time thinking through your most recent comment, Keith. I’ll be back.

  14. Keith,

    If I may. I think you are too far “down in the weeds” on the requirement of “procreative” sex for marriage. We may not have to go to a 10,000′ view but how about a 1,000′ view. Let us examine the important basis and critical component of a “comprehensive union”, i.e., procreative sex. That makes sense as the development of future generations is a benefit to the state and legitimately within the state’s interest. That’s it. That is the critical element of the definition. This component is exclusively available in heterosexual unions.

    That there are other heterosexual unions that may not result in procreation is moot. We know there are lots of reasons why that may be so. However, those other unions, insomuch as they approximate the intent of the above are also valid as “comprehensive unions”. They borrow that procreative element from heterosexual marriages (that do procreate). Heterosexual marriages that do procreate establish a paradigm that can be applied to non-procreative unions and still establish them as “comprehensive unions”.

    Remember, this is a legal definition subject to legal analysis. The definition (loosely) : a “comprehensive union” capable of providing children through sexual intimacy establishes a paradigm against which other definitions must be compared. The specific elements of that definition must be compared point by point as is established practice and procedure in legal analysis. I think that non-procreative heterosexual unions would pass muster as meeting the paradigm as either the “intent” and/or possibility of procreation are in play even if the result, for whatever reason, is deficient. Other unions, not so much.

  15. Also, in response to an earlier comment, Keith:

    1a: “comprehensive union of a man and a woman” appears to carry some symbolic baggage: what does “comprehensive union” imply?

    Is it limited to married life-partners? Can unmarried people have a “comprehensive union”?

    Yes and no, for obvious reasons: a comprehensive union is complete, it involves the whole person, and it calls for a strong commitment. (I think it could include common-law married persons provided they have that kind of life commitment.)

    Imagine person A is forced to marry person B: do they have a “comprehensive union”, or is there something required for a “comprehensive union” that is separate from the marriage ceremony?

    I think they may have something less than a comprehensive union and something considerably less than what marriage was meant to be; except that there are cultural differences in the way marriage is expected to be arranged, and it would be very ethnocentric for us to assume that only a romantically conducted courtship can result in real marriage.

    Let’s say person A actually loves person C, while married to person B. Does person A have a “comprehensive union” with B, C or neither?

    Marriages fail.

    How does a “comprehensive union of a man and a woman” differ from a comprehensive union of a man and a man, or a woman and a woman?

    The union of a man and man or woman and woman cannot be comprehensive.

    This answers a point raised below: biological union takes place between a man and woman in coitus. This is unique. Every other function necessary to life takes place inside one body; every body is complete in that sense, and every body function is complete in that sense, except for one: reproduction. Only when a man and woman unite is reproduction possible. This is the one organic function that requires two bodies. It is only complete when there are two bodies involved, one male and one female.

    This is a completion of unity that is impossible for a man to achieve without a woman, and a woman without a man.

    1b. You state the bodily union between a man and a woman is unique and different from the bodily union between two men or two women. What evidence is there for that claim? Do we know of something that happens during heterosexual coupling that doesn’t happen during homosexual coupling?

    Yes. See above.

    1d. If procreation is only possible through the physical uniting of a man and a woman, how do we describe procreation through IVF or other artificial means? How does procreation through the physical uniting of a man and a woman differ from a woman (married or not) procreating via a sperm donor?

    Rare, unnatural, and not the kind of thing upon which we ought to base social policy.

    1f. I don’t think so. Should I agree to 1a-f, there’s nothing that should limit marriage to heterosexual couples.

    I have previously explained how “I don’t think so” is not sufficient.

    Were people allowed to marry dolphins, none of 1a-f would change, from the perspective of the married, heterosexual couple in this example.

    d asked something similar. Jeff pointed out that I left some things out. I certainly left out the part that answers this. Back in a bit.

  16. Jeff @13:

    People seem to feel there is a practical issue, and that it matters to the argument that we cannot “reasonably” test for fertility.

    How about quadriplegia? That’s easy to test for, you can’t fake that.

    Where marriage licenses require medical records, we could check for a record of a vasectomy. Or, require applicants to attest they believe themselves fertile (and falsifying the document would be grounds for annulment).

    Given everyone’s concerns for the practicality of testing, I propose an additional rule: if an applicant wears a bag over their head and has a non-gender-specific name, we should grant the marriage license, since it’s impossible to tell if the applicants are the same-sex. 🙂

  17. d, you say,

    In some heterosexual marriages, this completeness you speak of in (b) (procreation) is impossible to realize.

    But it is claimed that the only driving reason for the state to solemnize marriages at all, is because of this completeness (ie. procreation).

    It and so it necessarily follows that the state has no interest in solemnizing man/woman marriage per se, only marriages between fertile men and women.

    How does that necessarily follow? I don’t see it. Why could it not be that:

    a. The state recognizes (because of its procreative potential and purpose) that marriage is properly defined as a relationship between a man and a woman.

    b. The state recognizes that it cannot determine fertility in advance of marriage.

    c. Therefore the state chooses to recognize marriages without respect to a man and woman’s actual fertility, in view of their potential fertility.

    d. But having the established the principle that marriage is for a man and a woman, the state also recognizes, for the sake of consistency with that principle, those very few and rare exceptional marriage in which fertility is obviously not a potential for the couple, especially since…

    e. There is virtually no age at which the male is infertile, and society has an interest in male fidelity partly for the reason that it is not good for the future if men inseminate women who are not their wives, and besides,

    f. There is no age at which the state could rightly determine it is impossible for men and women to engage in the act that is the procreative act, the act that accomplishes the unique uniting of bodies, and seals the union of a man and woman at any age.

    You haven’t shown how this is necessarily false.

  18. Tom @14:

    I read the section titled “Comprehensive Union” about fifty-five gazillion times.

    The article simply doesn’t define “comprehensive union”. We’re told it “involves” some things, and we’re told it “includes organic bodily union”, and that’s it. From that point on, the article moves to “organic bodily union” and never returns to any attempt to define of “comprehensive union”.

    I’m ready to be wrong if I’m missing something, but I don’t see it.

    If I’m right… well, if I say “gardening involves dirt and water”, and “gardening includes selecting plants”, will I have defined “gardening” to anyone’s satisfaction?

  19. I’m continually surprised by the emphasis on children in these discussions, particularly given that the first mention in Genesis to the male/female relationship was that it was for companionship.

    I certainly did not get married to have children – I got married because I loved my wife-to-be and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. Children was not the primary purpose for my marriage.

    Society has a stake in marriage for reasons in addition to children – it makes for a more healthy, happy and stable society.

  20. JB, you ask,

    b. Who determines when a biological function is “complete”? If sex is only considered “complete” when a baby is conceived/born/survives (you can see the arbitrariness already), then it should be obvious that a “comprehensive union” that depends on this completeness will be, well, NOT very comprehensive if a couple cannot, or even does not, conceive.

    Most of this has been answered. I do not say that sex is only complete when a baby is conceived etc. I say that comprehensive union is attained only when (among other things) the man and the woman engage in the one biological function that can only be accomplished as a unity when two people of opposite sex do it with with each other.

    It is painfully obvious that nature has not intended for that union to result in conception every time. It is just as obvious that nature intended for that to be the means by which procreation occurs. So it is not necessary for conception to happen every time in order for the natural function to be fulfilled.

    You say,

    c. Not sure why this is here. Regardless, the fact that there are purposes OTHER than procreation for sex is problematic for (b) above. If one intends to have sex ONLY for one of these, why is it considered “incomplete”. The act has fulfilled its purpose. If I buy a hammer only to remove nails, is that hammer not “complete”?

    The hammer analogy is totally opaque to me.

    As for, “if one intends to have sex ONLY for one of these,” you miss the point. Rather it is, “If one intends to have a marital relationship only for one (or two or three) of these,” then it is certainly incomplete. (Some may think this calls for a related discussion on sex outside of marriage, but I’m not taking that side trail here.)

    d. WRONG. Granted, we may be splitting hairs here, but we all know that thanks to science, sex is not necessary for procreation. And while there is no doubt that ultimately you need a sperm and an egg, this is not the “physical uniting of a man and a woman”.

    This is indeed splitting hairs, and it fails to address the issue of bodily union for the sake of procreation.

    e. Marriage MAY involve procreation and/or child development, but this is not exclusively so. Procreation obviously occurs outside marriage, as does child development. Some marriages don’t procreate, but do raise children. If one phrases this as “Society is interested in promoting relationships that procreate and/or raise children”, suddenly it’s a much different ballgame.

    Procreation outside marriage is bad for children. No doubt about the research on that one.

    f. EVEN IF one ignores all the objections raised, (f) does not follow from (b)-(e). It is a non sequitur. The conclusion should be “Therefore marriage is specifically for a man and woman who can procreate and raise children together”.

    I skipped a step in the argument, which I’ll come back to in a bit.

  21. Keith, the list of what “comprehensive union” involves comprises the definition of comprehensive union for these purposes.

    So for example it does involve a life commitment but it does not involve holding hands 24 hours a day. What’s on the list is the list, as it is rationally defined.

  22. bigbird,

    I’m continually surprised by the emphasis on children in these discussions, particularly given that the first mention in Genesis to the male/female relationship was that it was for companionship.

    I certainly did not get married to have children – I got married because I loved my wife-to-be and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. Children was not the primary purpose for my marriage.

    Society has a stake in marriage for reasons in addition to children – it makes for a more healthy, happy and stable society.

    But this is why society has a unique stake in marriage that differs from its stake in other companionship relationships.

  23. And now for what I omitted from my argument above.

    Suppose we grant that society has a stake in man-woman marriage: I don’t think anyone doubts that. Why should it matter if society permits other unions besides?

    Well, society does permit other unions besides. Why then should it matter if society calls them marriages?

    Here’s why. Marriage is a vulnerable state, for any couple, and on the whole it is a vulnerable institution. To the extent that it is damaged (on the micro and macro level), future generations suffer.

    Ask any psychologist about the power of social learning, and s/he will tell you it is incredibly powerful. (Check out the Asch conformity studies.) To the extent that society makes it a standard that marriage is for life, that it is for more than just “you and me, babe,” and that it is for the future of others as well as for the present satisfaction of the couple, to a proportionate extent couples will treat their marriages in that way. They will try to marry for life. They will marry with the intent to build the future. They will marry for the sake of children as well as themselves. This is good for marriage and for society’s future: the future of real children.

    To the extent that society says that marriage is not for a lifetime, that it is (almost) exclusively for the couple, that it is “just you and me, babe,” to a proportionate extent marriage as an institution is harmed, and actual marriages are also harmed. Note that so far I am speaking of what happened from about 1970 to about 2000. This is not about same-sex “marriage.”

    To the extent, however, that society seals that statement by allowing couples to “marry” who have no intent to unite in a childbearing-potential manner, to that extent society blows a hole wide open in the institution of marriage. By the force of social learning, individual man-woman marriages will be seriously weakened. Children will suffer still further.

    So there is every reason to keep marriage what it is and always has been.

  24. Bill T @ 15:

    The development of future generations is not exclusively available in heterosexual unions. Not even the ability to procreate is exclusively available in heterosexual unions. Those are the facts on the ground: adoption, sperm donors, host mothers and all forms of IVF are widespread, their use is growing, not shrinking, and any concerns the state might have about future generations should reflect that reality.

    When you say “against which other definitions must be compared”, well, I respectfully disagree. I understand why it’s tempting to make heterosexual coupling the standard against which other definitions are compared, but I see no rational justification for it.

  25. Tom @22:

    I don’t want to beat a dead horse and I apologize if this post comes across that way — it’s not my intent, I am trying for clarification of our positions.

    When you say “it does involve a life commitment”, I point out that Girgis does not say there’s a long-term commitment. He says “sharing of lives and resources, and a union of minds and wills”: there’s nothing there that requires any long-term commitment.

    Of course, you and I both know that if asked, Girgis would agree with you it’s a life-long commitment. But the fact he doesn’t say so, and you are forced to supply meanings he doesn’t declare, demonstrates how woefully inadequate this definition is.

    In short, Girgis gives us an imprecise definition, and unfortunately for the discussion, the rest of the article hangs on that imprecise definition.

  26. But this is why society has a unique stake in marriage that differs from its stake in other companionship relationships.

    Let’s agree that society has a unique stake in relationships that produce children – it agrees that within a marriage is the best way to raise them.

    We have hundreds of thousands of same sex relationships that involve children, and even now produce children. Shouldn’t society encourage their marriages for the same reason?

    It seems that you are saying society only has this unique stake in relationships that produce children naturally.

  27. G. Rodrigues @24:

    I’d like to +1 G. Rodrigues’ post to The Infertility Argument for Same-Sex Marriage.

    The article’s primary focus is on “accidental infertility” vs. “essential infertility”. The intent of nature is for women and men to be fertile (so if they’re not fertile, it’s “accidental”), whereas nature did not intend same-sex couples to be fertile (so when they’re not fertile it’s “essential”). Once you can distinguish between the two, you can reasonably discriminate on the basis of the distinction.

    There’s a strong echo of Girgis’ arguments here.

  28. Tom @29:

    You’re right, he does say “permanent”.

    I apologize for appearing uncharitable, but I won’t concede the overall point — I believe the lack of a real definition taints the article.

  29. I disagree whole-heartedly, however, with your assertion that there are same-sex relationships that produce children.

    Sorry, but it doesn’t happen.

  30. Keith, charitable or not, conceding the point or not, you still haven’t answered the question I posed in the OP; and your opinion that it hasn’t been defined remains (for lack of a reason) your own opinion, not one that need be of much interest to others.

  31. bigbird, I have just done some looking around and I found a source for the “hundreds of thousands.” No need to answer that.

  32. bigbird,

    Over the past few weeks you have progressed from a position stating that society ought not fight same-sex “marriage” because it’s a lost battle, to “shouldn’t society encourage their marriages?”

    You claimed early on to be in disagreement with SSM in spite of your resignation toward its inevitability (in your view). Now you accept that same-sex couples’ relationships can really be marriages.

    Do you believe in what the Bible teaches, bigbird? For now you have crossed a line.

    I don’t ask that question of everyone, and I don’t expect biblical standards or arguments to take hold in the minds of people who reject the Bible. But I do think it’s an appropriate question for professing Christians.

    I have very little patience with hypocrisy among professing believers. That’s why I think this is a good question to explore with you at this point.

  33. Tom @36:

    I believe the question you posed in the OP was ‘if the “elderly couple” argument for same-sex “marriage”‘ is relevant.

    Based on my reading of the Girgis article, I think the answer is yes, it’s relevant: if “bodily union” is required for marriage, and elderly people cannot accomplish that bodily union, it’s fair to ask why the “definition of marriage” excludes people the state allows to marry (and vice-versa).

    Your argument is different from Girgis & Co., but you said it was based on their paper/book, so I’m not sure if by replying to Girgis I’m replying to you.

    For example, your 1(b) doesn’t claim “bodily union” is a requirement for marriage, while Girgis does.

    If you can clarify where you differ from Girgis, I’m happy to be more specific with respect to your argument.

  34. I certainly meant to say that bodily union is part of the comprehensive union that is marriage!

    But “relevant” is not the question I asked. I don’t dispute that the question is relevant. Please re-read the OP.

  35. G. Rodrigues,
    The MP reference is great. Kept nodding my head in agreement as I read along. Puts many of the complaints here to rest in my opinion.

  36. If I didn’t think it were relevant I wouldn’t have written this post.

    The question I asked is whether, once we have examined this admittedly relevant question, we have an objection that stands, by valid reasoning.

  37. Steve K. @42:

    I think the first question to ask of this particular article is why it matters that it’s possible to divide infertility into two classes. I agree you can divide the two groups, but you can always divide a group into two if you work at it a little.

    Does it actually matter that infertile couples are infertile for different reasons than same-sex couples?

    Should we further divide our groups into people infertile since birth, and people who have become infertile, perhaps through a vasectomy?

    And do we have differences that induce us to privilege infertile couples over same-sex couples?

    In other words, yes, you’ve described a difference… but why does this particular difference compel discrimination?

    The second question is the author’s resolution of “unfairness”. The author only argues there is no “compelling” reason to legal recognition of SSM, not that it would be wrong to legally recognize SSM.

    Instead, the author argues we cannot be “fair” because that would lead to unworkable marriage laws.

    Since there are a number of countries which have managed to create workable marriage laws incorporating SSM, I suspect it’s a problem we can solve.

    What the author is really saying is that to accomplish change you have to make it painful enough for society that society is forced to change. I tend to agree, and that’s exactly what has happened in the last couple of decades, and is why society is changing on SSM.

  38. It seems that you are saying society only has this unique stake in relationships that produce children naturally.

    bigbird: yes. And the problem is … ?

    The problem is I don’t see how you can easily justify this position. Once children exist (by whatever means, however regrettable), shouldn’t society be doing all it can to promote their well-being? Should naturally conceived children be privileged over children conceived in a test tube?

    In this particular case, I can easily see a 15 year old testifying before a senate committee, saying “Bob and Harry are my parents. Why can my friend Sally’s parents be married and mine can’t be? Is it just because Sally was naturally conceived?”.

    You claimed early on to be in disagreement with SSM in spite of your resignation toward its inevitability (in your view). Now you accept that same-sex couples’ relationships can really be marriages.

    My position hasn’t changed at all actually. Same sex relationships cannot be Christian marriages. If the state deems them to be marriages then I suppose they are “secular marriages”. I still think that SSM is wrong. But I think in the current secular democracies there’s little to prevent it being legislated, hence my preferred outcome is a distinction between religious and secular marriages. The only thing that has changed is that three more countries have legalized SSM since I set out that position only a few months ago.

    I’ve spent some months now looking at arguments against SSM to see if there are some convincing arguments that I can present to a possibly hostile audience in my work as a Christian apologist. You have put forth various challenges on your blog about certain arguments, and I’m doing my best to see how solid they are by raising what I see to be weaknesses. I’m asking the questions I know I’d be asked if I raised these arguments. If you’d prefer me not to do so, I’m happy to leave it alone.

  39. Shouldn’t society encourage their marriages for the same reason?

    First correction, they aren’t married. Encouraging (meaning to support) SS relationships that already have children is a good idea. The reasoning would be similar to the idea of supporting foster parents I would imagine. But it wouldn’t be for the same reason we support marriages. So there’s another correction.

  40. Shouldn’t society encourage their marriages for the same reason?

    First correction, they aren’t married.

    I’m not intending to say they are, although I might have phrased it poorly. What I mean is that since society encourages marriage currently for heterosexual couples for the benefit of children, shouldn’t you apply the same argument to same sex couples who have children?

    Encouraging (meaning to support) SS relationships that already have children is a good idea. The reasoning would be similar to the idea of supporting foster parents I would imagine.

    So what form of encouragement/support should same sex couples expect? I’m trying to see it from their point of view. And from their point of view it seems you are arguing that the children are the primary reason the state encourages marriage, but not in their case.

    But it wouldn’t be for the same reason we support marriages. So there’s another correction.

    But this has been the argument in recent threads – that the primary reason society supports marriages is for the future generation – so that seems to be the same reason.

  41. So what form of encouragement/support should same sex couples expect?

    We are talking about SS couples that already have children. I needed to make that clear. I’d say we try to treat them like a couple that adopted children. Do I support raising children by adoption as much as I do the natural raising of children? No, but sometimes you don’t have a choice.

    But this has been the argument in recent threads – that the primary reason society supports marriages is for the future generation – so that seems to be the same reason.

    The end-goal of producing children is part of the reason for supporting marriage, I agree. But it’s certainly not the entire reason.

    Other reasons for preferring marriage over anything else involve the process of achieving that end-goal. That end-goal can be achieved any number of ways and it seems obvious that the natural way is preferred over many of the other Rube Goldberg ways.

  42. Keith,

    Does it actually matter that infertile couples are infertile for different reasons than same-sex couples?

    Yes. (I later edited this sentence because what I said wasn’t true).

    Should we further divide our groups into people infertile since birth, and people who have become infertile, perhaps through a vasectomy?

    Legally divide them? I don’t see why we should do that, but maybe you can think of a good reason.

  43. The end-goal of producing children is part of the reason for supporting marriage, I agree. But it’s certainly not the entire reason.

    Other reasons for preferring marriage over anything else involve the process of achieving that end-goal. That end-goal can be achieved any number of ways and it seems obvious that the natural way is preferred over many of the other Rube Goldberg ways.

    You haven’t given any real reasons why the natural way is preferred over the other ways. We don’t normally distinguish between children conceived in a test-tube and naturally born children. And it is a dubious claim if you consider applying it to many processes. Processes that are “natural” are very often not preferred over the artificial equivalent.

    When someone falls back on a reason that it is “obvious”, it is often an indicator that they don’t have a very strong argument. I don’t think it counters the view that once children are there, it matters little how they got there.

    If the state wants to prefer the natural way over other ways, they should prevent the other ways from being used. That seems unlikely to happen.

  44. You haven’t given any real reasons why the natural way is preferred over the other ways. We don’t normally distinguish between children conceived in a test-tube and naturally born children. And it is a dubious claim if you consider applying it to many processes. Processes that are “natural” are very often not preferred over the artificial equivalent.

    Jeepers, are you serious or just playing with me? I’m not talking about “many processes”, bigbird, I’m talking about the process of producing children specifically.

    Do you REALLY think the process of artificial insemination et al is preferred equally to the natural process of conceiving? Use the mind God gave you, bigbird. Why might human beings prefer a warm body and human intimacy over a sterile medical procedure?

  45. Tom,

    More pragmatics. The infertility objection exposes a problem of principle that cannot be solved by resorting to pragmatics.

    Notice what your reasoning does NOT say. It does not say that marriages between the infertile actually *deserve* to be recognized by the state. It does NOT say the state ought to do what it must, to safeguard an infertile couple’s ability to fulfill their spousal duties to one another.

    And in fact, it does the opposite. It strongly implies that marriages between the infertile DON’T really have what it takes to warrant state recognition, but .. you know.. well… its really hard to tell if somebody is infertile in advance of marriage, so we’ll just let it slide. THAT is the problem.

    Consider a hypothetical. Imagine that infertility due to disability was always accompanied by some sort of obvious physical deformity, such that it is immediately apparent to everyone who is and isn’t fertile. And imagine that infertility was always guaranteed to occur to everyone, once they reach a certain old age.

    This appeal to pragmatics in (b) could no longer apply, and you’d have to follow through with the principles that actually laid out for us. Could you?

    ps – There’s also the old appeal to “type” in the MP article, but I’ll address that in a bit.

  46. Why might human beings prefer a warm body and human intimacy over a sterile medical procedure?

    Context, SteveK, context. We were talking about why society (and the government) would prefer the natural over the artificial – not individual couples.

    And anyway, it’s obvious (to use your term) why a sterile medical procedure might be preferred – because the natural is not an alternative in some instances.

    So to restate – you have not provided any rationale for why the government should preference relationships with naturally born children over relationships with children that are not. And they don’t currently for heterosexual couples, when it comes to adoption or couples who require IVF.

    So I think the whole argument about the government legislating marriage for the purpose of the next generation is a fatally flawed one, in terms of trying to exclude same sex couples from government-sanctioned marriage.

  47. bigbird,

    We were talking about why society (and the government) would prefer the natural over the artificial – not individual couples.

    I guess I need to spell out the obvious part. If you take the natural sexual intimacy and close bonding with the person you love and have committed your life to out of the equation and replace it with something artificial – that makes for a weaker marriage. Remember what “comprehensive union” means? Look at the effects of p o r n (attempting to bypass spam filter). Great for building a strong society isn’t it?

    If you fail to see that then try your hand at phone sex (pun intended) for the purposes of conceiving and tell me how well your relationship blossoms when you suggest this to your wife – because, gee honey, it’s the same thing. Will she buy that without being somewhat heartbroken at the mere suggestion of it?

    Now to why the state has the same interest as most normal couples in a relationship. The state is a collection of people who know from experience that their relationships will suffer if they go this route so that is why the state prefers the natural way.

    It continues this way until someone attaches himself to a freethinking progressive with a loud mouth or a lot of money who thinks conceiving children through long-distance mail order won’t really harm society – because what’s not to love about FedEx and cool medical devices. It’s a win-win! Uncle Screwtape would be so proud.

    And anyway, it’s obvious (to use your term) why a sterile medical procedure might be preferred – because the natural is not an alternative in some instances.

    An exception to the rule. You are arguing for the rule, and failing.

  48. I guess I need to spell out the obvious part. If you take the natural sexual intimacy and close bonding with the person you love and have committed your life to out of the equation and replace it with something artificial – that makes for a weaker marriage.

    No-one is talking about taking sexual intimacy and close bonding out of the equation, so your point fails. Artificial is referring to how children are produced.

    If you want to argue that same sex couples can’t have close bonding, fine – but that’s a different argument that I’m sure will be disputed.

    Remember what “comprehensive union” means? Look at the effects of p o r n (attempting to bypass spam filter). Great for building a strong society isn’t it?

    We are talking about how children are conceived, and whether or not the state cares how they are conceived. You’re not addressing the point at all. I don’t know what porn has to do with this. I have no idea what you mean re phone sex and conceiving – feel free to clarify, or not.

    Now to why the state has the same interest as most normal couples in a relationship. The state is a collection of people who know from experience that their relationships will suffer if they go this route so that is why the state prefers the natural way.

    I see. So if enough people in the collection that makes up the state are same sex couples whose experiences are positive, then the state can happily endorse SSM?

    I’ll have to restate the point because you keep going off on tangents.

    The argument has been made (Koukl etc) that the state promotes heterosexual unions for marriage because these unions produce the next generation, and the state is interested in the next generation.

    I have argued that this argument is flawed – same sex couples in fact have responsibility for tens of thousands of children. So if this argument is used, it is fair for these couples to argue that the state should promote marriage for same sex couples for the same reasons – the children.

  49. I think the key distinction is the difference between these two statements:

    “Procreation is at the heart of each marriage”
    “Procreation is at the heart of marriage”

    It all comes down to whether you consider “male” and “female” to be fundamental categories. If not, then then the procreative distinction in marriage is functional. But if so, then it is definitional.

    If marriage is “one male, and one female, for the purpose of X, Y, and Z”, then “one male, and one female, for the purpose of X, Z, and not really Y” is still structurally a marriage, though it’s not fully expressing what marriage is about. If, however, “male” and “female” are incidental, then one can swap these without really affecting marriage.

    Fact it, most of the lesser distinctives have already been removed. Our society already embraces childlessness (as a virtue not a disappointment), multiple marriages, and promiscuity inside and outside marriage. All that’s really left of the core of marriage is “male” and “female” and “two”, both of which are increasing regarded as irrelevant. It’s a bit like a “worker’s party” whose main activity is cosying up to the rich and powerful (oh, wait, …) – the name no longer represents the ideal, but is kept for sentimental or rhetorical reasons.

  50. Tom, re: your comment 16, you state:

    “…it would be very ethnocentric for us to assume that only a romantically conducted courtship can result in real marriage.”

    It seems to me that (c) in the OP blows that out of the water. Either the definition itself is ethnocentric then, or there’s nothing wrong with dismissing arranged marriages as NOT marriages. And that goes for any other “marriage” that does not fulfill (c): it is not a comprehensive union, and therefore not a marriage. Correct? Or what am I missing? And if it’s wrong to be ethnocentric in that sense, why is it not wrong to be ethnocentric with regards to polygamy being “marriage”?

    The elderly-couple argument would look like this:

    1. In order for a union to be a “marriage”, it must be “comprehensive”. In order to be “comprehensive”, it must fulfill the following conditions:
    a. must have sex. This sex must, in turn, fulfill the following conditions:
    i. pleasure, unity, intimacy (from “c” above)
    ii. potentially procreative (from “d” above)
    b. permanent commitment
    2. Elderly couple unions cannot fulfill (ii) above.
    3. Therefore (from 1-2), elderly couple unions are not “comprehensive”.
    4. Therefore (from (1-3), elderly couple unions are not “marriages”.

    The only thing I did not pull from the argument in the OP was the permanent commitment, which I guess was originally part of the definition of “comprehensive union”. It’s not clear to me why a permanent commitment is needed in order for a union to be “comprehensive”, but for now I don’t see the point in arguing it.

    If one eliminates the (ii) criterion above – but retain some form natural, vaginal sex instead – then I think it’s essentially begging the question. Marriages must be heterosexual, because otherwise they cannot have heterosexual sex. Hardly inspiring, and – to borrow your own comment – “not the kind of thing upon which we ought to base social policy”.

  51. Oh.

    In regard to your first point here, I guess the only way a marriage can exhibit unity and pleasure in its union is if it happens by way of romantic courtship.

    I think a whole lot of married couples down through history would dispute that.

    (You’re still being more ethnocentric than you realize.)

  52. JB, this is close, but not quite there, and not close enough to suffice.

    1. In order for a union to be a “marriage”, it must be “comprehensive”. In order to be “comprehensive”, it must fulfill the following conditions:
    a. must have sex. This sex must, in turn, fulfill the following conditions:
    i. pleasure, unity, intimacy (from “c” above)
    ii. potentially procreative (from “d” above)
    b. permanent commitment
    2. Elderly couple unions cannot fulfill (ii) above.
    3. Therefore (from 1-2), elderly couple unions are not “comprehensive”.
    4. Therefore (from (1-3), elderly couple unions are not “marriages”.

    We are speaking of the definition of marriage as an institution. You offer up individual, particular marriages as exceptions. There is the key thing to keep in mind: are we talking about marriage or about marriages? I’ve been talking about the former, and you are now talking about the latter. But do some marriages undermine the definition of marriage by failing to meet the definition in its totality?

    If so then your objection holds, but I don’t think so, at least not in this case.

    No marriage completely fulfills the complete and comprehensive unity of intimacy and pleasure. When a marriage is on the rocks, there’s a lot missing, yet it’s still (for a time at least) a marriage. Even the best marriages miss the ideal to one extent or another, yet they are still marriages.

    There are older, long-term married couples for whom sexual intimacy does not include all the same activity it did earlier in life, and yet they are married. Does this mean sexual intimacy is optional to marriage as a general institution? No, it means that not all that is true of the institution in general is true of every marriage in particular.

    When we’re dealing with social institutions we can set up standard definitions that signify some ideal exemplar, and yet we can recognize that no real instance of such an institution meets that ideal. Take schools, for example. For simplicity’s sake I’ll use a short definition: schools are places where teaching and learning take place.Some schools exemplify this better than others, without challenging the definition of school.

    So the fact that some marriages exemplify comprehensive unity better than others does not obviate comprehensive unity — including the unique physical unity only attainable by a man and a woman — as part of the definition of marriage.

    And also therefore your statement in 1 is wrong: in order for a marriage to be truly a marriage, it need not be a comprehensive union in the ideal sense you outlined there. In order for marriage to be marriage, however, its definition certainly needs not to contradict comprehensive unity.

  53. Here’s another take on that. There’s a difference between failing to fulfill comprehensive unity in a particular marriage (which happens in every real marriage) and defining it out of marriage in general. SSM is not merely a failure to fulfill said comprehensive unity, it is a principle-level, fundamental rejection of its importance

  54. I’ve been using “comprehensive unity” in place of “comprehensive union” this morning. I mean the latter, not the former

  55. Is there a reason that genetic sex is considered essential whereas genetic infertility is considered accidental? (in a genuinely explicative way rather than vaguely referring to what is natural)

    I’m not entirely sure what I think right now; but I’m wondering whether the lack of ability to procreate between two typical people of the same sex could be seen as accidental – perhaps I’m considering the essentiality of sex as a category (such that one could only speak of a comprehensive union of two people). In what sense (if any) is a person inextricably bound to their genetic makeup?

  56. Hmm, with second thoughts I’m wondering whether it would be more constructive to change my line of questioning and start from the bottom up.

    When you conclude marriage is for a man and a woman, what do you mean by man and woman?
    (a) a person with a male gender and a person with a female gender
    (b) a genotypic male and a genotypic female
    (c) a phenotypic male and a phenotypic female
    (d) something else

  57. bigbird,

    No-one is talking about taking sexual intimacy and close bonding out of the equation, so your point fails. Artificial is referring to how children are produced.

    Then I admit to being the one that is confused. Please explain how a couple artificially conceives a child in a way that maintains sexual intimacy and close bonding.

  58. Tom: Your comment to bigbird in #38 struck me as defensive. I don’t see why a believer needs to or even should believe the State should only write social policy that conforms to the Bible. Maybe that’s not what you were saying but that’s how it came across.

    In fact, bigbird’s line of questioning makes a lot of sense to me, even though I’m a believer. I can see why some think the State should recognize same sex relationships as marriage with all of its related benefits. There are some good reasons why the State should be blind to sexual orientation and its relation to marriage.

    On the other hand, I’m still waiting for someone to explain why society shouldn’t elevate hetero marriage due it’s unique position of naturally producing future generations. The line of commenting on this particular thread seems to be getting there but it’s not there yet and may never get there.

    I just don’t see how a same sex relationship that MIGHT provide care for a child unnaturally provided to them is of the same magnitude as the hetero marriage that CREATES a child. Since we all seem to agree that a child does best with their mother and father being in a committed relationship, shouldn’t society elevate that unique, natural relationship above others?

  59. CLB:
    “why society shouldn’t elevate hetero marriage due it’s unique position of naturally producing future generations”
    While I appreciate its still being somewhat contested, if the entitlements provided by marriage to same-sex couples are beneficial to children and raising the next generation, I think you would need to explicate the benefit served by differentiating the entitlements given to the different relationships (which is what I guess you mean by “elevating” hetero marriage?). Are children that are naturally produced deserving of more help from the state? (in more greatly supporting the environment in which they’re raised) Or would hetero marriages having greater benefits be some kind of incentive for people to settle down and have children in natural families? Don’t let me second guess though – you tell me!

    “Since we all seem to agree that a child does best with their mother and father being in a committed relationship”

    While I’m inclined to agree, I wouldn’t take this for granted – it is certainly worth discussing. Not sure whether this thread is the place for it though.

  60. JB Chappell I agree – using the phrase “comprehensive union” to refer to heterosexual sex as the criteria for the definition of marriage is simply begging the question.

    We might as well be upfront and say “we believe God created marriage between one man and one woman”. Because that’s what we really mean, and that’s why we believe it.

  61. CLB @#66:

    Defensive? Yes, precisely. Defensive in the spirit of 2 John 9-10. See #10 in the discussion policies.

    bigbird professes Christianity, and those who profess Christianity and yet teach falsely are held to a different standard than those who do not claim to be Christians.

    I am not the least bit defensive about being defensive in that sense.

  62. Re: bigbird in #68 and JB earlier: just hang on a minute here, folks!

    I posted a question asking whether the elderly-couple argument against my position could be defended, and if so, on what basis.

    What I did not intend to do in the process was to post a full defense of my position. Had I done so, I would have explained in much greater detail why the comprehensive union approach to marriage has rational support. I am in the process of laying out that case over a series of blog posts, and I haven’t gotten there yet.

    So I can almost see why you might think I’m merely substituting the phrase “comprehensive union” for “man-woman marriage.” But to call that question-begging is just wrong. Why? Because question-begging is a fallacy when it’s used in the course of developing an argument, which I have only just barely outlined here!

    So you’re jumping the gun. You’re mis-identifying a fallacy; one might say you are fallaciously mis-identifying a fallacy.

    I strongly suggest you back off on that, and suspend judgment on my argument until you’ve seen it. Make sense?

    Now, if you come back and respond to me, “But that was an argument that you posted here!” then the easy response is simply this: “Then it wasn’t question-begging, because to the extent that I presented reasons for the comprehensive-union view of marriage, to that extent I have not committed circular reasoning. (I might be guilty of other errors, but not that one.)”

    So either way, you have fallaciously mis-identified a fallacy.

  63. I’ve had a long series of consecutive days away from the office. Today was planned for an in-office day but it didn’t turn out that way.

    I’m hoping to spend some time this evening catching up. There have been some interesting challenges raised here that I can’t really think through the way they need to be when I’m working off an iPad in a semi-public area as I am now.

    I say that to explain why I’m responding to some easy issues but not addressing some of the more challenging ones. I’ll get to them as soon as I can.

  64. Tom: What exactly has bigbird said in violation of #10 and in violation of “Christianity”? Do you think I, as a believer, should be of the opinion that the State should only create laws in accordance with the Bible?

    Alex: Any child raised by same sex parents is necessarily being deprived a benefit afforded them by hetero marriage – that of being raised by their natural mother and father. No matter how you slice it, ONLY by unnatural and external means is a same sex couple allowed to have children. Why should that relationship be elevated to marriage, with its associated benefits, when they are not equal relationships to begin with in regards to children?

    Those advocating for SSM need to provide the proof that SSM is an equal relationship to hetero marriage. It’s not hetero marriage proponents that need to provide proof they’re relationship should remain a unique relationship afforded it special recognition, rights, and benefits by the State.

  65. CLB, there’s no need to put words in my mouth. What I wrote in #38 was exactly what I meant to say to bigbird. I did not say there what you imply that I said. When a believer suggests that society should encourage (!) same-sex “marriages,” that’s crossing a line.

  66. bigbird professes Christianity, and those who profess Christianity and yet teach falsely are held to a different standard than those who do not claim to be Christians.

    I should add that I agree with this policy and think it is entirely reasonable.

  67. CLB:
    Children are where children are. Not legislating for SSM will not prevent children being born outside of marriages. Again, if the primary reason the state is interested in marriage is the nurturing and development of children/future generations (which seems to be what is argued) and legislating SSM provides such benefits , surely the onus is on you to provide evidence/argument for negative effects of legislating SSM that outweigh those benefits.

    Namely, to try and read through the lines of what you’re implying, it seems you would need to demonstrate that legislating SSM would entail fewer children being born&raised by their married parents.

  68. Got it, Tom.

    Alex: My point is that SSM is not a comparable relationship to hetero marriage because one of the key aspects of hetero marriage is the natural creation of the next generation – which absolutely should be given special benefits, priorities, and privileges. How can same sex relationships be marriage if they are missing (at least) that key element?

    If the State wants to provide benefits similar to those of marriage, especially if children are involved, fine. I don’t think the State can shelter those benefits in any legal way from committed same sex relationships. I may not personally agree, but I can see why the State might legally need to provide them.

    But to call it marriage necessarily minimizes the definition of marriage. It lowers the definition of marriage to something that is, as Tom says, “you and me, babe.” Or, as we have seen in recent news reports, “you and you and you and me, babe.” Please show me how that’s not the case.

  69. My point is that SSM is not a comparable relationship to hetero marriage because one of the key aspects of hetero marriage is the natural creation of the next generation – which absolutely should be given special benefits, priorities, and privileges.

    Here you really need to explain why the state should favor the natural creation of the next generation over the artificial creation – especially given the widespread use of IVF amongst heterosexual couples.

    A corollary already discussed is that surely the most important thing to the state is the raising of children, not the circumstances by which they were conceived.

    I can’t see the “future generation” argument having much traction because of these issues.

    A related issue which I have concerns about is the harm suffered by being raised in a same sex household. However I’m not sure that SSM would actually make any difference here in terms of numbers of children affected.

  70. I think there’s a lot of different strands of argument in this thread which has left it a little muddled – I have probably contributed to this by diving in and out (been busy lately) – so apologies. I will probably step back and try and coherently collate my thoughts.

    One last little question though:
    Suppose a man has a vasectomy solely to prevent him having children. Would you then object to him marrying a woman? Could he meaningfully realise a true marriage with a woman? Why/why not?

  71. @Alex’s #63

    Is there a reason that genetic sex is considered essential whereas genetic infertility is considered accidental? (in a genuinely explicative way rather than vaguely referring to what is natural)

    I’m not entirely sure what I think right now; but I’m wondering whether the lack of ability to procreate between two typical people of the same sex could be seen as accidental – perhaps I’m considering the essentiality of sex as a category (such that one could only speak of a comprehensive union of two people). In what sense (if any) is a person inextricably bound to their genetic makeup?

    Along these same lines, I wonder why elderly women past the stage of menopause would be considered only accidentally infertile. Why is it not right to think of them as essentially infertile?

    Menopause isn’t a disease or a disability. It seems, nature intended for women to lose child-bearing capabilities, in the same way it intended them to go through puberty, and become fertile in the first place.

    I do think the accident/essential distinction between gay/straight marriages isn’t one that our concept of marriage should turn on… so even if we concede that it is one true distinction, there are many more relevant similarities between gay/hetero marriage that are just more important. BUT granting for the sake of argument that the accidental/essential distinction IS the primary concern, what’s the reasoning that justifies the categorization of post-menopausal infertility as accidental?

  72. SteveK – Please explain how a couple artificially conceives a child in a way that maintains sexual intimacy and close bonding.

    A couple can maintain sexual intimacy and close bonding whether or not they are conceiving a child, and no matter how that child is conceived.

    The actual process of conceiving a child artificially does not involve sexual intimacy – but so what? Of what concern is that to the state? There are about five million people worldwide conceived by IVF.

  73. This debate gets its meaning from the idea that “marriage” stands as something outside of human invention. It suggests that words or the ideas they represent preexist humans, or at least some important words, like “marriage”. And because (so it goes) these words have a “definition” that preexist humans it is our job as humans to “discover” their true nature. Trying to discover “what marriage IS”, that is what is going on here. But when we look at language over time we can observe that it is man-made. We invent the language and give the utterances their meanings. And we change the utterances and the meanings as we go. The same-sex marriage debate is not a debate about the “true” meaning of “marriage”, it is about a society making the word mean what we want it to mean. Some of us want the word’s meaning to include same-sex marriage and some of us don’t want the meaning of the word to include same-sex marriage. But WE DECIDE. We don’t debate the true nature of it.

  74. bigbird,

    The actual process of conceiving a child artificially does not involve sexual intimacy – but so what? Of what concern is that to the state?

    It isn’t a significant concern because marriage is working just fine for the most part. That is, until someone comes along and suggests that the state has no legitimate reason to prefer natural conception over other methods, and starts a big campaign aimed at the state for the sole purpose of elevating the social status of artificial conception so that it becomes socially equal. Then it becomes a concern.

    You said: So to restate – you have not provided any rationale for why the government should preference relationships with naturally born children over relationships with children that are not.

    continuing…

    There are about five million people worldwide conceived by IVF.

    A very small number. But more important are the reasons why they choose to conceive by IVF. It isn’t because the couple thought it would be a better way to conceive a child. It’s not. It also isn’t because it makes no difference to the relationship which method they choose. It does matter. It’s because they could not conceive the natural way – which is the preferred way, which explains why the state also prefers that same way whenever possible.

  75. Some of us want the word’s meaning to include same-sex marriage and some of us don’t want the meaning of the word to include same-sex marriage. But WE DECIDE. We don’t debate the true nature of it.

    I want to do the same thing with all the different species. Have just one word for every life form because there’s no true nature to debate over. Plus it’s not fair to have all of those classifications. It just creates division and intolerance. Mollusks are people too, right? Well, they are if we decide they are!

  76. That is, until someone comes along and suggests that the state has no legitimate reason to prefer natural conception over other methods, and starts a big campaign aimed at the state for the sole purpose of elevating the social status of artificial conception so that it becomes socially equal.

    No-one has started a big campaign to do what you suggest – and if that was done, it would be by the heterosexual parents of IVF conceived children, who are the overwhelming majority of IVF cases.

    It’s because they could not conceive the natural way – which is the preferred way, which explains why the state also prefers that same way whenever possible.

    Because people prefer the natural way says nothing whatsoever about what the state should prefer – or if it should prefer anything at all. I submit that the state doesn’t care.

    Anyway, because same sex couples can’t conceive the natural way – just like heterosexual couples who are infertile – there’s no issue then is there? Because the preferred option isn’t available.

    This is getting away from the main point – that a great many same sex couples have responsibility for raising children, however conceived. Why can’t they claim that if the state’s interest is in the next generation, then they too should be able to marry – given that the claim is that the state sanctions marriage because it is the best environment for children to be brought up in?

  77. @d:

    Along these same lines, I wonder why elderly women past the stage of menopause would be considered only accidentally infertile. Why is it not right to think of them as essentially infertile?

    Because of either the ordinary course of nature (menopause), or of self-imposition (vasectomy), or of a birth defect or some kind of disease, the power is inoperative and not actual. But such power is not present in two men, just as it is not present in the pair constituted by my chair and my computer, or the pair made of of my right hand and my mouth or the pair of a rock and a pebble or the pair of my brain and your brain.

    To say that something is infertile is to say that while the power is present in potency by virtue of the *essence* of the thing, it is not actual by virtue of *accident* (old age, self-imposition, disease, what have you). It is possible, at least in principle, to restore the power, but in the case of two men or two women there is nothing to restore in the first place. We read in the Bible that when Abraham was hundred years old, God came unto him and said that within a year his wife Sarah would bear child. She laughed in her heart, reasoning how could she bear a child now that her womb was barren? God miraculously restored the fertility power to Sarah. But if Abraham was “married” to Eliesher, there would be nothing to restore, and in order for either he or Abraham to bear a child, God would have to violate their natures and make of them something they are not which is a contradiction as it would involve a substantial change while retaining identity, a metaphysical impossibility.

    This is not rocket science; it is an elementary and quite obvious distinction. So are you playing thick just to make a point?

    @stephen:

    But WE DECIDE. We don’t debate the true nature of it.

    Really? Then “we” DECIDE that “we” debate whether “we” DECIDE or not DECIDE what is the true nature of marriage. And “we” also DECIDE who exactly belongs to “we”. I for one, vote to cast you out of the “we”, since you are not willing to debate anything but just DECIDE — on what basis I do not know, since by your own admission there is nothing to debate; maybe you flip a coin? Check the direction of the wind? Scry tea leaves in the bottom of a bowl? Consult the horoscope? Whatever irrationality fills your emotional needs.

  78. G. Rodrigues:

    I guess I’m considering whether the “power”/potential for reproduction derives from the essence of being human, and that phenotypic (or other) sex is merely accidental – which is why above I was looking to start a conversation on what exactly constitutes the essence of male/female.

  79. bigbird,

    No-one has started a big campaign to do what you suggest

    Your idea that the state has no legitimate reason to prefer natural conception (comments 53, 55) isn’t part of the campaign drumbeat? Sounds like it to me. Most states DO prefer natural conception, ought to prefer it, and that preference is expressed every time each state upholds the value of marriage over other forms of relationships. But that is being challenged today.

    I didn’t respond to this comment you made in #55, but will do so now because it fits the conversation here

    I see. So if enough people in the collection that makes up the state are same sex couples whose experiences are positive, then the state can happily endorse SSM?

    The state may indeed endorse SS relationships because the voting public would likely ensure that it did. But here’s the question you need to ask yourself….would society be better off if it turned out to look like this?

    In a society where SS relationships were valued equally with marriages and where most relationships were same-sex, how would that society continue to survive? At some point the inevitable will occur – a dwindling population.

    With a dwindling population it seems the state would then need to encourage the few marriages it had to have more than 2 or 3 children, or else face extinction. But how can the state offer any encouragement when legally the state must treat both SS couples and marriages the same? It can’t.

    In this situation there is a valid reason to prefer natural conception and no way to legally act on that preference. Marriages would likely continue having the 1, 2 or 3 children that they typically have on average and the state would be forced to mandate and/or heavily encourage artificial means of producing children for it’s own survival. Not a good situation for a society to be in.

    It makes sense to ensure that this situation never plays itself out. The way to do that is to allow the state to prefer natural conception via marriage. Allow the state to do that TODAY rather than wait until it is forced into a situation where it’s own survival depends on society having that preference. There’s that valid reason you were looking for. Everyone benefits when natural conception via marriage is given preference, even SS couples benefit,

    and if that was done, it would be by the heterosexual parents of IVF conceived children, who are the overwhelming majority of IVF cases.

    At the moment I have no objection to campaigning for IVF in cases where natural means were not available.

  80. In addition to SteveK’s excellent response to bigbird, I’ll add this:

    The State does, in fact, care about the natural order of things. It does, in fact, make laws to protect the natural order of things: see the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act, National and Environmental Policy Act, and various other federal, state, and local laws and ordinances that set aside, protect, and/or preserve the “natural” order of things like water, air, land, open spaces and natural environments.

    Any committed lifelong union between a man and a woman is a form of the natural order of things – it is how a society models, orders and protects itself to perpetuate itself.

  81. @G. Rodrigues

    since you are not willing to debate anything but just DECIDE

    You misquote and misconstrue me, I didn’t say we don’t debate, I said the debate is not about the “true meaning of marriage”. My point is over the wisdom in treating “marriage” as an ontological thing – does it have existence outside of humans?

    Steve K, demonstrates this confusion by bringing “mollusks” and “people” – things that exists as comparisons, as though “marriage” has existence too.

  82. Let me try to get this point through again:
    There are at least these two orientations around which we can talk about “marriage”. One is to think of marriage as a pre-human (or non-human) idea, that is, a concept that has been around prior to human beings. In this sense, the human project is to “discover” “what marriage IS”. The other orientation is to see the concept of marriage as something humans conceive. In the former case, humans are responsible to the concept, that is, humans follow the concept: humans have to just get use to what marriage IS. In the later sense the concept follows humans: humans are the masters of the concept: it is what humans want it to be. If the later orientation turns out to be the way language and concepts work, then spending time on a project that banks on the former is a waste of time, akin to being driven by delusion. We need little more than history to show that concepts are not transcendental and fixed, they are contingent and man-made.

  83. Stephen,

    One is to think of marriage as a pre-human (or non-human) idea, that is, a concept that has been around prior to human beings. In this sense, the human project is to “discover” “what marriage IS”. The other orientation is to see the concept of marriage as something humans conceive. In the former case, humans are responsible to the concept, that is, humans follow the concept: humans have to just get use to what marriage IS. In the later sense the concept follows humans: humans are the masters of the concept: it is what humans want it to be.

    I think what you really mean in your second option is that humans invent marriage. There is a third possibility – that marriage is rooted in human nature. It does not exist apart from humans but what marriage is is determined by human nature (that is nature in the technical sense). Human nature is not something we invent or have mastery over.

    Steve K, demonstrates this confusion by bringing “mollusks” and “people” – things that exists as comparisons, as though “marriage” has existence too.

    There are particular things that we call mollusks and people but the universal “mollusks” and “people” are concepts. In your worldview how do universals exist? If they exist only as concepts in the human mind then Steve’s comment is relevant.

  84. Let me head off the all-or-nothing charge by saying that I don’t think that everything in this blog is based on metaphysical mumbo-jumbo (the “former” orientation I described above). The discussion that turns toward what will work and not work in a society falls far from that unproductive orientation. But there are other metaphysical pitfalls, like what is “good” and judgments about what is “natural” or not natural. Much of the 67 uses of “natural” (I didn’t read them all), have to do with conceiving children naturally, as in not IVF). Let’s hope that buried in there, we will NOT find the suggestion that SSM is unnatural. In that debate, we will no doubt go metaphysical/theological.

  85. @melissa

    There are particular things that we call mollusks and people but the universal “mollusks” and “people” are concepts. In your worldview how do universals exist? If they exist only as concepts in the human mind then Steve’s comment is relevant.

    My point is that the sort of criteria we use to make categories like “Mullusks” and “people” make the business of that categorizing a distinctly different endeavor than our task of deciding what marriage ought to mean. Note that we don’t have any forums where people are arguing that Mullusks are people.

  86. @Melissa

    There is a third possibility – that marriage is rooted in human nature.

    While I did say “there are at least two orientations…”, I think that you may have only made superficial changes to orientation #2, the metaphysical approach. Now, we shift to talking about what IS “Human Nature”. Are you proposing a concept that derives from our genetics? Can we find the line between what comes to us genetically verses through environment given that we now recognize environmental “triggers” to genetic material. Is religion natural in that sense? Will homosexual sex fall into the range of qualities deemed “human nature”. How will we know?

  87. Your idea that the state has no legitimate reason to prefer natural conception (comments 53, 55) isn’t part of the campaign drumbeat? Sounds like it to me.

    Really? Where have you heard it expressed?

    The state may indeed endorse SS relationships because the voting public would likely ensure that it did. But here’s the question you need to ask yourself….would society be better off if it turned out to look like this?

    Changing the goal posts are we? Harm or benefit is a completely different issue. I think with regard to SSM, harm is very difficult to demonstrate convincingly for a variety of reasons (and that doesn’t mean there isn’t harm).

    In a society where SS relationships were valued equally with marriages and where most relationships were same-sex, how would that society continue to survive? At some point the inevitable will occur – a dwindling population.

    And a society of heterosexual relationships where no-one chose to have children would be in exactly the same position.

    It makes sense to ensure that this situation never plays itself out. The way to do that is to allow the state to prefer natural conception via marriage.

    Nations are far more endangered by heterosexual couples failing to reproduce – that’s happening now in some countries. It is pure fantasy to imagine a scenario where most relationships are same-sex.

    If you have to resort to such a scenario to prove your case, I think you’ve implicitly conceded the argument.

  88. @tom

    Stephen and others, did you read my new post last night?

    Yes, and as you said, this is “rarely brought to the surface, hardly ever discussed”. These foundational presuppositions are important and so I’m “bringing it to the surface”. Thinking on the level of this material is what can be transforming. It raises a new set of questions and sheds light on our thinking and creates options where there were none before.

  89. Stephen, you sound worried:

    But there are other metaphysical pitfalls, like what is “good” and judgments about what is “natural” or not natural. . . . Let’s hope that buried in there, we will NOT find the suggestion that SSM is unnatural. In that debate, we will no doubt go metaphysical/theological.

    Is there some good reason not to go metaphysical in pursuing the question of what is according to nature?

    Is there some reason not to ask metaphysical or theological questions regarding the good?

    Where else would you hope to find those answers?

  90. @Tom

    you sound worried

    I’m worried because the gays get taken in just before the liberals board ships, trains and airplanes to escape the country only to turn back and see their books being burned in piles in the distance.

    Is there some good reason not to go metaphysical in pursuing the question of what is according to nature?

    Is there some reason not to ask metaphysical or theological questions regarding the good?

    Better thinkers than I have been going at it for 2500 years with no sign of a knock down argument settling the debates. That alone should make us worried about more of the same. The reason is that we need to get down to the business of creating a durable global society and the theological/metaphysical/ideological approach has left our world more bulkanized, not less.

  91. Well no, SteveK. Once someone resorts to fantastic scenarios as you have done to try to prove a point, there is indeed little point in further discussion.

  92. Stephen.

    My point is that the sort of criteria we use to make categories like “Mullusks” and “people” make the business of that categorizing a distinctly different endeavor than our task of deciding what marriage ought to mean. Note that we don’t have any forums where people are arguing that Mullusks are people.

    But your point doesn’t speak to the point being raised by Steve. In your framework how do universals exist? If you can’t answer that there is no point trying to discuss human nature.

    I think that you may have only made superficial changes to orientation #2, the metaphysical approach.

    Then you misunderstand me.

    metaphysical mumbo-jumbo

    Everyone engages in metaphysical philosophising (in some cases very badly). I guess maybe you’re not saying all metaphysics is mumbo-jumbo, but then how do you distinguish between mumbo-jumbo and the rest. In practice it seems to be that people label metaphysics mumbo-jumbo when they don’t like the conclusion and can’t be bothered to understand it enough to make a cogent argument why they disagree.

  93. Everyone engages in metaphysical philosophising (in some cases very badly). I guess maybe you’re not saying all metaphysics is mumbo-jumbo, but then how do you distinguish between mumbo-jumbo and the rest. In practice it seems to be that people label metaphysics mumbo-jumbo when they don’t like the conclusion and can’t be bothered to understand it enough to make a cogent argument why they disagree.

    It has become a sort of therapy for me to try to spot metaphysics at work befuddling me. I’m not beyond it for sure, but I’m working on it.

  94. But your point doesn’t speak to the point being raised by Steve.

    You’ll have to explain why you think I missed his point. How is it that the criteria used to create the word “mullusk” is not different enough to make it a bad analogy?

    What if there never were a Mullusk, would we still have the concept? What does that do to the notion of “universal”?

  95. In practice it seems to be that people label metaphysics mumbo-jumbo when they don’t like the conclusion and can’t be bothered to understand it enough to make a cogent argument why they disagree.

    Spoken like a true metaphysician. I don’t think you get a glimpse of life without metaphysics (and that is about all I get) or you wouldn’t challenge the position with requirements that only make sense from the stand point of a metaphysician. Do you begin to see the irony in asking one who promotes dropping metaphysics a question like “How do universals exist?”? This all serves as example of the paradigm gap that Tom has articulated above.

  96. Stephen,

    Do you see the irony of one who promotes dropping metaphysics making the following statements:

    “Steve K, demonstrates this confusion by bringing “mollusks” and “people” – things that exists as comparisons, as though “marriage” has existence too.”

    “We need little more than history to show that concepts are not transcendental and fixed, they are contingent and man-made.”

    or asking the question:

    “What does that do to the notion of “universal”?”

    I am no metaphysician, that is for sure, but as I said we all engage in metaphysical philosophising.

    Do you begin to see the irony in asking one who promotes dropping metaphysics a question like “How do universals exist?”

    Well, I thought that in light of your comment @97 you were in favour of exposing what, if anything, underpins your beliefs.

  97. @Melissa

    Do you see the irony of one who promotes dropping metaphysics making the following statements:

    No.
    To say Mullusks exist is not a metaphysical claim. To point to history is not to make a metaphysical claim.

    I am no metaphysician, that is for sure

    Only if everything you have been saying is misleading.

    Consider that what you and I are experiencing is that paradigm gap that Tom begins to get at in his “worldview clash” post. The gap is non-trivial. It becomes a “clash” when it is not sufficiently appreciated. You may not actually be experiencing it, now that I think of it. I’m not sure that you see us talking past each other.

  98. Not a metaphysical claim??

    But of course it is. What is a mullusk anyway? (And do we mean mollusk, or is this an alternate spelling?)

    Are you aware of the issue of nominalism and idealism? How is mollusk defined? Is it by reference to some ideal mollusk? Or by some aggregation of particulars?

    And by exist, do you mean as instantiations of some fixed ideal form, or as a snapshot in an evolutionary flow? If the latter, is a mollusk of today the same as one of yesterday or tomorrow?

    What does it take to be an exemplar of a mollusk? What characteristics are essential and which accidental?

    If mollusk is a species, what is a species? Who decides that?

    Those are all metaphysical questions relevant to marriage. I mean mollusks. I mean both.

  99. G. Rodrigues,

    No not being intentionally think here.

    The conclusions that natural lawyers come to are a product of how they envision categorical lines between things. And those lines are not always obvious or intuitive, nor are they always what others would see when observing and grouping like things (even among other natural lawyers).

    Consider again and elderly woman after menopause. There is a sharp distinction to recognize between her kind of infertility and that of a young woman with some reproductive disability. The latter is generally regarded as something to be cured, if possible, while the former is not.

    So why would we not consider the elderly woman to no longer be the type that has “reproductive power”? Why, in deciding what traits of an elderly woman are accidental/essential, must we traverse the hierarchy of types of which she is a member, until we get to her gender?

    The eventual infertility of women is certain – and it appears a part of what a woman essentially is.

    So why not regard the elderly unmarried woman, once she has reached that stage in her life where her reproductive powers are no longer actual, as also passing out of the stage of her life when her power to marry also is no longer actual?

  100. Stephen,

    Consider that what you and I are experiencing is that paradigm gap that Tom begins to get at in his “worldview clash” post. The gap is non-trivial. It becomes a “clash” when it is not sufficiently appreciated. You may not actually be experiencing it, now that I think of it. I’m not sure that you see us talking past each other.

    No, what is happening is that you are clueless as to the metaphysical assumptions lurking beneath your pronouncements and are using your derision of metaphysics to avoid examining them to see whether they are reasonable.

  101. I’m not sure why you think this presents a logical argument. It’s not even an organized argument.

    (a) and (f) both appear to be a restatement of the conclusion/claim, and therefore do not qualify as “arguments”.

    (b) is incredibly vague, but somehow claims that only hetero unions fill some (unstated) biological function. The only two biological functions I can think of that are involved in sex, is (i) sexual pleasure, or (ii) procreation. If the claim is regarding (i), then it’s patently false, and if it’s (ii), then it’s not a separate claim from (d).

    (c) explicitly states it’s not an argument for one type of union over another, and therefore does not lie on the path of a logical series of arguments from premise to conclusion.

    (e) is a claim about society that is made, but no clear connection is made to the rest of the argument, and its premise is at any rate false (since, as (2) points out, many marriages are NOT about procreation, nor is procreation is the sole reason why society seeks to strengthen marriages).

    So as far as I can tell, you used up five letter points to make one single, actual claim, namely that marriage is about procreation. A claim that, in fact, you yourself don’t even accept, since the only possible conclusion would be that only potential procreators (not merely different-sexed couples) should marry.

    Since you do not apply this line of reasoning to elderly marriages, couples who know that one or both of them are sterile, or couples who will actively avoid procreation because of health risks, this would seem to indicate that you yourself do not accept that claim (nor its conclusion), nor for that matter does practically anyone else, which begs the question why anyone would attempt to apply that line of reasoning to the specific case of homosexual couples, when they wouldn’t apply it to the scores of other legal couples to whom it would apply, and against whom no one ever seems willing to argue.

  102. Micah,

    a is certainly a statement of the conclusion. Note that I end it with, “and it is rightly thought to be so because of … ” I could have stated it this way instead: “I am going to argue that marriage is the comprehensive union of a man and a woman, and the argument proceeds thus: … ” That’s logically equivalent to what I did write, and it’s perfectly legitimate.

    f is certainly a statement of the conclusion. That’s what one places at the end of an argument.

    To say that neither of them qualifies as “arguments” is rather strange, anyway. The argument is the connected series of thoughts, b through f.

    You’re right: I did not state b completely, although see the further clarification in d, where I fill out b’s meaning briefly.

    c does not lie on a logical path from premise to conclusion. Again you are correct. Its purpose there is to help clarify what I am not arguing. I’m not arguing that man-woman marriage is unique in the respects stated there.

    e makes a connection to d, so you are incorrect in saying that there is no connection to the rest of the argument.

    You are wrong to conclude that I do not accept this argument, because I disagree that only potential procreators should marry.

    In previous posts on this blog I have explained why marriage should not be restricted in the case of “couples who know that one or both of them are sterile, or couples who will actively avoid procreation because of health risks.” The short version is that the state has no business asking these questions of men and women. It’s unconscionably obtrusive.

    As to whether I apply this line of reasoning to elderly couples, I’d like for you to notice that no one here has explained why I must do so. I don’t think it has any relevance to elderly couples, although I’m certainly willing to find out if it does. The whole point of this post was to request reasons why it does, and no such reasons have been forthcoming.

    If you’d like to answer that question, please feel free; but I’m not going to accept any requirement that I must agree unless someone shows why I should.

    So the invitation is open. Please feel free to explain what you’re thinking.

  103. Tom @114:

    “The short version is that the state has no business asking these questions of men and women. It’s unconscionably obtrusive.”

    How convenient a line you’re able to draw!

    Marriage requires blood tests (in case someone has an STD or certain genetic diseases), but asking if they’ve had a vasectomy or reviewing the application to see if they’re over 80 years old would be obtrusive.

    For now, all same-sex couples should simply apply for a marriage license with a bag over one person’s head: after all, if we can’t determine they can’t procreate without an intrusive test, then we should allow them to marry.

    And, of course, you would agree that if we could test in some simple, non-intrusive way, you would then argue for performing the test and disallowing marriage for couples that cannot procreate?

  104. Marriage requires blood tests

    Really? Is that a requirement in the US? I’m genuinely astonished! It certainly isn’t anywhere else in the world that I’m familiar with (Australia, UK, Germany).

  105. Tom,

    So far there has been no reply to my #52, where I did explain the problem of your approach, and the continued appeal to pragmatics, as a means of avoiding the problematic conclusions of your stated principles.

    So far, it seems, you are just picking and choosing marriage types that you like, and/or dislike to suit your whims.

    Its just as practical an unobtrusive for the state to say to the 80 year old woman, “Sorry, I have no reason that justifies my involvement in your relationship, because you cannot produce children” as it is to say it to a gay person.

  106. Tom,

    In this context, I’m talking about a certain kind of appeal to the practical, that helps somebody avoid the undesirable conclusions a principle they are defending. Meanwhile, the obvious problems with the principle remain unaddressed. In other words, I’m talking about the kind of appeal where a defender says, “Yes the logical conclusions of my principle are not what anybody wants, but circumstances are such that I’d never have to follow through with them completely, so it doesn’t matter”.

    In most cases, SSM proponents want to tell us that babies are the only reason for the government to get involved in a couple’s relationship. Well, then it follows that the state has no interest in marriage-like relationships that will never produce babies, heterosexual and homosexual alike.

    But SSM opponents only want to rule out state recognition of SSM, and not state recognition of relationships between the elderly, or infertile heterosexuals. So we’re offered this appeal, “Well, circumstances are such that I’d never have to prohibit heterosexuals from marriage (b/c of unwarranted government intrusion)”.

    Meanwhile, the problem with the principle – that you say marriage only matters to the state b/c of babies – remains unaddressed. And it leaves the rest of us to suspect, that gay marriage opponents don’t like to actually talk about other reasons the state has an interest in marriage, because then it becomes much harder to continue to rule out SSM.

  107. And I’d also like to point out that you guys are usually quick to jump all over similar appeals in other debates. For instance, when you like to point out to some atheist that his worldview provides no ontological grounding for morality, he will often try to dodge the consequences of that by appealing to the practical, “Yes, but being empathetic, considerate and kind is the best strategy for survival, so its guaranteed that those who have those traits will ‘win’ the evolutionary contest”. In other words, circumstances are such that he doesn’t have to deal with the unpleasantness that his principle *really* leads him towards. And you guys will usually spare not a second to point out the problems with that.

  108. d, the point you’ve raised here just now and in #52 is the clearest and best answer I’ve seen to the question in the OP. Thanks for that. I’ll be thinking it through.

    Meanwhile, from the end of #199, what other reasons does the state have for any interest in romantic relationships, d?

  109. Also, what do you think would be the consequences of the state ruling out marriages between elderly men and women? Do you see any difference between that and the effects of ruling out “marriages” between men and men or women and women? I do.

    Most to the point: if the state’s interest in marriage has to do with preserving and nurturing society’s future, then clearly its interest must be in promoting marriage between persons who can and will accomplish that. We are of course talking about marriage being man-woman in that case.

    The state has no compelling interest in promoting any other exclusive-commitment sexual relationship. So on first glance it might seem that it has no interest in elderly-couple marriages.

    But let’s take this another step. Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that what I have written above is right: that the state’s one interest in marriage is its effect on society’s future, and that therefore it defines marriage as exclusively man-woman.

    Note that this has specific relevance to men and women of childbearing age. Society has a strong interest in those persons bearing children within the context of marriage in the context of marriage, if they indeed bear children.

    Now with that established, then one may ask:
    a) What about obviously infertile man-woman marriages? and
    b) What about same-sex couples marrying?

    Those two questions both imply further questions:

    1) Is there any harm to the state’s interest in the future if these are allowed, and
    2) Is there any benefit to the state’s interest in the future if these are allowed, and
    3) Which of these outweighs the other?

    It’s impossible for me to think of any harm to the state’s interest coming by way of elderly-couple marriages. Maybe there’s a tiny bit less tax revenue.

    What about same-sex marriage? I can see considerable harm there: it undermines the state’s legitimate interest in marriage, by making “just-you-and-me-babe” marriages normative for healthy young persons: persons of childbearing age.

    And the problem with “just-you-and-me-babe” marriages has already been amply demonstrated in the heterosexual population. They don’t last. Frightfully high numbers of hetero couples are divorcing, which must be at least partly attributable to new norms in the past few decades that put the couple’s pleasure and satisfaction at the center of the marriage.

    And gay “marriage” puts that very pleasure and satisfaction at the center of marriage, for healthy young persons of childbearing age. This is damaging to society’s interests.

    One other thing about elderly-couple marriages: a large proportion of them would be between persons who have lived the life of a nurturing, generative, childbearing, future-oriented marriage. They have learned through experience that marriage isn’t “just-you-and-me-babe.” So the marriages they model to younger persons are likely to be giving and outward-focused.

    A same-sex “marriage” is by definition for the couple and their satisfaction. I don’t think the presence of adoptees changes this, except in the minority of gay partnerships created the specifically so that the couple can adopt. My guess is that this is a rather small number.

    So given that there is
    A) a case to be made for man-woman marriage being in society’s interest, and
    B) no case to be made that elderly-couple man-woman marriage undermines society’s interests, and (in contrast to that)
    C) a case to be made that same-sex “marriage” actually would undermine society’s interests,
    I think that elderly-couple man-woman marriage is in line with society’s (and thus the state’s) interests, whereas gay “marriage” is not.

    Finally, it’s clear that banning elderly-couple or infertile-couple marriages would throw massive confusion into marriage law, which would also undermine society’s interest in man-woman marriage.

  110. if the state’s interest in marriage has to do with preserving and nurturing society’s future

    I don’t think anyone has demonstrated this to be the case – certainly it is part of why the state has an interest in marriage – but is it the only interest? That seems doubtful, and yet it appears to be the main premise of this thread’s argument.

    It is in the state’s interest (perhaps even its mandate) to keep its citizens happy (all other things being equal), and so if marriage makes for happier people, then that is a different reason to promote marriage. Similarly, if marriage makes for a more stable society, this is also a reason to promote marriage.

  111. The state has no mandate to keep its citizens happy — how could it, when there are so many competing interests and desires and needs among the citizens? No, society has an interest in keeping the state’s interests to as few and as narrowly defined as possible. Then people can take responsibility for their own happiness.

    It’s also philosophically naive to say that “marriage [undefined] makes for happier people.” Utilitarian ethical theory tried for decades to measure total happiness in the world, and it failed.

    If marriage makes for a more stable society, then that is a legitimate governmental interest. But what if there is “marriage” that undermines marriage? That’s my contention with respect to SSM.

  112. The state has no mandate to keep its citizens happy — how could it, when there are so many competing interests and desires and needs among the citizens? No, society has an interest in keeping the state’s interests to as few and as narrowly defined as possible. Then people can take responsibility for their own happiness.

    It is certainly in the state’s interest to have happy citizens rather than unhappy ones. The founders of the US declared that it is the responsibility of the state to secure the right of citizens to pursue happiness. There are certain things the state can do to make that possible, and to increase the chances it will happen.

    It’s also philosophically naive to say that “marriage [undefined] makes for happier people.”

    What, now it is “philosophically naive” to believe that marriage makes for happier people?? There are a lot of philosophically naive people out there, aren’t there? I bet you’ve argued that point elsewhere yourself.

    Utilitarian ethical theory tried for decades to measure total happiness in the world, and it failed.

    What’s utilitarian ethical theory got to do with whether married people are happier than unmarried people?

    If marriage makes for a more stable society, then that is a legitimate governmental interest.

    The point here is that there are numerous reasons why the state might want to endorse marriage, and the well-being of future generations is just one of those reasons. So using it as a criteria to exclude people from marriage doesn’t seem to be a sound argument.

    But what if there is “marriage” that undermines marriage? That’s my contention with respect to SSM.

    I agree, but the problem is that “undermines” is such a vague term, it doesn’t actually say anything useful. In what ways might SSM undermine marriage? Is there any way of demonstrating that it will?

  113. bigbird,

    1. There is a difference between “keeping” people happy and keeping out of the way of their being happy.

    2. I do not disagree that marriage generally makes for happier people.

    3. I do disagree that marriage [undefined] can be predicted to make for happier people. If marriage is whatever someone claims it to be, then that’s not the same as marriage as it has been known and studied.

    4. The difficulties in the utilitarian calculus have everything to do with whether changes in the institution of marriage make people happy. The utilitarian calculus is the measurement, the determination, of whether and to what extent people are on average (or in total) more or less happy. It is, unfortunately, impossible.

    5. I did not say anything about this calculus, however, with respect to whether married people are happier than unmarried people. My comment was not about “married people” but about “marriage.” It was not about individuals but about an institution. It was specifically about an undefined institution, not about marriage as it has been historically defined. So with this objection you were putting words into my mouth.

    6. There is tons and tons and tons and tons and tons and tons and tons and tons (and a lot besides) of empirical evidence that de-coupling marriage from childbearing, and sex from marriage, and sex from child-bearing, undermines families and harms children. It is massively evident in today’s sex-saturated, divorce-happy, pornography-numbed, hookup-riddled, sexual sitcom-drugged, culture of “you-and-me-babe” relationships, and the dreadfully unhappy, under-nurtured children of those relationships, and the culture of poverty that it promotes, and the seemingly unbreakable cycle of underprivilege that it fosters. The worst aspects of America’s inner city today are largely the fruit of multi-generational fatherlessness. SSM would endorse, extend, and deepen all of this. How is that not obvious?

  114. Having a loving, committed relationship with a roller-coaster sounds like it would make a lot of people very happy (ask Disney). Would that form of “marriage” undermine heterosexual marriage, and ultimately society, if the state were to legally recognize and promote it as equal to heterosexual marriage?

    Is it a stretch to say the answer is obviously, yes?

  115. There is a difference between “keeping” people happy and keeping out of the way of their being happy.

    There is also a difference between keeping out of the way of their being happy, and ensuring that, as best as possible, laws and policies make happiness more likely. I disagree that governments merely keep out of the way – they take an active role in promoting a better society that facilitates our pursuit of happiness.

    I do disagree that marriage [undefined] can be predicted to make for happier people. If marriage is whatever someone claims it to be, then that’s not the same as marriage as it has been known and studied.

    I’m talking about marriage as it has been known and studied, not marriage [undefined].

    SSM might make for happier same-sex couples. That’s a reasonable hypothesis.

    My comment was not about “married people” but about “marriage.” It was not about individuals but about an institution. It was specifically about an undefined institution, not about marriage as it has been historically defined. So with this objection you were putting words into my mouth.

    My original comment was actually about married people, not marriage, although I suppose that wasn’t clear. So I was referring back to my comment. Hence my lack of interest in Mill.

    The main thing I’m trying to address is same sex couples who claim “if marriage is so good for society and the next generation and so conducive to happiness of married people etc, why are you denying it to us?”.

    That’s not an easy question to answer.

    The worst aspects of America’s inner city today are largely the fruit of multi-generational fatherlessness. SSM would endorse, extend, and deepen all of this. How is that not obvious?

    It isn’t obvious. How exactly is SSM going to endorse, extend and deepen all of this?

    For example, it would be legitimate for same sex couples to argue that SSM might make their families more stable. It would be legitimate for them to argue that it might reduce discrimination against same sex couples. This might reduce the gay youth suicide rate. The point is, there are quite a few positive claims that can be made about the result of SSM.

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