If you’ve been watching the news or browsing Facebook it’s been nearly impossible to escape the debate over same-sex marriage.
I actually addressed this issue a while back in a blog post that presented a secular case for defining marriage as the life-long, sexually exclusive relationship of one man and one woman. This was my argument:
What is Marriage?
If marriage is just a relationship between people who care for each other, then of course two men or two women should be allowed to marry. However, if this is what marriage is then we should also extend marriage rights to polygamists, swingers (group marriages), adult siblings, temporary marriages that only last a short amount of time, and friends who do not have a sexual relationship but love one another platonically.
But if marriage is defined as “the life-long, sexually exclusive relationship of one man and one woman” then that explains why marriage involves two people (it only takes two to create children), is not temporary (we need parents to stay together for children), and involves sex (because that creates children).
The relational view of marriage simply can’t explain why marriage is limited in number, involves a life-long commitment (despite the reality of divorce which I'm also against), and is sexual in nature. It merely assumes these aspects of marriage are true and this leaves them open to being changed later.
The Infertility Objection
One criticism of my original post is one that every defender of natural marriage hears. I call it the infertility objection. It goes like this. After showing that marriage is simply the life-long, sexual union of one man and one woman (because that is a stable environment for children), the critic replies that some people who marry are infertile. Should we prohibit a 70-year-old man and woman from marrying since the purpose of marriage doesn’t apply to these infertile people?
My response is “No, because marriage just is the life-long, sexual union of one man and woman, whether they can have children or not is irrelevant.” The critic then responds, “But your whole point was that marriage is for children! What’s the difference between an infertile couple and a same-sex couple? Both can't have children so isn’t it unfair to let infertile couples get married but not same-sex couples?
My answer is that marriage, once again, just is the life-long, sexual union of one man and woman. In the absence of any coherent alternative definition there is no reason to redefine marriage. It just happens to be the case that while marriage is intended for adults who can create children, it unintentionally benefits infertile opposite sex couples as well. Critics are liable to go into a frenzy and say this is unfair and ridiculous. I would caution them against such a strategy because the exact same objection can be launched against same sex marriage.
The Impotence Objection
If the critic says marriage just is the union of two people who love each other in a sexual way, then their position is vulnerable to the impotence objection. It goes like this:
If defenders of same-sex marriage say marriage is simply a sexual union involving two people, because that is a stable environment for a relationship, I would reply that some people who marry are impotent. Should we prohibit two disabled men from marrying since the purpose of marriage doesn’t apply to these people who can't have sex?
The critics may say, “No, because marriage just is the sexual union of two people, whether the people involved can have sex or not is irrelevant. It just happens to be the case that while marriage is intended for adults who can have sex, it unintentionally benefits impotent couples as well.” I will rightly respond,
“But your whole point was that marriage is for sexual union! What’s the difference between two disabled gay men who can’t have sex and two brothers who either don’t want to have sex or are unable to have sex? Isn’t it unfair to let impotent same-sex couples get married but not other couples who love each other and don’t want to (or also can’t) have sex such as two elderly brothers?
Any argument that tries to show impotent same-sex couples should be allowed to marry but adult siblings should not can also be used to show that infertile men and women should be allowed to marry but same sex couples should not. Thus the infertility objection is refuted.
Give Me a Definition
If same-sex marriage advocates want to take me to task for this argument, I’ll be happy to hear their critique. But I want them to fill in this definition:
Marriage, n. ________________________________
If they can’t do that, then I’m not really interested in what they have to say. If they can define marriage AND accept the radical consequences of their definition, including extending marriage rights to siblings, platonic friends, groups of people, or even parents and their adult children, then I would at least respect their consistency even though I wouldn’t share their view of marriage.