Instead of spewing insults and getting into heated arguments, I’d like to propose a better solution to the debate over same-sex marriage. Let’s start from positions bothsides of the debate agree on. Then let’s see whose particular view of marriage best explains this agreement.
There appear to be two different views of marriage that drive the same-sex marriage debate. The conjugal view defines marriage as “the lifelong union of man and woman ordered toward their good and the good of the children they create.” The other view might be called the relational view, which holds that marriage is a lifelong relationship between two people who have romantic feelings for one another.
If defenders of the conjugal view, like me, are wrong, then I hope our critics can correct us so that we will no longer be ignorant. I also hope defenders of the relational view will be open to the same kind of correction.
The only way we can settle the same-sex marriage debate is to find out which view of marriage is correct. If the relational view is correct, then it is certainly unjust not to allow people of the same sex to marry. That is because, under this view, biological sex is not an essential part of the definition of marriage. However, if the conjugal view is true, then two people of the same sex simply can’t get married any more than a circle can have more than one side. A same-sex union simply would not be marriage.
Critics on both sides of the argument seem to agree that marriage involves at least these three elements:
- A union involving two people
- A lifelong union
- A sexual union
I contend that the conjugal view explains these three aspects of marriage, while the relational view merely assumes they are true for no good reason. Since the conjugal view has more explanatory power, it should be the legal view of what marriage is and why only two people of different sexes should be allowed to marry.
Two to Tango
If marriage is strictly a relational agreement between adults, then why not have more than two people? Same-sex marriage advocates might argue that polygamy, or a man having more than one wife, is inherently abusive and exploitive of women, and that is why marriage should be restricted to two people. But this reply is weak on several grounds. First, it would not show polyandry, or one woman married to several men, or self-marriage (marrying oneself) is wrong, since the opportunity for exploitation in these unions would be very low. It also wouldn’t show why group marriage, or marriages involving two husbands and two wives, should be forbidden. That relationship would not be exploitive, since there would be an equal balance of power in the number and sexes of the people involved.
The conjugal view makes sense of limiting marriage to two people because that is all that is needed to create children. This relationship is also best for the children who are created, since they are legally connected only to adults who are biologically related to them, who statistically are the adults least likely to abuse them.
Till Death Do Us Part
We make fun of marriages that only last for 72 days, but why? Most of our relationships in life are not lifelong. We part ways with landlords, teachers, employers, boyfriends/girlfriends, attorneys, barbers, and lots of other people. If marriage is strictly relational, then why not have many marriages that last five or ten years? These marriages could be renewed if they are going well or be allowed to expire if they are not.
Most people think this attitude flies in the face of what marriage is, but the relational view can’t explain why we should have government induced penalties for people who don’t want to be in a relationship anymore. However, the conjugal view makes perfect sense of this requirement.
The reason marriage is lifelong is that children should have parents who are in a stable union with one another through most of their lives. This includes the children’s adult lives, because a lifelong union creates a stable family structure for grandchildren. We’ve seen the impact divorce and fatherless children have had on society, so removing the requirement of lifelong familial unions is not a good idea for progress in society.
Let’s Talk About Sex
To borrow an example from Robert George, imagine a couple who get married and you find out the husband, Frank, is having sex with his secretary. You tell his wife, Jan, who says that’s acceptable because Frank and Jan only promise to be faithful tennis partners. If either one plays tennis with another person, that would be an example of infidelity. A sex romp with a secretary or the pool boy is no big deal.
That kind of “marriage” (or an open marriage) would seem crazy, wouldn’t it? But if marriage is just a relational agreement, then why couldn’t we have marriages like this? What about sisters who love each other platonically and want to spend their lives together without having sex? Why is their loving relationship any less valuable, and less deserving of marriage, than two other women who love each other but also happen to enjoy stimulating each other sexually?
Once again, the conjugal view explains why sex is a part of marriage. It bonds spouses together and creates the children who serve as concrete signs of the spouses’ love for one another. Same-sex couples can have children only if other conjugal unions fail through divorce, death, surrogacy, or Frankenstein-esque science experiments like “three parent embryos.”
The conjugal view of marriage should be preserved in law because it explains why we limit marriage to a lifelong sexual union of two people. If same-sex marriage becomes legal nationwide, this will cause society to endorse the relational view. If the relational view is endorsed, there is no reason marriage should remain a lifelong sexual union between two people. Redefining marriage would create an unstable society and rob children of their right to a mother and father.
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