5,000 years

In the spirit of the season, let's reflect on the words of the Reverend Warren, a man noted for the fact that he, perhaps alone among right wing evangelicals, does not always blame the poor and the sick for their condition.  But that doesn't stop him from being a rather sorry thinker when it comes to homosexuality.  In an interview with Beliefnet.com, he says:

The issue to me, I’m not opposed to that as much as I’m opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.

[Question] Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?

Oh , I do. For 5,000 years, marriage has been defined by every single culture and every single religion – this is not a Christian issue. Buddhist, Muslims, Jews – historically, marriage is a man and a woman. And the reason I supported Proposition 8, is really a free speech issue. Because first the court overrode the will of the people, but second there were all kinds of threats that if that did not pass then any pastor could be considered doing hate speech if he shared his views that he didn’t think homosexuality was the most natural way for relationships, and that would be hate speech. We should have freedom of speech, ok? And you should be able to have freedom of speech to make your position and I should be able to have freedom of speech to make my position, and can’t we do this in a civil way.

In the interest of Christian charity, someone should point out that marriage has not been defined in every single culture as that between one man and one woman.  Sometimes, it turns out, that the Kings of Israel had to have many many many wives and then concubines beyond that (Lucky them, some might add).  Some cultures, get this, define marriage as that between one woman and many men–it's called polyandry–or marriage to many dudes.

Aside from picking and choosing which passages of the Bible to endorse and which cultural practices to remember, the Reverend Warren is confused about the nature of definitions and free speech.  In the first place, he can define marriage however he wants in his church.  No one would force him to recognize the marriage of a brother and a sister (which he considers by the way equivalent to gay marriage).  Recognizing the legal right of two unrelated adults to contract however they want does not entail any alteration in the fabric of the universe of definitions–in the world of Platonic forms, or the divine mind, or wherever these things exist.  Besides, as Warren points out, this particular definition of marriage, on his view, extends back only 5,000 years.  That number of years, even in the relatively short span of human history, is but a drop in the bucket (sidenote: why does Warren repeat "5,000 years"?  Is he a young earther?).

As for freedom of speech, the court "overriding" the will of the people does not ipso facto constitute a violation of freedom of speech.  Sometimes that's the court's job.  And Warren can continue to preach that Gayness can or shoudl be cured in his church.  He has, after all, a right to be wrong.  No one will take that away from him.   

35 thoughts on “5,000 years”

  1. That 5,000 year figure must be at least a flirtation with young earth views. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t believe in evolution. Maybe the earth is older, but 5,000 years ago is when man was created? Is anyone familiar with the views of those who do not believe in evolution??

    Why do you think that the argument Warren is making (that we must protect the sacred, ubiquitous, ancient, and singular definition of marriage) gets made so often? As you point out, the Bible itself is full of non-monogamy. Why does an argument like this persist, one for which much contradictory evidence is available online or in the Bible?

  2. They’re not opposed to marriage because they think marriage should be defined in a certain way. The definition, in a literal sense, does not matter. They are opposed to sexual trangressions within the sexes. Allowing homosexual marriage is an implicit acceptance of sodomy. Thus, when we attempt to reason with people like Warren that all sorts of cultures, including the one that his religious text is founded on, have allowed for polygamy or polyandry, the governing norm in these cases is not challenged, and the counterexample does not persuade them. The ‘definition’ strategy that gay-marriage detractors utilize seems more like a rhetorical device that masks the true intent of the suppression of rights to the GLBT community – the suppression of deviant sexual mores.

  3. Spot-on, Jem. Well put.

    Dagon, I think the majority of young-earth creationists wouldn’t say that the earth is any older, much less 5,000 years older, than humankind.  The belief, broadly construed (there are innumerable nuances) is that the earth, along with everything in it, living and non-living, came to be in 7 literal days.  On this view God literally speaks the earth into existence, along with all the creatures, but man is formed in God’s own image, by God’s own hand, on the 6th day.  Woman is created from a rib taken from man.  This is generally believed to have happened about 10,000 years ago.  As for the 5,000 years figure, I can only surmise that Rev. Warren is apprximating from the time of God’s call to Abraham, marking the inception of the nation of Israel. Past that guess, I am at a loss as to why he chose 5,000 years.

  4. Sounds spot on to me as well, Jem.

    Just to the young earth point though…looks like Warren might actually be a young earther:
    Here’s a link to Warren’s Q&A for people wanting to join Saddleback–there’s a great section on evolution. It’s right after the section that talks about man’s dominion over dinosaurs (sections #29 “What About Dinosaur?” and “Is Evolution Part of God’s Plan”).
    http://www.pamshouseblend.com/upload/Autumn/Saddlebackfamily.comSmallGroupQuestionsAboutSaddlebackChurch.pdf

    I consider myself pretty cynical about organized religion, but I felt a special kind of disappointment reading the dinosaur part.

  5. I see a lot of straw-man fallacies in our commentators’ responses here.  Did Warren mention anything of young-creationism in his quote? Let’s not be lazy in our analysis.
    If you want to bash the guy, there are much better reasons to do so.
    Personally, I think Warren makes a mistake by trying to use “neutral” arguments for his stand on homosexuality. Even if it were true that for 5000 years marriage was defined a certain way, what kind of an argument is that? Just because we defined something  a certain way, it does not mean that it’s right.
    Warren’s presupposition is that God’s word is right and true. Based on this presupposition, homosexuality is a sin.
    I give Warren credit, he does not hide behind the self-righteous wall:

    So why do we hear so much more – especially from religious conservatives – about gay marriage than about divorce?
    “Oh we always love to talk about other sins more than ours. Why do we hear more about drug use than about being overweight? Why do we hear more about anything else than about wasting time or gossip? We want to point that my sins are perfectly acceptable. Your sins are hideous and evil.”

  6. BN- I’m not sure my post was a straw-man. It was an explanation. It may be wrong, and it is certainly oversimplified, but my reasoning behind it is this: if you ask someone who is opposed to gay marriage why they think so, they will offer different reasons than why they are against, say, polygamy. I suspect that they are against gay marriage because of its endorsement of deviant sexual mores or taboos against same-sex sexual relations, and these mores are much stronger than taboos against marrying more than one partner of the opposite sex.

    As far as the “young-earth” speculation on this thread goes, I dont think that the commentators are being lazy in their analysis. They are trying to come up with an adequate explanation for why Warren would talk about “5000 year ago.” Evidence from the Saddleback Church website Q&A seems to point to Warren endorsing “young-earth” creationism. His discussion of dinosaurs is especially relevant for reaching this conclusion.

  7. Jem, I don’t see any straw-man in your post. I would only add that polygamy and polyandry were never encouraged by the Bible.
    Jem, I said that the “young-earth” speculation is a lazy analysis for the simple reason that it is not related at all with the argument that Warren is making.  The fact that he is or not a young-creationist has nothing to do with his argument:
    1. If a we have something defined a certain way for a long period of time, then it must be right/true.
    2. For 5000 years marriage has been defined as between a man and a woman.
    3. Therefore, definition of marriage as a between a man and a woman is right.

    Of course, this is not a valid argument. Not only is #2 not true as jcasey did point out, I also think that #1 is not true either.
    But the “5000 years ” is just a minor detail here.
    If you can show me how young-creationism is relevant in his argument I’ll retract my statements.

  8. it doesn’t pertain to the argument. it’s a sidenote (as casey makes clear). we were just speculating. the definition argument is clearly wrong. there was no need to demonstrate that beyond the simple point that definitions don’t produce arguments (typically).

  9. I even called it a side note!  On another side note:  A Christmas miracle somewhat relevant to this post.  This year I was spared the homily of the local Bishop on the war on Christmas (every year he gripes that (a) people don’t go to church; (b) no one says “Merry Christmas” anymore; and (c) “secular progressivism is the same as relativism (which sucks)).  In his place, a monsignor said to go out and be nice to each other–that was the true message of Jesus.  Now if only those Christians who spend their mental energy thinking of justifications for abhorring others’ self-regarding sexual habits would get the message.

    And yes, Jem, it does seem that when Warren thought through the differences between the Bible’s account of creation and the scientific theory of evolution, he chose the Bible.  On balance, perhaps, it’s a good thing that Warren has come up to the front–it’s given everyone a chance to get a closer look at what he thinks.

  10. Seems to me that the problem is that some people would like to gay relationships to be discouraged because they think that God smote some people for some sexual acts that may or may not have been homosexual. With a certain cynicism they recognize that the democracy they live in frowns upon the imposition of partisan religious beliefs on the population as a whole, so they engage in torturous and tortuous argumentation to clothe the religiously sanctioned prejudice in supposedly secular arguments.

    But the secular argument is atrociously weak, at best appealing to a traditional practice as a legitimation of that practice, and thus begging the question in some form. And the religious argument while perhaps interesting to those who would advocate for capital punishment for adulterers should be neither particularly compelling by itself for believers and certainly not for non-believers. (Though I’m sure there are sophisticated attempts to explain why we should believe that God really really meant the stuff about gay sex, but not about heterosexual adultery, I can’t help but feel that such attempts are disingenuous at best–though perhaps I can be convinced otherwise).

    I think there is also a sort of equivocation on the meaning of “marriage” because of the confusion between the religious endorsement of a relationship and the legal one. So the legalization of gay marriage is understood perhaps by many as the state imposing gay marriage on religion–but of course it does not do so.

  11. Two comments:

    1) I don’t see how the young Earth creationism is a straw man. It can see how it could be an ad hominem, but even then, not all ad hominems are unjustified. If he is indded a young Earth creationist, we have very good reasons to consider his reasoning skills as suspect, just as we would consider the moral arguments of a sociopath with suspicions.

    2) Even if the argument comes down to sexual deviancy, it is an across the boards argument: gay, straight, whatever. Gays, straights, bis all engage in anal sex (not all, but many). So if that is the foundation, then he is arguing just as much against straight couple. His appeal to nature argument, of course, fails for infertile couples as well (not sure if he used that here, but he’s used it before).

    It’s a plain bad argument as it fails because it’s fallacious and it fails because its premises are false.

    Once again I am given further reason to believe that there is no logical argument against gay marriage.

  12. “Not all ad-hominems are unjustified”

    Indeed; the ones I make against those whom I dislike are justified.  The reverse is not.

    Anyway, from a purely rationalist perspective, it is true that the fact that marriage is defined as between men and women exclusively throughout all of recorded history (and this is indeed the case) does not mean that this is the correct definition.  However:

    1.) There is no “correct” definition of anything from a completely rationalist perspective.  Purely empirical reason can only recognize properties, not substances.  If you wish to use moral reasoning, you are arguing that your definition is not “correct” but “imperative”.

    2.) If something is understood one way throughout all of recorded history and in all religions everywhere, that kind of gives a bit of authority to the opinion.  The onus is on the person who wishes to change the understanding.  (Of course, to some, the fact that something is old and universal (and not liberal) only makes it more dubious.)  But even so, arguments from evolution can be proposed.  How is it that not one society that recognized homosexual “marriage” has ever emerged?

    3.) Recognizing homosexual marriage divorces the concept of marriage from children and family.  It makes “marriage” and “family” completely separate and unrelated institutions, each of which can assume as many “alternative” forms as the imagination can contemplate.  Opponents of homosexual marriage do so on these grounds, in addition to opposing homosexual behavior being recognized as a “preference” equally legitimate to heterosexual behavior and denying a heterosexual norm.  This is not bigotry or irrational prejudice, and advocates of homosexual marriage should recognize this.

  13. Regarding marriage being ”defined as between men and women exclusively throughout all of recorded history”: as stated, this is fundamentally misleading. For the bulk of recorded history, marriage in european countries and those otherwise influenced by the Abramic religions was a relation between a man and his chattel property. Later on it became a relation between a White man and a White woman. Still later, it was acknowledged as a relation between a man and a woman of the same race. It was only in the last 40+ years that the fully generic relation that you mention here actually became the norm.

    As for  the claim that, “homosexual marriage divorces the concept of marriage from children and family”, this really a specious claim that is itself rather divorced from anything like an analysis or understanding of history.

    To begin with, this battle was already fought over the introduction of legalized birth-control into the marriage relation (again, something that did not get legalized until the last 40+ years). One need only look over the recent (100 years) history of the idea of “companionate marriage” to recognize the absurdity of this claim, that gay marriage represents the end of the family. This was the same specious assertion made about birth-control: then as now, it remains stuff and nonsense.

    But in addition, one must also overlook the rather manifestly obvious fact that neither child bearing nor child raising is an exclusive matter of hetero couples. Quite aside from in vitro procedures, the matter of adoption cuts both ways — to deny that gay adoption forms a family is equally to deny that hetero adoption forms a family. (Are we to assume that infertile hetero couples are not really married, whether or not they adopt?)

    But for all of that, the greatest disruption to this fairy tale notion of marriage, children and family, has been the introduction of romantic love into the relationship. As chattel baby factories, women existed to help in the maintenance of propertarian relations and political alliances through the manufacture of appropriately legitimized babies. As marriage has become a matter of personal fulfillment — you know, all that absurdist anti-traditionalist nonsense about “love” – it has also become a source of tension and divorce.
    Opponents of homosexual marriage do so on the grounds of a gratuitously — if not viciously — mythologized denial of what marriage has been in the past and the absolutely irrefutable fact that it has gone through enormous changes over history. There is no such fixed norm as they assert, and their claim to the contrary is nothing other than the overt manifestation of their quite bald-faced bigotry and willful ignorance, which any person of integrity cannot help but recognize. One might wish that they would have the integrity to recognize as much themselves, but this is obviously wishing for too much.
    Finally, as for the claim of homosexuality being a “preference” … here again I revert back to my previously noted mention of “willful ignorance.” As this term is typically used, it is simply a code-phrase for the long-debunked nonsense that homosexuality is a choice. Perhaps this is not what is intended in the above, in which case I welcome clarification and invite the author to use a less loaded set of terms in the future. On the other hand, if my preuppositions are correct, then permit me to observe that the only way that homosexuality could possibly be a choice is if heterosexuality is equally one. That being the case, please demonstrate your position conclusively by you, yourself, choosing a different sexual orientation. Please do so now.

    One cannot say “yes” if one cannot say “no.” I know that I chose the shirt I am wearing, because on other mornings I have made different choices. But I most certainly did not wake up this morning and mull over which sexual orientation I would be this day. There is a rather overwhelmingly compelling body of evidence — both anecdotal and scientific — that sexual orientation is like the color of our eyes: something we are born with, something we can deny and disguise, but not something we choose.

  14. Gary is right in one way.  The notion of marriage has been progressively decoupled from family for decades, and birth-control and “easy” divorce have contributed to this, to the point where Americans now see marriage as primarily an expression of fulfillment and love, as opposed to the building block of the family–and, in turn, of society itself–in which love is but one consideration amongst many.  Many opponents of homosexual marriage are “defending marriage” selectively and are mainly against “normalizing” homosexuality, which is to say, having the state recognize homosexual behavior and inclinations as being on an equal moral and social footing with heterosexual ones, i.e. as a matter of preference, free of moral implications.  This is what I meant by preference; I do not hold that homosexual inclinations are chosen.

    But there are two things to consider.  First, no social development has formally decoupled marriage from family in the way homosexual marriage would.  Birth-control did not divorce marriage from family; it just gave parents control over the constitution of that family.  Adoption does not do so either, as many adopted children are born outside of wedlock (or orphaned) and adopted into wedlock.  Married couples are given preference over single “child-seekers”, (with homosexual “couples” coming in dead last when they are allowed to adopt at all).  Adoption is a child-welfare program.  In-vitro is just procreation-by-proxy.  Childless spouses are just that.  But none of these challenge the model of one man and one woman having children.  They are all adjustments on the margins.  (I am actually highly critical of the whole in-vitro thing; but that’s another issue.)

    Easy divorce is another matter, since it’s hard to see something as a bulwark of social inheritance if the whole thing can be scrapped because the wife vaguely feels that she’s not in love anymore; (an astonishing number of divorces are initiated in just that way).  It’s easy to see that this contributes to what I would call a popular misconception of the nature and purpose of marriage, in which children are incidental to the greater purpose of love-expression (which I call putting the cart before the horse).  Homosexual marriage is even worse, as it completely divorces marriage from family by recognizing as married two people for whom natural child-bearing is impossible;  and pro-family groups should be fighting this in order to work to restore modified traditional marriage.

    I say “modified traditional” only because traditionally, women were denied most political rights and certain property-oriented civil rights in the traditional way, not because Gary’s straw-man about marriage being about chattel is true in any way.  Apart from knowing that homosexual “marriage” has never existed anywhere, I know little about cross-cultural marriage; so sticking to the West, women were regarded as wives, mothers, persons, and sex-objects at all times in a very similar way to the way they are regarded now.  What changes is mainly women’s political rights and some issues of property rights, but women were never seen as property in the way black slaves of the colonial era were.  There were no real domestic laws, but that’s because Old Europe tended to think that introducing the state into domestic relations would be a greater evil than the risk of isolated domestic crimes, which were often punished informally anyway.  (Women have fathers and brothers.  Always had, which is one of the many reasons why it’s silly to say that they were ever treated as property.

    With regard to race, what you say is simply wrong.  Europeans colonized peoples, but they also colonized each other, and they recognized family life in their European and non-European conquestes.  The exception is black slavery; but even in the Antebellum US, free blacks married and had famillies that were legally recognized.  Misogenation was prohibited, but that was just a marriage restriction, not a conceptual limitation.  Marriage is still restricted by age, monogamy requirements, parental consent issues (in the case of minors) and–yes–sexual orientation issues.  These are just the legal restrictions.  Informally there are still the considerations of money, schedules, beliefs, religion, and (yes) family, amongst many others.  This did not trivialize marriage, but on the contrary, stressed how serious it was.  It is modern “Love and Convenience” marriage that trivializes it.  Marriage has never been and will never be a “pure” love institution.  This is just a phenomenon of American sentimentalism.  Historically, marrige has been understood as the formation of the family unit which is the building block of society.  And this is important, since no other means has been found to transmit a culture from one generation to the next that has been nearly as effective.

  15. Hi Pauly,

    Thanks for your comments.  Two very quick points.  So what if homosexual marriage “decouples” marriage from reproduction.  I can’t imagine that will have any effect on the vast majority of traditional heterosexual marriages.  People will continue to have these.  No amount of making gay marriage legal will make undermine the foundations of our society as much as people pretending to be something they’re not does.

    I suppose that it would be an aberration on your view if two people incapable of having children were allowed to marry–infertile people, people beyond child-bearing age, etc.

    On the final point, I would reiterate that marriage, divorce, and all of that has been lived in substantially different ways throughout human society.  For the vast portion of human existence on earth, in all likelihood, there was no marriage.  Yet people reproduced anyway, they taught their children and transmitted their culture.

  16. Thank you JCasey!  You make some good points, but I must disagree in two ways.  First, the only alternatives to marriage that I know ever to have existed are Imperial Polygamy and Matriarchy.  Both institutions are far inferior to monogamous marriage in terms of producing stable, productive, and advancing societies.  Matriarchy is the worst, and we can see why in the urban ghetto right now, where matriarchy is becoming the norm, with the vast majority of children being born out of wedlock.  Look at it from a male perspective.  In a matriarchal society, men from an early age learn that their primary social responsibility will be as occasional caretaker for the children of their sisters, cousins, nephews, and nieces: a duty they will share with dozens of relatives.  With traditional marriage, a man learns from an early age that he will be expected to be the primary provider for his own children, whose future will be his equally his and his wife’s responsibility.  Which of these do you think will result in more responsible males?  The answer is evident in the culture of the ghetto.  Unsurprisingly, when men understand that they are free to take multiple lovers with no economic qualifications and not be expected to care for the children, they neglect economic qualifications and take lovers indiscriminately.  Also, just because there are no real economic qualifications to take lovers does not mean there are no qualifications.  The ability to make a decent honest living is a crucial consideration in a traditional marriage culture.  In a matriarchal culture, far less so, with the result being that the qualifications for taking multiple lovers are more oriented towards alpha-qualities, which males naturally will seek to obtain.  Alpha-male qualities involve physical strength, audacity, violence, and recklessness.  A gang-banger is a model alpha.  Result?  High gang-membership, crime, and violence.  Women in a matriarchal culture take on much more responsibility then men, as they are primary (and virtually exclusive) caretakers for their children.  What do you see in the ghetto?  Women outperform men in all academic and professional endeavors.  Higher education and employment levels are evident.  What about sub-saharan Africa, the only other arena where matriarchal culture is common?  The same thing arises.  Men are violent and indolent, concerned primarily with qualifying as sex objects to be desired by multiple partners.  Women work much harder than men.  Society is stagnant and highly dysfunctional.

    Polygamy has its own problems, which is why it has lagely been abandoned.  (Islam allows limited polygamy, but in practice it is nearly unheard of, with perhaps the exception of a few oil moguls.)  Think of polygamy in the U.S. from a woman’s perspective.  Bill Gates is worth roughly $40B, roughly  half a million times the general population.  Thus, purely economically, it would make as much sense for a woman to be Bill Gate’s 500,000th wife as to marry a normal schlub.  If it was not 500,000, but 40,000, it would be no contest.   Gates would be able to devote one million dollars to each wife.  And there are millions of people with serious money in the U.S.  (Not quite Gates money, but very serious.)  They would be able to virtually monopolize women.  You think this is farfetched?  Consider the informal urban polygamy in the rich areas of the big cities.  The rich men take the prime years of multiple women–(the men age, but their second and third wives remain young)–while simultaneously taking multiple “concubines” (mistresses) in the “hookup” arena.  Women largely become the exclusive domain of the “big players”.  Like the matriarchal society, this is simply a matter of people responding to the new incentives of the new system.

    And what of the males’ incentives?  With normalized polygamy, men exist in an all-or-nothing culture where the winner takes all the wives and the losers get nothing.  The result can only be fanatical status-seeking where avarice, corruption, and cuthroat backstabbing is the norm.  And what of modern urban “informal polygamy?”  You think this describes the modern Merryl Lynch culture pretty well?  You ain’t seen nothing yet.

    So yes, alternatives to monogamous marriage have existed.  But they are terrible in comparison and that’s why virtually the entire world has abandoned them.  I don’t know about the “vast majority” of human history.  I have not read up on the anthropology of marriage, but I would suspect that monogamous marriage is older and more common than you think.  Cultures that adopt traditional monogamous marriage have huge competitive advantages over those that don’t, namely much more functional societies.

    And infertile couples?  Yes, they exist, but they only exist because they live in a general culture where marriage is accepted as the norm.  When marriage is nearly universal and traditionally understood, infertil couples exist in an environment that induces them to marry anyway.  When they find out they can’t conceive, they still operate under the rules of marriage, so rather than divorce, they often adopt.  In short, they are an exception that proves the rule.  Note however that infertility has often functioned as grounds for divorced, and that even Abraham bends the rules of marriage when the issue of infertility arises.  So even in this case, the family is not far out of sight.

    Your best point is that homosexual marriage will not affect the tradional understanding.  This may be true; but even so, the institution of marriage will have been formally redefined, and the society will have changed the definition regardless of the popular understanding.  Opponents of homosexual marriage say that it is an oxymoron–a logical impossibility given the traditional concept of marriage.  The argument is not so much that it shouldn’t exist, but that it cannot, unless mattiage is radically re-conceived, which they are against.  Infertile couples are an accident of circumstance.  Homosexual marriage changes the concept out of necessity

    However, I will concede that it is possible, in a society where traditionally conceived marriage is strong for “marriage” to be recognized among homosexuals as an outlier of sorts.  But this can never be more than a form of ritual marriage that divorces the ritual from the underlying substance.  For society to accept this, they would define the institution according to the ritual and not the thing itself.  Ironically, this divorce of ritual from substance is a very common social phenomenon–like Christmas, or the sacrifices of old, we do it long after we have forgotten what it’s about.  Do homosexuals want to “marry” or do they want to marry?  If the former, it’s possible.  But if I were a homosexual, I certainly would not want to be seen as “married”.  I would either want to marry for real or not marry at all, and live in a monogamous union that is distinct from marriage–which is what homosexual “marriage” currently is.

  17. Dear Pauly,

    The “success” of alternatives to the “one man-one woman” definition of marriage is not the question, after all.  Their existence demonstrates that marriage has been variously “defined” over the centuries and across cultures.  Besides, I’m not sure what would constitute “success” in this regard or even how one would measure it in any meaningful way.   I’m even more skeptical of the weak Platonism at work in the concern over the concept or definition of marriage–they don’t exist I think, but if they did, they wouldn’t need our protection–or they don’t need the protection of the laws.  The institution of “monogamous” homosexual marriage does nothing to alter the Platonic fabric of reality, but it does a lot to improve the legal predicament of our fellow citizens and, to repeat, it does nothing to undermine or alter the legal status of people who happen to be heterosexuals who chose to get married in a church.  They’re still married.

  18. The “success” of alternatives to the “one man-one woman” definition of marriage is not the question, after all.  Their existence demonstrates that marriage has been variously “defined” over the centuries and across cultures.

    To put “success” in scare quotes is not appropriate.  First of all, monogamous marriage has defeated the alternatives almost universally.  It is the victor in the evolutionary sense; and it is so for a reason.  It produces more stable, productive, and innovative societies for the reasons I outlined at length.  Also, I neglected to mention the third and fourth alternatives to traditional marriage.  The third is Post-Industrial Western Marriage, in which it makes sense for homosexuals to marry because marriage is understood as a form of mutual personal fulfillment in a sort of union and has not necessarily connected to children or any greater societal purpose.  You can have children in or out of marriage or neglect to have children in or out of marriage; they are unconnected.  This is the vision of marriage that is common in the modern US and in modern Western Europe.  If you are defining marriage in accordance with the modern understanding, you are absolutely right.  Of course the result of this is a plummeting European birthrate that, if allowed to continue unabated, will eliminate the populations of Europe in 5 or so generations.  This will not happen.  You know why?  Because there are some segments in the Post-Industrial West that reproduce.  These segments are the ones that reject the Post-Industrial concept of marriage as romantic fulfillment; in short, the traditionalists (whether Protestant, Islamic, or Catholic).  The moderns will decline as their birthrates plummet; the traditionalists will expand and eventually dominate in number. 

    The fourth is the Clintonian “It takes a village” alternative that was practiced in Ancient Sparta and Modern Manhattan.  Here, the children of single parents are sent to day-care (or in Sparta, some sort of communal farm) while the mother finds a suitable (rich) husband (or in Sparta, practives for combat) which often never happens and she becomes Maureen Dowd (or in Sparta, suffers cultural annihilation). This only works for the very rich (Manhattan) or the very…well…spartan, and it still has deliterious effects that result in disintegration.  This is why traditional marriage has achieved universal dominance.  The alternatives wither away.  They are evolutionary failures.

    Marriage can be “defined” any way one likes.  The question is what definition is better, stronger, and more reflective of reality.  Traditional manogamous marriage has time and again proved that it’s the best, better than the rest.

    The institution of “monogamous” homosexual marriage does nothing to alter the Platonic fabric of reality…

    Yes it does.  It institutionalizes modern Post-Industrial marriage and deinstitutionalizes the traditional idea of marriage.  The government says effectively: We do not recognize marriage as the building block of society and the institution that best preserves and advances society from generation to generation, and that is inextrably linked to having children.  We recognize marriage as an expression of mutual fulfillment amongst sexual partners who say they are married.  The traditionalists do not want this to happen, for the reasons I outlined at length above.

    And by the way, this is just the most formal “nicest” argument against homosexual marriage.  A more informal “less nice” one takes place like this.  If marriage is a vague fulfillment thing, why monogamy?  Why not divorce?  In fact, if you are not fulfilled in a given marriage, it makes perfect sense to divorce and find a more “fulfilling” relationship.  Of course, there is no real reason why an apparently arbitrary contract between two people can create a sort of fulfillment.  This is just American “Romeo and Juliet” sentimentalism.  Cold logic eventually wins out over sentimentalism though, and people will eventually see that there is no there there.  Without the child, there is no real reason to be monogamous in marriage, just as there is no real reason to be monogamous outside of it.  There is no reason not to divorce capriciously, and eventually, there will be no real reason to marry.  There is no natural reason for homosexual males to get married and stay married–given the natural male proclivity for promiscuity and the sterile nature of the relationship–unless they want to adopt and one man assume the wife role and the other the husband role, which is uncommon and rather bizarre.  Homosexual “marriage” is thus an unnatural, illogical thing, more of a parody of marriage than anything else.  I’m skeptical as to whether homosexuals are serious about real marriage.  It is my opinion that they want to be allowed to marry in their continuing quest for homosexuality to be considered perfectly normal and not any sort of aberation.

    In short, to concede homosexual marriage is to institutionalize modern sentimentalist marriage (MSM–apropos huh?).  To institutionalize MSM is to encourage it and eventually normalize it.  To notmalize MSM is to eventually destroy marriage, because MSM is not a strong sensible foundation for the institution, but a sentimental “Romeo and Juliet” fancy.  The family is the only real raison d’etre of marriage.  As much as I am in favor of love-marriage and choice marriage and romantic marriage, these are inessential luxuries.  Family is the meat and potatoes of it.

  19. Dear Pauly,

    I would say that your causal analysis of “success” deserves rather more derision than the quotation marks suggest.   Even more worthy of parody of course is the slippery slope–if gay people have legal rights x, society falls apart!  Not likely.  Gay people have always existed.  Their gaining the myriad legal rights and obligations (i.e., not only the  “vague fulfillment thing”) consequent upon legal marriage does nothing to reorder the universe.  For one, the people getting married are presumably already gay anyway, and, as far as I understand it, they haven’t yet prevented the dominance of Western culture.   For two, the Pope can continue to call what they do sinful and unholy.  For three, people are already promiscuous and not monogamous, King David shows us they likely have always acted this way.  We can’t blame that on gay people.

  20. If JCasey thinks that the cultures of the urban ghettos and Sub-Saharan Africa, where matriarchal culture is dominant or increasing in dominance, and where women carry the overwhelming load of labor and indolence, violence, and war is the norm amongst men, are in no way less successful than cultures where Traditional Monogamous Marriage (TMM) is dominant–i.e. the vast majority of the U.S., China, Europe, Japan, Mexico, and virtually every remotely functional society in the world–than my recommendation is for JCasey to live for six months in the worst ghettos of Detroit or in Sub-Saharan Africa under the conditions of the general population.  If it’s Detroit, I’m setting the over/under on how many times Casey will have to get mugged before ceasing with these delusions at around eight; (it’s high because I sense a rather strong commitment to rather immoderately egalitarian fantasies).  If it’s Sub-Saharan Africa, a few bad times with AK-47s should do the trick.  (Unfortunately, what I feel will actually happen is that JCasey will continue to moralize glibly about how equal everything is while taking extra special care never to remotely approach something that might be “less equal”.  For further reference, consult liberals-Public Schools.)

    Furthermore, the evolutionary success of TMM is simply a self-evident point of fact.  You can’t dispute that TMM is practiced nearly universally and has been for some time.  It is the decisive Darwinian winner by knockout.  There is a good reason for this.

    Concerning how homosexuals are marrying anyway and only want certain rights conferred by legal marital status, first, I don’t reject the possibility of Civil Unions of some sort.  This comes with its own problems, as every non-marital arrangement (communal living? roommates? shacking up?) will theoretically be eligible for legal privileges.  This is a separate discussion entirely, worthy of exploration in its own right.

    Concerning how “worthy of parody” is my alleged contention that gay marriage will lead to a slippery slope that will result in the end of the world as we know it, I actually feel fine with my argument (though not with JCasey’s straw man).  I have not made it as clear as I should have that the currency of the homosexual marriage campaign is a symptom, not a cause, of the decline of TMM.  (If TMM were not in decline, no one would seriously entertain the idea of homosexual marriage.)  Marriage, I have conceded, has been progressively reinterpreted for the last several decades (since the end of WWII) as primarily a romantic institution, with family and social concerns being incidental.  If JCasey does not believe that this has serious consequences, JCasey is not paying attention.  The more entrenched the Modern Marriage Concept is, the lower marriage and fertility rates go.  Demographers have documented that the more progressive an American state is, the less time is spent by the average person in marriage, and the less children people have; (and yes, I am using liberalsim in general as a proxy for Post Industrial Marriage, and I really don’t think this should be particularly controversial).  Conservative Utah has the highest birthrates and marriage rates amongst whites, Manhattan is very low on both lists.  (I’m using whites as the point of comparison because different ethnic populations have different fertility rates, so aggregate results will reflect different ethnic profiles of different states insead of the behavior of each ethnic group.  In essence, I’m trying to avoid Simpson’s Paradox.)  Progressives around the world are notorious for low marriage and fertility rates, which is why their numbers will decline in a few generations and the world will again become as unprogressive as it has always been.  JCasey may find this Darwinian logic unsettling, but it continues unimpeded regardless of what anyone thinks.  Facts are indeed stubborn things; no one has yet been able to convince E to equal mc^3; and the facts are in: the more progressive marriage gets, the more it declines as an institution, for reasons I have outlined earlier.  So no; it is not homosexuals’ fault; but homosexual marriage, in order to make any sense, is dependent on the Progressive understanding of marriage.  If one fights against the progressives and for TMM, one cannot accept homosexual marriage as a matter of logical necessity.  It has nothing to do with what the Pope says.

    Concerning the alleged rampant promiscuity throughout history, and the contention that monogamy was always a pretense, this is simply false and silly.  How many wives David and Soloman had are irrelivant to the discussion.  (Isaac Newton died a virgin, so I guess no one ever had sex.)  Wherever TMM has been practiced, monogamy has virtually always been the norm and adultery the domain of a conspicuous–often rich–minority.  (King David fits both qualifications rather well.)  Even fornication has historically been looked down upon and discouraged until fairly recently.  I believe the average number of sexual partners per American is even today around five, which leaves precious little room for mistresses and harems.

    So in short, TMM is the best thing going, and it is probably an essential component of prosperity and progress; the alternatives are terrible in comparison and should not be adopted; homosexual marriage is antithetical to TMM, so it cannot be adopted if TMM is to be restored; other practices, like easy divorce, unstigmatized illegitimacy, and acceptance of very high levels of promiscuity, also weaken TMM and should thus also be discouraged or ended; Civil Unions for homosexuals should be discussed, but they carry their own problems.

    And finally, the ghettoes of Detroit are not nice places to live, and we should not encourage the trends that made it so, nor should we indulge ourselves in glib moralisms about equality in those contexts where inequality is emphatically in evidence.

    That’s the nutshell.

  21. I’m fine with my neighborhood in Chicago thanks very much.  Anyway, your causal analysis  is ridiculously simple minded  and your cultural evolutionary theory is frighteningly shallow.  By all accounts, the dissolution of marriage hasn’t caused Detroit’s or Africa’s problems.  But let’s not dispute that any more.   I think we agree enough on the basic issue (legal equality is desirable), you just cling to some strange notion that the institution of marriage will be redefined if certain people who never would participate in it are allowed to share in the legal rights consequent upon it.  What your concern over that is defies the imagination.   If anything, the intense desire of some people to share in the enduring stability of that notion seems to reinforce your silly cultural Darwinism.  Nonetheless, you can continue to insist on the superiority of monogamous heterosexual marriage–the existence of which will continue unchallenged in the face of homosexual “marital” unions.  In the end, perhaps your considerable intellectual energy ought to be spent arguing against divorce.  Good luck with that.

  22. You really are missing my point completely.  I have repeatedly said that homosexual “marriage” is a SYMPTOM and not a CAUSE of the redefinition of marriage from a family/society institution to an individualist one that has been going on for DECADES.  (Thus, when you state that I “cling to some strange notion that the institution of marriage will be redefined if certain people who never would participate in it are allowed to share in the legal rights consequent upon it” you are simply misrepresenting my view completely–though it is a nice verbal construction.)  I have given my reasons for rejecting modern individualist marriage in favor of traditional family/society marriage.  My rejection of homosexual “marriage” is a necessary consequent of rejecting sentimental/individualist marriage, because from the traditional perspective homosexual “marriage” is an oxymoron.  Homosexual marriage is the cart, not the horse here; and I’ve never claimed otherwise.

    You can call cultural Darwinism “silly” as much as you like.  The fact remains that certain cultural customs produce evolutionary advantages over others, in the same way that genetic adaptations do, and that there is really no reason to think otherwise.  It’s not really an argument; it more property lies between a tautology and a self-evident fact.  Agricultural societies overwhelmed non-agricultural ones; industrial societies overwhelmed non-industrial ones, aggressive societies tend to overwhelm pacifist ones, monogamous marriage took over the earth; and where monogamous marriage gets liberalized, marriage and fertility rates plummet.  The best argument for this is the “Look at it” argument.  (Note that I’m not a social Darwinist.  I don’t think that “survival of the fittest” is a good organizing principle of society, only that it exists and it has to be considered.)  Also, the problems with Detroit’s ghettos stem largely from the normalization of illegitimacy and consequent decline of marriage.  I’m of the persuasion that this is the primary cause.  And I’m really not getting your love of divorce.  Most people are not fond of it and realize that the social effects of easy divorce are purely destructive.

    Where you stand on some of these topics actually interests me, since you have not actually stated positions on many of these things other than to disparage mine rather fatuously.  It’s possible that you think illegitimacy and the decline of marriage have nothing to do with the problems of ghetto culture.  It’s possible that you think cultural competition somehow does not exist, and that some societies cannot adopt customs that allow them to out-compete other societies.  It’s possible that you think Paul Begala owns the Brooklyn Bridge.  All three propositions are equally plausible in light of the overwhelming evidence pointing to the contrary.

  23. God, what a big freaking mess of equivocation. I think there are about 8 different meanings to the word “marriage” here depending upon the argument that you want to make.

    But leaving that aside for the moment, the fact that individualistic marriage has essentially trounced “traditional marriage” might imply on your own presuppositions that it is more successful and therefore since it legitimates homosexual marriages, homosexual marriage should be supported. (I being a tiny bit facetious here).

    Yes I know, there will be an ad hoc argument that all society’s ills come from people not having children in wed-lock–an argument that I would say rests on false cause or oversimplifiied causes, since I know plenty of people who have grown up healthy, hale, and decent with one parent, or three parents, or two parents with the same naughty parts, or parents who didn’t have children themselves, etc. This, of course, does not disprove the causal claim that you are making, but to my mind, since there are many other causal elements to an intellectually adequate story about social dysfunction (alternatively abling?) in poor marginalized neighborhoods (which isn’t to deny the possiblity that any adequate story would make some mention of the role of sexual relationships), but it does suggest strongly that you cannot argue that traditional marriage is more successful than alternatives from this truncated analysis.

    The point about cultural evolution that J. was making concerned your use of it. Whether or not Darwin’s ideas about natural selection can be applied to cultural practices is not clear (Dawkin’s memes would argue so), but at least, it needs more careful application than the the ad hoc appeal to support your views. David Buller has a really nice piece of evolutionary psychology and marriage in his book Adapting Minds, that might at least chasten, the attempt to argue that monogamous relationships are somehow “more fitted” for survival. As I suggest above, it looks to me like equality in marriage, allowing the relationship to be decoupled from its traditional injustice–i.e., its  “modernization” is winning this battle despite your hand-wringing over birth-rates. I’m not particularly persuaded that that makes it “better” or more “adaptive” or whatever you are claiming in your quasi-Darwinian lanuage, but, without some contortions its hard to see why your quasi-Darwinian argument would work for traditional marriage.

    As for Divorce–I’ll give it some love . Although we surely don’t have it figured out properly–too much nonsense left over from “primitive marriage forms” 🙂 that makes ending relationships more complicated than they should be (and by primitive marriage forms I mean to point to the injustice embedded in our laws and customs left over from “traditional marriage”–the substantial economic disadvantage that many women suffer in the relationship that makes for unequal power distribution in most relationships.)

    As for the population argument: Educating women is statistically connected to lower birth rates. . .. (probably also to “modern marriage”). The causes of declining birth rates once again are more complex that turning away from “traditional marriage”–and even if it is a way of expressing a whole host of social changes and developments from the “breeder” status of women in the past, I’d be happy to give it some love here too. Hopefully the rest of the world will jump on board this “modern marriage” thing, educate women, provide freedom and opportunities to them, and decrease the birth rate. That might even legitimate homosexual marriage!

  24. (In the middle of replying Colin replied so some of these may repeat.  I’d second his points about the oversimplified causal story here.)

    I think I understand your point just fine.  I think you’ve made it clearly.  I think it’s just woefully wrong.  This does not mean, of course, that I endorse the opposite of your views, or that I like illegitimacy or divorce. 

    You seem to place a lot of stock in the causal function of marriage vis a vis “successful” societies.  That seems to ignore the myriad other more relevant factors that allowed various cultures to dominate others over the history of humanity.  Besides, TMM rather oversimplifies notions such as “marriage” as it has been and is practiced around the world. 

  25. I may have made too much over the causal elements of TMM and its global dominance.  Then again, I may not have.  I really think you are horribly underestimating the debilitating effects of polygamy and illegitimacy on societies; and I think egalitarian and presentist biases are leading you to do so. 

    Colin raises some good points about the other causes of fertility decline and the “good parts” of modern marriage.  However, while it is true that education causes fertility decline, it generally does not have that much of an effect on marital decline.  Utah, Iowa, and several other states boast high educations for women and high marriage rates (as well as high fertility rates).  There is an X factor at work here that is keeping birth rates and marriage rates low in Europe and Manhattan and high in Utah and Iowa.

    I would ask that I not be mischaracterized as supporting a “breeder” view of women.  I made that distinction far earlier in this thread.  I like choice/love marriage.  I like education for women.  In fact, by historical standards, I’m a radical egalitarian.  (The difference is that JCasey is a fanatical egalitarian by historical standards.)

    Of course, there is one question I would ask.

    If marriage becomes an individualist/sentimentalist phenomenon, decoupled from family and society, then what really is the point of marriage?

    The only reason I would ever get married is for the sake of a healthy upbringing of my children.  Other than that, I have no incentive to do so, assuming I could otherwise find people to invite to my funeral.  If get married anyway, out of cultural habit/expectation, there is no reason for me not to divorce when the thrill dies down, except that it would hurt the healthy upbringing of my children.  There is no reason to ban adultery, except that it would lead to cuckolding and mistrust and threaten the marriage and in turn the children.  (People for some reason think that prohibitions against adultery are arbitrary restraints on sexual freedom imposed by–I don’t know, the patriarchy maybe?–when in fact they are very purposeful restrictions aimed at preserving social tranquility.)

    The entire institution of marriage revolves around family and society.  None of its rules and customs make sense without it.  We take for granted the rituals and practices of marriage we have inherited and forget the point behind them.  Modern marriage is empty ritualism, and empty rituals weaken and die.  This, IMO, is what is happening in Europe and in progressive areas in the US.

    What has this to do with homosexual marriage?  Not much actually.  In practice, cultural institutions are often inconsistent, and it is possible to formally define marriage in a modern way while TMM assumptions remain operational in the mass of society.  Except that TMM is being assaulted by modernism on all fronts, so I’m not thrilled about helping in the assault on this front.

  26. And yes, increasing divorce and illegitimacy amount to marriage weakening.  And marriage around the globe might be infinitely complex.  The fact remains that family is always a central concern of it, and that homosexual “marriage” has never been conceived in any of it at any time, ever, until very recently.  If you can point out a difference that is germane, you are welcome to do so.

  27. “If marriage becomes an individualist/sentimentalist phenomenon, decoupled from family and society, then what really is the point of marriage?”

    Well, the point is to express an intention to the longer term care of another. This caring relationship may have its result in children, or joint works of poetry and basketweaving, or whatever else the members of the relationship are interested in producing. Hopefully it also makes possible child-rearing if the couple so chooses and irrespective of the shape of their naughty bits. So there are lots of reasons to express long-term personal commitment even for those of us who do not have children or even perhaps do not expect to have children.

    “The entire institution of marriage revolves around family and society.  None of its rules and customs make sense without it.  We take for granted the rituals and practices of marriage we have inherited and forget the point behind them.  Modern marriage is empty ritualism, and empty rituals weaken and die.  This, IMO, is what is happening in Europe and in progressive areas in the US.”

    Institutions (except the supreme court) change their meaning with society. And yes some of the rules and customs make no sense without reference to family and society: many of them make no sense anyway you look at it– legal murder adulterous wives, the police returning abused women to abusive husbands as “property,” or carrying the new bride as your property into your house, wife taking husband’s name. Yeah, most of the traditional ceremonies and institutions need considerable cleansing in order to not be as morally offensive as black-face.

    But the point is that if it is the case that person x and y marry when they enter into a relationship without the intention to raise a family, or better, without the intention to procreate themselves, then it should not matter by the definition of marriage what sorts of naughty bits x and y possess (hell, or want to possess for that matter).

    My point about the language of “breeders” and drawing attention to the injustices that have constituted “traditional marriage” is to point out that “traditional marriage” has all the historical seriousness of “traditional Christmas”–largely a series of myths that hearken back to some nonexistent golden age to legitimate current practices–aside from a few throw-backs, essentially no one today in the developed world holds to a “traditional marriage.” When people use that word they are just cherry-picking things they like (their partner’s genitals, their usefulness for procreation, the white dress, the wedding presents, etc.) and ignoring what they reasonably do not like (the wife is property, the wife cannot own property, the wife is “for” reproduction/raising children, etc.)

    Fortunately I think we are in the middle (40-100 years so far depending on how you count) of a messy process by which we are jettisoning the primitive and ignoble dimensions of traditional marriage and recreating it in respectful and just forms. I think “traditional marriage” whatever we might imagine that to have been is thankfully dead and buried in modern society, except for a few romanticized holdovers. (Of course, everyone will claim that they uphold traditional marriage, but compare it to the notion of marriage in 19th century england, or the bible, and no one can seriously claim more than a cherry picking of ritual and conventions to suit modern prejudices.)

  28. Colin, my friend, you have made my point for me!  Why on earth should the government officially recognize my “caring long-term relationship” with someone and confer special rights, privileges, and obligations based on this relationship?  Why should the government institutionalize this particular relationship any more than my B-F-F-hood with my best buddy Dave?  Does the government officially recognize Brenda and Eddie when they go steady in High-School or College?  In that case, what’s the point of doing so when they’re in their thirties?  Furthermore, upon what rationale do you contend that such loving and enduring relationships must be limited to 2 people?  After all, if two men can love each other, three men and 2 women can start a communal amorous society based on real authentic 100% Pure True Love.  If “caring” is the point, the two-person limitation is as arbitrary as the man woman limitation.

    Colin, you just put the cart before the horse in a huge way with marriage.  The only reason why marriage exists is because it has developed side by side with the nuclear family as the building block of society and the principle means by which society preserves itself from generation to generation.  Societies historically recognize marriage for only this reason.  Society has nothing at stake in 2 (or more) people “going steady” no matter how authentic their feelings are for each other; and it would be pointless to legally recognize such an arrangement.  Thus, to call this marriage is simply to turn marriage into a pointless and empty ritual, and eventually to destroy it.  Somewhere along the line, Colin, you heard Whitney Houston’s powerful rendition of “I Will Always Love You” and were led to the erroneous sentimentalist understanding that marriage is about “Love and Happiness” and that life and love are one and love should conquer all, or something of the sort.  Again, I support Love Marriage and Choice Marriage, but I have enough sense to understand that marriage has always been a complicated business in which love is one of many issues, including money, religion, and especially family.

    And forgive me for saying this Colin, but your derision of traditional marriage (and of Christmas for that matter) is simply the product of a mind-blowing, cosmic degree of ignorance, presentist arrogance, personal bias, and ideological prejudice of the type that generally holds that good persons did not exist until Martin Luther King came along and all of the evil sexists, racists, homophobes, lookists, ageists, hygienists, publicists, oppressors, and xenophobes began to be opposed by the righteous paragons of secular, politically correct liberalism and to fight the giant atrocity of The Past—All of It.  I present it as a parody because your post reads like one.

    I have no problem with modifying certain aspects of traditional marriage, and with reform in general, and when you provide a useful criticism of traditional marriage other than the parade of horribles and list of you put up, (i.e. something with perspective and balance and not a pre-selected greatest hits album of the worst atrocities of the past) perhaps that will be discussed.  The question here is the existential “what is marriage?”  Your love answer is obviously inadequate.

  29. I suppose the government should recognize it as it recognizes all sorts of partnerships–LLC’s not for profits etc., because it is socially useful. It provides a framework for raising children in a typically efficient way, it also provides people with a form of intimate relationship that has typically been provided by the nuclear family but which need not be. And so yes, there are plenty of other relationships that should be given the same sort of legal recognition in order that we are each supported and cared for by others who know us intimately. The social benefits of this are legion, and only tangentially connected to breeding. (Viz., lifetime partners being denied accesss to dying lovers in hospitals etc.).

    So I do not conced that I have “made your point”–in fact the opposite. There is a considerable social utility for sanctioning some relationships in all sorts of different ways throughout society (guardians, doctor-patient relationships, the list is long). Whether or not these relationships should be given economic consideration, or whether only those relationships that bear offspring should be (i.e. whether the government should pay people to breed as they do now or not), is a different question entirely. But there are plenty of good reasons out there that justify the legal and social recognition of long-term relationship other than breeding.

    To say this is not to say that the government should “sanction” you and your BFF–that’s obviously not implied by the claim that the government should recognize long term relationships of some sort of another. And the fact that the dividing line isn’t clear isn’t a problem either–it isn’t clear now since all sorts of reasons motivate marriage (legally sanctioned relationships)–i.e. immigration marriage, health insurance marriage. Which is to say that people and societies have lots of reasons for having marriage (for much of its history, acquisition of property, though this has sadly been jettisoned by defenders of tradtional marraige.)

    And again my point is that this is reasonable, it does not auger the end of civilization, and so it undermines the premise of your argument.

    The fact that societies have endorsed certain relationships does not have one reason or one cause. At most marriage has some sort of “family resemblance” definition that would allow in many different contexts different properties to be salient. And, to point out that “traditional marraige” has for much of its history been a social structure of oppression and functional slavery is not to deny that good things may have resulted from it.

    I don’t need to present, nor am I interested in a “balanced critique” of marriage. I think there are obviously good things in the social structure and bad things. I just balk at the selective and fanciful conception of “traditional marriage” that is anything but traditional.

    What we are arguing about here is two competing modern conceptions of marriage. One that says that procreation is its purpose (functional definition), and therefore childless couples are not married and homosexuals could never be married (well, until technology allows us to fertilize and egg with another egg!). And one that says that there are lots of reasons and lots of purposes for marriage, and therefore, we should allow people equal opportunity to form the social relationships that they think will lead to flourishing lives, and if the government gives priviliges to one form it should have a good reason for not doing so to other relevantly similar forms.

    The problem is that the position you’re taking needs to make procreation a necessary condition for marriage, or at least intention to procreate. And I have never heard that that was a requirement. You give your blood type–but do you have to promise to try to have kids? Perhaps, it’s just understood? (nudge, nudge, wink wink?). Well, a lot of people don’t seem to understand it that way, so maybe it should be made explicit as part of the contract (Do you Manly man take this womanly woman to be your lawful wedded wife, i.e., do you intend to take this woman.  . . .to have children.) I know a couple who married and did not intend to have children but intend to be life long foster parents. Is that close enough? I suspect not, since the care-giving has to be of biological chilldren or we can’t exclude homosexuals from marriage (which is it seems the point of the argument).

    I would argue that the modern “love based” conception (or whatever we are callling it) stands very well on its own, is as coherent, determinate, and defensible as the modern “biological imperative” conception (= your “T”MM), and so can’t be dismissed as you attempt with slippery slope arguments. Further, it makes better sense of many relationships that we typically think of as marriage. It does have the, to many, unwanted consequence that homosexual marriages deserve any priviliges that heterosexual ones do. Finally, I think most of the “corrections” to the injustices of TMM have come from the gradual implicit adoption of it.

    The analogy with xmas (about which I was not, by the way, being dervise) is meant to underscore that the notion of a “traditional xmas” is an invention of advertisers in the early 20th century and earlier and invention of Victorians. Most of the “traditions” are no older than 100 years. There’s nothing wrong with that. There is something wrong with pretending that this is what xmas was all along. (I actually find myself more taken with the pre-Victorian view of the xmas-season as penitential, than the “Ra Ra Jesus” conception of advent we have developed since then.)

    Bravo on the penultimate paragraph! 

  30. From here:

    Well, the point is to express an intention to the longer term care of another. This caring relationship may have its result in children, or joint works of poetry and basketweaving, or whatever else the members of the relationship are interested in producing.

    To here:

    Because it is socially useful. It provides a framework for raising children in a typically efficient way(!!), it also provides people with a form of intimate relationship that has typically been provided by the nuclear family but which need not be.

    In one post! At this rate, I’ll be begging you to cancel your subscription to The 700 Club in a week!

    Yes!  Marriage exists because it is socially useful!  But why is it socially useful?  Is it so because it might, but need not, be the basis for the nuclear family?  You need not skirt around this Colin.  It is useful because it does form the basis for the nuclear family.  If you somehow abstract family from marriage, you will end up with a pointless, arbitrary partnership that has no basis in nature and serves no real purpose, (though your contention that marriage has improved as the old concept has died down and the new concept kicked in is interesting in its own right; and I would offer a qualified agreement.  My “T”MM thing is indeed rather modern in many ways.  Here’s the catch, though; in my book, the “T” simply means the understanding that marriage is primarily a societal phenomenon revolving around family, not an individualist one revolving around sentimentality.  My apocalyptic scenarios and augurs of doom are based on what would happen if marriage and family were truly decoupled in concept.)

    Regarding the “other relationships that should be given the same sort of legal recognition” You may feel free to petition your government concerning a type of relation you would wish to legally recognize and the societal benefits derived from this recognition.  You may also feel free to campaign for hospitals to change their visitation policies.  However, don’t go around calling these arrangements marriage.  Lord knows that there might be some social benefit to Dave and I being recognized by the government as BFFs forever.  However, this does not mean that Dave and I are hibby and hubby.  There are, as you said, different sorts of partnerships, each of which serve different functions.  Marriage is the basis of the family, the basic unit of society.  BFF-hood and LLCs serve altogether different purposes.

    I have never said, nor would I ever say, that childless spouses are not legitimately married.  The institution of marriage is distinct from the purpose of marriage, and—like all institutions—carries out its purpose imperfectly and indirectly, in the process developing a life of its own.  The childless couple engages in the institution of marriage without representing its ultimate purpose, demonstrating the distinction between the two.  Admitting homosexual “marriages”, on the other hand, does not demonstrate the distinction between the institution and the purpose, but divorces them from each other.  As I keep saying, an institution divorced from its purpose is an empty ritual that is bound eventually to dissolve; and not only do I doubt that modern sentimentalism is a solid foundation for marriage (look at the lower marriage and high divorce rates) I also deny that it is of any value at all.  I truly couldn’t care less for perpetual devotion to one person in its own right for its own sake.  (Whether I believe in love is another matter.)

    It is also this distinction between the institution and the purpose that answers your objection about “Green Card Marriage” and paying people to reproduce.  First the latter:  currently, the U.S. government does so pay people to reproduce, in the form of tax deductions for dependents.  (And guess what!  The offer is mainly directed at married couples!  Hmmm!)  In Israel, which is engaged in a fertility war with Palestine, the exhortation to reproduce is rather evident.  Reproduction is a serious business that you—ensconced in the assumptions and prejudices of modernity—seem to take for granted.  If marriage is not sufficient to keep a nation going, other initiatives emerge quickly.  Most people feel that Green-Card Marriage, while “legal” is an affront to the institution, an abuse of marriage, and a form of immigration fraud.  I myself would not rule out subjecting green card spouses who don’t even make a decent pretense to living in matrimony—let’s say the “wife” lives in Cleveland with relatives within a week while the “husband” stays in Chicago—to fraud charges.

    So to review:

    Marriage, as you admit, is a social institution with a social purpose, which, as you admit, is intimately tied with family.

    Associations unrelated to the purpose of marriage can definitely be legally recognized, but they are not marriage, just as associations unassociated with the environment (Ford) can be recognized, but they are not Environmental Organization.  (Actually, a homosexual couple claiming to be married is roughly analogous to Ford calling itself an Environmentalist Group.)

    The fact that an Institution in practice is distinct from its purpose and often develops a life of its own, does not mean that the institution can be severed from its purpose.

    The fact that an institution with the same purpose is practiced differently in different places and sometimes abused does not negate their common purpose in both places.

    And interesting question would be this: if marriage as an institution has taken up a life of its own, and come to mean many things, why not simply accept the contradiction and allow same-sex marriage anyway?  Inconsistencies are common in institutions, and they might even give them breathing room from a totalist methodological purity.  That would be interesting, but my point is simply this.  It is possible to rationally and legitimately oppose same-sex marriage on the grounds that is a contradiction in terms without casting any judgment on homosexuality itself.  If I were to accept the inconsistency and oppose it anyway, I would have to challenge the claim of equal validity between heterosexual and homosexual relationships, which is another topic for another day.

  31. “The fact that an Institution in practice is distinct from its purpose and often develops a life of its own, does not mean that the institution can be severed from its purpose.”

    But that’s just what’s at stake.  You are argue that marriage’s purpose is procreation. Your evidence for this is opinion of many, a selective notion of “traditional marriage”, and an argument from the social utility of marriage.

    I argue in contrast that the institution need not be “severed” from an original purpose in being defined and redefined in a number of ways. Since its purpose was multiple and has changed over its history (thankfully), appealing to tradition selectively as your argument does does not justify a thing. (Instead it reveals the assumed value judgments of the selector–why define “traditional marriage” by male on female action rather than by subservience of one party to the other? Well, because the definer values that and doesn’t value the other?)

    Secondly what goes by the name marriage has many social utilities and since we recognize non-procreative marriages as marriages, we have no reason to hold the possibility of procreation as a necessary condition for marriage.

    I think it is possible to argue against same-sex marriage without explicitly casting any judgment on homosexuality, I just find the torturous logic of such argument so obviously flawed as to beg for explanation by some other motive. I think if you assume that man on female action is the essential characteristic of marriage then sure you can have an argument against same-sex unions. The question is why assume such a thing? There are two reasons you give above, and neither are particularly compelling ((a) it’s always been that way (b) it’s useful for society). The first often takes the fallacious form that the original post identified. The second while plausible is nowhere near strong enough to exclude homosexual marriage.

    I don’t think I can probably do much more to try to shed light on the arguments than I have tried to do here.

    Best,
    Colin

  32. I agree that there is not much more we can do here.

    But there is one more thing I’d like to point out.  You really haven’t given any reason to expand marriage to include homosexual unions other than that homosexuals seem to want it and you see no point in not giving them what they want.  In other words, you’re begging the question a bit.  Why is my understanding of marriage arbitrary and yours not?  You assert that “what goes by the name marriage has many social utilities and since we recognize non-procreative marriages as marriages, we have no reason to hold the possibility of procreation as a necessary condition for marriage”.  I deny all of this.  I deny the non-sequitur in your phrasing.  To recognize marriages where procreation does not happen is obviously not the same as recognizing marriage where procreation cannot happen, i.e. where the very “possibility of procreation” does not exist.  I deny the phrasing “what goes by the name of marriage” and claim that marriage is not an infinitely malleable construct that is whatever we (or, more properly speaking, you) say it is, and that I’m arbitrarily picking and choosing between traditions.  Marriage is a real thing with a real historical and cultural essence, and part of that inviolable essence is the establishment of a family nucleus.  (This is different from the straw man argument that “The purpose of marriage is procreation”.  No!  No! A thousand times no!  It is to put procreation in a specific type of family setting.)  I deny that any of these other purposes of which you speak are essential to marriage or that marriage is essential to these purposes, let alone your red herrings about property rights in matrimony—which is not a purpose at all, but a regulation—and your bogeymen about the Evils of the Past.  (It’s generally ineffective to cow me into feeling insufficiently progressive.  I reject the thing root and branch, though I do arrive at some of the same conclusions via other means.)

    In short, you say that marriage has always been a composite and has no internal substance, and basically means whatever the society wants it to mean, therefore why not let homosexuals in on it and define it the way we (they) wish?  I say marriage has a real historical essence, and the family structure it provides is and has always been a sine-qua-non, and that this essence does not allow for the accommodation of homosexual “marriage”. Things like property, religion, class, love, and sex have always been issues related to marriage, and the institution has treated these issues in different ways throughout history, but they have never been a fundamental point.  The more things change, the more the fundamentals of the institution (monogamy, fidelity, heterosexuality, family) stay the same. 

    Of course, the issue here is existential, so I wish to preserve one understanding (based on a given set of values and understandings) and you wish to introduce another, based on your own values and introduce diffferent fundementals.  When (not if) polygamy starts getting a political constituency, you will be metaphysically unequipped to oppose it, though you may not realize this at this moment.

  33. BTW, in the penultimate paragraph, I meant “sexuality” or lust as an issue related to marriage, but not a fundamental point, obviously not sex itself.

  34. Pauly D–

    I should remind you that begging the question involves assuming what you’re trying to prove, among other things.  One way of doing this is asserting a controversial premise in need of proof, and then deriving a conclusion from it.  This is pretty much what you have been doing the whole time (since you abandoned the strong causal claim about marriage and “success” and Detroit sucks!).  You have asserted the following as a given:

    Marriage is a real thing with a real historical and cultural essence, and part of that inviolable essence is the establishment of a family nucleus.

    As has been amply demonstrated here, there is no obvious way in which “marriage” is an “inviolable essence,” or a real thing, or any other of these wacky Platonic assertions about conceptual existence.  If anything, the word “marriage” refers to a diverse set of historical and cultural practices.  Whether those cultural practices are a good thing, or desirable, or whatever, is an entirely different question.  (By the way, even though your causal story on that question was without empirical foundation, you were at least on better logical ground).

    In any case, asserting that marriage is some real enduring definition which cannot be contradicted (it can, obviously–see, for instance, reality) and then concluding that anything other than your definition of non-contradictable marriage is a contradiction is the very essence (!!!!) of begging the question.  And no, Colin or I don’t beg the question when we point that out.

  35. “To recognize marriages where procreation does not happen is obviously not the same as recognizing marriage where procreation cannot happen, i.e. where the very “possibility of procreation” does not exist”

    Well there are many reasons why procreation cannot happen–and I would assume that fertility tests, for men and women would be reasonable requirement if it is the case that the purpose of marriage is procreation and the possibility of procreative results is a necessary condition.

    Because I deny that (possibility of) procreation is a necessary condition for marriage, I can grant that some marriages that are non-procreative (impossibility of conception) yet allow that nuclear families satisfy one of the purposes of marriages (adoptive families for example). But if this is so, then I see no reason to limit marriage to heterosexual adoptive relationships just because other heterosexuals can have children. (This is where many critics of same sex adoption and marriage insert argument about the superiority of heterosexual family life over homosexual family life-an argument that I do not find compelling).

    I just don’t know how to think about socially constructed institutions having essences in the durable sense that you suggest. I don’t see anything in the anthropological or histoical record to suggest that there is such a thing. There very well may be for all I know. But, the sorts of incoherences that seem to follow from denying essential mathematical truths just don’t seem to follow without the tortuous logic of slippery slopes in the case of marriage.

    As for why should we do this? Because we’ve progressed in our understanding of human relationships and human sexuality and understand that some people find satisfying flourishing  intimate relationships occur only with people of the same sex–that is, some people are homosexuals. To deny these people the rights and privileges granted to others on what are now arbitrary grounds is morally indefensible. Just as I have a right to have my personal relationship legally sanctioned by the state whether my purpose is adoptive parenting, procreation, or just the tax breaks, so should others. I see no good non-question begging reason to believe that this is not so. So that’s the positive view that I find most plausible–though I provide that only for clarification and not as argument.

    And by the way, I really don’t  know whether I want a metaphysics that is geared to defending against polygamy. Honestly I don’t know what my views of polygamy are. I’m suspicious because of a general impression I have of the dangers of abuse and coercion. But, honestly, I don’t know whether polygamy allows for human flourishing or not. I do know that homosexual relationships and families do allow for human flourishing. So I’m not going to decide the question of homosexual marriage because of the slippery slope argument–being neither convinced that the slope is that slippery or that there is such a hazard down there.

    I find the contortions–it is procreation, it is family, it is to put procreation in a family setting–in the attempt to discover this essence implausible. None of these is adequate to account for everything that we allow as marriage. The whole project is wildly reductive of the complexity of the institutions’ histories and its present forms, and I think fails because it is ultimately arbitrary in its selection of this essence being drive by the goal of excluding homosexuals rather than reflection on the varieties and breadths of the purposes and functions of “marriage.”

    So, if there were such an essence analogous to mathematical essences–certain necessary truths that hold of all marriages–the argument might gain some traction. But I think the fact that it can’t gain that traction is reason to believe that marriage like other socially constructed institions does not have such an essence (there are other reasons such as the belief that if anything is socially constructed it is social institutions, and we seem to have reason to believe presumptively that they are constructed). Merely positing an essence or showing that a set of characteristics is often, or even typically, present in marriage does not provide reason for granting that premise. Your arguments for it are attempts at reductio(nis?) ad absurda of any alternatives. But they don’t seem to me to be persuasive. We know that arguments of the form:
    1. Previous society has held that x.
    2. Therefore x.
    are yypically bad arguments (we don’t have to be liberals who think that only MLK was a good man to see this).
    This again, is why you turn to the functional argument with all of its quasi-Darwinian and sociological appendages:
    1. The purpose of marriage is procreation in a family setting.
    2. Only relationships that aim at this deserve to be considered marriages.
    3. Homosexual relationships cannot do this.
    4. Therefore Homosexual relationships cannot be marriages.

    If we grant that the premises are true, this seems to be a good argument. But, why should we grant 1? Here you seem to give the following reasons:
    a) Previous society has always held that this is the purpose of marriage.
    b) It is the essence of marriage to provide procreation in a family setting.
    c) This account of marriage is the most “successful.”

    I think that argument (a) fails for the reasons already cited and that began this thread. (b) begs the question. (c) is terribly weak, and even if true doesn’t provide reason to believe that 1 is true, just effective for a certain goal.

    When all is said and done, I think, the hand-waving conceals the simply assertion “Procreation in a family setting is the purpose of marriage, because procreation in the family setting seems to have been the purpose of marriage in the past.” This I think likely begs the question once we disentangle the bad arbitary appeal to tradition argument (which presupposes that the purpose of marriage is procreation in a family setting).

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