Splitting Marriage: Theological Union

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In my short book on same-sex marriage I make the suggestion that marriage be split up into different types. I thought it would be  worthwhile to write a bit more on this subject. While this suggestion might be regarded as satire (a rather inferior modest proposal) and I do tend to be a bit sarcastic, this is actually a serious proposal that I believe would solve some of the problems associated with the marriage issues.

While the acceptance of same-sex marriage has become mainstream in some Western countries, there are still those who strongly oppose it. While it is tempting to simply dismiss such people as mere bigots, it does seem worth considering that their values should be tolerated. Of course, even if a set of values should be tolerated on the grounds of the freedom of thought and belief it does not follow that those who have such values have the right to impose these values on others. In the case of those who oppose same-sex marriage, the fact that they consider it against their values does not entail that they have the right to make their values the law of the land.

Since nearly all (or all) of the resistance to same-sex marriage is based on religious beliefs, it is also worth considering the importance of the freedom of religion. While this is a sub-freedom of the more general freedom of thought and belief, it does seem worth considering religious freedom separately,  if only for historic reasons. Interestingly, some who oppose same-sex marriage contend that making same-sex marriage legal imposes on their religious freedoms. However, this is obviously not the case. Making same-sex marriage legal does not, by itself,  infringe on a person’s religious freedom. After all, the legality of same sex-marriage does not require that people get gay-married against their will (which would be a violation of  freedom).

It could be contended that the legality of same-sex marriage could violate a person’s religious freedom in that a person opposed to same-sex marriage who had some sort of official capacity involving marriage in some way might thus be required to recognize the legality of same-sex marriage. For example, a justice of the peace in a state where same-sex marriage is legal would be required to recognize the legality of same-sex marriage. As another example, the clerk who handles marriage licenses in a state where same sex-marriage is legal would also be required to recognize its legality. This is, of course, not unique to same-sex marriage. In the United States, officials refused (and sometimes still refuse) to accept marriage between people of different ethnic groups (typically a black person marrying a white person).

On the one hand, cases such as these can be seen as violation of a person’s religious freedom. Using the justice of the peace example, if Sally’s religious belief is that same-sex marriage is an abomination in the eyes of God, then compelling her to marry Jane and Denise would thus seem to violate her religious freedom. After all, she would be compelled to act contrary to her religious beliefs.

On the other hand, these cases can be seen as not violating a person’s religious freedom. After all, having religious freedom is rather distinct from having the right to impose one’s religious beliefs on other people. In the example, Sally would be imposing her religious view on Jane and Denise rather than exercising her freedom of religion. By not marrying another woman and by regarding such marriages as abominations, Sally would be exercising her freedom of religion.

This can be countered by insisting that Sally’s religious freedom is being violated. After all, as a justice of the peace she is required to act contrary to her faith and she should have the freedom to refuse to do so.

The obvious reply is that she does have the freedom to do so. She can quit her job as justice of the peace on the grounds of her faith. To use an analogy, suppose that Velma believes that eating pork is a abomination on religious grounds. If Velma works at Betty’s BBQ Pit, it is not a violation of her religious freedom for Betty to expect her to serve barbecued pork to the customers. Betty can exercise her freedom by quitting her job and getting one at Paul’s Porkless BBQ Pit.

A counter to this could be based on the argument that a person who regards something a seriously violating their religious views would be wrong to simply walk away. Rather, they should refuse to allow it to occur. Going back to the analogy, suppose that a law was passed allowing human slavery again. If Velma was working at Betty’s Slave Auction and she opposes slavery on religious grounds, it would seem rather problematic to claim that Velma should simply quit. Rather, she should surely try to get the law changed. To avoid any confusion, my point here is not to draw a moral comparison between same-sex marriage and slavery. Rather, the point of using slavery is to use something that should be seen as obviously wrong and that should not be tolerated. To those who oppose same-sex marriage, same-sex marriage is regarded as being something that is obviously wrong and that should not be tolerated.

The sensible reply here is to contend that same-sex marriage is not wrong. That is, that the religious people who oppose it on religious grounds are in error. Interestingly, the same reply has been given by the defenders of slavery, namely that it is not wrong.  Thus, a key part of the matter would involve sorting out the morality of same-sex marriage.

The easy and obvious way out is to note that legalizing same-sex marriage does not inflict any meaningful involuntary harm. In contrast, something like slavery obviously does inflict harm on people. As such, while a person would be right to prevent others from engaging in the practice of something like slavery, the same does not hold in the case of same-sex marriage. Even if same-sex marriage were wrong, the fact that it generates no harm to others would seem to entail that those who oppose same-sex marriage have no grounds on which to claim an obligation to prevent others from engaging in the activity. While saying “I have a moral right to stop you from practicing slavery because you are harming others” seems right, saying “I have a right to stop you from  marrying someone of the same-sex because it is against my religion” seems mistaken.

Thus, those who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds do not seem to have adequate justification to deny others legal marriage (that is, the legal relationship recognized by the state). However, the appeal to religious freedom might still be able to provide legitimate grounds for religious groups denying others a certain type of marriage. The key concerns are, of course, what sort of marriage this might be and what might warrant religious discrimination.

Obviously enough, a religious group does not have a legitimate right to deny other people the legal right to marry because the marriage is against their religion. However, voluntary religious groups (like other voluntary associations) do have the right to set certain rules for their members. For example, a tabletop gaming group can set rules about what expansion books are allowed in the game. As another example, a track club might define the rules for their grand prix. As a fourth example, a couple that is “going steady” might set rules about their relationship, such as it being monogamous. These rules are based on the beliefs of the members and typically have no legal status. For example, if Sam is “going steady” with Ted, Sam cannot have Ted arrested simply because he went on a date with Sally. Such rules are often used to help define the identity of the group and set what is regarded as acceptable and unacceptable behavior (such as playing a dragon as a character). Provided that such rules are voluntarily accepted and not harmful, there is certainly nothing wrong with groups having such rules.

Turning back to the main issue of marriage, it seems reasonable to allow voluntary religious associations to have their own rules for marriage, just as it is reasonable to allow gaming groups to determine whether they require their members to dress in character (as an elf wizard, for example). However, just as gaming groups do not have a right to impose their views on others (making everyone dress up as fantasy characters, for example) neither do religious groups. As such, the marriage rules of a religious group cannot have legal status. However, they can be voluntarily accepted by the members of the group.

This, as I have said before, could be called a “theological union.” It would be a religious marriage as defined by the religious group in question and could have all the rules and requirements that the group wishes to accept (subject to the law, of course). However, the marriage would have no legal status at all-that is, it would grant no legal rights nor impose any legal obligations.  So, for example, one church could forbid same sex theological unions while another could embrace them. People who do not agree with the theological unions of a group would be free to leave the group to join or create another that suits their values. Just as people can do so in other theological matters, such as whether or not women can be priests. Naturally, a couple that gets a theological union can also get a legal marriage (a civil union) that would give them all the legal rights and obligations as defined by the law.

Since these unions would have no legal status, there would be no discrimination in the legal sense and thus the specific rules of a religious group would not generally be a matter of concern for the state. This would respect religious freedom by allowing people to define their theological union rules as they see fit, without interference from the state. It would also respect the freedom from religion-that is, the right not to have other folks’ religion imposed on you. So, religious people who oppose same-sex marriage can say “if you are part of our religion that rejects same-sex unions, you cannot get same-sex theological unioned” but they cannot justly say “same-sex marriage is against my religion, so you can’t get a civil union that provides legally defined obligations and rights.”

This approach seems quite sensible, since it respects religious freedom while also protecting people from religious based impositions on freedom.

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  1. I agree with your conclusions. I think the key point is that the ‘religious’ part of religious freedom ought to be completely meaningless beyond freedoms of any group of people. Are religious people somehow superior? Are they better humans? Ok, so if not, then why grant them special rights?

    The only reason we grant those privileges is because they are majority (in most countries) – no other reason at all.

    Of course this is an extremely bad reason to base public policy upon, because how are you going to have an open discussion about fairness, tolerance, potential harm, if the other party refers you to their imaginary sky daddy who dictates the rules and holds their so called “moral values” hostage? Religious people aren’t supposed to think for themselves they are required to follow their rule book.

    Therefore anything that’s supposed to pass for discussion is generally a desperate attempt to justify the rules, not a reasoned attempt at resolving the issue.

  2. First, to an early point in the article. My own opposition to same-sex marriage is not based on religion. It is based on the nature of set-asides intended as a means of ameliorating the extreme expense of child-rearing, which are then co-opted for other purposes on the misrepresentation of marriage being about sexual relationships. Yes, prior to effective birth control the assumption was that sex would produce children so careless sexuality was a drain on society. Marriage provided a culturally recognized environment in which child rearing would be well supported.

    Now, unfortunately, child rearing is out of style, if not outright disdained by the culture elite. Marriage is being killed by the death of a thousand cuts as a result.

    As to Frank Miller’s comments above, what one person sees as religion another person sees as reality. That is how I can look at the statements of many (if not nearly all) atheists and point out a plethora of religious-like beliefs they take to be common sense. It is not that “religious people” are superior. Religion expresses a number of sets of values the bearers see simply as the way things are. The “reality” of atheists is also not “superior”.

  3. Lee Jamison: “My own opposition to same-sex marriage…is based on the nature of set-asides intended as a means of ameliorating the extreme expense of child-rearing, which are then co-opted for other purposes…”

    Lee, you seem to be saying that marriage has benefits meant for procreating couples, which non-procreating couples effectively steal by marrying.

    I’m really at a loss. It’s hard to reply to that in a way that’s both civil and adequately emphatic.

    But, this seems to be an empirical question in some sense, so let’s look at it like that.

    What are these benefits that same-sex marriages receive that they shouldn’t?

    Here’s what I take to be a fairly solid list of marriage benefits: http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/marriage-rights-benefits-30190.html

    Unless Nolo’s list is missing some important stuff, the stated basis for your opposition to same-sex marriage seems to be factually false.

  4. Dregs,

    You’re putting the cart before the horse. Marriage was not developed in thousands of societies, and evolutionarily preserved in societies separated by thousands of miles and tens of thousands of years, by the legal set asides of the laws of states in North America. Your list is irrelevant because it represents an almost jingoistic focus on an exceedingly narrow set of very materialistic values.

    In culture after culture marriage is imbedded in the social structure. It is part and parcel of the common social contract in the raising of children. Because we do not see this put into words very much it is difficult for most people to verbalize, but this lies at the heart of the resistance of various religions to changes in traditional marriage. I was a theological student as a young man, but tended to see with a very skeptical mind. It became clear to me early on that most religions develop around metaphorical supports for acculturating children. It is not enough to simply have babies and get them to adulthood. They must also be raised to be useful, adaptable, innovative, and socially integrated. Marriage in virtually all cultures exists as a key component of a larger network of social interactions which function to bolster this process.

    It should be clear, from the nature of the interactions among religions in Europe over the last 1000 years, that it can be a difficult task to organize a society around diverse social paradigms. This is especially true when the paradigms are organized around metaphorical representations that, when examined out of context, are puzzling at best and are at worst manifestly false. The diversity encourages competitive inter-examinations of metaphors. That threatens dogmatic presentations of the metaphorical “truths” and engenders conflicts based on defense of the world views of segments of the population.

    Now, the process by which traditional marriage in a supportive social context benefits all of society is a long story. It involves the development of personal mythology founded in a familial intergenerational narrative. It involves integration of that narrative into social context. Many other factors apply as well. It is easy to look at that and claim none of these issues demand set asides be made for material advantages for fecund marriage as an institution. However, a great social experiment has been run in the United States through governmental policy detaching monetary benefits to women from marriage since the 1960s. Half a century later results appear to indicate that in stressed or disadvantaged communities property and monetary advantages to marriage can be the glue favoring the survival of these social units. In 1960 70% of black children were born in the households of married couples. By the 1990s nearly eight in ten black children were born into single-parent households. This loss has been devastating as the percentage of blacks who are living in poverty, who are incarcerated, and who die by violence has increased dramatically in those fifty-plus years. Similarly, the percentage of the black population who own their own businesses and who are employed by black-owned businesses has fallen. As with other cultural upheavals the people who are hurt most by the erosion of marriage as an element in a larger social contract are the poorest and most at-risk.

    In the past my views have been challenged by people who ask if I would be willing to sacrifice the legal and property benefits of marriage for childless couples, or if I would be willing to extend those benefits to same-sex couples raising children. In both cases my answer is yes, in a heartbeat. I would happily put both heterosexual and same-sex couples on the same legal basis based solely on whether they did or did not have children.

    A fully integrated societal commitment to raising the next generation is far more important than who sleeps with whom.

  5. Doris Wrench Eisler

    This essay broaches the problem of religious beliefs versus ethics and morality: they are not identical. Ideas on what is moral or ethical change but religion proudly declares that its ideas on the subject do not change because they are based on an unchanging God.That is where religion hits a snag, because religious convictions do change, but much too slowly, kicking and screaming and causing much suffering in the process. Secular humanism has been the vanguard, not religion, in promoting human justice. But for secular humanists we would still have slavery, women would be still be relegated to the bedroom and kitchen, and the masses more dependent on the largesse of the rich, and all told to put their stock into the next life, not this one – surely a retrograde, irrational and almost criminal counsel. For these reasons we should not be overly responsive to the delicate sensibilities of religionists. In the marketplace of ideas let them back their arguments with something a little more compelling than, “God wants it”.

  6. Once upon a time I was a happy carefree gay child.

    Then the word was taken from me and used to denote something I was not.

    Marriage, to a religious person (which I am not) has a definite meaning and context. One that is debased and destroyed, to them, by use of the term to denote homosexual relationships.

    As such it does impact on their freedom to indulge in what others may well call religious bigotry.

    To a religious person, a homosexual relationship, whilst perfectly acceptable and indeed legally possible and legally upheld, is not, and never can be ‘marriage’.

    And to define it as such is an insult to their own religion.

    In just the same way that I can no longer use the adjective ‘gay’ to denote a state of mind, only to denote a particular sexual orientation.

    The term and all it implies has been STOLEN from my vocabulary.

    Now frankly I couldn’t personally care less, except that people I do care about, do care a lot.

    And I think it is worthwhile elucidating their point of view as best I can.

    And I think it raises a more fundamental point. Our total world view and the way the whole of human society is based on grouping things into categories which are distinct enough to make special treatment of them indicated as pure common sense. When you buy apples, you do not want them mixed up with oranges. In short the world runs on discrimination, between one thing and another.

    Now some discrimination is not useful.

    If it’s based on prejudice bigotry and ignorance, it does little good. BUT that is not to say that all or even MOST discrimination falls into that category. Worse, attempts to correct ‘bad’ discrimination are inherently discriminative, usually on the same exact grounds as the discrimination they are designed to eradicate, in their own right. In short they perpetuate dysfunctional discrimination as a way of thinking.

    So I would argue, that whilst there is enough similarity between homosexual partnerships and heterosexual ones to make them probably suitable for equality under the law there is more than enough difference to give them different names, and in the context of religious beliefs, absolutely more than enough to make them a different class of entity entirely.

    Because to follow the path of ‘no discrimination on any grounds’ is to end up with massively important positions held by people who are utterly and completely incompetent to handle the responsibility of them…

    ..oh hang on….


  7. “In 1960 70% of black children were born in the households of married couples. By the 1990s nearly eight in ten black children were born into single-parent households. This loss has been devastating as the percentage of blacks who are living in poverty, who are incarcerated, and who die by violence has increased dramatically in those fifty-plus years.”

    With respect to the poverty statistic, citation please.

  8. Lee,

    I’m still waiting to hear some benefit given to married couples that harms anyone if and only if that couple is same-sex (or childless, or whatever).

    If there’s no such harm, then there’s no cost to giving the benefit. No cost, no reason to limit marriage.

    No sound reason, anyway.

  9. You’ve laid out great insight! It was interesting and I might have to grab a copy of your book. Thanks for the read!

  10. Steve Merrick

    Leo Smith wrote “To a religious person, a homosexual relationship, whilst perfectly acceptable and indeed legally possible and legally upheld, is not, and never can be ‘marriage’.”

    I don’t think you meant “religious”, I think you meant “Christian”, maybe you even meant “American fundamentalist scriptural-literalist Christian”? There are many many different belief systems, and not all of them display the attitudes you describe. People come in all shapes and sizes, and so do their religions. My religion welcomes so-called ‘gay marriage’.

  11. Don’t peoples have to have a marriage license from the state before a minister will marry them? I notice the word “culture” is missing from your article. Perhaps peoples against homosexuals marrying are against their culture further deteriorating? Abortion is legal. Why not compare that with slavery? Since abortion is more obviously wrong than is slavery. Peoples who justify wrongdoing will always find their justifications for the most horrible of evils.

    Benjamin Wiker argues that people on the political left are seeking to establish secularism as the official religion for the U.S. They are organizing the complete “de-Christianization” of Western Civilization, he says, and plan to replace personal faith with the collective dependence on the federal government. He discusses his theory with Washington Post writer Krissah Thompson.

    VIDEO – BTV: After Words: Benjamin Wiker, “Worshipping the State” – http://youtu.be/HmTda_s9uPk

    AUDIO – BTV: After Words: Benjamin Wiker, “Worshipping the State” (FULL 56:44) – http://podcast.c-span.org/podcast/arc_btv042013.mp3

    VIDEO – (FULL) – BTV After Words: Benjamin Wiker, “Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became Our State Religion,” hosted by Krissah Thompson, Washington Post – http://tinyurl.com/n8ybnty

  12. Frank Miller,

    Like you, I have my suspicions about a special category of religious freedom. As I note, it just seems to be a subset of the freedom of belief. My main reason to include a special category for it is historical-that is, religion has been a special problem area in regards to freedoms that might warrant giving it a special category on practical grounds.

    To use an analogy, people do focus on reproductive freedom because of the historic denial of such freedoms-although that would just seem to fall under the general category of freedom as well.

    I do agree that religion should not grant people a special status-I have made the argument for this in other contexts, such as how in the US religious institutions enjoy exemptions from many laws that apply to other employers. For example, they can engage in discrimination and do not pay taxes.

  13. Lee Jamison,

    One defect with the child-rearing argument against same-sex marriage is that straight marriage does not require married couples to have kids. If our objective is to address the cost of kids, this could be done with specific laws relating to kids. There is also the fact that same-sex couples can rear children-either adopted or their own.

  14. Doris Wrench Eisler,

    While specific religious people have supported such things as slavery, other religious folks have been staunch opponents of slavery, social injustice and so on. In the US the abolitionist movement had a strong religious character and the civil rights movement in the 1960s was also strongly linked to religious institutions. It was, I think, no coincidence that Dr. King was a minister. Of course, folks thumped the bible to defend slavery and racism as well.

  15. Leo Smith,

    You can still be happy and gay, but the child thing has been taken from you by time. 🙂

  16. Dregs,

    That is a key point: if allowing same-sex marriage causes no meaningful harm that is a legitimate concern of the state, then there would seem to be no grounds for denying same-sex couples marriage.

    People have endeavored to find harms, but have been unable to actually support such claims with adequate evidence. Some folks have even tried arguing that they would be psychologically harmed by the thought of their neighbors being a gay married couple. That is a rather awful line of reasoning. After all, I am psychologically harmed by people who like to play halfling bard characters in Pathfinder or D&D, but I hardly have a right to deny them their deviant choice.

  17. Steve Merrick,

    Good point-some religions are fine with same-sex marriage.

  18. AJ,

    True-they do need to get a license in the US. However, if we split the legal institution from the religious aspects, then there would be no need for theological unions (which some people would probably want to call “marriage”) to have such licenses.

    In a way, I am actually endeavoring to protect “traditional” marriage by making it safe from the state. This is one of the reasons I favor separating church and state: the state is about the pragmatic compromises we must make to keep from killing each other and this can have a corrupting influence on beliefs. In the case of ethics, I have the same view: there are many things I regard as moderate or lesser evils that I oppose, yet accept that I must tolerate for the sake of society. I’m sure that the same is true in regards to other folks tolerating what they regard as my misdeeds-like running shirtless around the town.*

    *Mainly because of the heat, but also as a public service for some of the ladies (and probably some guys).

  19. Mike,

    I do address the straight vs. same-sex kids issue at the end of my second comment above.


    There obviously are costs (i.e. investments) to marriage or there would be nothing over which to fight. Those costs/investments may not be obviously economic as, indeed, the benefits of many professions (writer, artist, philosopher etc.) are not obviously economic, yet we still find them important enough to argue over.

  20. Mike,

    I’m all for allowing peoples to do whatever they wish so long as no one is directly harmed by their actions.

    Civil unions provided legal protection and validation of homosexual unions… but, for the radicals, this wasn’t good enough: the term “marriage” must be co-opted.

    In fact, the radicals appear to be demanding we all acknowledge their belief: that homosex is equal to and even superior to heterodox.

    Your concern regarding harm is admirable, and something I agree with, but what about abortion on demand?

    For example, if abortion on demand causes meaningful harm to someone, then its legality is a legitimate concern of the state, right? or wrong?

    The question being: is a healthy, growing human being in utero someone? or is she not?

    If we, as a society, will legitimate – even celebrate – the slaughter of innocents – over 50,000,000 since 1973 – then what difference does legitimating and celebrating other so-called “evils” make?

    Perhaps Nietzsche and Foucault were right, and the categories of good and evil are for small minded peoples only?

    Perhaps the Marquis de Sade was right, too, and we should celebrate rape, incest and necrophilia? Because Foucault appears to have agreed with Sade… before he died of AIDS, which he contracted while realizing his authenticity in the gay bath houses of San Francisco. 🙁

  21. Mike LaBossiere,

    “However, if we split the legal institution from the religious aspects, then there would be no need for theological unions (which some people would probably want to call “marriage”) to have such licenses.”

    Mike you have it back to front. Marriage is an ancient institution. Folk traditions and practices were essentially laws, up to relatively recently. The “chain store” version of religion adopted local legal practices, not the other way around. A quick theological history lesson: In pagan Europe, the guy from Rome would turn up with his shifty assistant, and announce “Hey, I’m the new pagan priest guy”….He’d adopt the local church and local practices. Slowly working the Jesus bit in over time (You know Paul did the switch from Joshua to Jesus – because it sounded more like Zeus). And bits of paganism would get mixed up with the Jesus bit over time too. In the new testament, is there anywhere anything about exchanging rings? Let’s not even get started on holy water, salt, even the Virgin mother may have been an interesting gypsy lady.

    The American “traditional” marriage is derived from the European “traditional” marriage – the typical church registry was a legal document. It was signed in the church and then the document was registered with a central authority.

    “In a way, I am actually endeavoring to protect “traditional” marriage by making it safe from the state. ”

    Mike, the way you make it sound, is like a troika of state officials will turn up at a corn farm, with a half starved Ukrainian farm hand, to force a gay marriage on a middle-aged widower with a bad hip. And you come smashing through the window like Zorro, to rescue the poor guy from a fate worse than……from a pretty awful fate.

  22. Lee: “There obviously are costs (i.e. investments) to marriage or there would be nothing over which to fight. Those costs/investments may not be obviously economic as, indeed, the benefits of many professions (writer, artist, philosopher etc.) are not obviously economic, yet we still find them important enough to argue over.”

    Careful with your language. You need to establish not just investments in the generic sense, but harms. Such as investments with negative return for the investor (presumably society at large).

    I gave you a link to a list with pretty much all of the investments given to marriage. As near as I can tell, not a single one of them is a harm when given to a childless couple.

    You keep implying that there are such harms, but you haven’t articulated a single one. Not a single one.

    To be an argument, a statement requires that reasons be provided for it. So far, we are not arguing the issue because you are simply asserting without giving reason.

    My argument is that same-sex (or childless, or whatever) marriage ought to be allowed because there is no meaningful net harm involved in allowing it.

    I still have no idea what your argument is, so please give it plainly.

    I’m trying to interpret you charitably and assume that you do have compelling reasons that simply haven’t been put on the table yet. What’s the alternative? Irrational bias?

  23. Blockquote oddity, there…

  24. AJ: “For example, if abortion on demand causes meaningful harm to someone, then its legality is a legitimate concern of the state, right? or wrong? The question being: is a healthy, growing human being in utero someone? or is she not?”

    That’s quite right. The cutoff for at-will abortion is anywhere from 12 to 24 weeks depending on where one lives. As you point out, the question of harm hinges on whether the child should be legally recognized as a person at that age–I’m assuming you’re not talking about harm to anyone else.

    If yes, then you’re right, we’ve been doing a lot of murdering and should be concerned. I think the answer is more likely ‘no’, though.

    At least, I can’t think of a viable definition for ‘person’ that would both catch 12-week old unborn children and not catch a bunch of other stuff, such as livestock–I’m assuming we don’t want to call livestock ‘people’ (I don’t know, are they?). Then we’d have billions of murders to worry about. Vegetarianism awaits.

    I’m insensitive to whatever motivates concern over ‘topic derailment’ in online forums, hence I’m willing to discuss anything, anywhere.

    That said, it might not be productive to try and discuss the abortion issue in Mike’s marriage thread. I am, however, personally interested in what criteria you use to establish personhood–maybe you would comment on just that? I don’t have a hard notion of what makes a person a person yet–just some general ideas–so I’m always interested in hearing views on this.

  25. On abortion, we can always cheat and say humanity: human at 12 weeks clearly not a baby cow, and we seem to think all humans deserve some base level of dignity even if low intelligence.

    Back to the topic:

    Thoughts on de-institutionalization thesis: that marriage important because of its soft traits (gay people i talk to don’t think its all about the money + visitation but instead seems to center around a married couple conveying dignity, stability, etc). Separating the two: having marriage and a nearly identical civil union or marriage + theological unions seems to jumble the hierarchy and may lead to less weight being put on marriage.

  26. where there is a clear marriage bonus in child raising and (i think) parent outcomes

  27. je: “On abortion, we can always cheat and say humanity: human at 12 weeks clearly not a baby cow, and we seem to think all humans deserve some base level of dignity even if low intelligence.”

    I’d say that the “base level of dignity” is due to them being people. Although, we generally accord some right to dignity to a corpse, and we wouldn’t say that a corpse is a person. Maybe that’s a counterexample. Then again, perhaps the corpse’s ‘right to dignity’ is just derivative from the relation it has to the living, i.e. people.

    In any event, I’m inclined to agree with you that saying ‘being a person’ is identical to ‘being a human’ is cheating–it might be true, maybe, but I’m certainly unable to furnish justification for it and you haven’t offered any.

  28. Je, I couldn’t make it all the way through your link. The author’s assumptions seemed biased and their critical thinking subpar–their ‘balanced’ narrative seemed to be directed against strawman fallacies, for example. Perhaps I missed a buried gem you could excavate for me?

  29. Dregs,

    You speak to the issue of “harms” while I am addressing incentives. Now, granted, they are not the same things. But let’s talk about what separates “harms” (costs in economic talk) from mere commonplaces of citizenship.

    First of all, if there is no harm there is no cost. Why limit the benefit to marriage? Well, because, obviously, the benefit does cost society something. A simple example is spousal medical benefits. We grant to married couples a cost benefit to insuring together. We don’t let people choose the friends who moved into their apartments yesterday as spousal beneficiaries because doing so would create perverse incentives that would greatly disrupt markets. The availability of just this sort of benefit to heterosexual couples who had access to marriage has been frequently cited as a form of discrimination against same-sex couples who did not.

    Additionally, however, it is believed by many that winning the battle for full marriage equality will represent societal acceptance of same-sex unions and will carry with it a raft of social capital benefits that are economically intangible. These are a form of social investment in presumptions, what could rightly be called prejudices, that surround marriage as we have known it for centuries. I seriously doubt the full measure of such hopes will be realized in the lifetime of anyone living today.

    So, what is the “harm” of offering all marriage benefits to people regardless of whether they have children or not? Marriage obviously carries costs itself. Were it not so the investment society makes in marriage would naturally result in more people getting married as time goes by. In fact fewer people are getting married and they are doing it at advancing ages as time goes by. But the reality of the situation is that, to go with this evidence of clear disincentives to non-fecund marriage, benefits connected to the birth and raising of children have, since the early 1960s, been disconnected from marriage itself. And in some cases the benefits were reduced for married couples with children living together. This creates an active disincentive for women generally, and especially for black women, to get, or stay, married.

    The next logical question then becomes, does being an unmarried female raising children alone have a cost? Yes, and we knew it in 1965, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote his study of the black family, The Negro Family:The Case For National Action

    From the fourth chapter of the report-
    “The influence of the father’s presence was then tested within the social classes and school grades for Negroes alone. They found that “a consistent trend within both grades at the lower SES [social class] level appears, and in no case is there a reversal of this trend: for males, females, and the combined group, the IQ’s of children with fathers in the home are always higher than those who have no father in the home.”42”

    “The President’s Task Force on Manpower Conservation in 1963 found that of young men rejected for the draft for failure to pass the mental tests, 42 percent of those with a court record came from broken homes, compared with 30 percent of those without a court record. Half of all the nonwhite rejectees in the study with a court record came from broken homes.”

    “An examination of the family background of 44,448 delinquency cases in Philadelphia between 1949 and 1954 documents the frequency of broken homes among delinquents. Sixty two percent of the Negro delinquents and 36 percent of white delinquents were not living with both parents. In 1950, 33 percent of nonwhite children and 7 percent of white children in Philadelphia were living in homes without both parents. Repeaters were even more likely to be from broken homes than first offenders.54”

    In other words there is a long understood cost to a failure to provide effective incentives for the maintenance of a marriage relationship when children are present. My argument, Dregs, is not that there is some special cost to the kinds of incentives we give to married couples. It is also well known that the cost to society of unmarried, childless individuals in dependent old age is higher than for married couples. Marriage in old age carries a benefit for society. Instead, I argue that the cost to society for children raised in broken homes, and particularly for males raised in impoverished matriarchal families, is catastrophic.

  30. Oh, I should also note that the idea behind all that last post was support for my original assertion that the principal reason for the ancient establishment of marriage in the first place, regardless of whether it is now considered heterosexual or same-sex, was the raising of children. There still is good support for a partnership relationship for that process.

  31. dregs: article in question was quick internet find to help illuminate deinstitutionalization idea and that we need to be careful about assuming we can bundle traits or treat social institutions as rocks.

    for the personhood thing my instinct to protect it would seem to lie in potentiality, though i haven’t worked it out yet.

  32. Lee,

    I have no idea why you’re trying to establish that.

    You started off, in your initial comment, by noting that you are opposed to same-sex marriage because it “co-opts certain set-asides”.

    My response was that I see no harm in extending marriage to same-sex couples. No harm, no reason to deny it.

    There aren’t a lot of options for disagreeing with that. Really, there are only two ways to deny it:

    1) Dregs is wrong because there is a harm, and it is…

    2) Dregs is wrong even though there isn’t a harm, because there doesn’t need to be one since…

    Those are really the only two options, and I still have no idea which one (if either) you’re trying to take.

    Are you still opposed to same-sex marriage? Why? How do you deny my reply?

  33. @Lee, I just want to note that you’re obviously putting time into your replies, I am reading them, and they are interesting. It’s just that your initial contention that marriage rights shouldn’t be extended to all couples strikes a chord with me, and I don’t see you yet as having offered a defense for it. My apologies if you have, though in that case I’ll need you to highlight it for me since I’ve missed it.

  34. Dregs,

    Well, the “what you’re trying to establish” comment is fair. I’ve been sloppy. My own comments have reflected the difficulties of trying to deal with the subject over the course of a lifetime. I’ve dealt more here with my thought processes than with the conclusions with which I could actually agree. I’m torn between the mythology of what “marriage” is and the functions it serves.

    I fully agree we should have legal same-sex civil unions that provide the rights of married childless couples. However, I believe the modern availability of effective birth controls coupled with the understandable desire for committed same-sex couples to have legal recognition of their relationships has created a circumstance in which the institution of marriage is no longer fitted to its several tasks. That is what brought me to the comments about the ancient institution of marriage being about child-rearing. Childless heterosexual couples who do not intend to have children and same-sex couples who do not intend to have children are doing the same thing. That thing is not what marriage was in ancient times.

    Intentionally childless unions should not receive the full set of incentives and protections we would provide to encourage couples with children to maintain life-long unions. My claim to opposition of same-sex marriage betrays a prejudice that most same-sex couples will not want to raise children. I recognize that, particularly among lesbian couples, this is not always true.

    I believe committed couples raising children together should be granted special incentives and protections over and above those provided to childless couples to maintain a nurturing family. That is what I would call marriage. That obviously does not really exclude same-sex couples and it clearly re-frames traditional marriage.

  35. Lee Jamison,

    Lee, I think that Moynihan study is naive. It reduces something very complex in historical and all kinds of other terms, down to what can become unproductive finger wagging over a perceived failing in personal morality.

    A few years ago I saw a dead child lying in the street in central Baltimore. (this was time when Baltimore was four times more dangerous than war torn Baghdad.) That child had been selling crack – and he wasn’t some fearsome built like a monster gang member. He was a little guy, probably as young as 12 years old.

    Now the complexities and twists that led that child to being there, and dying like that, and not being safe in a suburb just a few miles away, to reduce it to whether or not his parents had wedding bands on their fingers doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. The children of single parents in the suburbs are not standing on street corners selling crack.

    In Sweden, I believe the majority of children are born outside of wedlock – the parents do often cohabit (effectively what could be termed common law marriage – which is a legal status in some jurisdictions – and I imagine many couples in urban Baltimore do much the same). You’re not going to ever ever hear of a child getting shot dead, over a drug turf feud in urban Malmo.

    If there is a moral failure, that separates the Swedes from the Americans – what is it precisely. What is this lack in personal responsibility. Or whose lack of personal responsibility. A 12 year-old child in Baltimore?

  36. JRMC,

    that seems to be a fairly dumb response. Your argument is “Middle class suburbanite is more likely than a poor urbanite not to sell drugs and get shot and marriage doesnt change this and that some cities are more dangerous than others.

    This doesn’t seem to be a response.

    If i remember correctly, there is no longer a marriage bonus in one of the Scandinavian countries and married and cohabilitating couples act nearly identically. This isn’t the case in the us due in part to conventions.
    So in the US, unmarried usually leads to one parent households–>worse outcomes

  37. JMRC,

    As you say, issues are more complex than that, but marriage is unquestionably an important influence in American culture generally. Besides, ALL pioneering scientific studies are naive. Do you really think Edwin Hubble KNEW he was looking for an expanding universe in the 1920s? Marriage has been poorly studied. It is very difficult to find references to high quality studies of the effect of marriage against controls, especially taking into account differences in cultural background.

    That said, there are additional dynamics the Moynihan study would likely not have known to look into. These deal with the loss of cultural continuity imposed by slavery. This references things I have learned through my association with anthropologists in the course of doing museum displays.

    Pre-literate cultures, especially those that build circular, domed huts as domiciles throughout the world seem to have a dominant social make-up very different from that of the West, or even the literate Orient. This is true not only in places like Africa, but also among the indigenous peoples of North America. In such cultures men spent much of their time outside the home hunting, foraging, and engaging in tests of their manhood. Women stayed in villages, built and owned houses and their contents, planted and tended crops, smoked meats, tanned hides, raised girls to adulthood and boys to roughly the age of seven or eight.

    It doesn’t take much to realize that the sojourn through slavery for blacks or the destruction of tribal life for American Indians didn’t do much to dramatically alter the culturally transmitted role of women. It was devastating, though, for the roles and cultural continuity of men. Giving up on marriage (and there is a strong analog of Western marriage in most of these cultures) was a poor choice. Doing so eliminated the best available form of intergenerational cultural transmission in poor and stressed communities without replacing it with a viable alternative. Even though some men were able to adapt successfully to the Western cultural paradigm the new cultural capabilities they innovated were not being distributed to boys in the rest of the community. The Moynihan study gives a clear signal of the result of this lack of cultural communication. It was not followed up on. And studies of the effect of marriage in Sweden, an affluent, non-matriarchal culture, are comparisons of apples and peanut butter.

  38. Lee Jamison,

    “As you say, issues are more complex than that, but marriage is unquestionably an important influence in American culture generally.”

    So is divorce. And looking at map with the stats, the ‘faith’n’family meth and country-music belt seems to be performing poorly in comparison to the ‘free-for-all’ liberal north east.

    America is also an incredibly diverse place. If a North-eastern goes to the south they can get more of a culture shock than they might if they visited Northern Europe. A friend from Massachusetts visited South Carolina, and she said “I knew it would be different but I wasn’t expecting the third world.”…….Cape Cod, it is not.

    The term “traditional” is offensive in its’ current usage. Latinos are being misrepresented as not “traditional” Americans…When white Minnesotans of Norwegian heritage, are. Even though the Latinos are from an earlier wave of migration.

    “Do you really think Edwin Hubble KNEW he was looking for an expanding universe in the 1920s?”

    This is a very interesting point in regards to science and Moynihan. Hubble was an interesting character for his eccentricities (and we live in a shameful age where there is little toleration for eccentrics as there once was) that aside. Hubble and his team knew straight away they were looking at something – they even knew what it was. They just needed to propose a theory, even accept what they were witnessing themselves. It was contrary to ‘steady state’ theories. So they met with initial resistance – in fact there was a lot of resistance to it for decades, but the evidence is rock solid, as every time you point the telescope at the sky, you’ll get the same result. ‘Steady state’, though it had a comforting feeling of permanence, wasn’t really anything more than hand waving.

    Social “science” is not really astrophysics – I won’t get into how Edward Sayyid would describe it – but it can’t be trusted, but even the distortions and outright untruths can be illuminating. Just because you’re using statistical methods does not make it more “scientific”. It might be healthier for the subject to strip it of its’ science tag, and just call it social studies – something scholars can engage in, without pretending they’re achieve an absolute precision.

    It is one kind of “science” where the experimenter can have a gross influence on the result, even unconsciously. If Moynihan in his analysis, plugged his figures into his equations. And the initial result said “The cause of poverty and crime in the black community is……..Daniel Patrick Moynihan”, he might be tempted to massage his figures and equations until he got a result that said “Marriage, lose morals, and a lack of personal responsibility.”

    Moynihan is an Irish name. Though I’m not going to research his origins. I would say his people arrived in the New World on a potato boat, ignorant shoeless peasants – all their worldly belongings in a single hessian sack (a chipped milk jug and some wooden spoons). And for a few generations they may have belonged to a despised indigent Catholic immigrant underclass. Had some episcopalian done research on the causes of persistent poverty among the Irish immigrants. I would not at all be surprised if they arrived at “Lack of personal responsibility, loose morals, a dependency culture, blah blah blah”. Certainly not economic exclusion by the wealthy Episcopalians.

    The Irish had one advantage over black Americans, and that’s simply skin colour. They could lose the accent, adopt protestant table manners, and eventually, though grudgingly, be granted admittance to the American middle-class. Cultural chameleons. Though, unfortunately it’s impractical for humans to change their skin colour.

    But it’s not simply about racism. Racism is very complex in itself. And though the problems in Baltimore relate to a black underclass, in the suburbs there is a prosperous black middle-class, and even a black upper-class. And something else that is very interesting. The Swedes and other Scandinavians are on the whole, deeply conservative, and appallingly racist by European standards. (there were race riots in Stockholm recently). Groups of different ethnicities (even white skinned) can find themselves economically excluded. Why they do not have the blood bath that is central Baltimore, is the Swedes simply do not want an economic underclass – they’re simply willing to pay for the luxury, where Americans seem to want to blow the money on prisons.

    Culture can change very quickly. The incarceration explosion in the US (The final solution for the underclass – white as well as black) is a new phenomenon. It’s only happened since 1980. But it’s grown at an exponential rate that is economic lunacy on top of simply being shocking. The interchange between Europe and America is actually quite fluid. The revolution has been exported – Tony Blair doubled the numbers in prison in the UK from 40 to 80,000. It boils down to the same thing – the British middle-class would like to see the underclass vanish into thin air. It’s a naive “solution” – if the underclass is the result of a lack of male role models and influence, where are the men?….They’re in prison.

    The American approach of “Hey, I know. Let’s lock up everyone we don’t like”, is not new, it’s been tried before, even on that scale. Ireland in the 1950s was a deeply conservative country – in other words a bitter and joyless middle-class had totalitarian power. Though there was a small prison population, about 1% of the population was locked up in religious institutions. If a young girl was a little too flighty, the parish priest could make her disappear – no single mothers either (if a young woman became pregnant outside of wedlock – she would just vanish as if she had never existed.) If you stopped going to mass, the priest could do his magic and make your children disappear.

    Although all the prisoners in Stalin’s Gulags were there on political charges, political suppression was not the objective of the system. Most of the prisoners were apolitical working class (see Solzhenitsyn). Russian society was not egalitarian and progressive, it was deeply conservative and class ridden. The conservative Russian middle-class wanted to see the unruly and rough working class vanish. The project of course failed. But now under Putinism, and with new oil riches, they’re giving it another try, and the Russian prison numbers are catching up with American.

    And back to Africa. Africa is an very big place, with incredibly diversity. Westerns have a very distorted view of Africa (and so do Africans – a product of western orientalism, where the subject internalises the narrative of the western orientalist, because the subject’s own narrative has become obscured). I’ve known quite a few Nigerians. Nigeria is so culturally, and economically diverse that it’s even a mystery to Nigerians. But they also have the class and cultural antagonism that exist in the west. They put as many of their nuisance underclass in prison as they can afford (Even better than the Russians who like a facade of justice, courts, lawyers, trials, though a 99.99% conviction rate – the Nigerians dispense with the need for a charge let alone a trial).

    What is the overall solution?…To begin with, it may be to see Moynihan as part of the problem. Because brother, if you can dig, if you’re not part of the solution….you are part of the problem.

    The term ‘dig’ does not have its’ epistemological origins in African-American argot. It’s something the Moynihans brought over on the boat. (a people who were strangers to soap and protestant cleanliness, but well acquainted with all manner of pestilence that could inhabit the human body). It’s the Gaelic ‘thuig?’ – or simply; ‘do you understand?’. ‘Man’ as in ‘Hey man, can you dig it’, is also a Moynihan introduction. Irish males were always addressed by their British Oxbridge educated overlords as ‘boy’ regardless of age or station – the British complain that Irish still have a chip on their shoulders over the whole period, but it’s hard not to have a chip on your shoulder, when you’ve gone through 700 hundred years of having the jack boot of the neighbours from hell on your throat ‘

  39. The Irish did other things to better themselves, as well. They settled largely in different regions of the country, so while they were a despised underclass in New York, Boston, and New England they were, as a population blended with Scottish brethren, the dominant social group in much of the South. Funny that the present-day, supposedly more open-minded people of the Northeast still look down on them so.

  40. it would be nice to actually read/engage with Moynihan not with merely your opinions of what he said.

  41. Lee Jamison,

    The interesting thing about that Irish migration, was the Protestants and Presbyterians went to the south and interior, while the Catholics stayed north. They wanted to get as far away from each other as possible.

    Another really interesting thing is the flow of culture. The Orange Order (Orange sash – marches in Northern Ireland) is not an ancient tradition. (Though the Order like to say it is – justifying their antagonistic march routes as “traditional”). It’s something from the late 19th century. But somehow, it managed to cross to some Gaelic(Scots/Irish) protestant towns in the US that had been settled by Gaelic protestants a lot longer than from the late 19th century. That these towns managed to stay current with the latest developments in modes of internecine sectarian antagonisation is admirable. Considering it would take one night a week practice for the whole year to bring the pipe and drum bands up to standard…… And then plotting routes for maximum aggravation.

    What if there was just one Catholic family in the town – would they just spend the entire day of the 12th, outside their house, playing The Sash my Father Wore, over and over again.

    looking at my last post. My spell checker turned etymological to epistemological

  42. Maybe I missed something in reading the comments, but I don’t understand the relation between gay marriage (I’m in favor) and the argument that the presence of fathers may help
    raise saner male children (I agree in general, although some fathers do more harm than good and probably those fathers who are less likely to be good parents are more likely not to stick around to fulfill their parenting responsibilities, so finally, good riddance.)

    If gays want to get married, fine.

    I’ve been married: it’s not so great. Marry in haste, repent in leisure, as they say.

    However, if gays want all the dubious pleasures of marital togetherness, visiting the in-laws, lending money to the wife’s brother, having to pretend that you have the same friends and the same tastes and the same political opinions (as your spouse), etc., they are welcome, in my opinion.

  43. I think tangents spun away from the topic at hand. I think the argument goes something like: the de-institutionalization of marriage or redefinition of marriage away from one unitary family focused social unit to something more malleable, self-centered and optional pushes people at the margins away from marriage–> worse outcomes for children. when gay marriage enters the picture is that either the gendered nature of marriage entices marginal candidates to choose marriage or that gay marriage is another in a line of steps (or a first step) which redefines marriage in a way which weakens the soft effects of marriage so to negate the benefits (in the form of more coehsive families) which flow from it.

    of course the flip side the idea that marriage is optional may be hurt by reactions of hetero/homo couples, who may forgo marriage in exchange for a more limited gov alternative/ opt out entirely.

  44. I’m really astonished at a tone of hostility to marriage in the comments above, especially in response to an article SUPPORTING marriage for gay members of the community. Is marriage a curse the learned souls commenting here want to inflict as a kind of AIDS-like judgement on gays?

    My support for marriage in this particular context is entirely as a result of marriage’s role in transmitting culture to children and its integrating function for young and often disadvantaged members of a community. But these roles, exactly what the Moynihan Report looked at in 1965 are not addressed at all in readily available literature (You can’t with any intellectual honesty call a paper’s conclusions “naive” unless you address the conclusions in the paper directly in subsequent research. Why, for example, is something similar to Western marriage so pervasive in pre-literate and subsistence cultures from across the globe? Why is it in advanced, affluent societies marriage is most in decline?). A good example of this neglect is a Brookings institute simulation that, while claiming that marriage at rates like those prevailing among the “poor” in 1970 would reduce poverty rates by nearly a quarter, accorded to marriage no social effect whatsoever except the combining of household incomes with a reduction in housing expenses. http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2003/09/childrenfamilies-haskins

    Does marriage really have no cultural effect on the people involved? That would be an astonishing finding indeed.
    That there is more than a mere combination effect in marriage is made the more obvious by Census Bureau data indicating that marriage reduces the risk that a child will live in poverty by 82%
    I believe this effect would be as strong for same-sex couples raising children as for heterosexual couples because the strictly economic benefits of marriage allow for more parent-child interaction. That is where cultural transmission happens.

    The result of this can be seen in the prevalence of children from broken homes in prison as juveniles(72%) http://www.mensdefense.org/STM_Book/FatherDeprivation.htm (Par. 5)

    Even within the field of family studies the dearth of information has been felt- http://www.nichd.nih.gov/about/meetings/2001/DBS_planning/Pages/sweeney.aspx
    Marriage is important (Emphasis 7: nichd, above) but people are acting, writing, and legislating almost exclusively out of prejudice regarding the institution.

  45. Lee Jamison,

    “Does marriage really have no cultural effect on the people involved? That would be an astonishing finding indeed.”

    Yes, but it’s only one element of complex mix of culture. Why are marriages more stable in the liberal north east, while in the South, “traditional” faith’n’family people can’t seem to keep their families together.

    I’ll go off on a quick tangent and then comeback. When the US were in Vietnam, they’d patrol rural villages. They’d only ever find women and old men. They would be told that was the whole village. But often the young women were pregnant. Where were the men who were getting them pregnant?

    There are reasons why it can be economically and legally advantageous to get married and other times not. For a young woman from an indigent social class, it is more advantageous not to be married – because “single” mothers will get a priority for social housing. The men are often still around. Why it’s important for gay people in long term relationships to get married, is to do with legal claims to property. One partner may die, and their family boots the other partner out of their house and grabs their stuff. This kind of thing did and does happen.

    Then for hard nosed middle-class couples, they may get married due to promises from their family for stuff – help buying a house (that’s not going to happen for indigent young women.). In most middle-class cultures married people are of a higher social status than unmarried people. This translates into higher incomes. So for these people there is the material benefit of marriage, and they don’t have to worry about access to social housing – because they’re from a class that doesn’t let them sink that low.

    But you’ll notice, with these hard nosed middle-class marriages. As soon as the people become well economically established, the marriage break down.

    You can change the incentives, and you will get more marriages. But are they the kind of marriages that you’d want. If you take a country like Ireland, in the 1950s, the pressure to get married and the penalties for not getting married were so severe, for families with children, there was 100% marriage. Although it wasn’t law, a single mother didn’t have any absolute rights to keep her children (there were very few). Even widowers would be given the option of either get married, get a house keeper, or have their children taken from them and put in a hellish institution. Was anyone happy? Was there any economic benefit for all this marriage?….There wasn’t. It was like communist Albania.

  46. JMRC,

    I suppose you imagine that in Vietnamese villages the fact there had been conflict and simmering revolution since the 1930s had little or nothing to do with a lack of (visible) men? I’ll add an anecdote of my own.

    People in the rural Texas community in which I lived from the early 1980s all liked my next-door neighbor, but in the next breath they would deride his dodging the draft during W.W.II. He accomplished this feat by making a clandestine home in the “Big Thicket”, an almost impenetrable deep East Texas forest. Somehow, though, his young wife managed to find him and two of their several children were born during the war. The community’s dismay at his seeming lack of patriotism appears to have had less influence on their image of him than his and his family’s participation in the social structure. At his funeral in 1987 there were more than 800 attendees. The fact you didn’t see the men in Viet Nam does not say much about marriage.

    This thread has me examining my own assumptions hard. I want to venture a partial hypothesis drawn from that thought. Marriage has numerous functions. One of those is a word-like symbolism. Words mean different things in different contexts and cultures. Pain is one thing in England and something very different 30 miles away in France. So it is with marriage. Generally speaking, though, marriage has functioned as a ticket into stable, productive society. It’s not hard to imagine how this works if you just accept that a human being is an animal. By pledging themselves to each other two people proclaim they will not be sexually predatory, and therefore socially disruptive, to the community. They establish a situation in which they will sequester animal reproductive functions from other social interactions. This interactive social function seems to be a function people understand more or less instinctively. That might explain why numerous surveys over time show that people continue to value marriage at rates similar to those of the middle 20th Century.

    Again considering the human animal imagine that the comfort one finds in dealing with a married couple is founded in seeing them as a sort of neutral sexual molecule. If one does not feel homosexual urges one’s self the public sexual pairing of a same-sex couple may always present an underlying unease. (Might one of these men steal my wife? Might one of these women be sexually available [to my husband]?) That’s not to say this is how people should feel, but the “words” of social status function to communicate even to less well educated members of our society.

    For marriage, whether heterosexual or homosexual, to function in this way the people involved must be able to make strong commitments to a form of alliance. They must be able to delay gratification in pursuit of a higher goal. They must be able to present the “word” of their commitment in a social structure that is capable of understanding what it means so that its social function can be realized.

  47. Lee Jamison:

    My point is simply that if gays want to get married, let them get married.

    I’m generally in favor of letting people do things that they want to do unless there is proof that letting them do that will cause harm to others.

    You’ve not shown that letting gays get married will cause harm to others.

    You’ve made some good arguments about children needing male parental figures and I’m in agreement with that, although at times the biological father is not an apt male parental figure. Grandfathers, male friends of the
    mother, stepfathers, uncles, and school teachers at times perform that role better.

  48. swallerstein,

    “I’m generally in favor of letting people do things that they want to do unless there is proof that letting them do that will cause harm to others.

    You’ve not shown that letting gays get married will cause harm to others. ”

    No, he has explained his point. He believes the harm is in social and cultural disruption.

    It’s similar to the reason conservative Islamists get very upset about women not wearing the veil. Lee, gives the heterosexual marriage unit sexuality neutrality – the veil is to give Muslim women the same neutrality. Remove the veil – and you have a disruption. Secular leaders in Muslim countries have often encouraged the removal of the veil, because they want this disruption. And the conservatives have seen it as an existential threat to their entire social and economic structure. Which is the secular intention.

    It’s a particular form of social philosophy. Once you understand it the inexplicable Vendee (a religious revolt during the French revolution – the secular revolutionary government couldn’t understand) becomes explainable.

    At this point I think we could all agree that the war is lost as far same sex unions go. And all that is left is the battle over the word.

    I understand Lee’s logic. And it’s very important to understand this logic as it’s a powerful cultural and political force in itself – it’s not simply an argument. But it is the ultimate failed social experiment. The idea promised all kinds of stability – but it is inherently unstable. And I think it leads to much worse things – from conservative Islam to radical Islam – you know “It’s not working, let’s kill lots of people until it does work”. In other instances it has resulted in the majority of the public turning militant against the religious – what’s happening in Tunisia is very interesting (Tunisian students doing the Harlem shake – it’s on Youtube)

    You had the former(recent) cardinal of Scotland, bellyaching about homosexuality for years – I believe he went as far as to credit the liberal 60s for the episodes of sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy. It wasn’t the go go 60s, it was the conservative Catholic Church. And then it turns out the cardinal is a homosexual, and had been in a monogamous long term relationship – go as far as to call it a union or even marriage if you like – with another man.

    Fundamentally, the flaw in the idea is within Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of the Red Death. The Red Death is something believed to be outside the palace, but it isn’t – in the case of the Scottish Catholic Church, the Red Death was the red robes of the Cardinal himself. Even conservative Catholic lay people, realise they’ve somehow managed to create the gayest clergy of all the world religions.

    What happened to Texas?…How did the project fail?

  49. JMRC:

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Let’s see if I can clarify my own position.

    1. In order to lead a happy and sane life, almost everyone needs to form stable, close and intimate bonds with another person or other people. Those bonds can be that of couple or a threesome or whatever. They can be with someone from one’s own sex/gender or from the opposite sex/gender or from a third or fourth sex or gender.

    Generally, those bonds are erotic at least in the beginning of the relationship, but given the nature of sexual attraction, with time those bonds tend to become less erotic, but the lack of “hot sex” can be compensated by other forms of physical and/or psychic intimacy.

    It matters little if the couple or human group (it could be a threesome, etc.) gets married or calls their relationship “marriage”. Getting married has never turned a bad relationship into a good one nor a good relationship into a bad one, although at times it seems that way.

    I know couples who have been together for over 40 years without getting married who have relationships of genuine companionship and love and married couples who have dedicated 40 years or more to making life hell for their spouse.

    Whether a couple is married or not is about as important to the sanity of their relationship as what color socks they wear.

    2. Children need parenting from a male figure.

    In an ideal world that parenting would come from their biological father, but in our human, all too human real world biological fathers often fly away after the moment of conception or are often distant, too busy working or philosophizing to care about their children or are openly hostile to their children (remember Oedipus and his dad).

    Thus, many times that male parenting has to come from other figures in the child’s life, a grandfather, an uncle, a stepfather, a friend of the mother, a school-teacher.

    I have not noticed that children who are parented by a caring male figure who is not their biological father suffer from that.

    By the way, I have not noticed that children who are parented by a caring biological father, who has either separated from the mother or who forms a non-married couple with the mother (lots of couples refuse to get married) suffer from that, as long as the biological father is caring.

    To be caring seems the key, as far I can see.

    3. Traditional married couples and their child-raising practices were and are far from ideal parents in many cases.

    Freud’s office and those of any therapist these days are filled with the children of traditional marriages who have been psychologically or physically or sexually abused by their biological fathers in the setting of a traditional marriage.

    Let’s stop idealizing a past of wonderful caring marriages that never existed and let’s begin to try to be caring parents to any children who need us, be they our biological children or those
    who the circumstances of life bring into our world.

  50. swallerstein,

    “I know couples who have been together for over 40 years without getting married who have relationships of genuine companionship and love and married couples who have dedicated 40 years or more to making life hell for their spouse.”

    That’s so true. To understand this particular blend of conservative ideology is difficult (If you’re not already coming from that perspective).

    There’s a preference for horrible and destructive marriages over individual needs (even if it’s every single individual in the family experiencing hell). Even if the family unit is a nightmare – the preference is to maintain these units to reduce social anxiety of other people in that society. It’s not about happiness. Even happiness is regarded as excessive and socially destructive.

    It’s hard to understand, because when you examine it, you wonder who would chose this.

  51. how do we deal with the statistical evidence not backing up anecdotes. Perhaps it makes more sense to look at marginal candidates and how married/not married affects retention/involvement.

    “marriage never turned a bad relationship good”
    Its hard to make that argument. I may have made people stick together and fashion a better long term agreement, instead of having one party leave.

    To go to extremes is not necessarily helpful. Truly abusive behavior may be universally agreed to end marriages but pushing that as the general rule can widen the scope significantly.

  52. If we (UK) had adhered properly to tradition, we would simply have done what we have done for hundreds of years: Namely said that the Law recognises a civil partnership as a legal entity, and that’s the end of government involvement. Any religious ceremony beyond that has no binding legal status whatsoever.

    IN short remove the business of ‘signing the registry’ from the Church/Synagogue/Mosque or whatever, and make it a purely formal legal contract which has nothing to do with religion.

    WE have, in this country, through bitter experience, learnt to separate religion and politics. A lesson it seems, we have now forgotten.

  53. Jmrc,
    “I understand Lee’s logic. And it’s very important to understand this logic as it’s a powerful cultural and political force in itself – it’s not simply an argument. But it is the ultimate failed social experiment.”

    I believe you understand a portion of my argument- that part about the need for nuclear families and for the projection of a “neutral molecule” model of a social unit. I don’t think you’ve got the part about that self-conscious projection of the social unit functioning as though it was a word. In English we have a word we use frequently- “honor”. Everybody knows the word. Few people are fully up to the demands of it. The fact that we poorly support the meaning of the word does not mean we change the meaning of it for the sake of public consumption so that we can all say we do it justice.

    Many of our social institutions, particularly those of ancient or evolutionary origin, have this word-like function. They propose to project a given meaning to the world. Like “honor” we sometimes are not up to the meaning we seek to communicate. That is not a failure of the word we have sought to use.

  54. Leo Smith: what benefits accrue from marriage being seen as not merely another contract but as something more centrally moral and permanent.
    What Trappings could a mere formal step miss.

  55. Lee Jamison,

    “I believe you understand a portion of my argument- that part about the need for nuclear families and for the projection of a “neutral molecule” model of a social unit.

    I don’t think you’ve got the part about that self-conscious projection of the social unit functioning as though it was a word.”

    No. I know precisely what you mean about the word. And I would go further to say for many people it’s deeply internalised – and they experience it as a concrete element not just of their identity but their existence. Anything that alters the word is experienced as altering them.

    I think the genie is long out of the bottle on this one. Not that I would have a preference for re-bottling the genie – It’s no longer practical to do so. People have tried – this one has been a long war. Hendrik Verwoerd’s Apartheid, didn’t just concern itself with race. As well as anti-miscegenation laws, pre-marital, and extra-marital sex was illegal, forget about homosexual relations. Some American states in the course of the long war tried did this too – but is it possible even with the most oppressive totalitarian state imaginable. This relationship is utterly corrupting for all – even the police become the policed – oppression becomes an end in itself.

    The other night, I heard an interview on the radio with two women living in Colorado. They have a recognised same-sex partnership, and they have three children. And the “word” is very important to them for legal reasons – legal recognition by something like 194 laws (if I remember the number correctly). Ultimately, I don’t see how they can lose. I can’t see how it can be wrangled to give them a status that is distinct from secular law marriage.

    The other thing that is really interesting is your proposition of the molecular family, (where all charges are stable), fitting into a crystaline structure, that is society is very socialist, very Sweden. It is Swedish conservatism that has led them to where they are now. Where Texas conservatism chose rugged individualism, “personal responsibility”, personal faith (Christianity in one person – where there is a obligation to treat only one’s self to charity….charity for the lepers, the poor and unfortunate must be withheld, as giving to them would only encourage a dependency culture). Ultimately, American conservatives chose economic and social politics that did not support the molecular and crystal structures, but smashed them apart – atomised the social elements; the people.

  56. Steve Merrick

    Gay marriage was never necessary until they introduced civil partnerships, and *they* turned out to be inferior to marriage in a number of ways. Then the inequality demanded that gay marriage be created and implemented. It’s all about fairness and equality, I think.

  57. Steve Merrick

    “Then the inequality demanded that gay marriage be created and implemented.

    It’s all about fairness and equality, I think.”

    Yes, but, you have to understand – and you must if you want to understand, why there are people who are so stridently opposed to fairness and equality. Why they see them as an apocalypse provoking injustices.

    There may be absolute randomness in the fortune or misfortune of your birth, but the unfairness and inequality of the world is not that random. It serves a function. Cui Bono, cui malo. You might be surprised to learn that those dishing out the inequality and unfairness believe their doing for the benefit of those on the sticky end of the stick.

    People were puzzled by Margaret Thatcher’s more than a little tacit support of Apartheid era South Africa. Thatcher was all for the freedom of Polish people, but not that comfortable in seeing the same freedoms extended to black South Africans.

    Thatcher saw the Polish as struggling for the same unfairness and inequalities of Apartheid South Africa. She believed the Polish given their “freedom”, the conservative Catholics would dominate, politically and through discrimination and trickery; economically. A drab joyless class would impoverish those who needed impoverishing for their own good, so they could be controlled and managed as God intended. And then we all die and go up to heaven – of course the rough lower classes living in the less salubrious parts of heaven, but close enough to commute to nicer parts for cleaning, gardening work, and serving heavenly chilled lemonade on the veranda. And heaven, if you haven’t already guessed, would heavily resemble Apartheid era South Africa.

  58. JMRC,

    On what basis do you “know” the internal workings of Margaret Thatcher’s mind, or the minds of the widely divergent viewpoints of the people of the state of Texas? Isn’t it more likely that you prefer to project a narrative in which those whose actions you oppose arise from a set of motivations your perceived audience would find repulsive? And isn’t it just as, or even more, likely your perceived opposition actually derive their attitudes as you do- from a variety of socially connected influences?

    For what purpose would a person engaged in a debate project presumed internal states on those whose internal states he really can’t know? One classic reason would be for the purpose of establishing a framing mythology in which the debate would no longer be established in verifiable information that might or might not support his position. Such framing mythologies have nothing to do with the establishment of a good. Instead they are designed to create an image of an enemy around which one can crystallize a social group-think. Jews are defined in a manner supportive of a group-think. Blacks are defined in a manner supportive of a group-think. “conservatives” or “liberals” are defined in a manner supportive of a group-think, and these mythological underpinnings designed to maintain conflict become the foundations of group identities. They are carefully refined for effectiveness in a contest over group membership. They invite a ridiculous temptation to seek out leadership that can project an image of approved internal motivational purity- saints of the cause.

    How does such a resort to unverifiable projections of internal motivation have any place in a philosophical discussion? Would social policy not be better served by establishing the sort of externally verifiable actions we wish to encourage as contrasted to those we wish to discourage?

  59. Wow I must confess you make some very trhencant points.

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