If you are genuinely curious if there are any arguments for the conjugal view (male/female) of marriage outside of divine revelation, you are my target audience.
Let’s start out like Socrates and define our terms. Let’s not be like Socrates and spend less than the entire time defining our terms.
There are two views of marriage opposing each other in our country as we speak. Let us call these views by their proper name: “conjugal” and “revisionist”. The latter is being championed by the press, and the former is being systematically stigmatized as bigotry.
The “conjugal” definition of marriage is the public recognition of the organic bodily union that is only possible between a man and a woman ordered toward the procreation and rearing of children. The utter uniqueness of this union (coitus) is expressed in its ability to produce life. The state has an interest in regulating the obligations and responsibilities attendant upon procreation because the state has a legitimate interest in the welfare of its citizens, more specifically: children.
The “revisionist” definition of marriage is the union of two persons who love each other. The two persons define for themselves what sexual acts they will use to constitute their union. The state has an interest in stable relationships, and so should recognize as marriage any relationship that two humans enter into to avoid unjust discrimination.
It is true that Catholicism elevates marriage to a sacrament. It is not true that marriage is an invention of religion. Therefore, divine revelation, although relevant for your immortal soul, is not necessary to defend the conjugal definition of marriage. To understand how this is possible, one has to understand what marriage is.
Unique Union Our bodies speak for themselves. Man is made for woman, and woman is made for man. Or to put it another way, the man’s body is ordered towards union with a woman’s body and vice a versa. This should not be a difficult concept for our over sexualized culture. This union is the only natural way possible for our species to continue. The life that is created from this unique union, has a basic human right to be cared for by those who created him. So, the state and every civilization that has ever existed has recognized that it has an interest in strengthening the relationship between the biological parents and their children. Why?
Secular social science understands that when children are raised in single-parent households, indicators of healthy development are negatively affected. Educational achievement, sexual development, child and adult behavior, aggression levels are all affected negatively by not having a father around. According to the U. S. Census 22.4 million children in the United States live without their fathers. If social science has shown that not having a father around decimates that child’s chances of healthy development, wouldn’t the state be negligent in not strengthening the ties between the biological parents and their children? The Child Trends Institute, hardly a bastian of social conservatism, has stated, “[R]esearch clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low‐conflict marriage. Children in single‐parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in stepfamilies or cohabiting relationships face higher risks of poor outcomes. . . . There is thus value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents. . . . [I]t is not simply the presence of two parents, . . . but the presence of two biological parents that seems to support children’s development.”
An objection often arises that because an infertile couple cannot procreate, then marriage couldn’t have the conjugal definition. An infertile couple does not change the definition of marriage in principal. A male and a female, in principal, can always procreate. Particular circumstances don’t change the definition or nature of marriage, just like cancer does not change the nature of a human being; or an amputated leg does not make someone cease to be a human. Just because we recognize man’s rational capacity as distinct from all other mammals and include that in the definition of what it means to be human, a person who has brain damage and cannot manifest his rational nature is no less human. Contrary to popular belief, exceptions don’t invalidate definitions. They are exceptions for a reason.
In fact the revisionist hardly ever defines what they think marriage is. They only claim what marriage is not. It will be their difficulty to come up with a lasting definition of marriage that won’t include the various arrangements that they claim to be against. (Bigamy, Polygamy, Incest.)
Marriage “Equality” The state is not discriminating against persons by recognizing the conjugal view of marriage. Rather the state recognizes the complimentary nature of males and females, and their unique act of coitus between one male and one female, which produces children. The state does not recognize subjective inclinations when it recognizes marriage, it recognizes nature.
A common tactic used by revisionists is equating the civil rights movement of the 1960’s with the struggle for redefining marriage. This is a very effective argument. However, efficacy does not equal validity. Sexual preference is not equivalent to race. This comparison not only belittles the civil rights movement, but destroys our concept of equality. Martin Luther King Jr. did not march to fulfill his sexual desire. Martin Luther King Jr. marched because his people could not vote, could not eat at restaurants, had separate drinking fountains, were systematically killed, threatened, and disenfranchised with no representation. Essentially, African-Americans were non-persons under the law. This is the essence of unjust discrimination and the revisionist view doesn't approach civil rights movement's legitimacy. The revisionist movement is analogous to the movement that led to our country’s acceptance of no-fault divorce, or Margaret Sanger’s activism that led to the sexual revolution. Contrarily, the civil rights movement closely parallels the pro-life movement because both are movements for personhood. Activism for sexual fulfillment and activism to be recognized as persons cannot be viewed as similar. Are there legitimate concerns about how people with same-sex attraction are treated? Yes. Any unjust discrimination should be fought against. (I will include at the end of this article some blogs of Catholics who struggle with same-sex attraction, and some resources for Catholics who struggle with this cross.)
There is a philosophical principle with regard to justice and equality that needs to be addressed. Justice cannot be reduced to equality. Take this extreme example to illustrate this point. Imagine a group of mathematicians that think that all circles should be entitled to be called triangles. Now use equality as our only principle. If this were true then Mathematics would be forced to recognize all circles as triangles for the sake of equality.
Equality is good when we are sharing pizza. Equality is good with regard to the dignity of each human person. But equality is not the be-all and end-all to justice. For example, all ideas are not equal. It would not be just to redefine reality to conform to a false idea. If one believes that the sky is purple, should we then change the definition of purple to accommodate this idea. That would be absurd. But the revisionist view of marriage would do just that. It would attempt to change the nature of marriage by changing its legal definition. (Herein lies the root problem. Revisionists must believe that marriage is a legal fiction created by the state. If that is true, then marriage has no independent reality outside of one’s whim. Here is yet another manifestation of our society’s plague of relativism. I digress.)
The conjugal view of marriage is that marriage is enshrined in human nature and predates civilization itself. The revisionist view is that marriage is malleable and should be subject to the opinions of the majority and the principle of equality.
Consequences of Redefintion The conjugal view does not believe that males and females will no longer bodily unite together if marriage is redefined. Rather marriage as a public (or state recognized) institution will no longer matter, and neither will the norms attendant to the institution (monogamy, fidelity and permanence). If the rational basis is malleable, and there is no independent reality behind the state’s new definition of marriage, then society will devolve. If we tear down this wall, there is no rational basis for keeping permanence, fidelity, or monogamy. These will just be “hindrances” that discriminate against fulfillment for future generations that will not know why marriage ever existed in the first place. Tearing down laws, replacing them with pseudo laws will not leave a more fulfilled society, it will leave a disordered society with no real family structure.
Take three mantras used by revisionists to shut down their opposition:
- This doesn’t affect you or your marriage
- You are discriminating against me
- Marriage and children are not mutually exclusive.
To the first mantra, which is the most overplayed and most effective slogan ever created by an activist group. (It approaches the genius of the much venerated “pro-choice” slogan the abortion advocates use.)
It affects my future marriage and my family in many ways if our society decides to redefine marriage. For one, the loyalty I have to my conscience and religion will be on par with being a racist. Therefore, me, my wife, my children will be considered to be brainwashed, or ignorant for holding this view. Not many of us have escaped this stigmatization. If we have, it is either because we are blessed or silent.
“Same-sex marriage” will be a creation of the state, without any rationale outside of personal desire. Therefore it will need the state’s active propping up through: education, institutions, laws, the press, etc. Public schools will be forced to develop curriculum to normalize what the state has done. Even if the majority of parents object, they will be coerced. Why? If believing in the conjugal view of marriage is bigotry, then why would the state tolerate this belief; especially if the state has an interest in the acceptance of its new creation?
To the second mantra: discrimination. (which is by far the most misunderstood word in American political lexicon)
A few things to clear up here. One’s sexual inclination is not who that person is. The self-identification with one’s desire is an irrational outcropping of modernity. One is not his/her desire, one is not his/her idea. Consequently, if I disagree with someone, I am not discriminating against them as persons. I am discriminating against what I perceive to be a false idea. I hope you do too. Have you ever met anyone who said.“I believe everything everyone says because I don’t want to discriminate against them.” No you haven’t, because apparently only logic can be erased when it comes to sexual issues.
If the revisionists are right, and the revisionist view of marriage is analogous to the abolishment of the laws that prevented races from marrying each other, than I have two questions for them. If what you say is true about the anti-micengenation laws being akin to Proposition 8, why would the state allow religions to maintain their religious freedom if you concede that religions should not be able to discriminate on the basis of race? You claim that religious freedom to teach the conjugal view will not be affected, but if sexual orientation is akin to race, then how could it not be? The parallels drawn between race and sexual preference have and already have deep consequences for religion in the public square that eventually will be felt within its walls.
The conjugal view affirms the definition of marriage found in human nature, and therefore excludes any other arrangement, thereby discriminating against redefining it. Not out of malice, but out of impossibility. The revisionist also discriminates, because the revisionist views the status quo on marriage as wrong. Back and forth we go down the discrimination train that leads to nowhere. The bottom line is desires are not persons, and persons are not their ideas. Conflating the two in either instance obscures the real argument, and always succeeds in destroying meaningful discourse.
To the third mantra about marriage and children.
I repeat: the conjugal organic bodily union of a male and female, known as coitus, is the only natural act of human beings that generates offspring. This is the reason why civilization has always recognized this union as unique. If the state redefines marriage, it will no longer have a rational basis for recognizing it in the first place. The reason is because marriage is a public institution because, I repeat, the state has an interest in strengthening the only union that generates offspring, and regulating the obligations and responsibilities attendant on procreation. The law is the great teacher. If the state claims that this is not the rational basis for the state interest, then eventually civilization will not understand why marriage is even necessary.
Slippery Slope The slippery slope argument that redefining marriage will lead to the legal enshrinement of bigamy, polygamy and incest has been demonized over and over again by our sophisticated press. Why is this? Why is this demonization so effective? Because, if I am my idea and I am my desire, then when you make a reductio ad absurdum argument (reducing the argument to the inevitable absurd conclusion), you are making me look absurd. This self-identification with one’s sexual preference is a dangerous slippery slope.
Warning against potential consequences of changing laws is not alarmist. Labeling such persons as alarmist and bigoted are attempts to destroy the messenger. Using the slogans and the logic of the revisionist, there is nothing preventing someone who desires three wives from claiming discrimination if the three wives consent. If you take coitus and its inherent procreative nature out of the equation there is no other argument offered why marriage should be limited two people. This stripping of the definition of marriage will have unintended consequences, and revisionists should think long and hard about the implications of their view.
Most if not all revisionists believe they are on the right side of history. Most have good intentions and genuinely believe there is injustice taking place. Yet… no matter how genuine someone believes that the sky is purple; no matter how well intentioned the triangle equality mathematicians are; no matter how much language is borrowed from previous legitimate movements; the true nature of marriage will never be erased because the true nature of marriage is written in our bodies.
I drew largely from an article in the Harvard Journal Of Law & Public Policy that you can find here.
If you or someone you know struggle with same-sex attraction, Courage is an awesome ministry dedicated to serving men and women with same-sex attraction. You can find them here.