Additional thoughts on “gay marriage”

Additional thoughts on “gay marriage” provoked by a discussion I started, in connection with the Rauch piece, in the Atlantic discussion forum on Politics and Society:

Comments about “Judeo-Christian morality” are silly in this connection. The limitation of marriage to male/female unions is hardly peculiar to Judaism and Christianity. It was also the uniform practice in Greece and Rome as well as in Islamic countries, India, China, and no doubt everywhere else (if there were any society that routinely treated same-sex like male/female unions I’m sure we would have heard about it endlessly).

It’s true that marriage has religious implications. So does “gay marriage.” The traditional view proposes that the world—the physical world around us—is good, that man is essentially embodied, that the body and its natural functioning are morally relevant to human life. Advocates of “gay marriage” on the contrary dematerialize morality and make the body irrelevant to the person. They don’t like the real world we actually live in.

In fact, marriage involves the whole man, and so is physical, natural, intentional, cultural, political, and spiritual. Rauch claims it will remain the same—it will still involve the whole man and have the same effect in ordering our impulses and lives—if the physical and natural aspects are cut out of it. That claim depends on the view that the physical and natural are irrelevant to human life, which is obviously wrong.

It’s true that some married people don’t have children. However, there is no special reason to support such marriages—if they were typical of marriage then marriage would just be a private arrangement getting and deserving to get no more recognition than any other private arrangement, membership in a club for example. It’s not such people who make marriage the particular institution it is, one that’s felt to promote loyalty and long term cooperation in a particularly forceful way. In fact, to the extent they get married intending not to have children such people undermine the institution and help make it just another mode of personal self-definition. Which isn’t at all what Mr. Rauch wants, although it’s all he will be able to get if he has his way.

There is public concern and support for marriage only because of the essential connection to procreation and children of the union of a man and a woman, the natural functioning of whose bodies together leads to procreation and children. If any old commitment is just as good why not treat my admiration for George Washington or an NRA member’s attachment to his rifle as a marriage? Narrow-minded people might laugh, but there are those who find such things very important and worthy of at least as much respect as whatever it was that Ozzie and Harriet used to do.

What about intentionally childless couples? You can’t make an institution as fundamental as marriage depend on arbitrary private purposes. The male and female bodies are designed for procreation in the same sense the eye is designed for seeing. Put them together and they most often end up procreating. So it’s sensible to treat a union of man and woman entered into with all the necessary solemnity and involving the appropriate rights and obligation as a marriage even though private purpose may be at odds with the reason for giving marriage special support. All the objective features are there and it makes sense for the law to go off on that.

It’s true two women could, if the law permits, adopt a child, hire a surrogate or use a turkey baster. IBM could do the first two, and even the third if an employee volunteered. So I don’t see why the relationship between the two women has a better claim to be considered a marriage than the relationship among the stockholders, managers and employees of IBM. Neither can produce children by natural functioning, both can become custodians of an infant through some sort of artifice and feel responsible for raising it to maturity, and both can involve loyalty, mutual support and so on.

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