Natural functions and marriage

Over at Maggie Gallagher has been dealing with one of the standard arguments for “gay marriage,” that there can’t be an essential connection between marriage and procreation because after all 70-year-old women are allowed to marry even though they can’t have babies. Miss Gallagher handles the question very well, but there’s a lurking point worth bringing out.

She says,

For roughly 2000 years, pretty much no one [I have no idea why she limits it to 2000 years or to “pretty much no one”] ever thought of saying that because we let older women marry, and because some married couples don’t have children, marriage is not really about childbearing, it is primarily about adult relationships.

It is only in the context of the SSM [”same-sex marriage”] debate that people (gay marriage advocates) began to argue, and judges began to rule, that because older women can legally marry, marriage is not about procreation.

It seems to me the argument presented by the “gay marriage” advocates isn’t opportunistic, but faithfully reflects the technocratic point of view now commonly identified with rationality itself. On that view, to say marriage has to do with the continuation of the species is to say that the relationship between marriage and having babies is like the relationship between an auto shop and fixing cars. Of course it’s not, so on that view no essential function can be found for marriage other than allowing people who feel connected to formalize their relationship. That’s the only result marriage brings about in each and every case, so that (the argument goes) must be its rational purpose. Such a view also seems to avoid an inhuman “biological machine” theory of sex that people believe would otherwise follow.

The argument would make sense if we were fundamentally technological beings whose lives consisted in the adaptation of means to whatever ends we happen to choose. That’s not so, though. What we understand ourselves to be has to do with qualities and relationships that are at once more subtle and complex and more stable and enduring than the technical requirements for choosing goals and bringing them about.

In fact, the fundamental social relationships that define who we are are based on not on technical rationality but on what might be called functional identities. One thing that defines me, for example, is nationality: I am American. The reason nationality matters is that it involves mutual promotion of the common good, and so has necessary functional aspects. Nationality means, among other things, that I should obey the laws, do my part to promote the common welfare, defend the country against its enemies, and so on. Nonetheless, I had the same nationality when I was a newborn and would have it if I were insane or on my deathbed. I would still be American if I became a traitor, and our allies during wartime do not become American even though they protect America from her enemies.

Nationality, then, doesn’t depend on actual performance or ability to perform certain social functions even though it has to do with those functions. It defines me as someone who characteristically would do and would want to do such things—conditions permitting—because of what I am, not as someone who happens to be in a position to do them just now. The fact nationality has to do with the characteristics that define us rather than specific cause and effect is what makes it a motivator that can be relied on. It is because it has to do with essential qualities that it goes deeper than the particular accidents and circumstances of life.

Being a man or woman, and being married, are like having a particular nationality only much more so, since sex has been around much longer and touches us much more deeply than nationhood. Marriage is constituted by what the participants and their relationship are understood to be. Being a man or woman is basic to what one is. The sexual union of a man and woman touches them deeply and by natural design—even if not in every case—produces children. Those things are far too basic to the pattern of human life to ignore or treat as purely technical matters. Marriage thus recognizes, orders and supports natural functional identities that we can’t help but feel and that can’t help but guide our actions, and thereby makes possible an orderly and reliable system for the connection of human beings to the social order and the continuation of the species.

To say that marriage could just as easily involve two men or two women is as much as to say that being a man or woman is fundamentally irrelevant to what one is and that the importance of sex is irrelevant to its natural function. At bottom, that is the message of liberal cultural radicalism. What sane person believes it though? And if being a man or woman is irrelevant to what we are, and sex is simply what the parties make of it, how could marriage—which would reduce to a private contract based on idiosyncratic purposes—gain enough purchase on what we are to serve anything like the function it has traditionally had?

7 thoughts on “Natural functions and marriage”

  1. I’ve noticed that your views
    I’ve noticed that your views are all full of crap, simply dressed up in formal intellectual language. I do hope other people realise this.

    I’m surprised that someone that speaks as ‘smart’ as you do has decided to remain static and stoic in life, believing in old traditional values—I thought intellectuals were supposed to think for themselves and be above discrimination, confines, and restrictions. Obviously not.

    You keep saying ‘natural’. Do you not think that homosexuals think it’s ‘natural’ for them to be this way? Are you so easily persuaded by the views society has given you? Let me remind you that we—humans—are animals. Beasts. Inhumane. Look at that word, we made it up. But it’s just a word. Like we made society and the way it’s shaped up to be today—it’s called EVOLUTION, look it up. Animals show homosexual behaviour. We are no different.

    It’s just disappointing for me to see such a (I assume) well-educated person who has very little to offer. And teenagers like me are supposed to look up to and respect adults like you? No wonder our society is forever corrupt, continuing on the never-ending cycle of discrimination and lack of acceptance.

    You probably aren’t, but you should be, ashamed of yourself.

    • Trying to mainstream homosexuality only exacerbates the problem
      “Do you not think that homosexuals think it’s ‘natural’ for them to be this way?” (—“Open-Minded Individual”)

      Most do; some don’t. But that’s not the point. The homosexual problem in today’s society is their attempt to mainstream their sexual perversion.

      Homosexuality isn’t normal. It’s a sickness. Let homosexuals accept that and behave accordingly. If the commenter is a teenage homosexual struggling with this issue I’m very sorry to speak thus starkly. But he must understand he invites this kind of response if he militate aggressively in homosexuality’s favor, against normalness. If he persists he’ll learn before too many more years have passed that people don’t approve of having homosexuality shoved down their or, especially, their school-age kids’ throats.

      “If a tree falls and an expert doesn’t hear it, is there a sound?” Yes, the sweetest, most melodious sound in all creation: the sound of entropy being brought clanking, screeching, grinding to a halt.

    • Mr. Kalb’s Views
      Let me suggest the young commentator can catch more bees with honey than a fly swatter. What makes people think personal attacks constitute intellectual discussion? I suppose it is the enormous amount of flaming allowed by some Websites, but not this one.

      The young man equates humans with beasts. It would follow that he has no problem with bestiality, but of course I do not propose he actually would condone such a hideous practice. Hopefully, he will not follow the nominalist’s route and change the everyday meaning of his words to say that is not what he meant. He might not have meant it, but he still said it. Concede the point and set out a new argument, if there is one.

      Stoicism is an ancient heresy according to the Catholic Church. It is absurd to propose Mr. Kalb, a Catholic intellectual and quite aware of this heresy, adheres to this heresy. Stoicism is the belief one must grin and bear it—there is no way out. This was characteristic of the Romans. But Catholics know there is a way out: the belief in Jesus as our Savior. We can rest our heads on His shoulder.

      Natural law is a part of our human nature; but Mr. Kalb does not propose it determines our behavior. Because liberals love to use natural law (that is, natural history) as a premise for their conclusions, Mr. Kalb is merely trying to use their natural law premise against them rather than asserting natural law is paramount.

      I better stop boring everyone now.

    • What he has to offer depends on what you’re looking for
      If all you want is yet another source of confirmation for the sort of thing you hear everywhere, you’re right, Mr. Kalb has very little for you.

      If you ever learn the value of serious thought, you’ll discover than an intelligent opponent can offer you more than anyone else.

  2. Nuance and Story
    It seems many debates about homosexual marriage neglect to mention at the outset that God says it is sinful. The debate it seems cannot be won by rational argument though argument is useful to rebut the supposed rational argument that is a liberal’s only way to fight for his belief, that is, his religion.

    Perhaps the traditionalist’s first line of rebuttal is that it has been sinful in the Christian Bible and among Christians for 2000 years. Then of course they need to attack the irrationality of the liberal argument, for liberals never will come up with a solid, rational argument for homosexual marriage. Their arguments all have fallacies, yet they won’t admit the basis for their view is merely a belief and not the result of inductive or deductive reasoning.

    Perhaps opponents need to admit that allowing marriages between people who are too old to have children MIGHT be logically inconsistent with the Christian (at least Catholic) belief that a marriage’s purpose is procreation. (It seems, but I could be wrong, the Bible has instances of God punishing women by making them barren, yet not dissolving their marriages.)

    But logical inconsistency does not negate a religious practice. For example, “Catholic” homosexuals pick and choose among mysteries. An illogical proposition is that Jesus, a human, was born of a human virgin Mother, but it does not negate the fact that it occurred. Illogical is the idea a man named Jesus turned a few fish and loaves of bread into enough food to feed a multitude. So why is permitting barren marriages for 2000 years an unacceptable mystery? Do not all married couples become barren? The opponents need to assert that religion comprises logic and inscrutable mystery and not be so intimidated by supposed logic, which is almost always composed of fallacies when religion and politics are involved.

    The homosexual advocate of homosexual marriage is a petulant child of God. Many Catholics want to have sex with as many people of the opposite sex as they can, but they don’t because they attempt to adhere to God’s commandment that thou shalt not commit adultery. Homosexuality is adultery. The heterosexuals attempt to adhere to the God initiated tradition not to the homosexual initiated tradition of rampant sex. How would ignoring God’s commandment against adultery be satisfied by granting homosexual’s the right to marry? It seems God would wreak vengeance as he did before.

    The investigation of nuance is important, but the average person needs to know how to rebut liberal beliefs.

  3. Sad developments in Canada re: “same-sex” marriage…
    See here and here.

    The courts make a ruling, then Parliament reacts. (Typical; as they usually do, they can say their hands are tied – already, the one province which has spoken out most loudly against queer marriage – Alberta – is already proclaiming they can’t do anything, it’s in the feds’ hands, and, sadly, it seems they are right…)

    “If passed, Canada would join Belgium and the Netherlands in making gay marriage legal nationwide.”, says the one CBC piece… Yay, joining Belgium and the Netherlands, marching together with the Low Countries into the Abyss…

    I pray, my American friends, that your country will longer resist the insanity engulfing mine… (Though I have little cause for optimism in the long-term, given Massachusetts, Oregon, Hawaii, etc.)

  4. Keeping Homosexuals Out of the Closet
    Marriage has always been between men and women. To call a union between two men or two women marriage is illogical. Perhaps it needs a new name at a minimum. We could make the word vague and thereby delegitimize its usage without the proper modifier. This might require eradicating marriage as a state controlled institution and turning it over to the Churches, who would then resolve any disputes, even those relating to property; the penalty for noncompliance would be excommunication.

    People would then be talking about Catholic marriages, Methodist marriages, Canadian marriages, etc. If someone said they were married, the listener would respond with “what do you mean”? Eventually people would stop using the word marriage and come up with precise expressions to signify the various kinds of relationships they were talking about. Heterosexual married people would then be free from suffering the illogic and indignity of being classified as equal to homosexual married people.

    Perhaps even the words husband and wife could be dropped and each religion would have a different name for the two participants. So that one would introduce his Catholic spouse as his [a word in Latin or Hebrew or any language that has feminine and masculine inflections]. We would then all be out of the closet, which is what homosexuals claim they want. Actually, they still want to hide their sin by changing the definition of the word marriage.

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