Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Marriage is Not a Creation of the State (and We Should Keep it That Way)

Political scientist Seana Sugrue, in The Meaning of Marriage, starts with the ancient view that the family is pre-political. Marriage and childrearing are not creations of the state, but precede it. Marriage is not a contract created by the market, but precedes it. Having children, she argues, raises marriage above any possibility of being a mere contract to a sacred duty.

Sugrue has this wonderful sentence: "the sexual revolution is to the family what communism is to the market." In the case of the sexual revolution, the state was employed to dismantle the family in the name of greater individual control. Communism, on the other hand, used the state to dismantle the market in the name of greater social control. Both cases, though, ended up making the state more powerful over the institution it was "reforming." The sexual revolution did not just liberate individuals from the family – it left the state in control of defining the family.

Which is why Sugrue argues that establishing legal same-sex marriage would diminish liberty.

11 comments:

eustochius said...

How do you respond to the anthropological evidence of same-sex marriage in native american cultures? Maybe we're being eurocentric here?

If homosexuality truly is a natural condition, shouldn't we try to at least absorb into the mainstream, rather than just boot-it in the name of tradition? I'm sensitive to possible untoward effects of messing with things, but I'm more in agreement with you on no-fault divorce than I am with you here.

I mean if it really is a condition with a strong biological component, aren't we being cruel and ethnocentric by banning gay-marriage? Surely there are other ways of strengthening the family than this?

Shouldn't we disentangle the idea of marriage as a contract from homosexual marriage? Meaning, society should be able to decide --via laws not judges -- what relationships will be considered permissible for marriage, but in all cases, marriage should be construed in terms stronger and more binding than a contract. I fear you're conflating things here.

I understand your desire for including children in the mix of a family, but I know gays who have adopted, and couldn't even non-adopting gays participate in an extended family, just like the kids go off to grandma's house couldn't they go off to Ned and Ted's house? I know it may sound ridiculous, but according to the above article, it's been done before.

And as for gay essentialism being a fad, well it may lessen somewhat, but if you, say, have never experienced strong homosexual urges, why couldn't the reverse hold as well? I think most gays and lesbians feel that way.

Not trying to pester you, just not sure of how you would respond to these things. Maybe you should post your objections to my arguments sometime. Flesh out your reasoning? Seems reasonable to engage the other side point-by-point, no?

Michael W. Kruse said...
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Michael W. Kruse said...

"If homosexuality truly is a natural condition..."

I have a brother and a sister with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. It is genetically transmitted and therefore "natural." I saw one journal article not long ago that argued that rape was inherent in the human species. We can't argue from what is "natural" to what is a moral or social good.

"I mean if it really is a condition with a strong biological component, aren't we being cruel and ethnocentric by banning gay-marriage?"

We have not had "gay-marriage" and now some want to ban it. What we have had is traditional marriage and laws being passed to prevent intrusion upon it. A same-sex union may be a pairing or a grouping but it is not a marriage in ANY historical sense of marriage. A same-sex union may involve sexual acts and emotional bonding but it is not a union of dissimilar but complimentary entities to form something that could not exist with either entity individually or with parings of the same kind.

There are a variety of options that society may choose as to how it relates to individuals who want to live in same-sex relationships. Society may choose to institutionalize some sort of legal status, but by definition it is not a marriage. To alter marriage in this way undercuts the unique institution of the family that is pre-eminent over state considerations.

Also, anecdotal evidence of this that same-sex couple or single individual is irrelevant from a public policy or legislative perspective. The question is what institution best serves the holistic birthing and formation of free and responsible individuals. Taking various options in their aggregates, the traditional family comes out well ahead of other options.

That is my take on this.

Peace.

eustochius said...

Michael,

Obviously, natural does not necessarily equal good. We need to carefully examine the question of whether homosexuality is normal variation (blue eye vs. brown eye), not-so-great but acceptable variation (clumsy people, say), or pathological variation. In this light, I should have stated if homosexuality is either of the first two categories . . .

You didn't really engage the ethnocentric question either. If something very akin to gay marriage has worked in other societies, why not ours? We are a diverse people, with diverse heritages, and with diverse religious beliefs.

It doesn't seem appropriate to impose a viewpoint on greater society purely out of a moderate to conservative Christian stance. Each church can determine what it will sanction as a marriage, but I think we need separation of church and state.

I don't doubt that legalization of gay marriage would produce a "disturbance in the force" for a while, but I think in the long term society would benefit by allowing gays to enter into marriage relationships. If cohabitation is bad for heterosexual couples, why not homosexual couples?

As for the inevitable polygamy question, that's why I oppose change via judges but support it through the legislatures. It would give control to the people to draw the lines as they so chose.

What say you, gruntled et al.?

Michael W. Kruse said...

“Obviously, natural does not necessarily equal good. We need to carefully examine the question of whether homosexuality is normal variation (blue eye vs. brown eye), not-so-great but acceptable variation (clumsy people, say), or pathological variation. In this light, I should have stated if homosexuality is either of the first two categories . . .”

“You didn't really engage the ethnocentric question either. If something very akin to gay marriage has worked in other societies, why not ours? We are a diverse people, with diverse heritages, and with diverse religious beliefs.”

(I realize we are discussing highly controversial subject matter. I VERY much appreciate your respectful yet forthright questions. I have read over the following trying to account for tone but I am often tone deaf. For all who read on, please, please read my remarks in the tone of two friends conversing over a cup of jo at Starbucks.)

Fair enough. We still come back to the question of what is pathological. That can only be answered in the context of a culture’s values. The statement “worked in other societies” is a loaded statement for me. Slavery “worked” for centuries in Greece and Rome. Subjugation of women has “worked” in most societies throughout recorded history. Monarchy “worked” well too. Why not adopt these practices as well?

I know enough about American Indian cultures to know that there are other practices that “worked” for them that you and I would not want any part of, yet their sexual practices emerge from the same cultural mix. We can’t extract a cultural practice out of its context and say because it “worked” here it will be a positive contribution elsewhere. (I will also I add that I am deeply suspicious of how other cultures’ customs are characterized in this debate, ala Margaret Mead)

Yes we are a diverse people with diverse heritage and religious beliefs. What has enabled our culture to emerge this way is constitutional democracy with separation of powers and institutions. Fundamental to that democracy has been the enviable institution of the family as the primary place of birth, nurture, education, and care throughout an individual’s life. In my estimation, the family is the lynchpin to all else that secures our society and allows for the diversity you and I cherish. It is what thwarts totalitarian impulses.

That brings us back to the question of why not just have same-sex “families” as well as heterosexual families. The point is that the heterosexual family is an organism but a same-sex pairing is not. There may be mutual sexual and emotional gratification within a same-sex grouping but it is not a marriage. Marriage is the uniting of two dissimilar but complimentary entities to form something that either entity alone or combined with same entities would not otherwise be. Marriage includes within it the potential organic emergence of human life. Yes, it is possible to have a sterile organism but this is not the same as have a pairing that never had even the potentiality of life. It is not organic.

By and large, what two consenting adults choose to do in the privacy of their own homes should not IMO be a concern of the state. I wrote earlier that society may indeed want to develop laws that recognize pairings of whatever kind as a special legal status. That is a different question from saying a same-sex pairing is a marriage and should be treated the same.

“It doesn't seem appropriate to impose a viewpoint on greater society purely out of a moderate to conservative Christian stance.”

Who is imposing and how? Why should people of more liberal religious stances, or no religious stance, be able to “impose” their view on society that marriage is anything two individuals want it to be? This argument cuts both ways.

Government requiring someone to declare Jesus is divine, or be a member of a church, or subscribe to a religious creedal statement is religious “imposition.” If people debating in the public square and voting on their values about things like murder, property laws, or marriage, - regardless of where those values came from - can persuade enough others to codify their moral scheme (assuming it does not violate constitutional provisions) then you have democracy, not imposition. This is precisely why the First Amendment was created; so that non-state moral instruction would be free from state control and thereby be able to have an impact on the state through democratic processes .

(I also want to note one other issue. Yes, I am a moderate to conservative Christian. Have I in my last post or this one made may case from religious doctrine?)

“I don't doubt that legalization of gay marriage would produce a "disturbance in the force" for a while, but I think in the long term society would benefit by allowing gays to enter into marriage relationships. If cohabitation is bad for heterosexual couples, why not homosexual couples?”

Actually, I think the disturbance in the force would be minimal in the short run should the oxymoron of same-sex marriage be codified. It is not the relatively small numbers of these same-sex marriages that will have any impact. It is the undermining of the family as an enviable organic institution that precedes, and takes precedence to, the state that will cause the real disturbance a generation or two down the road. It will erode protection of individuals by families from the state.

“As for the inevitable polygamy question, that's why I oppose change via judges but support it through the legislatures. It would give control to the people to draw the lines as they so chose.”

I am curious about your on take on this. Why isn’t objection to polygamy ethnocentric? Isn’t that imposing values on the culture? After all, I can point you to many many more cultures that have practiced, and still practice, polygamy.

eustochius said...

Don't worry, Michael. I too am frustrated by people who get all bent out of shape due to a comment. I think a recent study showed that we misinterpret tone 50% of the time in "electronic" conversations.

You're right that all of these are very tricky questions -- just because we can find one or even many cultures that does something doesn't necessarily make it right. But it raises questions.

I approach ethical questions such as these from a broadly utilitarian perspective. Meaning, I ask what is likely to lead to the greatest flourishing of all members of a society. And I guess all I can say is that as time has passed I've moved from agnostic to pro on gay marriage. It would be complex to explain why but when all is said and done, I feel the benefits of same-sex marriage would outweigh the harm -- if any. I guess it comes from my personal knowledge of gays and lesbians and a desire to embrace all people into society. It stems from love and also the conviction that allowing gays to marry could actually strengthen the institution of marriage by allowing more into the fold.

I do recognize, however, that at least sometimes "the path to hell is paved with good intentions."

As for polygamy, I have no a priori convictions on it, and am open to the debate. Though I am suspicious of it. The difference with homosexuality is that I have never met any polygamous couples and cannot judge the merit of such a union. So I'd have to be convinced that polygamy would be beneficial for society before I'd support it -- and I am dubious.

I understand your definition of marriage, but I don't agree that child-bearing is its essential characteristic.

So, it's not that I think we should allow gay marriage out of an abstract sense of "rights" and "equality" but rather because I think gay marriage would produce a net benefit for society.

As for the Christian thing, I didn't mean to be rude, and I know that it is licit for Christian values to influence laws, but I don't think it is a good thing.

[When I say Christian values, I mean those values and convictions that are unique to Christianity.]

Meaning, I don't think it is legitimate, though it is certainly legal, for sectarian biases to influence law-making. Meaning, I think people should search their being for universal values, for the core values, uninfluenced by ideological considerations when devising laws. When they consider what is good and what is bad, they should consult their hearts, not their Bibles.

See, I'm not at all a Calvinist. I love Erasmus through and through. In my estimation, strict reliance on books and creeds has damaged the moral capacity of mankind. To truly be good, one must know the discover the good first hand, unmediated by books. Books and traditions are at best an imperfect guide.

But on questions like these, we'll just have to agree to disagree. We have different notions of the good and different estimations of what the effects of gay marriage will be.

However, if trends continue, we will see gay marriage being tested in the real world more and more. So we'll just have to wait and see what happens to find out who's right.

Gruntled said...

Eustochius, I thank you for asking hard and detailed questions. Sometimes it takes me awhile to know how to answer them.

I mostly agree with Michael Kruse in this discussion. What I am most sure of is that marriage is the union of the complementary set of a man and a women who live a life open to children. Marriage takes two persons and makes them one flesh. Their potentional to be one flesh is fully realized in their children. All of the social institutions which we have developed after that can and, with a couple of exceptions, do recognize the reality of marriage.

I do think there is a biological component to homosexual attraction, at least for men. I don't think a free society should oppress those with that orientation, or its expression. I think it is natural for people to want to marry, and if they can't quite marry, to come as close as they can get. Society should accept these attempts in good faith. Civil society can extend the benefits of recognizing these attempts as they do to marriages.

As to the berdache evidence, if we take the idea of "gender" as a social construct seriously, then there is no reason to expect that the biological inclination to a same-sex orientation leads to the same gender(s) in all societies. Berdache is one way. Gay culture today is another. Ancient Greek culture showed another. They are cousins, but not the same, and not really precedent for one another, pro or con.

This leads me to reiterate my comments on gay essentialism. I do not quite get what you were trying to say about that idea. Please elaborate.

eustochius said...

Eustochius, I thank you for asking hard and detailed questions. Sometimes it takes me awhile to know how to answer them.

No problem, Gruntled. And besides, just because some guy leaves a comment on your site, doesn't mean you have to jump. Thanks for responding.

I recognize that there are ineradicable differences between homosexual and heterosexual couplings and that only one can serve as the basis for society. I might even be inclined to say that heterosexual couplings are better than homosexual ones.

However, I support gay marriage for two reasons.

(1)I doubt that gay marriage would have a negative effect on the institution of marriage, whereas I can see that the transformation of marriage into a pure contract would.

(2)Since I doubt that negative consequences will arise, I think it would be cruel to establish in law that homosexual couplings are second-class. Just as we mainstream kids with disabilities into normal classes, I don't see why we should bar gays from marrying. Gay unions are already inherently inferior to heterosexual ones -- not because of the quality of their relationship but because they can't produce biological children. Why rub it in their faces?

As for gay essentialism, my point was just about a legitimate biological component. I should say that my background is in science, so I'm a bit of an unashamed moderninst. As for various cultures, I agree that biology will manifest differently in different places; the difference in our culture is that we have no established cultural institution for gays and lesbians, and that if other societies have flourished with them, perhaps ours could as well.

Casey said...

"the traditional family comes out well ahead of other options."

I think what people mean when they say something like that, is that the "perfect traditional family", or the "ideal traditional family", or the "fully functioning family".

The "traditional family" does not come out ahead of two people who make a conscious decision to add children to a family.

If you coerce statistics to say that children in wealthy homes "come out well ahead" of those in middle or working class homes would you suggest that the better option be the preferred place for kids to be raised?

It seems to me that when the designed the adoption and foster care system, they had at least one thing right: placement authority lies with a local judge who makes a placement decision in THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD.

Casey said...

"Marriage is the uniting of two dissimilar but complimentary entities to form something that either entity alone or combined with same entities would not otherwise be."

so, two seemingly dissimilar people (with the exception of only their gender) who compliment each other, who form an entity (the couple, marriage, whatever) that didn't exist before alone (remember, they were single) and combined with the same entities would not be (ya, they are just friends who love each other, have sex, have a mortgage, fight, have kids, etc). That line is a little baloney and a lot of whatever else goes into poorly made sausage.



"Marriage includes within it the potential organic emergence of human life. Yes, it is possible to have a sterile organism but this is not the same as have a pairing that never had even the potentiality of life. It is not organic."

Lets get back to that natural argument.....marriage has the potential for the two people involved to have domestic violence (thanks to discriminatory laws is recognized as ONLY originating from marriages), does that mean marriage was designed for domestic violence?

Fine, lets only recognize children if they are organic. Or do you only want to recognize marriages that have the specific potential for organic offspring? We could have several marriage licenses really: marriage for procreation, marriage for economic benefit, marriage for sex, marriage for political gain. Fine....lets call marriage for potential procreation, but lets take away all marriage rights from people who don't pop out enough babies. No more second marriages after childbearing years either......we can't confuse the issue here people

Gruntled said...

Casey:
I don't really follow most of your argument. I was particularly puzzled by this:
"The "traditional family" does not come out ahead of two people who make a conscious decision to add children to a family."
Isn't that the definition of the traditional family?