Post Author: Bill Pratt
If marriage revisionists want to reject the conjugal view of marriage and decouple marriage completely from human biology and sexual reproduction, then they need to answer some questions about the revisionist view.
Robert George, Ryan Anderson, and Sherif Girgis, in their seminal paper on marriage, pose three challenges to marriage revisionists.
First, if marriage revisionists want the state to sanction and regulate long-term and committed relationships between any two people, regardless of their intention or ability to sexually reproduce, then why does the state not set terms for ordinary friendships? The authors ask, “Why does it not create civil causes of action for neglecting or even betraying our friends? Why are there no civil ceremonies for forming friendships or legal obstacles to ending them?”
Proponents of the conjugal view can answer this question as follows:
It is simply because ordinary friendships do not affect the political common good in structured ways that justify or warrant legal regulation. Marriages, in contrast, are a matter of urgent public interest, as the record of almost every culture attests—worth legally recognizing and regulating. Societies rely on families, built on strong marriages, to produce what they need but cannot form on their own: upright, decent people who make for reasonably conscientious, law‐abiding citizens. As they mature, children benefit from the love and care of both mother and father, and from the committed and exclusive love of their parents for each other. . . .
This is why the state has an interest in marriages that is deeper than any interest it could have in ordinary friendships: Marriages bear a principled and practical connection to children. Strengthening the marriage culture improves children’s shot at becoming upright and productive members of society. In other words, our reasons for enshrining any conception of marriage, and our reasons for believing that the conjugal understanding of marriage is the correct one, are one and the same: the deep link between marriage and children. Sever that connection, and it becomes much harder to show why the state should take any interest in marriage at all. Any proposal for a policy, however, has to be able to account for why the state should enact it.
Second, marriage revisionists may want to rule out friendships as marriage because they are not romantic. But on the revisionist view, on what principled grounds can they deny people who want their long-term friendships to be sanctioned by the state? The authors offer the following scenario:
Take Joe and Jim. They live together, support each other, share domestic responsibilities, and have no dependents. Because Joe knows and trusts Jim more than anyone else, he would like Jim to be the one to visit him in the hospital if he is ill, give directives for his care if he is unconscious, inherit his assets if he dies first, and so on. The same goes for Jim.
So far, you may be assuming that Joe and Jim have a sexual relationship. But does it matter? What if they are bachelor brothers? What if they are best friends who never stopped rooming together after college, or who reunited after being widowed? Is there any reason that the benefits they receive should depend on whether their relationship is or even could be romantic? In fact, would it not be patently unjust if the state withheld benefits from them on the sole ground that they were not having sex?
What would marriage revisionists say to Joe and Jim, who want all the benefits of marriage that seem to be granted them under the revisionist view?
[They] might object that everyone just knows that marriage has some connection to romance. It requires no explanation. But that is question‐begging against Joe and Jim, who want their benefits. And it prematurely stops searching for an answer to why we tend to associate marriage with romance. The explanation brings us back to our central point: Romance is the kind of desire that aims at bodily union, and marriage has much to do with that.
Once this point is admitted, we return to the question of what counts as organic bodily union. Does hugging? Most think not. But then why is sex so important? What if someone derived more pleasure or felt intimacy from some other behavior (tennis, perhaps, as in our earlier example)? We must finally return to the fact that coitus, the generative act, uniquely unites human persons, as explained above. But that fact supports the conjugal view: The reason that marriage typically involves romance is that it necessarily involves bodily union, and romance is the sort of desire that seeks bodily union. But organic bodily union is possible only between a man and a woman.
In part 2, we will look at the third challenge that George, Anderson, and Girgis present to marriage revisionists.