What Questions Must Marriage Revisionists Answer? Part 1

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.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “[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”

    Why is saying ‘It’s about romance” question begging? If it is, then why is saying “It’s about the conjugal view” not question begging too (against gay couples)?

    “But then why is sex so important?”

    If it isn’t, why complain about gays who enjoy gay sex? Either it’s important, or it isn’t. Are you saying sex that doesn’t and CAN’T lead to pregnancy isn’t important? Oral sex between a man and a woman can’t lead to pregnancy – does that mean it’s not important, and doesn’t count as ‘organic bodily union’?

    “What if they are bachelor brothers?”

    A side point here – if they are brothers then they’ll already enjoy many of the benefits enjoyed by married couples. Certainly if one is ill in hospital the other won’t have difficulty visiting him, as a brother.

    “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…”

    If YOU are saying that intention and ability to sexually reproduce is a pre-requisite, then, again, it is YOU who are playing revisionist here, because as far as I know neither of those things have been legally required of straight couples marrying for as long as the United States has existed.

  • While this may be cleared up in later blog entries…this particular blog entry is hopeless muddled, and legally incoherent.

    Bill Pratt, “…then why does the state not set terms for ordinary friendships?”

    But it does… If one enters into a contract with a friend—the law imposes terms. If one grants power of attorney, or fiduciary duty to a friend, the law imposes terms. If one libels, slanders, defrauds, embezzles, forges, perjures, strikes, interferes, trespasses, eavesdrops, etc. with a friend (or even a non-friend) the law sets terms.

    There are numerous relationships impacting what the law dictates. Marriage happens to be one (of many) such relationships.

    Bill Pratt, “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?”

    Easy. “Mazel Tov! Congratulations on your marriage!”

    Why can’t they get married?

  • sean

    If we instead make these two bachelors a bachelor and a bachelorette, they can get married now. I agree that if they are bachelors and the want to get married they should be allowed. There are more kinds of love than sexual attraction. I can love guys and be one. The love does not need to be sexual to be love, does it? And It doesn’t need to be romantic love.

    I suppose if your argument is that the revisionist view discriminates against these couples, then I am with you on saying this view is no good. Maybe there are people who support this view, but I’m not aware of any, and I am certainly not one of them. If there are people who think this, I think their views are just as wrong as yours.

    To suggest that if we “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.” and assume there is only one way to revise marriage, you are creating a false dichotomy. There are more views than just the two presented in that light, both of which I reject.

  • Andrew Ryan

    The question seems to be: “Under the romantic view of marriage, why can’t people who aren’t in love get married?”. Isn’t the answer because they’re not in love? The answer is in the question. The romantic view actually rules it out more than the conjugal view. I don’t see why pointing this out is ‘begging the question’.

    If it was Jim and Jo, who is exactly the same as Joe, but happens to be a woman, then there wouldn’t be a problem, no? They’re still not planning to have kids, they’re still marrying just for convenience, so what’s the difference – do you still have a problem with them marrying, or not? If yes, then this can happen whether of not the ‘revisionists’ get their way. If no, you don’t have a problem with these people marrying, then why have a problem if it’s Joe, not Jo?

    I believe that the government pursues people who get married for reasons of convenience, and not for romantic reasons. They don’t pursue people who haven’t had kids.

    At any rate, how is the question different to “Under the ‘children’ view of marriage, why can’t people who can’t have children get married”. The answer to that is that some groups who can’t have kids already CAN get married, and others who can’t have kids CANNOT. it seems that ability to have kids has nothing to do with it either way.

  • sean

    Bill, here’s the big thing you don’t get. In America, the government (the state) is not supposed to exist to serve its own interests. It exists to serve the interests of the people. So, the idea that the government has to uphold specifically and exclusively this “real marriage” thing because it benefits the state is ridiculous. The government as a thing isn’t even a correct notion. It isn’t a single entity, it’s comprised of representatives of the what the people want. So to argue that the government gets to uphold morality is wrong. The government upholds the will of its constituents (its populous) That’s why we fought over slavery.

    The government didn’t decide what was moral, they decided what the people wanted, and because the slavery argument was so even, neither side was going to win in the realm of government. We, as the people, have a voice. In general, we voice our opinions on what we think is moral, or economically sound (hopefully everyone tries to do it in that order). We elect people who we think will best represent our ideas in the government. The idea that the state does anything as a unit, or for itself is a little silly. If the government existed to work for its own good we wouldn’t be having these issues in congress we have.
    I strongly disagree with the premise of the paper that the government is obligated to support this certain view of marriage. It’s obligated to do that only if that’s the will of the people. And we “revisionists” are saying that that’s not what we want from the government.

  • Andrew Ryan

    I’d disagree with certain points there, Sean. I believe the US is a Republic, not a Democracy. As Benjamin Franklin said: “A democracy is two wolves and a small lamb voting on what to have for dinner. Freedom under a constitutional republic is a well armed lamb contesting the vote”.

    Or to give another example, if a majority voted tomorrow to say Jews can’t get married any more, it wouldn’t get passed by the Courts because that it would be unconstitutional.

    Likewise, the rights of gays to marry shouldn’t be up for public vote either – it’s either constitutional or it isn’t.

    But I do agree that the government exists to serve the people and not the other way round. It’s not up to the government to ask how it or the state benefits by allowing certain rights. Rather, the government needs to justify why a right should NOT be allowed.

  • Gene Bulmer

    But it IS the “will of the people”. In ballot after ballot, whenever the question is put to the “will of the people”, they defend marriage as 1 man, 1 woman. Then in acts of judicial activism, courts overturn the results(making people want to reach for a 2nd Amendment solution).

  • Guest

    I got to meet & chat w/Ryan & Sherif @ the Manhattan Declaration event @ Columbia University. The Heritage Foundation has a great resource on Marriage:
    Reblogged here:http://apologeticsworkshop.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/what-you-need-to-know-about-marriage/

    Original available, here: http://www.heritage.org/marriage/

  • Gene Bulmer

    I got to meet & chat w/Ryan & Sherif @ the Manhattan Declaration
    event @ Columbia University. The Heritage Foundation has a great
    resource on Marriage:
    Reblogged here: http://apologeticsworkshop.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/what-you-need-to-know-about-marriage/

    Original pamphlet, here: http://www.heritage.org/marriage/download.html

  • Andrew Ryan

    Will of the people? Every poll this year has put supporters in the majority:

    A July 10-14 poll by Gallup found support for gay marriage at 54%, a record high, and double the support of 27% Gallup first measured when the question was asked in 1996.

    A July poll by USA Today found that 55% of Americans supported gay marriage while 40% did not.

    A May 9 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 55% of Americans supported gay marriage while 40% did not.

    A March 20–24 CBS News Poll found that 53% of Americans supported same-sex marriage, 39% opposed it, and 8% were undecided. The same poll also found that 33% of Americans who thought same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry said they once held the opposite view and had changed their opinion.

    A March 7–10 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 58% of Americans support same-sex marriage while 36% opposed. The poll indicated that 52% of GOP-leaning independents under 50 years old supported gay marriage.

    A March Quinnipiac University poll of voters found 47% supported same-sex marriage and 43% were opposed.

  • Gene Bulmer

    Well, I guess they forget when they get to the ballot box…because that’s NOT how they’re voting.

    I’d wager that, when asked face-to-face, most don’t have the guts to call homosexuality a cultural perversion…so they say they’re “for” homo-marriage; but vote their heart & conscience in the privacy of the voting booth.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “most don’t have the guts to call homosexuality a cultural perversion”

    Well one would hope they wouldn’t say something so idiotic, no? You seem to have a very low opinion of your fellow countrymen to assume they would be thinking such a thing.

    That aside, sorry, but you can’t claim it’s the ‘will of the people’ and then dismiss a huge number of polls that directly contradict you.

    At any rate, polls after Virginia vs Loving showed that a state majority still opposed mixed race marriage – fact is that they don’t get to vote on the rights of others, and it’s not ‘judicial activism’ for the courts to enforce this.

  • Gene Bulmer

    Your opinions on attitudes or myself are irrelevant, Andrew.

    Sticking ones dick up another man’s anus is a cultural & biological perversion (but maybe you don’t get the “version”, 1 man/1 woman). Do it (anal sex) and you increase the chances you’ll get AIDS…then get real skinny, pine away & die…while your buds scream for more of my tax dollars to fund research to cure a disease they they themselves spread.
    That, along with low levels of self-esteem & high levels of demographic suicide, pretty much sum up the “value” of such a chosen lifestyle.

  • Gene Bulmer

    But thanks for playing…I have no more time for trolls, malcontents or activists.

  • Andrew Ryan

    You think I was the one trolling after you wrote this: ” you’ll get AIDS…then get real skinny, pine away & die”?

    Nice self-deception!

  • I deleted your previous comment because of the bad language. Please read the comments policy.

  • What answer does your side give to Jack and Jill, two friends who want their long-term friendship to be sanctioned by the state? Would you disallow their marriage?