With the recent movement in our country regarding gay marriage and now its constitutional debate, I just want to add some thoughts on the matter. Let me be clear from the onset that nothing I say here is original in thought, but what I hope to highlight here adds to some of my readers’ thinking about homosexuality and marriage.
Aside from the normal superficial “all people should have have same rights” argument I hear all too often from advocates of the “gay rights” movement, it seems to me that the proponents of gay marriage can only rely on two arguments that are worth devoting some attention to. The first argument is that “traditional marriage” is a union arbitrarily defined by the state and therefore unfair to those who fall outside of the category fitted to this definition. Accordingly, the second argument suggests that, just as the state has been wrong before in its thinking about certain values and restrictions (slavery and segregation) therefore it seems that this is another instance where the state is incorrect and needs to re-evaluate its position on the legality of gay marriage.
In response to the first argument, I would like to direct the reader to this recent article at Ethika Politika. In the article, the author argues that the definition of marriage that its proponents would like to champion is no less “arbitrary, taboo-ridden, and prejudicial—in fact, it is unfair” than the traditional definition of gay marriage that they would like to void. The article lays out what seems to be a fundamental agreement for the definition of marriage between the two opposite camps in the marriage debate: that marriage ought to be between people who enter into it freely, lovingly, in an exclusive manner, and in a committed manner. Indeed, it can be agreed that any marriage ought to have freedom, love, exclusivity, and commitment. (FLEC)
The author then looks at three different ways that we could restrict marriage. The first being the traditional restriction in which FLEC relationships also have the baby-making component. But as this is deemed to be unfair by gay rights advocates, the author then suggests that there can be a second option: restriction of FLEC relationships to those of pleasure-making. This second restriction, however, leads to many absurdities as it allows for incest, beastiality, and a whole host of other perversions of the FLEC relationships. Thus, the author observes that any Joe advocating for gay rights must look at a third option: the compromise.
The third option, in the author’s own words
Finally, the third way to restrict marriage, which has much popular appeal today, is a compromise between the first two. It isn’t limited to baby-making relationships, but it keeps some of the restrictions that are natural to baby-making relationships and smacks them down as rules (for no good reason) on pleasure-making relationships. Typically, a defender of this third view (let’s call him Joe) argues that marriage should be for non-dangerous pleasure-making FLEC relationships between heterosexual or homosexual couples. But Joe also claims that polygamous, inter-species, incestuous and underage FLEC relationships shouldn’t qualify as marriages.
Does this mean that the traditional view of marriage is equally arbitrary as Joe’s? Here I think that studies of history and anthropology can give us some substantial arguments why restrictions of marriage to baby-making FLEC relationships are sensible. But who really wants to do all that research? What really seems to matter is that we need “equal rights for all.” But I think we need to remember this:
To restrict marriage fairly, then, we need to have reasons for our restrictions, and Joe doesn’t. The traditional view uses facts about baby-making behavior and its incumbent dangers to restrict marriage. The loose view uses facts about pleasure-making behavior to ease up on these restrictions. Joe tries to compromise by using some of the restrictions from the traditional view, but without the reasons behind them: he’s not restricting marriage to baby-making relationships. This isn’t a fair way to restrict marriage, and if we are looking for fairness and equality, we will have to throw it out and choose either the traditional or the loose restrictions.
I think this is a problem that gay-rights advocates must solve before they insist “equal rights for all.”
NB: For a detailed argument, I suggest that you visit the article linked above (or here). I have not done it justice here by simply rehashing some major points.
The response to the second argument is forthcoming.