Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Marriage Proposal

With all the talk about same-sex marriage (SSM) in recent days, I’d like to make a marriage proposal. I’d like to propose that the rational basis for secular marriage in every culture, from China to Chattanooga, is not love, or sexual attraction, or property rights, or civil rights. It is procreation; procreation within a unique framework. Defining marriage as one man and one woman, and the way humans reproduce, isn’t just some weird coincidence.

Any definition requires limits to make one thing distinct from another. Procreation within a certain context is what makes marriage distinguishable from any other type of human relationship. If this seems ludicrous to you, let’s take a closer look.
2 become 1

What about “rights”?
If marriage was about property rights or civil rights, why discriminate (for centuries) against people NOT sexually attracted to each other? Why sex? For example, why is it prohibited for close relatives to marry? The reason is because the rationale for secular marriage is procreation (inbreeding tends toward genetic defects).

If it were about rights, why bother with any specific number? Why can’t 3 or more people agree to marry and share rights? The reason is because only one male and one female are needed for procreation, so there is no reason for the government to give incentive for more than this; it only complicates things.

What about “love”?
If it were about “love” (or sexual attraction) would pre-arranged marriages be legal? What about marrying for immigration reasons or financial reasons? Would a 25-year-old super model need to prove her “love” before marrying an 80-year-old billionaire?

Aside from all this, if the rational basis was indeed love, it begs a question. Why would any government care about who or how their citizens "love" and see some need to issue a license for it and grant privileges? How would the government define love? Must it be only sexual love? Why mutually exclusive? How could they distinguish between love and lust?

The government should be about the business of the common good, so secular marriage must be for something more than the gratification and happiness of only two individuals, more than just accommodating a “special interest”, more than government acknowledgment for the sake of government acknowledgment.

Give 'em the ring finger.
Last, but certainly not least, why procreation?
The nature of permanent male/female unions leads directly to the very building blocks of a nation just like the cells of a body. Strong families and a productive future citizenry are the result if done right. This clearly relates to not only the common good, but the very survival of a population. It explains why any nation-state would give incentive & recognize a permanent male/female union as UNIQUE among all other types of human relationships.
Many relationships, other than marriages, have tremendous personal significance to those involved. The fact that we do not call them marriages is not evidence of bigotry, but recognition of reality.

What about infertile couples or couples who do not want children?
This question brings a new question. Should marriage be defined as any man and any woman or only those willing & able to have children? This new debate would bring much discussion, but the question itself does not logically justify SSM.
Heterosexual couples are fertile by nature with some exceptions, so exceptions can be debated. Homosexual couples are infertile by nature with NO exceptions. The former could change their mind or seek fertility treatments, the latter cannot. Even in the case of certain infertility, the former is still properly orientated to that unique type of union that can build an entire nation, the latter is not.

Other things that do not explain the existence of secular marriage:
Ø  Adoption:
Adoption is not procreation; it is about how to deal with children that are already here and have no one to care for them. If adoption is the same as procreation and justifies marriage, then why not let a father and his adult son get married?  Why not a group of celibate nuns? Who’s to say they could not raise adopted children just as well as anyone else?

What about the gay couple that has already adopted a child? Could not a legal arrangement be made between two adults and a child without redefining marriage into something unintelligible for an entire society?
What gives?
Ø  Surrogate Mothers:
This IS procreation, but NOT in the framework that secular marriage intended. If surrogate motherhood equates a true procreative union, and therefore justifies marriage, why not let any group of people, like a softball team for example, pay women to have babies and then allow the entire group to marry? Additionally, surrogate motherhood does not occur naturally as part of a human union (neither does adoption). Could not a single individual effectively adopt or employ a surrogate? Why involve marriage?

Ø  Impregnation:
This does not require two women, but women in a lesbian partnership could always find a way to get pregnant with help from a man. This is also procreation, but again, not in the context that secular marriage proposes. If impregnation equates a true procreative union, and therefore justifies marriage, why not let a mother and her adult daughter get married?

Why not just change the rationale?
Public institutions shape our ideas and ideas have consequences. As mentioned, any definition requires limits, and limits require a rationale. This is what makes a circle a circle and a square a square. They are both shapes, but they are not the same. If marriage means whatever you want, then it can mean anything, which makes it mean nothing. Removing the rational basis for a norm will erode adherence to that norm.

Think about it!
Thinking means connecting things and any kind of rational thinking involves asking coherent questions and finding intelligible answers. Why sex? Why exclusive? Why two? Why permanent? Why property? Why government? Why rights? Why bother? Procreation links all these ideas.

Our society is getting very proficient at making assertions & demands, but not so skilled at asking & answering “why”.


  1. Thanks for this. The SSM discussion always reminds me of the "courtly love" rave that was so en vogue among certain quarters of the European nobility and was greatly romanticized and lionized by the troubadours and others as a "humanist" reaction to the "puritanical" views of the Catholic Church and, in particular, to canon law requirements for marriage as a vehicle for procreation that the "free spirit" types of that era perceived as overly rigid and oppressive. Basically, "courtly love" exalted and elevated forbidden, extra-marital affairs among courtesans (aristocrats--these things always tend to originate from the elite circles) based on the notion that their extramarital affairs constituted "true love," whereas their legal marriages had been contracted for mostly political (and supposedly spirit-crushing) reasons. (It is important to note that there are some who contend that the entire concept of "courtly love" is really a revisionist modern invention we have projected onto history, almost as if some must think it would be too absurd to think that society could have been as "conformist" and cohesive as it appears to have been at certain times.) In any event, "courtly love" is a little like the Tony Soprano view of the world: those familiar with the HBO series starring the late James Gandolfini will recall how his character maintains a run of the mill family life that bolsters his persona as a mob boss, but he acts as though he is entitled to unlimited extramarital romps to help him deal with all the stress of being a mob kingpin or whatever. In a way, Tony helps us see this behavior as a certain boorish view of life, but if you romanticize it and infuse it with mistaken notions of personal freedom and a false sense of enlightenment, you can see how marital deviance can be presented with a false sense of moral entitlement about it. For reasons probably related to all the ones you list above, courtly love also was not geared to procreation--in fact, most commentators who believe it was real maintain that it was largely asexual or perhaps even anti-sexual, substituting for sex an elaborate set of secret, ritualized courtship ceremonies and gestures. For these same reasons, perhaps, "courtly love" did not go down in history as a feasible contender against traditional marriage. Only time will tell if SSM fares any better.

    1. Interesting. Never heard of “courtly love”. More evidence why governments are not in the marriage business for “love”.

  2. Well, then, I have a proposal for you: no couple gets married until the wife-to-be is pregnant.

    1. Estelle,

      A bold proposal indeed. How about a counter proposal? No couple is considered married until they have consummated it by performing the "marital act"? This act, by definition, can only be performed by a man and a woman (due to certain anatomical issues).

      This is in fact the traditional measure of whether a marriage existed or not. It isn't as rigid as your proposal since through no fault of the couple, infertility should not bar one from a valid marriage. Besides, some couples take years before they can become pregnant. Again, they should not be barred from marriage for that reason and we couldn't know if they were interfertile or not.

    2. Normally, special rights and privileges are granted first with some kind of duty expected afterwards. Think of being elected for public office. One is elected and given all the rights & privileges of the office first, and the duty of the office is expected second, not the other way around.

    3. But if marriage is about children, the very least we can do is minimize the number of childless couples by revoking their marriage licenses if they fail to produce children. If a public official doesn't do his job, he doesn't get to keep it.

      Consummation is a start, but if it doesn't produce children and marriage is about children, then we should make sure that we don't dilute marriage with childless couples, or people will start to think that marriage isn't about children at all. With public officials, they are typically elected after they've shown some competence – successfully getting pregnant should be sufficient proof that a couple will be fit for marriage.

    4. Estelle,
      There is some logic to what you say and it could be debated separately, but this kind of discussion does not justify SSM (which I think is your point). Consider voting; not everyone has the right to vote in the U.S. You must be 18 and a citizen. There are some who have right to vote, but NEVER do for whatever reason; therefore we MUST let anyone vote, like anyone in Europe who feels like it for example. Sound reasonable?

    5. I am pro-SSM, but I think saying that marriage is about procreation is too narrow of a definition. When you make it about procreation and not children it does necessarily exclude those who can't have children, and it necessarily excludes those who have children who are not their biological children. If you present marriage as being about children, though, then that encompasses adoptive parents – which can also include same-sex parents (sometimes as step-parents, so even if gay adoption were banned, the issue would remain).

      In secular society, children are not a requirement of marriage (which of course you know). But it is still perfectly fair to suggest that the institution exists for the benefit of children. In that case, though, restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples means that the children of gay couples are left without the protection and stability that marriage offers a family.

      Basically, if we expand the concept of marriage being about procreation to being about children, then failing to allow gay couples to marry in fact ends up negatively impacting the children of those couples – defeating the purpose of marriage, if it is, in fact, about providing stability to families raising children.

    6. All definitions require limits and limits should be questioned for ambiguity. If procreation should not be part of the definition (a limit), why must sex be part of the definition? Why discriminate against those NOT having sex? Acknowledge that those not having sex should be allowed to marry. Parents should be allowed to marry their adult children if they wish. Be consistent in your position.

    7. So it's not about the protection of children at all, then, in your eyes? Just the government sanctioning heterosexual intercourse?

      If you want it to be about procreation, people who fail to procreate should not be supported by the government as being married. Be consistent in your position.

    8. You did not answer my question, but I will answer yours. Should marriage be only for men & women willing and able to have children? I agree that it is debatable in secular terms (not theological terms). But consider a baseball team as part of a secular debate. A baseball team is orientated to winning baseball games; even if they NEVER win a game they are still a baseball team. A football team also NEVER wins a baseball game, but a football team is not relevant to the discussion of wining baseball games, neither is a soccer team, or any other kind of team other than a baseball team.

      It is not about random intercourse. It’s about procreation within a certain context. A society cannot exist unless men and woman come together somehow, but how? Wouldn’t it be nice if they would come together & stay together to raise-up the next generation? It makes sense that government would encourage this type of behavior as something unique for it's own survival.

      Now the question for you; what is the base rationale for secular marriage if not procreation? Is it about rights? If it’s about granting rights, why must it involve sex? Is it about love? Why must it be only sexual love?

    9. So it's not, then, about protecting children at all? The children of gay couples, in your view, do not deserve the same stability marriage affords to children of straight couples?

      The way secular marriage is, there is no requirement for children. Logically, though, it does make sense that secular marriage would at least be in principle about providing stability to families raising children. In that case, it would not make sense to put the emphasis on procreation (or going through the motions of procreation, as you indicate is sufficient for marriage), because plenty of families are not built through producing biological children.

      Marriage is beneficial for the couple (increased individual well-being and better health), and it is beneficial for any children they may have (children of married parents fare better than those whose parents are not married). From those facts, marriage should both be about individuals wishing to be joined together in the eyes of the law and individuals wishing to provide the most stable environment possible for their children. There is no logical basis, secularly, for denying the right of marriage to same-sex couples.

      (Predicting your next question, why only two people? – that is a separate issue, because it would require massive overhauls of the laws surrounding marriage rights in order to prevent abuse of the system. Not impossible, and an issue worth exploring, but not relevant to SSM.)

    10. Protecting children, raising children and loving children does not require a sexual relationship from the adults. Increased individual well-being and better health come with any kind of close human companionship. If this is all marriage is about there is no logical basis, secularly, for denying the right of marriage to people in a platonic relationship. There is also no logical basis for the number two.

      What makes a clear distinction? What makes the sexual aspect to all this relevant? What explains the number two very well? Procreation does.

      Here is another question that may seem bizarre, but think about. If humans reproduce asexually would marriage exist?

    11. Marriage also doesn't require a sexual relationship from the adults. It can be grounds for annulment if the parties object to the lack of intimacy, yes, but it is not actually required for marriage as no one is policing whether married couples are having sex. People in a platonic relationship certainly can get married.

      (And I think you'll find that marriage increases well-being beyond what you get with any old close relationship. Without a doubt, though, children with married parents fare better than those without.)

      If humans reproduced asexually, they likely wouldn't form family structures for raising children, so I doubt marriage would exist. The fact remains, though, that people who love each other raise children who aren't their biological children. Sometimes those people happen to be of the same sex. If marriage is truly only about the government promoting heterosexual sex, which remains my understanding of your view, then it makes sense that these people and their families would be denied the benefits of marriage. But if it has anything to do with protecting children (which I get the sense is not a concern of yours at all), then it does not make sense to deny them the benefits of marriage.

      Why would the government have any interest in simply promoting heterosexual sex? I maintain that if marriage is in fact about procreation (which is not a foregone conclusion of heterosexual sex), secular recognition of a marriage should begin once a couple is pregnant or has successfully produced a child. They can be sacramentally married whenever they want, but they should not be considered legally married until that point if the government's interest is in procreation.

      Basically, I feel like you're telling me two things here. Either it's about procreation, in which case if you haven't procreated, you shouldn't be married, or it's about heterosexual sex. If it's the latter, how does the government or society benefit from that?

    12. Top of the morning,
      I think that I’ve been clear that secular marriage is about procreation within a certain context (not just random fornication). In order to protect any children, you must first have children. The way heterosexuals relate to each other (or do not related to each other) will absolutely determine if a society stands or falls, survives or thrives.

      This may bring more clarity:
      Premise #1: Sexual coupling between males & females tends to create offspring (new citizens), although not in every case.

      Premise #2: Sexual coupling, in context of exclusive and permanent sexual relationships between heterosexuals, tends to create stable and productive offspring within the basic cells of human society called “families”, although not in every case.

      Premise #3: No other sexual behavior can achieve what is observed in #2. In fact, other behaviors tend to cause or accentuate problems such as unwanted offspring, disease, addictions and other emotional & physical trauma, although not in every case.

      (Yes, other adults are capable of obtaining children somehow and raising them and some legal arrangement can be made for them, but it does not connect back to their sexual behavior.)

      Conclusion: The Sexual behavior in #2 is unique among all the other sexual behaviors/relationships in terms of its procreative, unitive & stabilizing effects on human society and should be treated as unique. We have a unique name for it. We call it marriage. This is the reality of how the world works. I didn’t make it this way. It is what Catholics refer to as “Natural Law”

  3. Fine--nobody but those who want to have children are allowed to get "married".

    But since there is no other reason for marriage then there is no legal definition of marriage nor is there any governmental benefits.

    So you can pay the $300K+ in legal fees making sure your partner is the beneficiary of your estate (minus, of course, any tax or social security benefits which now cease.)

    You want it to only be about children? Fine. It is only about children. But I'm no longer going to subsidize your kids. No tax benefits, no paying for schools unless you have kids going to them. No municipal playgrounds or pools. No government backed student loans.

    So enjoy your marriage. Just don't expect me to subsidize it.

    1. Please note that "wanting to have children" is not a criterion. The simple potential to have children is sufficient.

      In any case, I am curious, what is the reason you refer to when you say "no other reason for marriage"? What was the reason other than children are you thinking about?

      Protecting marriage is actually an incentive, like any other tax break. If the people (government) decide that there is no longer any reason to incent on marriage, then those breaks can certainly be taken away.

      Your logic intrigues me, though. Do you think that society as a whole benefits from children who are educated? Of course it does. So everyone pays for schools. Do you believe that only children swim in pools or use parks? I do not believe that. Your threat seems to be an empty one.

  4. Anonymous, I'm pretty sure only someone without kids would be ok if society collapsed after they were dead. And let's see, I don't use the public school system, I can't use the municipal pool because of the bad adult behavior, I can't use park and play ground because they are unsafe and often have strange men trolling around. My child deduction was just lowered and every other tax I have has gone up. Sonic want to explore the pay to play idea, I might agree to that. The problem is that the reality is that you child -less folks will end up sucking the fruits of my kids labor for the next 40 years. In short , that comment was not well founded. Well I agree that student loans are a little out of control but how else are you going to get good nursing care when you are old?

    1. I'm NOT OK with society collapsing. I'm just tired of subsidizing people who expect me to pay for their lives while denying me equal opportunity. (And BTW--have you seen society collapsing post SSM in Scandinavia? Oops--marriage rates are actually going up. Guess you lost that argument. Not that you'll admit it.)

      And trust me I'm not relying on the SS that your home schooled science denying future minimum wage earners are going to be funding.

    2. Marriage is the formalization of society's recognition of the pair bond. It does not require children, or the ability to have children, or the desire to have children.

      The CC has lost the SSM debate. In the face of losing that debate you are the ones that want to change the legal, civil definition of marriage because of your claims that it is about the "potential" to have children. (Which is contradicted by the lack of protesting about my 70 year old mother's new marriage. I don't see the CC wringing their hands about that and trust me--she has NO potential to have children.)

      You are denying a part of society the same benefits and privileges as "society as a whole" therefore NO--society as a whole does NOT benefit from marriage nor does it benefit from children, educated or not.

      And while we're on the subject--I'm also tired of subsidizing churches. They aren't benefiting society as a whole, therefore society as a whole shouldn't be subsidizing them. Time to pay your taxes.

    3. The centrality of procreation in the Catholic Church is so central that a valid marriage cannot exist between a man and a woman is the many is physically incapable of intercourse (Canon 1084). That's fine for you, but many other would not choose to follow your Church's teaching.

    4. Anonymous , wow, those are some really solid assumptions and stereotypes you have jumped to. They are all wrong but that's obviously beside the point. And oh no, not the Scandinavia evidence? I'm found out. My kids love science, they love their faith and family and there is whole lot of them:)

  5. Older men and women may no longer be able to produce children through their sexual relationship. They are, however, capable of a sexual relationship, the kind of sex that naturally produces children. They are capable of being a mother and a father to a child. Homosexual couples cannot do any of these things. They are capable of relationships, but these relationships are not marriage.

  6. Taking care of or adopting a child does not make you married. Procreative type sex as well as commitment are necessary for a marriage. This makes it easiest to raise any children their union may produce. It also makes it possible to offer an adoptive child a mother and a father, replacing the mother and father that they have lost, or those that can't take care of them.

  7. there is nothing in some american states that prevents two buddies from contracting the "new" concept of same-sex marriage.

    it would be foolish for two friends not to contract this civil relationship if it provides some kind of fiscal or other benefit to them.

    it would be advisable for a terminally ill man to contract this "new" relationship if doing so allows him to ensure a non-terminally ill friend could benefit.

    the newly established same-sex contracts in these states have nothing to do with sexual activity or children. if you thinnk they do, you have been seriously misinformed.

    it is only a matter of time before both men and women understand that civil marriage has nothing to do with sexual activity but is primarily a means of gaining economic advantage.