Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Marriage Tail

A Marriage Tail « Public Discourse

Abraham Lincoln once asked how many legs a dog has if we call a tail a leg. The answer, he said, is four: calling a tail a leg does not make it so. We chuckle and move on.
But what if people began to argue that a tail really is a leg? They might say that what defines the leg is that it is an appendage of the dog’s body, that it contains bone and muscle covered with skin and fur—just like a tail. Tails just happen to come out of the body at a different angle than other legs. When a tail hangs down low, who can tell the difference?

The call for same-sex marriage involves a similar misdefinition. Marriage is often characterized today as follows: 1) two people 2) who love each other 3) want to perform sexual acts together, so 4) they consent to combine their lives sexually, materially, economically 5) with the endorsement of the community. Since same-sex couples can meet the first four criteria, how can society refuse the fifth?
It is easy to see why this would be a cause of aggravation, not only for same-sex couples who wish community endorsement of their relationships, but for millions of others. If the criteria stated above actually define marriage—and in contemporary Western society, many have come to view marriage as no more than this—then refusal to acknowledge and endorse same-sex relationships is a rank injustice, nothing but an exercise in bigotry or stupidity.
Typically, marriage does in fact have these characteristics. But why does marriage have these characteristics? Remembering why will help us to remember how they show themselves in a relationship that has the essence of marriage—and how that is often different in other relationships.
 And if he's wrong, and this is not a misdefinition, then we get to the question of why society should support an institution such as marriage.  Why should it?  Why do "really-close-friends-who-like-each-other-a-lot" enjoy special recognition of that fact from society and the government?

If sexuality did not naturally bring us offspring, it is hard to explain why it exists, whether you believe in a purely material evolution or a loving designer of the universe, for it would serve no purpose. If sexual acts did not naturally lead to offspring, it is just as hard to explain how marriage would have appeared in human history, for it would serve no purpose.
Religions may bless marriage, but they did not invent it. Because it involves such profoundly important human realities, it is no surprise that sex and marriage have religious significance. But sex and marriage have existed as long as there have been human communities.
Stephen J. Heaney believes that reproduction is the key point of marriage. A tail is not a leg because it never serves to support or propel a dog.  Same-sex relationships are not marriages because sex within one can never result in offspring.

In previous articles, I have asserted that if sex did not naturally lead to children, no one would ever have conceived the idea of marriage.
But this is where it must be pointed out that the act in which opposite-sex couples wish to engage has a very public outcome: children. Let me put my initial assertion another way: if sexual intercourse between a man and a woman always and naturally led to the same outcome as genital contact between two people of the same sex—that is, pleasure, increased feelings of closeness, even affirmation and love, and nothing else—no one would ever have come up with the idea of marriage.
The best that can be said about the contemporary face of “marriage”—the deliberately childless union, or union built around the desires of adults, with children a secondary and dispensable characteristic—is that it is entirely parasitic on the proper idea of marriage. Impossible to imagine on its own, it takes real marriage and strips it of the thing that gives it meaning, yet continues to refer to it by the same name. That means that the notion of “same-sex marriage,” which relies entirely for its conceivability on the notion that marriage exists for the desires of adults, is by that fact two levels removed from reasonableness.

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