Why Ought the State Care About Same-Sex Marriage?


In a discussion comparing interracial marriage to same-sex marriage I was challenged with this question:

Please provide a rationale to explain why we should allow bi-racial couples to marry but not same-sex couples.

It is not in the interest of the State to grant privileges, special protections, or legitimacy to same-sex unions any more than for roommates or two sisters living together in retirement. The State only cares about marriage at all because family and reproduction are the foundation upon which the State continues to exist. Heterosexual, bi-racial couples are, by design, intrinsically able to participate in these thing. But same-sex unions are on the periphery of this institution, and cannot even counterfeit it unless they succeed in conscripting the services of the opposite sex (or the product of a heterosexual union). This is not to say that same-sex couples cannot form their own unions apart from the sanctioning of the state, or that they cannot lobby for whatever legal privileges they find attractive.

They replied as follows:

Marriage is not needed for family and reproduction. Hi, I have a big family, 3 kids and have been together with their mother for 16 years. We’re not married. I’m living proof that what you just said is nonsense.

First of all, if you and the State don’t care about marriage in your situation, then why should the State care about even more unconventional arrangements, like between same-sex couples?  It seems like while the rest of the world cares less and less about marriage, homosexuals seem to care about it more and more.

The State is concerned primarily about marriage in relation to the safety, care, and rearing of children.  In some totalitarian regimes the State has thought to take this on itself.  In American society it has deemed that the role of the natural family — man and woman, preferably the birth parents.  It also presumes a committed and loving relationship to be the best incubator for raising productive citizens.  A marriage is the best expression of such a commitment.  To this end the State privileges and sanctions these unions apart from any other types of social affiliations.  Your own arrangement approximates a marriage, even though you personally choose not to formalize it; but it certainly wouldn’t be any *less* stable for having done so.

And then the inevitable appeal to exceptions:

Same-sex couples can have families by way of sperm banks, surrogate moms and adoption.  The reasons you state to oppose same-sex marriage could just as well be used to oppose marriage between infertile opposite sex people.

The State cares only about the framework and the ideal.  It doesn’t get into the specific intentions and problems within that framework.  It doesn’t sanction these unions only *after* children come, and then remove sanction in the case of accidental death of a child or spouse, however, there are certain additional privileges that are indeed granted for children once they arrive (e.g., tax breaks and education).  It can’t judge whether a couple intends to have children or is unable to — perhaps some day they will and can have them.

You can’t invalidate something in general by pointing to examples of where it is not exploited or is broken.  Shall we deny that hammers are for nails simply because some choose not to swing them or that sometimes they break?  Does it then make it sensible or effective to pound nails in with wrenches?

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Posted on February 8, 2014, in Homosexuality and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. How silly.

    The State also cares about the long-term flourishing of individuals- adults as well as children- which is promoted by stable family relationships: hence gay marriage is in the interests of the State.

    • I am no legal expert, and this is a new line of argument for me, so I imagine there are a number of ways to push back here. Thank you for your comment.

      Let me just illustrate the point I am exploring by asking a simple question. Is it more ideal to raise children as a single parent or with both of the parents in a stable, committed relationship? Which is the “ideal?” The fact that most people talk about how courageous and sacrificial many single mothers are tells us that they bear special burdens in this, i.e., that it is not an ideal situation.

      Now, let’s press that further by considering a person who might purposely choose to be permanently single and devise some way to acquire a child in order to make a family. And now, let’s consider whether the State should insert itself into this equation by offering self-marriage licenses to such persons and advancing the notion within society that such arrangements are the legal and moral equivalent to any other kind of marriage.

      The above example is problematic both because this premeditated arrangement is not ideal, and also because it is not “natural.” That is, this person cannot even succeed in producing a family without prevailing upon other members of society for aid. She is not just being granted approval to go and do her own natural thing, like a heterosexual couple who can intrinsically do so.

      The state does not, and cannot, be in the business of sanctioning and privileging every possible way that persons choose to live — roommates, bachelors, siblings, communes, polyamorous, human/pet, etc. It certainly may permit certain diversities, but the encouragement of them is another thing. However, the good and propagation of the State itself is most apparently in its interest. Child rearing, and the framework in which that occurs, is consequently of interest. And the concern for the common good suggests that the State should elevate only that arrangement which it finds to be ideal. In that, nature is an essential guide.

      What I’m not discussing here is whether or not same-sex couples, or single persons, should be permitted to have families, or what should be done about it once it occurs. I am only considering why the State should be involved (care) at all about marriage, which is an institution that, in theory, could privately exist apart from any State licensing or restrictions.

  2. Here’s a continuation of the conversation. “You said” is what I’ve quoted of his response.

    You said: “there’s not a single valid reason why gays shouldn’t have access to the same rights and privileges (e.g., taxes and inheritance issues).”

    “There’s not a single reason I’ve personally heard of or that has persuaded me…” There, I fixed it!

    You are pro-same-sex marriage, so of course you would make such a statement. It’s completely non-value-added to this discussion. I could say something similar, like, “I haven’t heard a single valid reason why we should normalize same-sex marriage.” But in addition to that point I can reinforce it by asserting that if you want to re-engineer something as socially foundational as the traditional family, then you’ll need something a little more substantial than, “hey, why not?”; you need positive reasons to do it and assurances that it will not have a negative impact on culture and our children.

    I would also suggest that if “rights and privileges” are all they are really after, then they should advocate for the specific rights they desire. That’s not what they are doing. They want full normalization and social acceptance. They want all opposition to same-sex relations shut down.

    You said: “the exact same argument could be made for same-sex couple that don’t want children or simply can’t even have them.”

    Already answered and not responded to. In summary, the ideal framework that the State is concerned with is not invalidated by those who choose not to capitalize on it or who are physically unable. Again, shall we deny that hammers are for nails simply because some choose not to swing them or that sometimes they break? Does it then make it sensible or effective to pound nails in with wrenches?

    You said: “Marriage is not at all required for children to grow up in a safe and caring environment. Nor does it guarantee such an environment either. And again, here we have an argument (if accepted) that can easily also be used to take the children away from people that get a divorce. Single moms and single dads aren’t able to raise children in a safe and caring environment according to what you said. So, what’s that about?”

    You are missing my point. I am not denying exceptions to any system, nor am I speaking to what the State should do to or for those outside the system. I’m simply speaking to what the State has and should consider the ideal social structure to be promoted. A bad marriage no more invalidates the ideal marriage than a bad cop invalidates law enforcement, nor does a good vigilante episode invalidate the ideal of the superiority of law enforcement over every citizen taking the law into his own hands.

    You said: “I have a committed and loving relationship without being married.”

    Well, congratulations! But are you suggesting that a legal and formal arrangement that is legally and financially painful to back out of would make it any *less* stable? Do you think your mate and children would feel any less proud and secure if you made such a public commitment? (I suggest the contrary.) Again, your informal “committed” relationship is simply the shadow of a traditional marriage, which is the historical ideal for rearing the next generation of citizens. The State cannot endorse, sanction, or privilege informal arrangements; it can only participate in formal, documented, and witnessed ones.

    You said: “There’s no reason at all to assume that gay’s don’t have committed and loving relationships.”

    Sure, and so could a brother & sister, or a man and 5 women, I suppose. I only use “committed and loving” as but two qualifiers in a larger equation, though. Again, I hold that the IDEAL is both a female and male in such a relationship. To suggest that a child cannot uniquely benefit from the nurturing influences of both a male and female seems to me a sexist proposition. It also denies the curious natural phenomenon that they happen to be intrinsically able to reproduce, assuming they desire to and that all biological systems are go.

    You said: “Gay marriage LITERALLY doesn’t impact any non-gay marriage… It has ZERO impact on state affairs.”

    If it has zero impact on State affairs, then it’s interesting that it is being sought with such vigor. It has impact… in their favor.

    How about, for starters, some things that are already beginning to change because of the normalization of same-sex relationships. Adoption and foster care laws: It affects the children. Also the laws for those eligible for adoption and foster care can disqualify candidates who have some issue with homosexuality. Businesses that prefer not to offer services for same-sex weddings are being penalized by the law. And how about school curriculum changes to affirm this lifestyle to children who don’t even understand sexuality at all. And outlawing psychiatric care for homosexuals who actually seek treatment (yes, they DO exist). And forcing policy changes for private organizations like the Boy Scouts. And the ACLU…’nuff said. Remember, if it is legal and “equal,” then there’s no justification for rejecting it or withholding ANY rights. You may think all this is just swell, but it at least refutes your claim that it has ZERO impact.

    This reminds me of a story of an attractive young German woman, who when looking for welfare assistance was referred, instead, to the many classified ads for brothel workers. They said legalizing prostitution wouldn’t impact society either.

    You said: “Who are you to deny them this?”

    I’m not suggesting we prohibit them from making whatever personal arrangements they like. You yourself shrugged off “marriage” as only so much meaningless paperwork. It would appear they disagree with you. My only beef is when they try to presume that (all things being equal) a same-sex marriage with children that are, by design, deprived of one gender and (at least) one parent, is just as good as a natural family, and then wants the State to affirm and enforce that claim.

    And who am I to “deny” them? Who are YOU to suggest we should change society and its definition of marriage? By what standard do you determine what is good, acceptable, virtuous, or a “right?” My guess is that your ethical grounding distills down to whatever society decides is good, which functionally cashes out to majority vote. But by that measure my vote, as a fellow citizen of the State, counts for as much as your own.

  3. Here’s an interesting article that confronts the libertarian idea that government shouldn’t be involved in marriage at all: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/04/5069/

    An excerpt:

    “Getting the government out of the marriage business” amounts to refusing to define marriage on the front end. But the state will end up being involved in defining what counts as a valid marriage or parenting contract, on the back end, as it resolves disputes. We cannot escape this kind of state involvement.

    No-fault divorce provides an analogy. No-fault divorce allows one party to end the marriage bond for any reason or no reason. In effect, the state redefined marriage by removing the presumption of permanence. Marriage became a temporary arrangement rather than a permanent union of a man and a woman. No-fault divorce was supposed to increase personal freedom.

    But the result of this legal change has been state involvement in the minutiae of family life, as it resolves disputes over custody, visitation, and child support. Family courts decide where children go to school, or to church. I’ve even heard of a family court judge choosing a teenaged-girl’s prom dress because the divorced parents couldn’t resolve the issue.

    Part 2: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/04/5071/
    Part 3: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/04/5073/

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