The essence of marriage excludes gay couples

While the inevitability of same-sex marriage now is a given — the only question remaining is when — I'm still trying to locate the why.

When President Barack Obama last week endorsed same-sex marriage, the perception grew that the only thing holding back the eventual, but certain, legalization of same-sex marriage is the resistance of religious fanatics. It's as if the logic for same-sex marriage was so self-evident that only the malevolent could oppose it.

So, let's consider only the secular reasons for challenging the wisdom of homosexual marriage. Let's start with the universal, millennia-long and cross-cultural agreement that marriages in which both biological parents raise the children are very good for society.

As the conservative Witherspoon Institute, a Princeton, N.J., think tank said: "Human beings are social animals, and the social institution of marriage is a profound human good. It is a matrix of human relationships rooted in the spouses' sexual complementarity and procreative possibilities, and in children's need for sustained parental nurturance and support. It creates clear ties of begetting and belonging, ties of identity, kinship and mutual interdependence and responsibility.

"These bonds of fidelity serve a crucial public purpose, and so it is necessary and proper for the state to recognize and encourage marriage in both law and public policy. Indeed, it is not surprising that marriage is publicly sanctioned and promoted in virtually every known society and often solemnized by religious and cultural rituals. Modern biological and social science only confirm the benefits of marriage as a human good consistent with our given nature as sexual and social beings."

In fewer words: Research and common sense indisputably validate that heterosexual marriage is uniquely good in itself, better for the children and essential for the common good.

That's why government has seen fit to regulate this singular institution. Government doesn't regulate all human relationships; you don't need a license to form a friendship or a court decree to dump a friend. If marriage didn't serve a unique public good, government protections of all of its parties wouldn't be required; it would be regarded as little more than two people living together.

This is not to say that every marriage must produce children or that children raised in different circumstances, e.g. adoption, in separated families or by gay partners, can't do as well as or better. Nor does it deny that a same-sex partnership can't bond into a permanent, caring relationship, as good as or better than can heterosexual couples. Traditional marriage is an ideal, and like all other ideals, in practice it can fall short of its lofty goals. That doesn't negate the importance of preserving the ideal.

If marriage is redefined as revisionists would have it — turning it simply into a ratification of companionship and love absent the essential reproductive element — then perhaps we don't need it. No more marriage licenses or divorce courts required. Just domestic partnership agreements that would, at the most, lay out the rights and responsibilities of both parties. (In Illinois, we're already there. Under Illinois law, both heterosexual and homosexual couples can establish domestic partnerships in lieu of marriage.)

Gay marriage proponents insist that it is a matter of "equality," as in "every family is as good as another." They also argue that gay couples are entitled to equal nonprocreation rights, such as hospital visitations. But true equality is a chimera because gay couples are not physically capable of creating a family whose core is both biological parents. And domestic partnerships are capable of protecting nonprocreation rights.

This is not a question of liberal versus conservative, as Susan Shell, a Boston College political science professor, said in her insightful article, "The liberal case against gay marriage" in the spring 2004 issue of The Public Interest: "Few if any supporters of gay marriage demand as a matter of central concern that each gay partner be automatically recognized as the parent of any child generated by the other. More simply, proponents of gay marriage do not seek the 'essence' of marriage … in its most general and basic sense."

These are nuanced and philosophical arguments, unsuited to one-sentence pronouncements. They do not play well with a public more convinced by snippets of political rhetoric — especially in a society now blinded to the common good by the elevation of individual "choice" to society's highest good.

This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune. Be sure to check out and join the heated and (mostly) intelligent  discussion following the column here. 



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  • Bigot.

  • In reply to Cheryl:


  • "It's as if the logic for same-sex marriage was so self-evident that only the malevolent could oppose it." - Almost. Most of those of us who believe the logic is self-evident don't think it's malevolent to oppose it ... now. There's an understanding that it will take longer for some than for others.

    "Let's start with the universal, millennia-long and cross-cultural agreement that marriages in which both biological parents raise the children are very good for society." - Then let's also agree that a lot of biological parents raised children who were blights on society AND that every reputable study suggests children of gay parents are just as likely to be productive members of society.

  • As I stated in my comment to your last post, why rewrite all 1200-odd marriage laws when we can just make a single decree extending the application to same-gender couples?

    As written, domestic partnerships are NOT equal to marriages. If I wanted to add my domestic partner to my health insurance - something my employer and its provider both allow - I still have to pay taxes on the value of her portion of the coverage as if it were income. If she were my wife, that wouldn't happen. If she and I went to adopt a child, only one of us could be listed as the child's guardian, not both.

    Supporters of gay marriage don't have a problem with ALL marriages being called domestic partnerships / civil unions if ALL marriage contract laws and statutes - every last one of them - are transferred along with the legal name change. But if marriage exists and domestic partnerships / civil unions remain "separate but equal"
    (and where have we ever seen a track record of success with that concept?) there will always exist a missing statute that will deny those in domestic partnerships / civil unions equal protection under the law.

    The government has no interest in encouraging marriage one way or another - that is not government's role (aren't you an anti big-government guy?). It has an interest in offering equal protection under the law. Why should there be 1200-odd statutes relating to marriage that cannot be equally applied to two legal age, non-related, consenting adults in a domestic partnership just because they are of the same gender?

    That's all this debate is about - equality under the law. It's a shame people can't keep the legal definition of marriage and the religious definition separate. Even though both the religious and legal definitions have evolved...

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