Monday, November 4, 2013

Gay Marriage and Other Arrangements

Robert George at First Things shares some thoughts that tie in with our recent post at VP on polyamory. George writes:
The logic of the sexual revolution continues to play itself out in exactly the way defenders of “traditional” marriage and norms of sexual morality saw (and said) that it would. When I and many others noted that the abandonment of the idea of marriage as a conjugal union and its replacement with a conception of “marriage” as sexual-romantic companionship or domestic partnership would swiftly be followed by the mainstreaming of polyamory and eventually demands for the legal recognition of “poly” partnerships and families, we were accused of “scare mongering” and making illicit “slippery slope” arguments.

What we saw—and what anyone should easily have seen—is that the displacement of the conjugal conception of marriage left no ground of principle for supposing that marriage is the union of two and only two persons, as opposed to three or more (“throuples,” “triads,” “quadrads,” etc.) in multiple partner sexual ensembles....

Today, fewer and fewer people on the liberal side of questions of marriage and sexual ethics are even pretending to have moral objections to polyamorous sexual relationships or their recognition. ... Moral objections to their ”identity” and the sexual expression of their love is condemned as mere “prejudice.” We must, we are told, fight the “bigots” who are stigmatizing them and “harming their children.” When you have a script that works, I guess you keep using it.
When I posted recently on this topic I added that the mainstreaming of polyamory and other conjugal exotica was inevitable once marriage was no longer restricted to the union of one man and one woman. Some readers protested, not to the argument that legalizing gay marriage would result in opening the legal doors to other marital arrangements, but rather to my conclusion that we therefore shouldn't change the definition of marriage to include homosexual unions.

The objections to the assertion that gay marriage is not a good idea were varied, but they essentially had in common the claim that it's unfair to gays, who are often wonderful people, to deny them the rights that heterosexuals enjoy. Of course, I never said that gays were not fine people, but I did aver that legalizing gay marriage would ultimately mean the end of traditional marriage, which certainly is in a precarious enough state as it is, and that that would not be a good outcome for society.

Some readers took umbrage with my claim that changing the laws that specify that marriage be between a man and a woman will ultimately result in changing the laws that specify that marriage must only be between two people. Their objection was based on their personal incredulity that anyone would really want to do this. Their inability to imagine that people would push for various forms of polyamory notwithstanding, however, it's almost inevitable that once we no longer limit marriage to men and women limiting marriage to just two people will also become equally anachronistic.

If requiring that marriage be between a man and woman is merely an arbitrary limitation based on personal taste and custom why isn't limiting marriage to just two people also arbitrary and unjustifiable? Some readers invoked the "icky" factor, declaring that polyamory is just icky, forgetting, perhaps, that this was at one time a major objection to gay marriage as well.

But let's grant for the sake of discussion that marriage should be limited to just two people. Then what? Suppose two siblings wished to marry. Should they be permitted to do so? If not, why not? What compelling reason would there be to deny two siblings who loved each other the same rights that non-siblings have? Please don't reply that that would be "icky." Ickiness doesn't count as a compelling reason.

Suppose you say that siblings should not be allowed to marry. What if the two siblings were gay or lesbian? Should they then be permitted to marry if they wish? If not, why not? If so, doesn't it discriminate against heterosexual siblings to prohibit to them a right given to homosexual siblings? And if incest is no longer prohibited, why on earth should any other consensual arrangement be prohibited, regardless of the number of partners?

Indeed, why must marriage be consensual at all? In much of the world it's certainly not, and throughout much of history it hasn't been. What reason is there for legally preventing fathers from giving their pre-pubescent daughters as brides to other men? Is it not merely a Western cultural prejudice that sustains the laws against doing this? How can we justify keeping laws on the books that are based on nothing more substantial than cultural prejudice? And if we're not going to allow cultural prejudices to keep us from betrothing our daughters to other men then, if gay marriage is acceptable, why should we be legally prohibited from giving our sons to other men for the same purpose?

The proponent of gay marriage might object that this would be both icky and wrong, but if we ask them to explain preciselywhy it's wrong it's hard to imagine what answer they could give. They'd simply reply, presumably, that it's offensive to them to subject children to non-consensual marriage, but it's a long way from being personally offensive to being wrong. After all, the fact that many people oppose gay marriage because they find it personally offensive is not considered by gay marriage proponents to be anywhere close to being a good reason to think gay marriage wrong or to keep it illegal.

Once we've started down the slippery slope by removing the requirement that marriage be restricted to one man and one woman, there's no logical way to stop the slide. There's no non-arbitrary place on the slope at which we can say that this is where the line must be drawn. If you think there is you're welcome to explain where that line is and why the slide wouldn't take us all the way to non-consensual child betrothal. Or beyond.

Once Pandora opens the box who knows what's going to come flying out? When we tinker with an institution that's thousands of years old the effects ramify throughout the culture. It's simply naive to think that nothing much would change.

Whether or not gays really yearn to marry their partners or whether they are good people is in fact irrelevant to the argument. The critical question is what effect gay marriage would have on marriage itself and ultimately upon our culture. By undermining the traditional one man, one woman formula I maintain that it'd be a cultural calamity.