Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Marriage, family, and "natural law"

If you haven’t yet bookmarked Mere Comments, the place where the Touchstone editors blog, you need to. These are smart people who unfailingly have interesting things to say.

Today, David Mills was nice enough to post and expand upon my email response to this post on gay marriage. I think he’s right about cousins, by the way (I’ll leave it to you to pursue the links to see what cousins have to do with gay marriage. My kids are blessed with eleven cousins, six within easy driving distance, and two of those just the right ages for close friendships.

But back to gay marriage. When I teach Locke’s Second Treatise (as I did last week in summer school), I spend a good bit of time discussing his re-envisioning of the family into a series of contractual or pseudo-contractual relationships, undertaken for the sake of child-rearing. I ask students whether new reproductive technologies and new means of social provision, all of which are conceivable in Lockian terms (since nature is in a way the enemy) make it possible to widen our "Lockian" definition of what constitutes a family. If we’re facing a situation where men are dispensable even for the sake of reproduction and where anyone can be a wage-earner, why, according to Locke, must a family consist of a male husband and a female wife? And it of course goes without saying that if the family doesn’t necessarily exist for the sake of reproduction, there’s no obvious Lockian reason to discountenance gay marriage, polygamy, and polyandry. At this point, my conservative students are scandalized and my liberal students are embracing this suddenly very attractive dead white male. I then ask if there’s a non-Biblical, non-religious argument for the position Locke actually takes, favoring the two-parent household with male and female partners. If the biological and economic arguments are not determinative, having apparently been overtaken by events, what’s left? That’s when I ask about learning how to be a man in relation to other men and to women and to be a woman in relation to other women and to men. The family is our first, best, and indeed irreplaceable school in these matters, and male and female children both need male and female parents, regardless of what they might discover about their own orientations later in life. This inevitably leads to all sorts of other interesting conversations.

But enough for now, I have two summer school classes for which I must prepare, having spent the better part of the evening in the rain watching children and teenagers swim. For the record, the Vermack Vikings beat a much larger Garden Hills Cool Sharks team. My nine year old son, Liam, swam a credible breast stroke leg of a medley relay and a respectable 25 free race, nearly overtaking an arch-rival on the team; he was awaiting his 25 breast heat when the meet was called. My seven year old daughter, Charlotte, looked good swimming her first ever competitive butterfly leg in a medley relay and took second place to an eight year old Amazon in the 25 free. Let’s hope next week’s meet takes place without rain and with temperatures above about 68 degrees.

Update: The always interesting Tom Cerber has more here.

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