Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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More same-sex marriage stuff

As expected, the Senate today failed to invoke cloture on the Marriage Protection Amendment.

As to why anyone should care about this, the best articulation I’ve seen can be found in this document, whose signatories include Hadley Arkes, J. Budzizewski, James Ceaser, Jean Bethke Elshtain, David F. Forte, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Robert P. George, Mary Ann Glendon, Leon Kass, Peter Lawler, David Novak, Marvin Olasky, Jeremy Rabkin, James Stoner, and Christopher Wolfe, to name just a few.

A sample, taken from the executive summary:

We affirm the following ten principles that summarize the value of marriage- a choice that most people want to make, and that society should endorse and support.


Ten Principles on Marriage and the Public Good


Marriage is a personal union, intended for the whole of life, of husband and wife.


Marriage is a profound human good, elevating and perfecting our social and sexual nature.


Ordinarily, both men and women who marry are better off as a result.


Marriage protects and promotes the wellbeing of children.


Marriage sustains civil society and promotes the common good.


Marriage is a wealth-creating institution, increasing human and social capital.


When marriage weakens, the equality gap widens, as children suffer from the disadvantages of growing up in homes without committed mothers and fathers.


A functioning marriage culture serves to protect political liberty and foster limited government.


The laws that govern marriage matter significantly.


"Civil marriage" and "religious marriage" cannot be rigidly or completely divorced from one another.


This understanding of marriage is not narrowly religious, but the cross-cultural fruit of broad human experience and reflection, and supported by considerable social science evidence. But a marriage culture cannot flourish in a society whose primary institutions-universities, courts, legislatures, religions-not only fail to defend marriage but actually undermine it both conceptually and in practice.

Read the whole thing.

Discussions - 25 Comments

This is a very valuable and powerful statement. If we are lucky, it will deepen the public debate and make it more serious. Marriage is not for everybody, the statement says, so the issue is joined: how to prohibit same-sex marriage on a ground that is not "discriminatory" - that is, arbitrary and prejudicial (the usual analogy is prohibiting inter-racial marriage). America’s rights revolution in recent decades has made it difficult, to say the least, both in law and in public opinion. There is, as we have known from the start of our national history, a contagion in rights talk. Confusion is not surprising: so many people favoring the FMA, or state versions, even though they are prepared to recognize gay rights in other domains. This document is meant to mark off marriage and to show why it should be preserved, without prejudice, for a man and a woman.

Well, that’s what I thought too. I wish I had had something to do with writing it.

But you signed it, Peter (as did JWC). Unfortunately, in crediting the various "disciplines" that contributed to the statement it omitted the architectonic science!
Oddly enough, I thought the one page on/against same-sex marriage was the weakest page of the entire document. Relatively weaker, not absolutely. It was weak because defensive and it didn’t spell out its claims. But as a statement of what marriage is, its individual and social benefits, its combination of "utility" and "intrinsic goods", it was quite fine. And the litany of facts was impressive (and dismaying).

I meant I admired it enough to sign it, and I wish I could take credit for writing it. I think Paul’s criticism makes some sense. Still, I’m very impressed with the argument and the social science. AT THE VERY LEAST, it is powerful evidence that the people against same-sex marriage have
plenty of good reasons. It opens the door to a genuine national debate on what marriage and families are.

Paul, Can you think of a better source in the same spirit (that is "secular"), one that spells out what this statement could and should have said about same-sex marriage?

All of those reasons could be used by either side in the gay marriage argument.

Maggie Gallagher, "(How) Will Gay Marriage Weaken Marriage as a Social Institution: A Reply to Andrew Koppelman," University of St. Thomas Law Journal, Fall 2004, Vol. 2, No. 1.

Peter, I agree with your judgment of its merits.

Paul, You’re the new biblio man!

Great op-ed on this issue here

After listening and reading arguments from both sides I find interesting comparisons can be drawn to this issue (as it was to Roe v Wade in the 80’s) and that of abolition in the 1850s. I find it unsettling that a potential division of the Republican Party could be in the works akin to the divisiveness of the Whigs and Republicans of that era.

Thanks, Paul. It turns out that the Gallagher piece is available online.

Thank you for the link. A great article. This sort of thing needs to be done more often, for as the signatories said "We are persuaded that the case for marriage can be made and won at the level of reason" and I believe the same goes for most other arguments being made by the Left.

It’s just a pity that most heterosexual marriages fail nowadays. No-fault divorce laws, a culture of infidelity, high rates of divorce, and the steadily increasing number of American children being born out of wedlock are far greater threats to the institution of marriage than two people of the same-sex in a committed relationship.

Well, I note that John McCain was among the RINO Senators who voted to kill the bill. Guess who won’t bother to go to the polls in ’08 if McCain is the GOP nominee.

That 3rd Party craziness is starting to sound less crazy all the time.

I have a question for Peter and/or anyone else who may want to answer it.

I have a friend who married her lesbian lover. They had a ceremony, spoke their vows and gave each other rings to wear on their left hands. They knew their marriage was not recognized by law but chose to get married as a lifetime commitment to each other. So, here’s the question: isn’t the issue not one of whether they can get married, but rather one of whether they can force others to recognize their marriages?

I too have witnessed such ceremonies. They are not legally married, and I don’t see how they can "force" others to recognize their marriage. Their friends will do so; one hopes their families will. That may be enough for them. The dispute is about the law, which matters - though perhaps not to them. Self-command is not a small thing.

The dispute is about the law

Exactly. Perhaps I should reword my question: isn’t the issue not one of whether they can get married, but rather one of whether they can force others legally to recognize their marriages?

The answer to UG of course is that they can’t force others... But under our law they can do what they want. The challenge, from the genuinely libertarian view, is to explain whty the law should recognize or what it adds to any such union.

Here’s a problem.

Lesbian couples demand a benefit married people have: A place on each other’s insurance.

But why should able-bodied adults have that benefit? Why should they not be treated as individuals in our "ownership society."

The premise: Only one person in a married couple works. Why? The other is at home with the kids.

But marriage is our individualistic time has been freed up from that expectation in many ways both under the law and socially or informally.

Logical conclusion: The way to achieve equality is to deny everyone that healthcare benefit we now reserve to married couples. It makes a lot less sense to extend the benefit to lesbian couples.

I think that’s a monstrous conclusion. But how is it avoided?

Peter - Your conclusion would also deny health insurance to a childless married spouse, and deny coverage to a spouse once the children are adults. The "monstrousness" is about the oddities of our health finance system. I think your hypothetical couple care about equality of reconition for the couple, not equality for the individuals, or have I misunderstood you?

Society has a strong vested interest in reproduction and gender relations. Marriage has been the bedrock of both...neither interest is served by gay marriage. Indeed, the only way that gay marriage can be justified is by miscomprehending the nature of marriage. It’s not an individual act, nor an act to promote individual happiness. Marriage is intrinsically a social act, and its purpose is social rather than individualistic or psychological. Hence, some social benefits flow to married couples...there is nothing wrong with this, nor is there anything inherently unfair about including some and excluding others. All those who engage in socially-beneficial social bonds can enjoy the social benefits of marriage. If they can’t engage in such bonds, for whatever reason, there is no need to feel bad about excluding them. Case in point, not everyone can serve as a soldier (e.g., the blind, the infirm, the old), and yet do we feel guilty about excluding them from veterans’ benefits?

Steve: That may be true enough. But the demand for recognition is coming in the context of the individualistic decontruction of marriage. As long as it was clear that marriage is about sex that leads to kids, lesbians could understand why they were excluded. But here’s the question we’re increasingly stuck with: Why should the law recognize couples at all outside the context of definite legal expectations? There’s not right to recognition for its own sake, surely. A lesbian, of course, could be a mom and get the benefits and accompanying recognition accorded to individual with kids. But in the regime of individual autonomy, the very privileging of couples is increasingly suspect.

Did everyone read the article? By all means, please do so, it presents an excellent argument which I have yet to hear anyone in favor of gay marriage address. The signatories provide a wealth of documented evidence in support of their argument.

Let me try it one more time: isn’t the issue not one of whether they can get married, but rather one of whether they can impose on others legal recognition of their marriages?

Yes, UG, but they would rephrase it. The issue is whether they have the "right" to legally-recognized marriage, with all that that entails (legal contracts, health insurance, whatever). Essentially, however, their goal is to legitimate this behavior and force us to put it on the same plane as heterosexual marriage.

but they would rephrase it. The issue is whether they have the "right" to legally-recognized marriage, with all that that entails (legal contracts, health insurance, whatever). But they can get all those things by other means. Sounds like a winning argument for our side.

1. Gays can get married now. It’s just not a legally recognized marriage;

2. the issue is not one of whether they can get married, but rather one of whether they can impose on others legal recognition of their marriages;

3. Gays can achieve their goals such as contracts and insurance, etc. without imposing legal recognition of gay marriage on others;

Therefore, legal recognition of gay marriage should not be imposed on others.

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