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All-Purpose Gay Marriage Post

The weekend’s posts about Jody Bottum’s semi-conversion on same-sex marriage — see here [1] and here [2] — generated lots of comments, including a number of questions about my own stance on gay marriage. I planned to answer them all this morning, but yesterday suffered a fairly major relapse of mononucleosis, and find myself exhausted and foggy-headed this morning in a way I haven’t been for half the summer. I just called and made an appointment with a rheumatologist, because I’m going into month 8 with this latest round, and I’m just flat-out sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I just don’t have it in me to parse the threads today and pick out the questions piece by piece. Rather, I think I’ll put up an all-purpose gay marriage post that will answer the persistent questions that I think I’ve answered in other places, but apparently I haven’t to the satisfaction of some of you. In the future, please refer to this post. I don’t want to go over this again.

First, an easy one:

1. What kind of special carve-outs from anti-discrimination law regarding gays and married gays do you think religious traditionalists should have?

Ideally? I’d like for religious institutions — including schools, charities, and the like — and individuals to retain the right to discriminate on the basis of sexual preference. In other words, I think that anti-discrimination laws that include gays in the protected categories should not be made to apply to religious institutions or individuals (business owners, landlords) who seek an exemption. And I believe these institutions and businesses shouldn’t have to treat married gay couples as married with regard to benefits.

2. What makes religious people so special that they should get a pass under the law? We don’t let them do it for race.

Several things here. As a matter of civic prudence, accommodating the enormous number of Americans who do not accept gay marriage is a wise thing to do. Given how their number is steadily shrinking, this is a compromise that our society could reasonably make. Similarly, religious people ought to recognize that gays have legitimate grounds for their needs being accommodated, so religious traditionalists ought to concede some ground to them, e.g., granting civil unions.

Second, homosexuality is not like race in that race does not produce a morality. Heterosexuality — or at least the expression of heterosexuality — is not morally neutral either, at least not from the point of view of religious traditionalists. Homosexuality, at least at the marriage level, was until virtually yesterday forbidden, and in many cases criminalized. Few people — least of all me — want to go back to those days, but SSM proponents should get some perspective and recognize how radical SSM is, simply as a historical matter. In 50 years, the way almost all cultures have viewed marriage — as essentially an institution based in sexual complementarity that provides for the care and raising of children, and therefore for social stability — has been demolished. This is absolutely revolutionary. One can support greater rights and liberties for gays and lesbians than they have had in the past — I certainly do — without agreeing that the definition of marriage should change. Like it or not, the moralization of sexuality is an inextricable part of law and society. There are no laws or customs forbidding people to be black, and those that existed were rightly overturned. There are laws and customs regulating sexual expression, laws that nearly everybody believes in. We all agree that there ought to be an age of consent for sexual relations, though we may disagree where to draw that line. We all agree that rape is wrong. We all agree that incest is wrong. And so forth. This means that at some level, we all believe that there is a moral dimension of sexual desire and expression. Our society is moving the lines to moralize homosexuality, which was formerly taboo. All I’m asking is that SSM proponents recognize that the traditionalist position may be wrong, but it is not unreasonable. That’s an important distinction, and one that calls for accommodation, at least while we go through this transitional stage of cultural evolution.

Third, religious liberty is one of the foundational ideals of the United States of America. Equality is also. These two have to be balanced out, but we have shown that it can be done, e.g., in laws granting religious exceptions for sex discrimination in certain conditions. It’s not like we’ve never dealt with this before.

3. There is no reason, other than conservative readings of the Bible, to oppose SSM. Your side has offered no argument on that point. This is a secular country. Why should we base our marriage law on what the Bible says?

The biggest myth around this entire issue is that the only reason to oppose SSM is religious. When people say that, what they really mean is, “I haven’t heard any non-religious argument against it, and I can’t imagine what that would look like, so it must not exist.” The media have done a great job ignoring the possibility of non-religious arguments against same-sex marriage, so it’s no surprise that many Americans are not aware that they exist.

The very best non-religious argument is made by Robert George, Sherif Girgis, and Ryan T. Anderson in their short book What Is Marriage? [3] This book has the hard clarity of a diamond. Having interviewed Anderson recently for an article, I bought his book on Kindle over the weekend to help clarify my own thoughts. I was taken aback by how terrific it is, and how it challenged some of my own assumptions, even as a supporter of privileging traditional marriage. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough for thoughtful people on both sides of the marriage debate. SSM backers ought to read it to know the depth and seriousness of non-religious arguments against gay marriage, and to grasp a point that eludes the US Supreme Court: there really are reasons to oppose gay marriage that do not rely on irrational animus. Religious SSM opponents should read it for the same reason: to understand how they can defend through philosophy what they take on faith. Because George, Girgis, and Anderson do such a magnificent job of distilling the argument and presenting it clearly, I’m going to quote them at length, because they say it better than I possibly could.

It’s important to emphasize that their argument is not religious, nor is it about the moral status of homosexuality, or about homosexuality at all. It’s about marriage: what it’s for, and why it’s important to retain the traditional understanding of it rooted in sexual complementarity. Here is their argument, in summary:

There is a distinct form of personal union and corresponding way of life, historically called marriage, whose basic features do not depend on the preferences of individuals or cultures. Marriage is, of its essence, a comprehensive union: a union of will (by consent) and body (by sexual union); inherently ordered to procreation and thus the broad sharing of family life; and calling for permanent and exclusive commitment, whatever the spouses’ preferences. It has long been and remains a personal and social reality, sought and prized by individuals, couples, and whole societies. But it is also a moral reality: a human good with an objective structure, which it is inherently good for us to live out.

Marriages have always been the main and most effective means of rearing healthy, happy, and well-integrated children. The health and order of society depend on the reading of healthy, happy, and well-integrated children. That is why law, though it may take no notice of ordinary friendships, should recognize and support marriages.

There can thus be no right for nonmarital relationships to be recognized as marriages. There can indeed be much harm, if recognizing them would obscure the shape, and so weaken the special norms, of an institution on which social order depends. So it is not the conferral of benefits on same-sex relationship itself but redefining marriage in the public mind that bodes ill for the common good. Indeed, societies mindful of this fact need deprive no same-sex-attracted people of practical goods, social equality, or personal fulfillment.


Here, then, is the heart of our argument against redefinition. If the law defines marriage to include same-sex partners, many will come to misunderstand marriage. They will not see it as essentially comprehensive, or thus (among other things) as ordered to procreation and family life — but as essentially an emotional union. For reasons to be explained, they will therefore tend not to understand or respect the objective norms of permanence or sexual exclusivity that shape it. Nor, in the end, will they see why the terms of marriage should not depend altogether on the will of the parties, be they two or ten in number, as the terms of friendships and contracts do. That is, to the extent that marriage is misunderstood, it will be harder to see the point of its norms, to live by them, and to urge them on others. And this, besides making any remaining restrictions on marriage arbitrary, will damage the many cultural and political goods that get the state involved in marriage in the first place.

Anderson put this another way in our interview: “We have to understand what marriage is so marriage can do what it has to do.” (That’s a close paraphrase.) In the book, Anderson and his co-authors contrast a “conjugal” view of marriage with the contemporary “revisionist” view. Here they are, from the essay that became the book [4] (if you don’t plan to buy the book, at least follow that link for the basics of the argument):

Conjugal View: Marriage is the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other of the type that is naturally (inherently) fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together. The spouses seal (consummate) and renew their union by conjugal acts – acts that constitute the behavioral part of the process of reproduction, thus uniting them as a reproductive unit. Marriage is valuable in itself, but its inherent orientation to the bearing and rearing of children contributes to its distinctive structure, including norms of monogamy and fidelity. This link to the welfare of children also helps explain why marriage is important to the common good and why the state should recognize and regulate it.

Revisionist View: Marriage is the union of two people (whether of the same sex or of opposite sexes) who commit to romantically loving and caring for each other and to sharing the burdens and benefits of domestic life. It is essentially a union of hearts and minds, enhanced by whatever forms of sexual intimacy both partners find agreeable. The state should recognize and regulate marriage because it has an interest in stable romantic partnerships and in the concrete needs of spouses and any children they may choose to rear.

It’s obvious that the revisionist view has been mainstream in American society for 50 years. This is why people like me concede that gay marriage has been accepted so readily because it only follows naturally from what people already believe about what marriage is. As Anderson et al. demonstrate in What Is Marriage?, same-sex marriage is devastating to the conjugal view because it locks in place the revisionist view of what marriage is in its essence. And that, in turn, makes it impossible for marriage to do what it has to do: create stable families in which to raise and socialize the next generation.

Why? Because it means that marriage is more or less a social construct that we can alter according to our feelings. Anderson et al. don’t deny that the institution of marriage is at least partly constructed, according to cultural norms. But the fallacy of revisionists, they say, is in saying that because marriage is partially constructed, then it is entirely constructed. The core of marriage has to do with sexual complementarity, and sacralizing the bond between the male-female pair, whence come children. If people come to believe marriage is nothing more than a contract between two parties who share deep emotional affinity for each other, those marriages will be much easier to dissolve — which is exactly what has happened with no-fault divorce. In turn, this has been very hard on children and single mothers, emotionally, psychologically, and economically.

When people ask, “What harm does gay marriage do to you?”, they can’t come up with any direct harms, so they assume harms must not exist. The harm is that SSM changes for good the way we think about marriage. From the book:

Prominent Oxford philosopher Joseph Raz, no friend of the conjugal view, agrees:

[O]ne thing can be said with certainty [about recent changes in marriage law]. They will not be confined to adding new options to the familiar heterosexual monogamous family. They will change the character of that family. If these changes take root in our culture then the familiar marriage relations will disappear. They will not disappear suddenly. Rather they will be transformed into a somewhat different social form, which responds to the fact that it is one of several forms of bonding, and that bonding itself is much more easily and commonly dissoluble. All these factors are already working their way into the constitutive conventions which determine what is appropriate and expected within a conventional marriage and transforming its significance.

Redefining civil marriage would change its meaning for everyone. … This wouldn’t just shift opinion polls and tax burdens. Marriage, the human good, would be harder to achieve. For you can realize marriage only by choosing it, for which you need at least a rough, intuitive idea of what it really is. By warping people’s view of marriage, revisionist policy would make them less able to realize this basic way of thriving — much as a man confused about what friendship requires will have trouble being a friend. People forming what the state called “marriage” would increasingly be forming bonds that merely resembled the real thing in certain ways, as a contractual relationship might resemble a friendship. The revisionist view would distort their priorities, actions, and motivations, to the harm of true marriage.

And, as many of us have been saying for some time, if marriage has no essential definition, and if its shape is defined only by desire, on what grounds may we limit it only to dyads? A group of several hundred people — many of them prominent journalists and law professors (including the now-EEOC chief Chai Feldblum), signed a Beyond Same-Sex Marriage [5] statement, one that calls for “legal recognition for a wide range of relationships, households and families – regardless of kinship or conjugal status.” And why not? Once you have established that marriage has no fixed core meaning, you are free to modify it as equality demands.

Finally, there is the cultural matter:

If civil marriage is redefined, believing what virtually every human society once believed about marriage — that it is a male-female union — will be seen increasingly as a malicious prejudice, to be driven to the margins of culture.

It’s already happening. As I’ve said, in three rulings — most recently in Windsor — the US Supreme Court has held that the only reason to treat gays differently is because of malicious prejudice. In culture, we are fast getting there. As Michael Kinsley, who supports gay marriage, wrote after Dr. Ben Carson criticized same-sex marriage [6]:

All he did was say on television that he opposes same-sex marriage—an idea that even its biggest current supporters had never even heard of a couple of decades ago. Does that automatically make you a homophobe and cast you into the outer darkness? It shouldn’t. But in some American subcultures—Hollywood, academia, Democratic politics—it apparently does. You may favor raising taxes on the rich, increasing support for the poor, nurturing the planet, and repealing Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, but if you don’t support gay marriage, you’re out of the club.

More Kinsley:

There are those who would have you think that gays and liberals are conducting some sort of jihad against organized Christianity and that gay marriage is one of the battlefields. That is a tremendous exaggeration. But it’s not a complete fantasy. And for every mouth that opens, a dozen stay clamped shut. In the state of Washington, a florist refused to do the wedding of a long-time customer “because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.” Note that “long-time customer.” This woman had been happily selling flowers to the groom. She just didn’t want to be associated with the wedding. Now she is being sued by the state attorney general. DC Comics dropped writer Orson Scott Card’s planned Superman book when thousands signed a petition demanding it because of his many homophobic remarks.

Thought experiment: If you were up for tenure at a top university, or up for a starring role in a big movie, or running for office in large swaths of the country, would it hurt your chances more to announce that you are gay or to announce that you’ve become head of an anti-gay organization? The answer seems obvious. So the good guys have won. Why do they now want to become the bad guys?

I was talking over the weekend with an academic friend who said that everybody knows you had better keep your mouth shut if you oppose SSM and want tenure. No matter how much you know, and how good you are as a scholar and teacher, if you dissent on this issue, you get blackballed. I mentioned to a prominent (secular, liberal, pro-SSM friend) that this is increasingly the case in journalism, and he agreed that it is — and he noted wryly that those making these McCarthyite distinctions think they’re doing it for the sake of “diversity.”

The point is not that we shouldn’t have same-sex marriage because traditionalists will be blacklisted. The point is that this campaign is now and will increasingly be marked by a strong urge to demean its opponents and drive them from the public square. The same cruel and unjust treatment that the mainstream delivered to gays for so many years is now going to be delivered to traditionalists, all in the name of justice. You may think trads are wrong to argue against SSM, but increasingly, we see what is coming for us. Anderson told me on the phone last week that even if marriage traditionalists are doomed to lose — something he does not concede, by the way — we still have to keep pressing our argument, if only because demonstrating that we have a reasonable case for opposing SSM, even if it doesn’t ultimately persuade most people, is critical to winning a modicum of tolerance from the victors.

The book is called What Is Marriage? [7], by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert George. You should read it. It is not long. It is not religious. It is not anti-gay. It is the best secular case for keeping traditional marriage that’s available. You may not end up agreeing with the authors, but you will have had a real argument. People who say that there are no non-religious arguments against same-sex marriage are people who have not read Girgis, Anderson, and George. Last week, Anderson told me that when he goes to college campuses speaking about marriage, and gets into actual civil discussions about it (versus cable TV shoutfests), he finds that some of his opponents have their minds changed, or at least tell him that they hadn’t thought about these things before.

The arguments are out there. Whether or not anyone wants to hear them, that’s a different matter.

179 Comments (Open | Close)

179 Comments To "All-Purpose Gay Marriage Post"

#1 Comment By JonF On August 27, 2013 @ 7:11 pm

Re: You deny purposes, essences in the world.

As I noted, modern physics reveals a world much, much closer to Plato’s metaphysics than to Aristotle’s. If you want to accuse me of being a sort of Platonist, go ahead. I won’t deny it. But that’s hardly an outré position. Many of the Church Fathers were Platonists too. The grafting of Aristotle onto Christian thought was a late development.

On the other hand I have never denied that Time has direction (why do you keep accusing me of that?), and since humans and other biologicals have purposes, it would be silly to deny that purpose exists in nature. But I will point something out that will probably shock you: any purposes that exist in nature are mutable. They too exist under Time’s rule, and “Time changes all things; we step not twice in the same river.” Can you consider the possibility that the purpose of marriage and, yes, sex has changed over the millennia?

#2 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 27, 2013 @ 7:34 pm

First Thursday said:
Church Lady:

Secular liberal democracy is not my religion.

Lol. Perhaps one could be generous and say it isn’t the entirety of your religion.

Then Thursday said I never said liberalism was a religion. I said it takes substantive positions on religious questions.

I hate to accuse anyone of lying, but it seems to me that Thursday is misquoting Thursday somewhere along the line. Perhaps he’s just confused about what he said, meant to say, or really wants to say.

Chuck most churches will rent their sanctuaries out for weddings. Most ministers will officiate even for non-congregants but expect to be paid for their time.

So actually as long as a Church provides those services to the public the government CAN force them to perform gay weddings.

Legal citations please? I know of no federal appellate precedent which would lend the slightest weight to the novel assertion that if a church EVER rents its OWN facilities, it is subject to state regulation as a commercial entity. If a church runs a business, separate and distinct from its religious functions, in commerce for the purpose of making money, the money is “unrelated business income” and the business, but not the church as a whole, would be subject to general regulation.

Fees for use of facilities are generally not profit, but cover the costs of the church facilities being available. Church members pay them too, although sometimes at a lower rate, since they have, after all been contributing to support of the facilities all along.

Seriously folks, there are few things in life more explicitly and comprehensively insulated from state interference than the free exercise of religion. You know, “Congress shall pass NO law”??? The entire history of Supreme Court jurisprudence is very firm on this.

Church Lady, you’re making sense also, and that’s a sound, compassionate argument for why it would be sound public policy and a nice thing to do to license same-sex couples as a marriage.

There are arguments that same-sex couples are not drawn to pair bonding in the same way as heterosexual couples. I don’t have an opinion on that, I haven’t studied it in detail, but its a fair point to consider. Its not settled fact. And, as always, I don’t see a constitutional mandate, only some good reasons the general community might well want to take this measure, which many populations and jurisdictions are doing.

#3 Comment By Bobby On August 27, 2013 @ 7:39 pm


I agree with you that orthodox Christianity clearly forbids entering into marriage when the couple cannot procreate or has no intention to do so. If you’re just looking for a companion, go find a companion. Don’t denigrate the institution of Christian marriage by insisting that your companionship be called a marriage.

This is one area where orthodox Christians have become so family-oriented that they have actually become disobedient. In conservative Christian circles, being married is pretty much a condition of social acceptance within the church community. I know several Christian couples who got married in their late 30s because they were tired of being socially ostracized. They have no intention of having kids, and don’t even share the same bedroom. One of the guys even admitted to me that he is gay, and got married merely because he was tired of feeling socially ostracized. (By the way, his “wife” knows that he is gay.)

So, it seems that the church devalues singleness, improperly believing that it’s better for couples to enter into “companionship-only marriages” rather than remain single. This leaves gay Christians out in the cold socially, as they are much less likely to enter into such faux marriages.

The church would be much less susceptible to appearing bigoted if it restricted marriage to its proper biblical confines (which you articulated above). To gay Christians, the church can often look bigoted because it’s willing to make exceptions to the biblical paradigm in a host of situations (e.g., remarriages after divorce, companionship-only marriages, etc.). But there’s no exception to be had for gay people. They are simply exiled to loneliness, which often drives them into the gay community (and out of the church altogether).

Further, if the church would stop blessing these faux marriages, there would be many more single adults within the church, thereby allowing gay Christians to have a much more robust social life within the confines of the covenant community.

Being gay, I have no interest in getting married. I could probably enter into a faux marriage, as my mannerisms and interests are traditionally masculine. But I would much rather have several educated, financially stable male or female conservative Christian friends with whom I could hang out, go to dinner, or travel. Maybe someone needs to start a website that connects single, educated, upwardly mobile conservative Christians who simply want to enjoy food, wine, and occasional travel with other similarly situated persons.

#4 Comment By Erin Manning On August 27, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

Everybody freaks out when I use the “legal recognition of your temporary sex partnership” line. But let’s look at what marriage is these days (and this is before we even get to the gay version):

1. Not permanent. It’s easier in most states to dissolve a marriage contract than a business contract. It may even be easier in all states, given no-fault divorce. How many OTHER contracts can be dissolved unilaterally by one party for no reason? The lawyers who post here can tell us.

2. Not based on any particular exchange of rights or duties. I could leave “sex” out of the “partnership” phrase, honestly, because everyone admits that civil marriage doesn’t require sex at all, not being even remotely ordered toward procreation and all that. Thus, refusing to let celibate sisters or brothers, let alone incestuous ones, enter marriage is clearly a bigotry that must be ended immediately.

3. Not a guarantee of the uncomplicated passing of total property rights to the survivor. Check the laws in your state to find out if spouses quickly and automatically inherit the whole estate in cases of intestacy. You may be surprised at what you discover.

4. Not a guarantee that you will be permitted to make decisions or act on behalf of your spouse. This one I’ve personally experienced. Since my husband set up our old cable internet account by himself (we had three small children; I wasn’t going to the cable company office!) they would never talk to me about problems or outages. I’d get through the phone tree, someone would say, “Oh, sorry, you aren’t the account holder…” I’d say that I was the account holder’s wife, they’d explain that they weren’t allowed to talk to me, and they’d hang up. That wasn’t an isolated incident, either: I can’t receive medical information for my husband, I can’t call his company benefits program on his behalf even though I’m on that insurance (that was a fun conversation, as we needed info about our children’s coverage and he personally had to call them during business hours to get it), and there are tons of other examples out there.

In short, marriage in America c. 2013 really doesn’t mean anything. Sure, people *personally* invest lots of emotional meaning into it, till they get bored and file for divorce and look for someone new, but the idea that marriage as it is presently defined helps the state to be more stable or is good for the couple is really laughable.

You know who isn’t laughing? Groups of heterosexual men who are forming anti-marriage groups, in fear of being victimized in the family court system when the woman they thought they could trust with their intimate lives and children turned out to want alimony and child support instead. But by all means, let’s keep chipping away at the definition of marriage to make it even MORE meaningless, ’cause that will help…

#5 Comment By Church Lady On August 27, 2013 @ 9:17 pm

[NFR: If all religions are true, then none are. Then again, you get to claim that you’re more religious than the Pope and the Dalai Lama. How fun for you! — RD]

You are trying to apply temporal, human logic to God. Good luck with that.

But yes, by your logic, it really would be more honest to say that no religions are true, including your own. Fortunately, God doesn’t operate by your logic. That’s what allows your religion to be true, despite your limited logic. You ought to be grateful for that, in my view.

Also, I wasn’t aware that either the Pope or the Dalai Lama posted on this blog. What handle are they using?

[NFR: One of them uses “Charles Cosimano,” but I’m not saying which one. — RD]

#6 Comment By JonF On August 27, 2013 @ 9:18 pm

Re: I agree with you that orthodox Christianity clearly forbids entering into marriage when the couple cannot procreate or has no intention to do so.

This is not true and never was: infertility has never been a bar to marriage. As others have noted, permanent impotence *could* be in ages past, but that is not the same thing as being unable to procreate.

#7 Comment By Church Lady On August 27, 2013 @ 9:32 pm

[NFR: One of them uses “Charles Cosimano,” but I’m not saying which one. — RD]

Just as I suspected.

#8 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On August 27, 2013 @ 9:36 pm

Technically Rod’s correct because he didn’t say the Pope of which religion.

BTW I wish I could get a rise out of Rod as easily as Church Lady does. I’m not sure why I’d like that, except that it seems to be an achievement of some sort. It’s probably a character flaw that I should work on.

#9 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On August 27, 2013 @ 10:07 pm

Erin, to avoid probate you need a will, when you set that up you also need to set up a health care proxy, and durable power of attorney. As far as cable companies, I don’t have cable because they’re harder to deal with than any government bureaucracy.

As far as dissolving contracts, many contracts have an exit clauses or non-performance penalties, but generally require some compensation from one party. For example, when making an offer on a home, you can always walk away and sacrifice the binder. When you hire a housing contractor, put dates in the contract, and the right to dissolve the contract if they don’t perform. Conversely they’ll likely ask for a payment schedule around those dates.

Generally the old saying is that good contracts make good friends because everyone knows what to expect.

#10 Comment By Jerry On August 27, 2013 @ 10:26 pm

OK, so as near as I can understand it, the argument against same-sex marriage is that there is an inherent value in the cultural ideal of life-long, monogamous, procreative, heterosexual marriage, and this inherent value is so important to society that it is better than gay individuals should suffer discrimination than to allow the cultural ideal of heterosexual marriage to be weakened.

But in this post ( [8]), Dreher says that it is a terrible injustice that individual black children should suffer a loss of educational opportunity in order to protect the liberal cultural ideal of desegregation.

I detect some inconsistency here. I guess only some cultural ideals trump individual rights, or perhaps only some individuals’ rights are less important than cultural ideals. Rod, could you clarify?

#11 Comment By Erin Manning On August 27, 2013 @ 10:33 pm

Bobby, I meant to say to you the other day when you first posted that celibate gay Christians like you really command my full respect and admiration, because you are carrying a heavy cross, and your fellow Christians, myself included, should have one important question for you: how can we help?

As a Catholic I know that my Church does at least not elevate marriage above all other states; technically, the priesthood and religious life were seen as the highest call from an objective standard (though many Catholic thinkers have pointed out that just because the call to be a priest, religious brother or sister may be a great one does not mean that all who enter this life are suited for it, and in truth each person can only answer his or her own call, etc.). But there are actually quite a few groups and efforts directed at single Catholics, and while some of them are focused on young singles the vocational talks are not just about marriage, but about religious life and about how a single person can live out that life in service to God as well.

I don’t know this for sure, but I get the impression that among some of my Christian friends the push toward marriage is rooted in a kind of fear–the fear that the single Christian is going to be more surrounded by temptations to sin, that he or she will be tempted to become selfish, that he or she will fall away from the church community, etc. At the same time, making “Go get married!” the way of addressing that fear is going to create some of those situations, because why would a single person keep coming to church to hear sermons about family life week after week? Making things even more confusing, my younger Christian friends hear (or heard, when they were in college) a message that told them to work on finding a suitable mate so they could get married before 30, but not to waste time on dating or on flimsy relationships when they were trying to get that all-important degree and that first lucrative job. Mixed messages, indeed.

Oh, and that’s before we even talk about the notion (expressed a LOT in Christian fiction, especially the relatively chaste romances aimed at serious Christian women) that most if not all young Christian women will have made a “mistake” in their first marriage, but once they untangle from that guy they married too young or too naively or too trustingly, they will find Mr. Right, a man who combines stunning good looks with just the right amount of Biblical manliness, loosely defined as “He’ll risk his life to save you from a burning house, but he won’t order you to wear dresses or make you quit your job if you don’t want to.”

Our culture has such absurd notions about marriage that it’s no wonder we are where we are today. I like your idea of encouraging real adult friendships as a countermeasure to a lot of the sheer unreality that goes on out there.

#12 Comment By Bobby On August 27, 2013 @ 11:25 pm


Thanks for the encouragement.

I probably think about it a bit more recently because I left my law firm job in DC to take an in-house job. I now leave work at 5:30 instead of 10:30, and have a lot more time to think about what to do with life. I recently took my first vacation in 5 years, visiting Budapest and then traveling south through the Hungarian wine country and into the lake country of Slovenia. The trip was great, but it would have been nicer to share it with someone–even if I don’t want to marry that someone.

#13 Comment By Another Matt On August 27, 2013 @ 11:31 pm

Oh, and that’s before we even talk about the notion (expressed a LOT in Christian fiction, especially the relatively chaste romances aimed at serious Christian women) that most if not all young Christian women will have made a “mistake” in their first marriage, but once they untangle from that guy they married too young or too naively or too trustingly, they will find Mr. Right, a man who combines stunning good looks with just the right amount of Biblical manliness, loosely defined as “He’ll risk his life to save you from a burning house, but he won’t order you to wear dresses or make you quit your job if you don’t want to.”

Ha ha ha!

A cousin of mine once gave me a set of Christian romance novels (aimed at 14-year-old girls) to “minister to me about courting.” I think I still have them — they’re hilarious, and they’re exactly as you describe here. They also had unintentionally amazing titles like, “The Measure of a Man”, “Bound by Grace”, “Hogtied”, and “Almost Twins”.

The other big trope is that if you’re a young woman, you had better not leave your dad’s house before you’re married because you’re bound to make the wrong decision without the guidance of a man… so you have to wait for Mr. Right to come galloping up to your dad’s door to ask your dad and mom (and you) out on a date with Mr. Right and his parents. Then after a few of those dates you get married.

I’ve seen young women who are hurt and confused because God hasn’t sent her a man yet.

#14 Comment By Charles Cosimano On August 27, 2013 @ 11:39 pm

[NFR: One of them uses “Charles Cosimano,” but I’m not saying which one. — RD]

And I’m not either. His Holiness would be most upset if I told on him.

I’m truly amazed that Thomist/Aristotelians cannot get modern physics through their heads. It is not like they have anything inside their heads that would get get in the way. Their brains tend to be a lower part of their anatomy.

#15 Comment By Chris 1 On August 28, 2013 @ 12:15 am


It’s obvious that the revisionist view has been mainstream in American society for 50 years.

The harm is that SSM changes for good the way we think about marriage.

And then Erin:

In short, marriage in America c. 2013 really doesn’t mean anything. Sure, people *personally* invest lots of emotional meaning into it, till they get bored and file for divorce and look for someone new, but the idea that marriage as it is presently defined helps the state to be more stable or is good for the couple is really laughable.

The problem, guys, is not gay marriage. It is divorce.

The analysis that gay marriage changes everything rests on the fact that liberal divorce laws changed everything and gay marriage won’t change divorce.

Yet not even Rod and Erin, whose analysis is clear, are taking up arms against divorce. Why not target what you’ve both properly identified as the illness and not the 50-year-after-the-fact symptom?

#16 Comment By JonF On August 28, 2013 @ 6:11 am

Re: I can’t receive medical information for my husband, I can’t call his company benefits program on his behalf even though I’m on that insurance

Blame HIPAA for that one. The law had many salutary goals, and protecting medical privacy was one of them, but it was done in a way that prevents insurers and providers from sharing information with anyone unless permissioned to do in writing.

#17 Comment By Erin Manning On August 28, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

Chris, I can’t speak for Rod, but who says I don’t take up arms (in the only way I can, as a writer) against divorce? See:





Those are just a few of the posts I’ve written which talk about or reference divorce over the years. I’m not even remotely pro-divorce. I’ve seen the level of harm and dysfunction divorce brings to a family, especially when children are present. Adults tell themselves all sorts of soothing lies about how the children will be fine or even better off, and yet, with one important exception, this is not the case (the exception, of course, is a legal separation because of spousal or child abuse–but even then, an attempt at remarriage ought to be avoided).

From the legal and political perspective, I would like to see some changes in the law, roughly outlined below (and, as I’m not a lawyer at all, this is a layperson’s view of how things might be, not a legal view):

1. No-fault divorce should be ended.
2. There should be an initial period–I’d say five years as an absolute minimum–during which a recently married couple could not file for divorce (however, the law would have to allow for careful exceptions in cases of serious abuse, total abandonment, or a level of adultery on one party’s part that shows a reckless disregard for the integrity of the bond and the health and safety of the spouse, etc.).
3. After that initial period, a couple could only file for divorce for some cause (remember, no more no-fault), and only if there were no children of the marriage. For those with children, see below.
4. People married for more than the initial period who had children during the marriage could only file for divorce after a mandatory marital counseling period of not less than one year (again, except in the cases of abuse etc. which could be expedited on emergency bases). The counseling would have to include sessions with minor children who were old enough to understand (and I know the law would pick an age somewhat arbitrarily) present. Their parents would have to explain the proposed divorce and proposed custody arrangements to them and receive their thoughts and feelings about the matter together (not separately, when each can blame the other, which is what happens now).

I have some other ideas, but those are the main ones.

Now: who’s with me? Study after study has shown the harm done to children of divorce and also shown that children raised by their own married biological parents do better than other children across the board. Shouldn’t we want to protect children’s interests by strengthening marriages in this way?

#18 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 28, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

If all religions are true, then none are. Then again, you get to claim that you’re more religious than the Pope and the Dalai Lama. How fun for you! — RD

This is a shabby tautology, and Church Lady has highlighted one of the reasons why. ALL religions, since they do conflict in their teachings, cannot be 100 PERCENT true. But, it does not follow that all or most religions therefore must be 100 percent FALSE. They could all be 80 percent true, or some could be 70 percent true and others only 50 percent true or 30 percent true.

For example, I challenge any Christian or Jew to deny that “There is no God but The God.” If we argue about whether God has distinct personalities, and whether He might have had a Son, we begin to differ, with Jews and Muslims taking one side, Christians (lower case unitarians excepted) on the other. So much for “Judeo-Christian” teachings.

Ultimately, I distrust the notion that any body of religious teaching is perfectly true, without in the least discarding that there is a God who created all that is, seen and unseen, or that there is a teleological Truth to the universe, which does not depend on my will or any other human being’s perceptions. I just don’t accept that any given religious authority has a perfect grasp on what that Truth is.

#19 Comment By Church Lady On August 28, 2013 @ 3:56 pm


Insofar as you believe that is how marriage/divorce should work within your sacramental community, I think it is fine for your Church to try to impose it on its membership. But in that most people are not believers in that particular ethic on divorce, it would be wrong to impose it by law on everyone. Even most people who actually support your views would probably disagree with your attempt to give it the force of law.

#20 Comment By Roger II On August 28, 2013 @ 5:50 pm

I would support restrictions on divorce of the type Erin describes. I don’t think mine restrictions would be quite as draconian, but I see no reason why the law can’t limit the availability of divorce, particularly when children are involved. I wouldn’t be as restrictive as Erin if no children have been born, but I think more people would accept these types of restrictions than Church Lady gives credit for.

#21 Comment By Church Lady On August 28, 2013 @ 6:55 pm

Even if one restricts divorce in this manner, I’m not sure how one can require the couple to continue living together, whether or not children are involved. All it would do is slow down the legal process, it wouldn’t change the reality of how people live.

#22 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 28, 2013 @ 7:40 pm

On the one hand, I sympathize with the idea that availability of divorce should be limited, in deference to the notion that marriage is a long term contract, even, if the words are used in the marriage vows, “till death do us part.”

On the other hand, there is something fundamentally indecent about REQUIRING someone to share the home, much less the bed, of a spouse they do not love, and may even fear, abhor, or despise, or who despises them. Consider the theme from 19th century novels, “the law is on his side, and I live in daily fear that he may force me to come and live with him.”

Ideally, we would find a way to make divorce a serious step, not one to be taken frivolously on the ground that “I just don’t feel thrilled about you today like I did last week,” or “we argued about something, I want a divorce.” We would find a way to work that message backward to the point of entering into marriage, hey, pay attention people, take time to be sure this is right, because you can’t just back out the first time the going gets rough.

But can we do that by the blunt instrument of the law? Maybe waiting periods, maybe separation pending a series of steps geared to exploring every possibility of reconciliation, that is, in the absence of a credible threat of physical harm… See, it gets sticky and uncertain.

#23 Comment By Marco Luxe On August 28, 2013 @ 10:13 pm

Rod proclaims “It’s important to emphasize that [George et al’s] argument is not religious” in “What Is Marriage”. But I find his claim disingenuous or just plain obtuse when he overlooks his own claim while quoting the book thus: [t]he core of marriage has to do with …sacralizing the bond between the male-female pair.

You can argue “sacralizing” isn’t imputing heavenly authority,[so why use the word?] but it’s telling that even these Princeton Ph.D’s couldn’t avoid god talk even though their entire thesis is that the traditionalist argument could be made without reference to religion.
Clearly, they don’t even believe their own thesis – thus, they lose.

#24 Comment By Fulton On August 28, 2013 @ 11:15 pm

I agree with Rod about sexuality not equating to race and agree regarding religious liberty. However, I feel the argument raised against same sex marriage is disconnected from reality in two major ways.

The first problem is that on the one hand it is conceded that the definition of marriage has changed in the modern era and the other it is claimed that same sex marriage will do dreadful harm to the definition of marriage. From where I’m sitting what harm can be done has been done and it was done by heterosexuals long before the gay marriage train left the station. So I don’t find the “parade of horribles” argument against same sex marriage to be connected to reality.

The second problem I have is that the arguments against same sex marriage which stress the importance of child-rearing seem to wilfully pretend that children are something that only happens to straight couples. In fact, nowadays the only thing stopping a lesbian couple from conceiving is the price of IVF treatment. Gay guys can use a surrogate mother. Gay and lesbian couples may also adopt. And furthermore, once you’ve allowed as Rod does that gay people should be able to pursue their relationships in a free society, it is inevitable that some will have children from prior heterosexual relationships who are being raised in now same sex households. So, given that children are being raised by gays and even conceived by gays under modern conditions, is it better that the children be raised by unmarried gay parents or married gay parents?

I believe marriage is good for kids, so I go with letting gay parents get married. I see that as reflecting modern reality, like it or not. Given modern conditions, I believe if you care about family and marriage you should be trying to promote it as something anybody with kids should engage in – whether they are gay or straight.

The arguments against gay marriage that get raised, even the ones in Rod’s post that try to avoid religious allusions, appear to me to be the philisophical equivalent of putting your hands over your ears and shouting “lalalala can’t hear you.”

#25 Comment By William Dalton On August 31, 2013 @ 12:59 am

Thank you, Rod. This is an excellent compendium of what you have been saying for your years of writing for The American Conservative. I concur with what you say in total. As important as the traditional definition of marriage is to the sustenance of a healthy society, and as much as we have declined from that in ways that long preceded the advent of “gay marriage”, I think the time has come to remove the category of marriage from the civil law entirely. Give it no legal recognition and allow the legal rights and obligations of married couples, and their children, be governed by the law of contract, as are other human associations. Then marriage will become the province of the Church alone, which can give it definition and it, not the State, will teach its meaning. Those who adhere to the Church’s teaching on the rights and obligations entailed in entering into Holy Matrimony may have drawn their legally enforceable marriage contracts accordingly, and others may draw up their contracts by other lights. But I see this as the only way to preserve the word and its meaning – just as has been done for the word, “sacrament”, which the State has not chosen to arrogate to itself.

I would also offer this caveat to one other statement above:

“Third, religious liberty is one of the foundational ideals of the United States of America. Equality is also. These two have to be balanced out, but we have shown that it can be done, e.g., in laws granting religious exceptions for sex discrimination in certain conditions.”

There is no need for any “balancing” of these ideals, and it would be dangerous to do so, just as the Supreme Court has eviscerated many other fundamental rights by “balancing” them against state interests. The Equality which is an ideal of the American experiment is equality BEFORE THE LAW. It is the requirement that the agents of the state and its courts be no respecter of persons, by virtue of race, gender, creed, wealth or parentage, and treat everyone according to impartial rules and statutes. It is not an ideal that every American, as individuals or in voluntary communities, be denied the right to form their associations and make their judgments of others on whatever basis they believe important. They may be obliged by law to leave others alone to live by their own lights. They may not be obliged, legitimately, by law to include others in their own affairs they do not wish so to include. That is the irreducible kernel of the ideal of Liberty.

#26 Comment By C. L. H. Daniels On August 31, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

Rod, thanks for sharing. Always interesting to get your perspective. Thanks especially for sharing the work of Geroge, Girgis and Anderson. It’s good food for thought.

For the record I can’t fault any of their points that you have reproduced here. Of course where you and I might differ is that I think the solution isn’t rewinding to an earlier definition of marriage. As you pointed out, that definition was essentially destroyed by no-fault divorce, and I don’t think there’s any putting that genie back in the bottle.

I think the entire concept of marriage has to be redefined, back toward the conjugal definition. This is, of course, virtually impossible to accomplish. At this point, it would require separating the concept of marriage from romantic love, and that’s difficult to do under the best of circumstances since love and procreation are so closely intertwined. There would have to be a major culture shift toward making distinctions between purely romantic relationships and procreative ones.

#27 Comment By drdanfee On August 31, 2013 @ 3:47 pm

Well, sorry to hear yr mono persists, Mr. D., and also, thanks for trying to be as clear as possible.

I am still confused a bit, as well as in disagreement with a few assertions you embrace as what you seem to be taking for incontrovertible, persuasive bottom lines on the matter of both civic ‘religious freedom’ and civic ‘marriage for same sex couples.’

Let’s start w my confusion. You admit that the basic shift in understanding (and thus, it seems reasonable to contemplate, the institutionalization in civic life, not necessarily religious life) happened 50 years or so back. I guess you agree that this time line puts us way back, before anybody much thought or spoke ‘gay marriage’ in public in a serious law/public policy way.

Then you also say that what you call ‘no fault’ divorce did more to enact the understanding change. I would dimly guess that puts Same Sex Marriage as a distant second, if not weaker position of influence.

This leads me to wonder: Why not campaign to (A) roll back no fault divorce – if, indeed, making it difficult if not nearly impossible for spouses (OSM -opposite sex marriage?) to divorce? Plus: (B) Why not preclude OSMs from getting married if they either do not plan to bear and parent children? Or, if OSMs are not reproductively competent to do so? (C) If we do A and B in law/public policy for strictly non-religious compelling “survival, raise the next generation’ reasons, what do we do (if anything in law/public policy) for all the OSCs or SSCs who do not meet the core impetus or innate indissoluble understanding of what you assert marriage has been, is, and always must be?

These may seem odd questions, given that now I am focusing on opposite sex attracted people who might at some time in some way, desire or think they wanted to get married like everybody else. But I think this change in focus is a help instead of a hindrance, simply because we are now paying attention to the majority of large population in the USA who will by and large be much more involved in what marriage is and how we do marriage.

I guess that amounts to implying that focusing on same sex attracted people in order to have enduring, powerful change impacts on opposite sex attracted people who always will remain a majority … seems … well misguided at best, and possibly rather perversely on tangent for the worse, and possibly cruel-ish or mean-spirited at worst of worst. ?????

One area where I disagree, so far as I can tell, with your persuaded stance is key to me. How? Well, so far as I can tell, you fail to investigate (and perhaps, thus nuance?) your dominant characterization of the overall shift in understanding of marriage which you believe at least some people do see, and in which you believe quite a few opposite sex attracted as well as same sex attracted citizens will likely wish to participate.

It is pretty obvious in a looser, vaguer common sense way than your tight arguments follow, that most people now ‘understand’ civic marriage (and often, religious marriage depending on a variety of faith communities?) as revolving around that familiar promise to … “… love, honor, cherish each other, preferring one another above all others” …. ???

Institutionally so far as most levels of law and public policy in USA seem to go? … this forms the civic ‘institution’ of civil marriage. More or less as we now have it in civil law and public policy, and I do agree I think with you, that this core change happened at least half a century ago if not even in some significant ways, farther back in the suggested time line.

Once any child arrives in that civil marriage, then a large second institutional reality kicks in and applies; that is, family law and family public policy. We go out of our way in family law/public policy to make child abuse/neglect (for example) a specific matter of different levels of law/policy.

In many states, child protection laws are purposely written as part of the civil legal code (not criminal code) because that frames and requires civil intervention, not necessarily criminal. Different levels of evidence (a ‘ preponderance’) are involved in these civil proceedings in family/juvenile courts doing child protection cases, whereas the criminal level of evidence (‘beyond a reasonable doubt’) is so high that a criminal conviction of someone would almost always be legally necessary before a child allegation of abuse/neglect could be investigated.

Diggin deep into ‘marriage’ without also having to dig as deeply into ‘family’ law/policy rather puts your assertions at an important disadvantage? Possibly? As it makes your dire claims which imply detriments to both children at large and to civilization at large … at some risk of being so partial and having such a dogged blind spot concerning the modern realities of family law/policy … that, well, a reader has to wonder: What is he doing?

Also. In this respect, family law/policy has developed or changed slightly apart from civil marriage law/policy, insofar as many states follow the child protection and other family guidelines (think, partner or spouse violence) whether the parenting adults are single parents, opposite sex parents, or same sex parents.

#28 Comment By Oshtur On August 31, 2013 @ 6:42 pm

An exemption because of sexual orientation civil rights laws will accomplish nothing since many religions support same sex marriage, and that includes acts that naturally progress from that belief. So if the customer is a Lutheran who wants their wedding photographed, that it includes two people of the same sex is in keeping with those religious beliefs and we know that using a religious litmus test on customers is unconstitutional.

Either way, by the customer’s beliefs or by their sexual orientation, the public accommodation will have to obey the laws the public passed to regulate business with them. That includes a list of prohibited litmus tests for customers.

A business either takes wedding pictures or they don’t.
A business either sells wedding floral arrangements or they don’t.
A business either sells wedding cakes or they don’t.

What ever they decide they can’t pick and choose which customers they will serve by a religious litmus test.

#29 Comment By Franklin Evans On September 1, 2013 @ 10:30 am

William Dalton:

There is no need for any “balancing” of these ideals, and it would be dangerous to do so, just as the Supreme Court has eviscerated many other fundamental rights by “balancing” them against state interests.

William, you posted the most relevant and eloquent oppositional statement in this thread, and that one quote is the part with which I want to offer something more than disagreement and less than criticism.

The concept of individual liberty, at least as defined in our founding document, has a glaring lack designed into it, that being the mechanism of balance. It explicitly makes the government (State) the final arbiter of all issues of balance, and names the judiciary as the responsible entity for conducting that arbitration.

Let me be clear, our jurisprudential history is not praiseworthy for its consistency of application. For every pro-Christian stance (as my example here) we can find an anti-Christian stance of comparable inequality that fails to meet the standard of balance. It remains, however, both the mechanism of record and continues to operate that way, and if you (or anyone) wishes to name it a failure you must also name its replacement, and expect it to be held to that same standard.

It’s small consolation, I know, but in the realm of individual liberty it is my view that the more people are collectively dissatisfied with an outcome — given that the outcome also addresses or mitigates the harms involved — the more laudable that outcome is to the standard of balance. By that standard, our judiciary has no peer.