Is It Marriage?
May 1, 2004
Massachusetts is making history again and it is another revolution. On Monday, May 17, Massachusetts became the first state to make same-sex marriages legal. Is this revolution as good as the last one that Massachusetts led? Are its principles as sound?
To answer this question, the first thing we need to do is to address an argument that the first revolution raised to preeminence, the argument about equality. Perhaps the most common argument proponents of homosexual marriage make is that equality requires that we permit homosexual “marriage.” We are treating homosexuals unequally if we do not allow them to marry while we permit heterosexuals to do so. But this assumes that homosexual “marriage” is no different from marriage. If homosexual “marriage” is immoral, however, then it is fundamentally different from heterosexual marriage and treating it differently, unequally, is the right thing to do. If homosexual marriage is wrong, then it should not occur and laws prohibiting it are good. The decisive question about homosexual marriage is not whether equal treatment of persons demands it but whether it is immoral.
Many of those who argue that homosexual marriage is wrong do so on the basis of revelation, what the Bible says. In civil matters in the United States, such arguments, however good, are not good enough because we separate church and state. Others who argue that homosexual marriage is wrong appeal to tradition. Anything that has been prohibited and despised for millennia should not be accepted as normal without some serious thought. But slavery was accepted for millennia, so tradition is an insufficient guide. Like religion, it may support an argument against homosexual “marriage” but that argument must stand on its own.
When the argument about homosexual “marriage” stands on its own, we will see that, as often is the case in discussing morality, it is a question of degree and balancing good and bad. There are good things to be said for individuals who remain faithful to each other, regardless of what we may conclude about who should properly be said to be married.
The argument against homosexual marriage begins and, in a sense, ends with sex, although there is more to marriage than that. Human sexuality has two purposes, to make babies and to help bind a man and woman to each other through pleasure, so that they are encouraged to stay together through the long time that it takes a baby to become an adult. The pleasure of sex should not be separated from making babies and pursued for its own sake because this could lead a man and woman to separate, destroying a family and endangering its children. Indeed, the pleasure of sex is subordinate to the ultimate purpose of sex, making babies and raising them to adulthood. Sex is not good in itself but takes its value from the fact that it helps keep a man and woman together so that they can raise the children they make.
Why should the family be so important? The family is important because it is the place where humans learn to care for others, even to sacrifice for others. In this way it provides the basis for human virtue and nobility. This is best done when a man and woman stay together to do it.
Because families are so important, they and the stable marriages they require need all the support they can get. Perhaps the most important part of this support is the unassailable conviction in the public mind that sexual relations and children go together and both should be found in marriage. So powerful is the sexual urge that it needs little prompting to escape its true bounds. Anything that provides such prompting, anything that suggests there are acceptable ways to satisfy our sexual desires outside of marriage undermines marriage and threatens the integrity of the family. Such things should be considered immoral. Among these, we need to count premarital sex, adultery and homosexuality.
At this point, two objections naturally arise. What about childless heterosexual couples and homosexual couples with children? The argument for heterosexual marriage leads to the conclusion that a childless marriage is in some sense a less perfect marriage than a marriage with children. But the virtue of a childless marriage, apart from whatever good it may do the couple, is that it is, so to speak, a vote in favor of marriage.
The homosexual couple with children is the second objection to the argument and the case used most frequently to support a right for homosexuals to marry. Do not the homosexual couple and their children form a family precisely in the sense described above as a training ground in human virtue? In some respects they may. But in another respect they do not. Homosexuality has nothing to do with making children. It sets sexual desire free. It teaches implicitly that the pleasures of an individual are the most important consideration. When a man and a woman have sex, implicit in the act is something beyond them, the child they might create. The pleasure is not an end in itself. This is not true in homosexual sex. In this case, the pleasure of the act is an end in itself. That pleasure may encourage a homosexual couple to stay together but there is no reason, inherent in the act, why they should do so. Nothing but pleasure can come of it.
To oppose homosexual “marriage” is to judge that however much good a homosexual couple may do themselves and their children, this is outweighed by the harm their relationship does in promoting the notion that the pleasure of sex is an end in itself. In doing so, it undermines the family, no matter how closely homosexual “marriages” mimic real marriages. For this reason, homosexual “marriage” should not be legal and Massachusetts’ second revolution should not have the success of its first.
David Tucker is a Member of the Board of Advisors at the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University and an Associate Professor of Defense Analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School. He is the author of Skirmishes at the Edge of Empire: The United States and International Terrorism. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of the Naval Postgraduate School, Navy Department, or Department of Defense.