Can the President Have a Marriage Agenda Without Talking about What Marriage Is?

12.20.2012, 8:28 AM

Ryan T. Anderson is the William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at The Heritage Foundation and Editor of Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good. With Sherif Girgis and Robert P. George he is author of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense 

“The President’s Marriage Agenda for the Forgotten Sixty Percent” is a timely, compelling and important report, but falls short in a basic way: It never once even attempts to say what marriage is. But you can’t advance a marriage agenda without knowing what marriage is and why it matters for public policy, as my co-authors and I argue in our new book, What Is Marriage?

The report’s authors hope to launch “a new conversation on marriage,” and urge political leaders to encourage “community-based and focused public service announcements that convey the truth about marriage, stability and child wellbeing to the next generation of parents.”

Well, what is the truth about marriage?

The report rightly notes that “marriage is not merely a private arrangement; it is also a complex social institution.” But the report never says what this complex institution is, or why it ought to be governed by the standard marital norms of monogamy, sexual exclusivity and a pledge of permanence—norms that many leading defenders of redefining marriage explicitly reject. Yet without these norms—and the intelligible basis that grounds them—marriage can’t do the work that the authors want it to do.

That is important work indeed, as the report explains. It helpfully documents the retreat from marriage afflicting today’s middle class and how fixing this “is the social challenge for our times.” While in the 1980s “only 13 percent of the children of moderately educated mothers were born outside of marriage,” today that figure has “risen to a whopping 44 percent.” Indeed, the majority of births for women under 30 “now occur outside of marriage.”

Although some have tried to characterize the disappearance of marriage as a problem facing only lower-class America or the black community, the report notes that “family instability can now be found in Middle America almost as frequently as it is among the least educated sector of the population.” And the disappearance of marriage has social costs, especially increased poverty and decreased social mobility, as “researchers are now finding that the disappearance of marriage in Middle America is tracking with the disappearance of the middle class in the same communities. … This decline of marriage in Middle America imperils the middle class and fosters a society of winners and losers.”

As a result, more children grow up without the care and support of their mother and father—and it’s costing everyone: “The loss of social opportunity for these children and their families, and the national cost to taxpayers when stable families fail to form—about $112 billion annually, or more than $1 trillion per decade, by one cautious estimate—are significant.” As the report notes, economist Ben Scafidi and his team of researchers found that “if family fragmentation were reduced by just 1 percent, U.S. taxpayers would save an estimated $1.1 billion annually.”

The authors of the report don’t suggest giving up on policy, writing that “it is only with respect to marriage formation that the policy world seems to have decided that very little or nothing can be done.” This isn’t true, as my colleagues at The Heritage Foundation and others have promoted policies to strengthen marriage for quite some time, most recently Robert Rector’s Special Report, “Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty.”

The various policy proposals in “The President’s Marriage Agenda” deserve more sustained attention and consideration than is allowed here. But a few comments are in order. The authors encourage President Obama to embrace his position as “a cultural leader who can inspire citizens, especially young people,” because “if we are to strengthen marriage and families in America, ultimately this will happen because young people want to bond with one another and give their children the gift of their father and mother in a lasting marriage.” But how can President Obama stress the importance of fathers and mothers while supporting the redefinition of marriage to exclude sexual complementarity?

The report’s fourth recommendation, “End Anonymous Fatherhood,” notes that “the anonymous man who provided his sperm walks away with no obligation.” Although a relatively small percentage of parents “use sperm donation or similar technologies to get pregnant, the cultural power of the idea that it’s acceptable deliberately to create a fatherless child and for biological fathers to walk away from their children is real.”

The authors propose that the U.S. ban anonymity in sperm donation “and reinforce the consistent message that fathers matter.” But how does marriage policy reinforce that message if it redefines marriage to say that mothers and fathers—one of each—are optional for marriage? How does redefining marriage to include lesbian relationships not further incentivize the type of anonymous sperm donation and resulting fatherless children that the authors protest?

Regardless of your stance on redefining marriage, the report argues, you can “talk about gay marriage—and then talk about why marriage is important for the vast majority of people who identify as heterosexual and whose sexual lives quite often produce children.” But is this really true?

After all, it isn’t just the legal title of marriage that encourages adherence to marital norms. There is nothing magical about the word “marriage.” Instead, marriage laws work by embodying and promoting a true vision of what marriage is that makes sense of those norms as a coherent whole.

Redefining marriage would abandon the norm of male-female sexual complementarity as an essential characteristic of marriage. Making that optional would also make other essential characteristics—such as monogamy, exclusivity and permanency—optional, as my co-authors and I argue in What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. We show how this is increasingly confirmed by the rhetoric and arguments of those who would redefine marriage, and by the policies that their more candid leaders embrace.

I should note that I presented some of this evidence in this post last week at Ricochet, quoting LGBT leaders Andrew Sullivan, Dan Savage, Victoria Brownworth, Michelangelo Signorile, New York University professor Judith Stacey and University of Calgary professor Elizabeth Brake as they explicitly rejected traditional norms of marriage.

Indeed, the most interesting—and revealing—comments during my week at Ricochet were those that said marriage is simply whatever sort of interpersonal relationship consenting adults—be they two or 10 in number—want it to be: sexual or platonic, sexually exclusive or open, temporary or permanent.

That idea sounds like the abolition of marriage. Marriage is left with no essential features, no fixed core as a social reality—it is simply whatever consenting adults want it to be. Some who see this logic, thinking that marriage has no form and serves no social purpose, conclude that the government should get out of the marriage business.

If so, how will society protect the needs of children—the prime victims of our non-marital sexual culture—without government growing more intrusive and more expensive?

Separating the bearing and rearing of children from marriage burdens children first and foremost, as well as the whole community. It’s the community that often must step in to provide (more or less directly) for their wellbeing and upbringing. A child born and raised outside marriage is six times more likely to experience poverty than a child in an intact family—and therefore welfare expenditures grow. So by encouraging the norms of marriage—monogamy, sexual exclusivity and permanence—the state strengthens civil society and reduces its own role.

But marital norms make no sense—as matters of principle—if marriage is redefined. There is no reason of principle why emotional union should be permanent. Or limited to two persons, rather than larger ensembles. Or sexual, much less sexually exclusive. Or inherently oriented to family life and shaped by its demands.

If marriage isn’t founded on a comprehensive union made possible by the sexual complementarity of a man and a woman, then why can’t it occur among more than two people? If marital union isn’t founded on such sexual acts, then why ought it be sexually exclusive? If marriage isn’t a comprehensive union and has no intrinsic connection to children, then why ought it be permanent?

This isn’t to say that couples couldn’t decide to live out these norms where temperament or taste so motivated them; but that there is no reason of principle to demand it of them. So legally enshrining this alternate view of marriage would undermine the norms whose link to the common good justifies state action in the first place.

This highlights the central questions in this debate: what marriage is and why the state recognizes it. It’s not that the state shouldn’t achieve its basic purpose while obscuring what marriage is. Rather, it can’t. Only when policy gets the nature of marriage right do we reap the civil society benefits of recognizing marriage.

The future of our country, then, relies upon the future of marriage. The future of marriage depends on citizens’ understanding of what it is and why it matters—and demanding that government policies support, not undermine, true marriage. Unfortunately, “The President’s Marriage Agenda” overlooks these questions. How successful can a “new conversation on marriage” be when its leaders can’t even say what marriage is?


50 Responses to “Can the President Have a Marriage Agenda Without Talking about What Marriage Is?”

  1. Regardless of your stance on redefining marriage, the report argues, you can “talk about gay marriage—and then talk about why marriage is important for the vast majority of people who identify as heterosexual and whose sexual lives quite often produce children.” But is this really true?

    “Redefining marriage?” Mr. Anderson is begging the question.He also writes:

    Redefining marriage would abandon the norm of male-female sexual complementarity [sic] as an essential characteristic of marriage. Making that optional would also make other essential characteristics—like monogamy, exclusivity and permanency—optional, as my co-authors and I argue in our new book …

    That is clearly a non sequitur. Mr. Anderson is saying that, if we let gays marry then the rest of us will be less faithful. It’s unsupportable nonsense.

    I have also read Anderson’s (along with George and Gigris) amicus brief in Perry v Schwartzenegger (9th CCA). Anderson seems wed to the notion that the only legitimate purpose of sexual intercourse is for procreation. Non-procreative sex is thus immoral per se. Gay marriage explicitly endorses immoral sex and, thus, it is immoral per se. This is the vehicle for redefining marriage as an arrangement for procreation when, in point of fact, the purpose of marriage is the creation of a marital estate.

    Again, while I disagree, I am not engaging in argument ad hominem. I am simply questioning Anderson’s perspective on marriage. That is an intellectually honest question.

  2. Kevin says:

    The government’s role in marriage has always been merely to monitor WHO is eligible to marry, not WHAT marriage is. What marriage is, is up to each individual, or couple, to decide. That includes how to conduct the marriage, and if or when to end it. The government just doesn’t want people that are too young, too related or already married, to marry. Not much of a hurdle, really. Some states want only straight people to marry.

    There are no government guidelines about what marriage is, is for, how to be married, and under what circumstances to end the marriage. The government has no opinion on how many times a person can marry. And there is no government stipulation that one procreate, in order to get, or stay, married.

    The government encourages marriage, if at all, because the outcomes for married couples are good for that couple, for their children and for society. Of course, that includes gay or straight couples. Married couples create stability for children, themselves and society. In doing so, they commit less crime, are healthier, more financially secure and generally cause fewer problems for society to deal with.

    The very notion that legal same-sex marriage is perceived as a threat to marriage, but legal adultery and legal divorce aren’t, tells us all we need to know about marriage’s decline and fall. Even the marriage apologists can’t see the forest for the trees. If you think legal same-sex marriage is the problem, but adultery and divorce are legally acceptable, then you don’t really care about marriage as an institution or practice. If you don’t mind that it’s legally ok for Rush Limbaugh to marry and divorce repeatedly, you don’t really care about marriage as an institution or practice.

    “Instead, marriage laws work by embodying and promoting a true vision of what marriage is that makes sense of those norms as a coherent whole.”

    What marriage laws do this? The ones that say “you can get married if you’re over a certain age, not already married, not closely related to the consenting person you want to marry, and have $35 for a license”? The government has NO OPINION on what “true marriage” is. Unless you think being married and divorced is true marriage; that being married multiple times is true marriage; that having sex with people outside of your marriage is true marriage; that ending the marriage for any reason is true marriage.

    “Marriage is left with no essential features, no fixed core as a social reality—it is simply whatever consenting adults want it to be.”

    That is already the case, my friend, except in most places that reality is legally permitted for straight people only. How will it change once gay people are allowed to marry?

    I’d like to propose a deal for people who are worried that legal same-sex marriage will cause grave harms to the institution of marriage and to society, to children, whatever: let’s make same-sex marriage legal everywhere for 25 years. We’ll track the fallout, good and bad. Then, a blue-ribbon commission can evaluate whether the net outcome for the country is good or bad, and make a recommendation whether to continue with legal same-sex marriage or not. I think this is a very reasonable proposal. Can I get the buy-in of those opposed to same-sex marriage?

  3. Kevin says:

    I remain baffled about these kinds of “what marriage is” articles, that think they address government discrimination by crafting philosophical/spiritual/religious versions of what marriage is. They don’t address the main concern: can the government give substantial tangible benefits to straight couples, by allowing them to marry, but not to gay couples? Is there a rational public purpose in permitting straight couples to marry, but not allowing gay couples to marry?

    Describing what you think marriage is doesn’t address the key issue. So why keep doing it? There is but one issue to discuss: is there a rational public purpose in denying government-issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples?

  4. JHW says:

    There are three serious problems with this piece.

    1. Ryan Anderson persists in the false dichotomy that pervades his and his co-authors’ writing on same-sex marriage: either marriage is a comprehensive union (by which they mean, very specifically, that it must centrally involve penis-in-vagina sex between the spouses), or it is a merely emotional union. But these are not the only options. Here are two others that allow same-sex marriage but have more robust consequences for marital norms: (a) marriage could necessarily be a bodily union, with “bodily union” permitting more varieties of physical intimacy than penis-in-vagina sex; (b) marriage could be a way, as Barry Deutsch often says, of establishing a next-of-kin relationship with another adult.

    2. The combination of views Ryan Anderson articulates—that both (a) monogamy, exclusivity, and permanence are justifiable only on the man-woman comprehensive union picture of marriage and (b) they are also the norms that are best for children—is actually self-undermining. If they’re best for children, then hey, that’s a justification. In fact, it’s one of the most prominent justifications these norms get today. And it’s a justification Ryan Anderson himself is using implicitly: accept my view of marriage, because (unlike other views) it justifies these norms that are good for children.

    If we are skeptics about strong views of the deep, as-a-matter-of-principle moral structure of marriage, or even (more weakly) about their capacity to genuinely influence a culture that is distrustful of that sort of moralism, especially as to matters of sex, we might wonder whether we are better off with more pragmatic, more consequentialist, and perhaps less absolute defenses of responsible-procreation behaviors: children are best off when raised in stable two-parent homes, so don’t have children unless you can provide such an environment for them, and once you have children in such an environment, maintain it for them. And we can say and believe and practice those things whether or not we have same-sex marriage.

    3. Ryan Anderson references the statements of various people he calls “LGBT leaders.” I am not sure if any of them qualify—some, like Elizabeth Brake, seem especially odd choices for that label (how many non-academics have even heard of her? and how many fewer would have if her book was not so repeatedly referenced by same-sex marriage opponents?) More to the point, however, it should come as no surprise to anyone that there are many academics and activists who reject many traditional moral views of marriage, including many academics and activists associated with LGBT issues. But this proves nothing. I am sure, for example, that most of the people on Anderson’s list (and among the Beyond Marriage signatories) are much more likely to have left-liberal views of health care reform (pro-ACA or anti-ACA from the left) than the average person or even the average academic, but surely that proves very little about the conceptual linkage between views of health care reform and views of marriage.

    Further, Anderson seems to have a shallow understanding of the same-sex marriage movement. He fails to appreciate that, e.g., the Beyond Marriage document he references (in the Ricochet article he links to) is being critical of that movement, rather than reflective of it. The fact that there has been a long-running debate within the LGBT community about marriage appears to escape him. That debate has taken place precisely because there are people who want broader change than replacing “bridge” and “groom” with “bride/groom/spouse” and “bride/groom/spouse”—and contrary to Anderson’s view, they don’t think same-sex marriage will get them there, because it takes marriage’s structure and social status as a given.

  5. Matthew Kaal says:

    Kevin,

    Is there a rational public purpose in permitting straight couples to marry, but not allowing gay couples to marry?

    I think this in large part depends on how one defines marriage. If you define marriage as exclusively heterosexual procreative institution (as Anderson does), then it does rationally follow that it can’t be extended to gay or lesbian couples.

    The definition is pretty important because it helps us understand if an argument is rational or not. Note, rational is not the same thing as right. That is a whole separate argument.

    I tend to agree with you, that in our pluralist society the most conservative definition of marriage is no longer a definition that is meaningfully used in public policy. The public purpose of marriage has shifted gradually, and today it is impossible to exclude the majority of relationships falling outside the traditional definition of marriage without introducing a values-based definitional grudge match.

    I sympathize with Anderson’s point that marriage without a definition is a dangerous beast, because it is impossible to place limitations and regulation on something without a set definition. The state can’t say anything meaningful about marriage (let alone privilege and regulate it) if it doesn’t have a solid construct of what marriage is and what it is for. And any definition that is based solely on accommodating the largest amount of citizens is at risk of being arbitrary and unstable in the long term. The state has a vested interest in marriage (however defined) being a stable institution.

    So the challenge is defining what the state means by marriage, and rooting that definition in a way that our entire culture understands its civic purpose and endow it with significance and respect as an institution that will promote human flourishing within our society.

  6. La Lubu says:

    Mr. Anderson, in your opinion, what is the purpose of permitting older (and/or couples wherein one partner or another has had surgery to prevent conception) to marry? Do you believe that such marriages serve any purposes to society as a whole, and if so….what are they? What differentiates a heterosexual marriage in which there is no possibility of biological children from a same-sex marriage?

    (This is not a rhetorical question. I actually want an answer, because to me the answer is “there is no difference.”)

  7. David Blankenhorn says:

    Ryan Anderson’s core argument is that no one can do or say anything effectively to strengthen marriage without first agreeing with him that gay marriage is bad. How does that sound, as a basic idea?

    I’m not buying. I changed my view on gay marriage for two reasons. The first is fairness. And the second is to get out of the very box that Ryan Anderson wants to put me and everyone else in — the little box inside of which the culture war on gay marriage must precede and overwhelm and define everything else.

    No thank you. And, no thank you. And I can report from personal experience that the air is much easier to breath, once you are outside that stifling little box.

    Nothing good can happen until we all agree with him on matters of definitions and core principles? Really? I must have missed that memo. My own idea is that we have reached the place in our national discussion where it is not only possible, but also desirable, for people who disagree on gay marriage, or who aren’t sure about gay marriage, to come together in a broader conversation focussed on strengthening marriage as a social institution for all who seek it. And for those who, like Mr. Anderson, can only say “Oh no! You must jump in my little definition box until I say it’s OK for you to come out and do something else,” I say, no thank you. And, no thank you.

    As a sociological matter, in my view it is simply untrue to say, as Mr. Anderson does, that eveything must stand still, and nothing valuable in society can occur, until we all agree on definitions and on the ultimate truth, or telos, of the matter at hand. I aware of the particular scholastic philosophical tradition from which this kind of thesis comes, and I have respect for it, but I reject this premise, and I base that rejection on my understanding of how social change actually occurs in societies. Ryan Anderson wants to sit up in philosophical heaven and shout “Stop!” until until all definitions are agreed on and all principles are understood and accepted. And it just so happens that he already knows exactly what those definitions and principles are — so all we have to do in practice is agree with him, and once we do, we can then (but only then) feel free to try to go to work in the real world to strengthen marriage. I view that as a fairly brassy and arrogant demand, based more in a desire for ideological purity than in an actual search for meaningful social change in the actual period that we live in, and so my answer is, no thank you.

    The fundamental implication of Mr. Anderson’s argument is that by definition nothing can be said or done in the U.S. to strengthen marriage that is not premised in opposition to gay marriage. That’s the box that he wants us all to be in. The result of everyone who cares about marriage staying inside the little box would be a perpetual culture war over gay marriage as far into the future as anyone can see, with everything else sidelined and ignored.

    No thank you. And, no thank you. It’s time for a new conversation.

  8. David Hart says:

    Of course I agree with David Blankenhorn. The frustrating part of all this is that Anderson (a Phi-Bet at Princeton) is an extremely intelligent man. If I could sit down with him, one on one, I would try to encourage him to separate religious belief from opinions on public policy. He might have a very difficult time doing just that. Perhaps it’s unfair for me to ask anyone to do so.

    If that is the case – if in fact it is unfair to ask someone to separate their religious beliefs from policy recommendations – then Mr. Anderson would have the obligation to present his opinions with an admission of the context in which they are arrived at.

    In the alternative, if it is reasonable to split religion from governance, the I would argue that, what is missing is introspection. Either way, the simple conclusion is that a few gays getting hitched is not a threat to civilization, our culture, marriage or any religious institution.

  9. Kevin says:

    Matthew says: “If you define marriage as exclusively heterosexual procreative institution (as Anderson does), then it does rationally follow that it can’t be extended to gay or lesbian couples.”

    I think you’re engaging in circular logic: you’re defining marriage as something, and then saying because you’ve defined it that way, that’s how it has to be. Both different-sex only marriage and procreative marriage are recent concepts legally; neither has much of a history of legal treatment. In fact, even today, no government requires that a couple bear or raise children in order to get, or stay, married. DOMA didn’t cover that, just the different-sex couple only issue.

    What about how you define “equal protection under the law”? Does that definition not count? This is essentially a legal issue, since we’re talking about whether the government can provide privileged status to straight people but not to gay people. At the very least, we’re dealing with concepts that are currently in conflict: a newly developed definition (as opposed to a long-time practice) that marriage can only occur between different-sex couples, and our legal requirement to treat all similarly situated persons equally under the law, lacking a rational public purpose to do otherwise.

    Can the government define a “public institution” in terms that favor one group over another? Doesn’t there have to be a purpose that serves the public in doing so?

    It’s entirely possible to have a prescribed public purpose for something that allows alternative uses. For instance, the purpose of requiring a driver’s license is to make sure that a potential driver has some minimal level of knowledge of driving, in order to be a safe driver. That someone wants to get a driver’s license to use as identification deviates from the intended purpose, but doesn’t diminish that purpose. And just like a lot of people think women are lousy drivers, we don’t deny driver’s licenses to them on that belief.

  10. Matthew Kaal says:

    Kevin,

    I think we are missing each other. Note that I said something can have a rational structure (given a set of premises, the conclusion logically follows) and still be incorrect (if one of the premises is false, then the conclusions can be false even if the logical argument that led to them is valid). Obviously, using any definition begs the question of if that definition is true; you have to refer back to premises to determine if it is true or false. That is a debate that folks like Anderson are keen to have – because they believe their definition of marriage to be true based on their religious and philosophical beliefs. If what they say is true, then we have to take them seriously – but that is not a debate that can fruitfully occur on the internet.

    I personally believe that you can (and must in a secular or plural society) separate sacramental and civil marriage. Civil marriage is a social construct, so society plays a role in shaping its definition and can chose to adopt premises that construct a more inclusive civil institution than sacramental marriage allows. The challenge is to do so in a way that isn’t arbitrary or devoid of fundamental values and principle.

    To your other point,

    A proper understanding of “equal protection under the law” is very important – but it gets to the tricky issue of rights vs. privileges, and the question of whether marriage is a right or a privilege.

    If it is a right, then all citizens are entitled to it, and any restricted access is flatly discriminatory (and should be opposed by all citizens). I don’t think you can say anyone has the absolute right to a marriage (for the obvious reason that the government cannot compel someone to marry another individual simply to secure that individual’s marriage right). However, we can explore if there is a right to access to an institution like marriage. In that discussion, however, we still have to acknowledge the definition of what it is we believe we have a right to access. If that something, by definition, is exclusive, then we have a problem and we return to the above argument about the validity of definitions and what a true marriage actually is.

    On the other hand, if marriage is a privilege, then the government can play a role in determining the definition of the privilege and who gets access (and tailors these to serve its own purposes). If the privilege is exclusive, the state just has to convince the citizenry that some good is being served by restricting access. As I’ve said before, at this point I don’t see any one good being served that isn’t countered by other compelling social costs when it comes to restricting access to civil marriage – so I see a valid reason why civil marriage should be inclusive.

    However, many conservatives are loath to separate sacramental and civil marriage (for some of the reasons Anderson gives, and for reasons that make a lot of sense when you consider how many conservatives conceptualize social and personal goods teleologically). They present a serious roadblock to change in a democratic society. I think it is a fundamental flaw with the liberal model of government because ultimately everyone is expected to make prudential judgments based on what they believe is true and good, and advocate for policies based on their differing conclusions. In a diverse society there is always disagreement and inefficiency in achieving political consensus. Change tends to happen over time, and the unfortunate reality is that real lives are in the balance, and many people feel rejected by their neighbors and suffer because of the disagreement that exists.

    As a conservative I hope for more conversations about what is true, good, and beautiful occur and that everyone in our society sees the value in pursuing these ideals. As a conservative in a liberal society, I share in the frustrations that building a diverse and agreeable society is challenging because of our diverse views on what is beautiful, good, and true, and because diverse people often misunderstand each other (which I know I am guilty of).

    Sorry for being so long winded, hopefully I made better sense.

  11. Diane M says:

    “it (marriage) ought to be governed by the standard marital norms of monogamy, sexual exclusivity and a pledge of permanence.”

    I agree and think this is something that should be discussed explicitly when people advocate for a marriage culture.

    I do not think the justification for those norms depends on having male-female marriages.

    “If marriage isn’t founded on a comprehensive union made possible by the sexual complementarity of a man and a woman, then why can’t it occur among more than two people?”

    I see no connection between these two things. In fact, historically, heterosexual marriage has often occurred among more than two people. We restrict ourselves to monogamy because that is more fair and generally promotes stability. Humans don’t like to share their partners. This is true of men and women.

    “If marital union isn’t founded on such sexual acts, then why ought it be sexually exclusive?”

    The need to know who fathered a child is one justification for sexual exclusivity. However, human nature prefers to partner with someone who is exclusive, so even without that justification we stick to the idea of sexual monogamy. After all, we don’t abandon exclusivity when we hit menopause. :-)

    “If marriage isn’t a comprehensive union and has no intrinsic connection to children, then why ought it be permanent?”

    I don’t see why having same sex marriages means the union won’t be comprehensive. In any case, we expect marriages to be permanent even when they aren’t connected to childbearing because the couple is older or infertile. In fact, we look down on abandoning your wife if you discover she is infertile.

    Making the union permanent is very beneficial for children, but it also helps the adults in the union. Once you promise yourself to someone and forswear others, you don’t want to discover later on that your partner is leaving you. If you make any financial decisions together like buying a house, you won’t want your partner to leave you. Just knowing that you can plan on staying together changes your relationship and makes you closer and able to depend on and trust each other.

    I think there is also a deep human desire to have our love last. Love that goes away seems like it wasn’t really love. We think less of friends who stop being our friends; why would lovers or spouses be different.

    Well, time to go read the other comments.

  12. Hector_St_Clare says:

    Re: If marriage isn’t founded on a comprehensive union made possible by the sexual complementarity of a man and a woman, then why can’t it occur among more than two people? If marital union isn’t founded on such sexual acts, then why ought it be sexually exclusive? If marriage isn’t a comprehensive union and has no intrinsic connection to children, then why ought it be permanent?

    I basically agree with all this. However, we don’t really require anymore that marital unions be sexually exclusive. Open marriages are increasingly accepted, adultery isn’t a crime anymore, etc. And of course, we dropped the requirement of marital permanence a very long time ago, when we legalized remarriage after divorce. Not only is divorce and remarriage legal, nowadays, it isn’t even socially stigmatized or considered particularly unusual. So I think the transition Mr. Anderson fears has already happened, for better or worse.

    In the case of polygamy, which is still illegal, there are good consequentialist reasons for it to be illegal. We want to do our best to ensure that most people (or at least, as many as possible) have the opportunity to pair off, and that, for example, a few powerful men don’t monopolize access to fertile young women. Polygamous societies (e.g. Africa and the Arabian Peninsula) tend to have problems with social stability. Polyandry might actually work better, but as far as I know there isn’t a large group of people promoting it in America right now. My suspicion if there is a move in future to legalize polygamy, it will be made by Muslim or African immigrants, not by cultural liberals.

    Re: I think there is also a deep human desire to have our love last. Love that goes away seems like it wasn’t really love. We think less of friends who stop being our friends; why would lovers or spouses be different.

    I’m a little skeptical of this, because it seems to be the best arguments for gay marriage are ‘people disagree on what the nature of the good, the true and the beautiful are, so we should leave room for lots of different conceptions of marriage for the sake of social harmony’. Your vision of marriage emphasizes lifelong love and devotion, but maybe someone else has a vision of marriage that’s much more transactional, and they don’t want to stay married to someone who is (for example) unable to have children or whatever.

    The better argument, I think, is that the transition has *already happened*, and that we should treat same-sex marriages the same way we treat remarriages of divorced peopel: things that ought to be legal, even though some of us disapprove of them.

  13. Hector_St_Clare says:

    In other words: polygamy and polyandry do actually threaten *your* relationship or *my* relationship in a very direct way, which same sex marriage really doesn’t. Since there’s only a finite number of men and women in society.

  14. Ned Flaherty says:

    Ryan Anderson assumes — incorrectly — that if same-gender couples start marrying, then opposite-gender couples will stop. That’s untrue. That did not happen in any of the states or nations where same-gender marriage was legalized.

    He also assumes — again incorrectly — that if same-gender couples marry, then opposite-gender marriage “can’t do the work” that he thinks it should do. What he’s really saying is that if same-gender couples start marrying, then opposite-gender couples will conduct their lives differently, and their marriages will automatically degrade and disintegrate. But there is no scientific evidence of this happening; moreover, there’s no logical reason to assume it.

    Anderson also assumes — again incorrectly — that opposite genders are necessary to form a married couple. He’s wrong. They aren’t necessary to form a couple, to raise children from a prior marriage, to adopt children, or to procreate (surrogacy has existed since ancient times).

    Anderson’s assumption — that marriage is only for procreation, breeding, and animal husbandry — was scrapped several centuries ago (when educated people stopped treating wives and children the same as livestock, with no property or rights). His spawn-centric themes are still found in the ancient wedding ceremonies of small, isolated, uneducated tribes, and also among a few reclusive, disconnected clergy, but not among most of the laity of the industrialized, democratic world.

    Anderson asks how Obama can stress the importance of opposite genders while also supporting same-gender marriage. He can’t. But he doesn’t need to. Because — as already proven in federal court more than once — opposite-gender couples are not superior to same-gender couples. Consequently, the government propaganda campaigns that Anderson yearns for aren’t needed.

    Anderson assumes — again incorrectly — that fatherless children are a problem. He’s wrong. The problem is not fatherless children; it’s single-parent children. It’s already been proven that so long as a child has two parents, the absence of a female parent when there are two fathers or the absence of a male parent when there are two mothers poses no problem.

    Anderson worries — needlessly — that same-gender marriage causes opposite-gender couples to be less monogamous, less exclusive, and less permanent. But it’s ludicrous to think that, and there’s no evidence indicating it, and there’s no logic to support it. The disintegration and decay that he attributes to same-gender couples are not the threat that he imagines because they don’t exist.

  15. Jason Jackson says:

    This is a question for Mr. Blakenhorn, but others are welcome to chime in.

    My own idea is that we have reached the place in our national discussion where it is not only possible, but also desirable, for people who disagree on gay marriage, or who aren’t sure about gay marriage, to come together in a broader conversation focussed on strengthening marriage as a social institution for all who seek it. …
    No thank you. And, no thank you. It’s time for a new conversation.

    If it is time for a new conversation, do you want to start that in a world where marriage is undervalued–because it means nothing special, and so fewer people get married or one where marriage remains linked to core principles, and we build marriage back on those principles?

    Your answer of course, is that it is not an either/or; that, in essence, allowing gay marriage will only help us get over that issue so we can address the real problems. That is a valid point. However, I have two things I want you two consider.

    1.If we were to see a resurgence in marriage culture through the acceptance and starting a new conversation method, we would want to see that happening in countries that have had gay marriage for longer Europe’s experience is really useful. As William C. Duncan notes at http://www.marriagedebate.com/pdf/iMAPP.May2011-rev.pdf, not only have gays not gotten married as a whole but “Marriage Rates Among Opposite‐Sex Couples are Down,” “Divorce rates are stable,” and “The Out of Wedlock Birth Rate Continues to Climb.” He concludes:

    As noted above, correlation does not prove causation.
    At a minimum the data from the Netherlands does suggest that the hopes of those making a conservative case for gay marriage that it will strengthen marriage generally and dramatically increase the stability and fidelity among same‐sex couples‐‐are likely to be disappointed.

    2. Recent rises of pornography use across the world have changed the nature of how our society views sex. I am not advocating causation in any way. I am saying that the way we view marriage is closely related to how we view sex. Thus, if we concede marriage is not about procreation by accepting gay marriage, we have no principled method for supporting man-woman marriage as the norm for straight people above cohabitation and other issues. http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/12/7048/ indicates there is a correlation between pornography use and acceptance of gay marriage (I don’t advocate causation):

    If Girgis, George, and Anderson are onto something by arguing that marriage has a characteristic structure that is—if I’ve hypothesized correctly—undermined by porn, then men with more frequent-use patterns should be less supportive of “traditional” marriage and more supportive of redefinition efforts. While I realize that eight of the top ten states in terms of online porn consumption voted Republican in the 2008 presidential election, I’m analyzing individuals’ survey responses, not state-level data, which prevents me from falling into the trap of the ecological fallacy, or deducing things about individuals from the groups of which they are a part.

    He goes on to show links between porn use and acceptance of gay marriage (again, he and I both point out there may be a separate variable that impacts both).

    My point: we need a serious conversation about sex in our society if we are to restore a marriage culture. If our first stop on this journey is to equate sex historically linked to babies with gay sex, the importance of staying together for the kids (and thus divorce reform) goes away. If we equate the two, we need to come up with a principled reason not to have sex before marriage.

    We haven’t ended our problems if we accept gay marriage, we’re at the start of our problems.

  16. Jason Jackson says:

    Separately I note that merely having marriage symbolize “any bodily union,” as another commentator argued, will make it harder to push for abstinence as the risk of procreation is the best secular argument for abstinence–telling straights that will be discouraged when marriage is not about kids. (I find the correlation between contraception availability and the rise or out-of-wedlock pregnancy incredibly ironic.

  17. JHW says:

    Jason Jackson: If you want to rely on the possibility of procreation when telling straight people not to have sex before marriage, you have already lost. In any case, I fail to see what that has to do with my point. It is true that the argument from the risk of procreation does not justify abstaining from non-procreative sex (this is why the argument is a terrible one and why it is widely ignored—straight people can practice non-procreative sex too). If that bothers you because you don’t think people should be having non-procreative sex before marriage, either, maybe you should actually argue directly for what you want.

  18. Kevin says:

    Matthew, I disagree on a couple of things.

    “A proper understanding of “equal protection under the law” is very important – but it gets to the tricky issue of rights vs. privileges, and the question of whether marriage is a right or a privilege.”

    Marriage is a “fundamental right” according to the US Supreme Court. That’s why bans against letting incarcerated murderers, with no opportunity to procreate for lack of conjugal access and no opportunity to practice the many routines and rituals common to marriage, such as living with one’s spouse, were struck down by the US Supreme Court. And “deadbeat” dads, fully demonstrating poor parenting responsibilities and having already failed at marriage, cannot be denied access to (another) marriage, according to the court. The US Supreme Court has historically taken a view that marriage is a basic right and cannot be infringed.

    This bodes well for the demise of California’s Prop 8, as SCOTUS has a history of not permitting states to take away the right to marry to someone who previously had it, even if they did something very bad. Gay people in California did nothing wrong when they lost their right to marry, other than not be pleasing to a majority of straight people. Not much of a crime, in my book.

    Since it is readily apparent that same-sex couples are capable of marrying, as shown by the states and countries where they are legally permitted to do so, it will be very odd indeed that the US Supreme Court is going to defend the right of murderers to marry, but not the right of gay people to do so. But you certainly can understand how offensive a gay marriage ban is to gay people: they are not acceptable marriage prospects, but murderers are. Kind of a slap in the face, don’t you think? If the institution of marriage is so corrupt that it finds a convicted murderer more worthy than a gay physician, gay teacher or any other law-abiding productive gay person, then marriage really isn’t much of an institution.

    Still, the argument doesn’t hinge on whether something is a right or a privilege. If the government is favoring one group over another with the right or the privilege, it has to have a rational public purpose in doing so, according to equal protection doctrine.

    “That is a debate that folks like Anderson are keen to have – because they believe their definition of marriage to be true based on their religious and philosophical beliefs. If what they say is true, then we have to take them seriously”

    No, we don’t have to take people seriously, just because their views are based on religious or philosophical beliefs. We do have to look at the public policy and constitutional implications of their arguments, and dismiss them if they violate the Constitution or harm society. In fact, the more that anti-same sex marriage is associated with a religious belief, the more the government is required to distance itself from such a viewpoint, rather than risk “respecting an establishment of religion,” which is forbidden by the Constitution. I can understand the rhetorical power of insisting on freedom of religion in banning same-sex marriage but the anti-gays face a serious quandary in asking the government to promote a religious ideal.

  19. Jason Jackson says:

    JHW:
    I’ve already lost. it’s been in a couple of papers.

    For academic reasons I note that sex is addicting and there is no true link between marriage and children when there is no link to marriage and sex, which is why contraception has lead to higher (not lower) rates of birth out of wedlock.

    Why is that? Why is contraception availability positively correlated with procreative sex outside of marriage?

    Further, how would you bring those rates (out-of-wedlock pregnancy) down, from a public policy point of view? I think it is important to link fathers and mothers to children.

  20. David Hart says:

    Kevin:

    You are arguing as if there were a real objection to equal marriage. There is no real objection. The entire anti-equality enterprise exists solely because;

    a) Some people have a religious objection to marriage equality and;

    b) Some of those people want to impose their religious beliefs on public policy.

    Robert A. Levy and I agree on only one thing. Every marriage amendment has been an insult to the Establishment Clause. Levy and I probably agree on more than that but I digress. Mr. Anderson, Mr. Gigris and Mr. George see themselves as modern day Knights Templar. They are doing battle for God. Look at Robert George’s various operations including APP and the James Madison program at Princeton. What do they ALL have in common?

  21. David Blankenhorn says:

    Jason Jackson: Thank you for your comments. You are making serious points, and I respect them. Let me respond briefly to your two questions.

    1. You are right that we are not seeing the reinstitutionalization of marriage in societies that have embraced gay marriage. But I could ask you the same type of question: If fighting gay marriage full out for more than a decade in the US was going to lead religious conservatives and other traditionalists who oppose gay marriage to move in the diretion of lower divorce, lower unwed child bearing, and less non-marital cohabitation, wouldn’t we be seeing signs of it by now? The truth is, marriage trends are terrible pretty much all over the place in modern, affluent societies. That, my friend, is our starting point.

    2. If nothing good can happen until we get rid of pre-marital sexual intercourse (and, I suppose, by implication, birth control pills), then — well, I just don’t know what to do. Do you? It seems to me that that horse left the barn many many years ago, and since I am 56 years old and still hope that I have a bit of pro-marriage gas left in the tank, I don’t think I am going to confine my activism to writing mournful articles about the pill and about sex outside of marriage. It sems pretty pointless to me, if one’s goal is actually to do something that might matter in the actual society that we live in.

  22. David Hart says:

    In fact, David, in some respects, conservatives should insist that gays marry if they are going to cohabit and have sex (and they are). It’s almost as if there is a false choice; If marriage equality is opposed – gays will stop coupling. Maybe we will all become celibates or maybe we’ll all get some therapy that will turn all of us straight

    That would presuppose that we either seek or require approval. Well, as someone who was in a relationship for over 30 years, it has nothing to do with approval. It is about equality.

  23. Mont D. Law says:

    (Note that I said something can have a rational structure (given a set of premises, the conclusion logically follows) and still be incorrect (if one of the premises is false, then the conclusions can be false even if the logical argument that led to them is valid).)

    The argument being made isn’t rational even under the terms you are laying out. It can only be sustained with special pleading. Marriage is about procreation, except when it’s not. It’s about raising your biological children except when it’s not. It’s about fidelity and forever except when it’s not. So George et. al. make far fetched arguments whose only goal is explaining why straight people are exempt from the rational argument they are making.

  24. Jason Jackson says:

    Mr. Blakenhorn:

    Thank you for your comments. This response became long, so please try to separate my separate points.

    1. Your counter-argument is good to my first point, except for one problem. I don’t fight against same-sex marriage because I believe the winning is in the fighting; I fight against it because losing would have bad consequences, as Europe demonstrates. The other side brought this fight, not us, so we should not expect positive consequences of having to fight.

    I think Europe is what we will become. The problem is we’re adopting European policies to get there.

    2. Your argument is we’ve lost the sex linked to marriage fight. That may be true, and I’ll address what to do about that in a minute. My response to why we need to consider this is that if sex is no more than a fun activity to our society–if people don’t understand the difference between having sex and, to modify a Robert George example, play racquetball, then we have no way to win.

    How do we get children tied to two parents when 41% of them are born out of wedlock? We need some limiting principle that actually works, as using pills haven’t. If our fight is not built on some principle that matters before a child is born, we’re conceding a lot of ground. The one I pick is the link between children, sex and marriage If you have another you’d like to pick, please lay it out. Otherwise, in my view, we can’t get outcomes that are contingent on having a mother and a father.

    I feel that exposing the next generation to principles and asking them to study them will change behavior faster then getting them to study behavior will change behavior. When you teach behavior, they can think they are an exception– few people intend to be a single parent, for instance, or to cohabit for ten years. But when you teach there are lines that are not crossed–and the reasons for the lines– you teach something that has no exceptions.

    As to what we do, I think our response is three-fold, in order of importance.
    1. Churches need to teach chastity better. The religious norms that were swept under the rug in the 60s can be taught again. One generation can change things a lot. The LDS Church has done this very well (they get many of their youth to a seminary before school every day during High School). I think if more churches had a consecrated effort to teach youth principles and their reasons.
    2. We need to advocate for policies that are family-based and child-based, not adult-based (and gay marriage is adult-based). Our family tragedy is really a children tragedy.
    3. We need to do something about the media culture. I think any TV show that portrays high school sex is detrimental to our goals, as is pornography. The TV shows not only show high school sex, but teacher-student relationships (ABC Family). It is, quite simply toxic and makes the one-night stand or cohabiting relationship look positively normal.

    Is this a tall order? Yes. But I am skeptical that anything behavior-based rather than principle-based will work. Liberals advocate “family planning” and more families end up not planned. If you have a game plan that’ll work, please tell me.

    I’d like to continue this discussion, but am worried if this is the right forum. I’ll follow your lead in how long this discussion goes on.

  25. David Lapp says:

    David Blankenhorn: Regarding the horse leaving the barn when it comes to sex, we might say the same thing about marriage in Middle America: they are not getting married and they are having children outside of marriage in alarming numbers. We can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Let’s try to cope with the situation as best we can.

    I suspect you would not want to say that — and we need not say that about sex. Indeed, it will not do much good to write mournful articles about the pill and sex outside of marriage. However, it would do good for cultural leaders to remember that, according to one survey by the National Campaign, 87 percent of high school students say they agree that teens be given a strong message that they should not have sex until they are at least out of high school. And it would do good for cultural leaders to remember that many young adults are deeply wounded from past sexual relationships. There’s a lot of mistrust out there, especially among the working class, because of failed relationships that include sex.

    In other areas of life, today’s young adults are admirably seeking to heal the damage inflicted by a consumerist mentality: we are passionate about recycling, and we shop at Whole Foods, and want to shop locally. There is a sense that our lives are fragmented, and many of us would like to lead more reintegrated, whole lives. The 1 percent corporate titans who have their nameless managers set up their one night business stands in communities thousands of miles away — we don’t like them. They are using and abusing us. We’d like businesses that respect the integrity of local communities.

    What about our family lives? What about the whole family, in which sex, children, and marriage are all integrated seamlessly? What about proposing a courtship script that respects that sex is a deeply sacred gift, in which two people share their body and soul in the most intimate way imaginable?

    The “whole” ethos is out there. But it has yet to shape how we think about sex and love and children and marriage. And with respect, that is partly because most cultural elders take exactly the attitude you just articulated: we can’t do anything about it, kids will be kids.

    With respect, I disagree.

  26. David Lapp, what you wrote is simply beautiful.

    In a consultation a while back with you and Amber and some of the other younger members of the staff and Alana, this sustainability/environmental metaphor *really* struck me as being a lively one for twenty somethings right now, and I know it really works for some of us old people too : ) I’m hoping we can play around with it a bit more in the spring around the release of a next report, and I sure hope you and Amber are developing this idea in your book.

  27. I don’t fight against same-sex marriage because I believe the winning is in the fighting; I fight against it because losing would have bad consequences, as Europe demonstrates.

    Jason, earlier you said (correctly) that correlation isn’t causation. Yet this statement says that SSM caused “bad consequences.” Which is it?

    It’s worth noting that the correlations in Europe are not as clear-cut as you imply.

    And in the United States, the states with the highest divorce rates have been the most likely to ban recognition of same-sex marriages. (See also here and here).

    Of course, correlation is not causation. I tend to think that more education and more feminist attitudes (leading people to put off marriage until their mid twenties or early thirties) are a common cause of both lower divorce rates and acceptance of SSM, but that’s just a guess. But I think, on the whole, it would make more sense to emulate the states with the lowest divorce rates, rather than the states with the highest divorce rates.

  28. David B wrote:

    Nothing good can happen until we all agree with him on matters of definitions and core principles? Really? I must have missed that memo. My own idea is that we have reached the place in our national discussion where it is not only possible, but also desirable, for people who disagree on gay marriage, or who aren’t sure about gay marriage, to come together in a broader conversation focussed on strengthening marriage as a social institution for all who seek it. And for those who, like Mr. Ryan, can only say “Oh no! You must jump in my little definition box until I say it’s OK for to come out and do something else,” I say, no thank you.

    Thank you. Obviously, I agree with your entire comment.

    One interesting thing in the exit polls from the most recent election is that, although self-identified lesbian and gay (not sure if they asked about bi?) voters were only 3% of all voters, they represented 6% of all young voters.

    As a matter of political viability, any policy which depends on putting aside the interests of lesbian and gay people is doomed to failure in the long term. LGBT people can no more give up fighting for equality than any other group could, and with each new generation more and more people are either openly gay, or closely aligned through family and friendship with those who are openly gay.

    The vision of a society in which either lgbt people must give up on legal equality, or in which the entire notion of family and parenting must be thrown away, is apocalyptic, extreme and unreasonable. LGBT people are not a force opposed to families; they are part of families. These two things are not mutually exclusive.

  29. Kevin says:

    “We need to advocate for policies that are family-based and child-based, not adult-based (and gay marriage is adult-based). Our family tragedy is really a children tragedy.”

    Well, no, marriage is as adult-based for straight people as for gay people. Adults make the decision to marry, or not marry, and to divorce.

    And by the way, children are very much the beneficiaries of same-sex marriage, if those children are being raised by a same-sex couple. Marriage creates a more secure relationship and that security is good for kids.

    Be opposed to legal same-sex marriage if you want, but please at least pretend to have some passing understanding of the issue and what’s at stake and who’s affected. Thanks.

  30. I really hate the idea that “child-based” and “adult-based” are inherently contradictory, as if families are never good for the needs of adults. Surely healthy families are beneficial to the entire family, not just to the children.

    As for gay marriage being “adult-based,” as Kevin says, that’s obviously an unfair generalization. Families headed by same-sex parents typically make the children’s well-being the organizing principle behind a huge number of their life choices (what hours do you work? What job do you take? What neighborhood do you live in? Who are your friends?). This is, of course, also the case of heterosexual parents.

    In a less obvious sense, I’d say that any fully child-centered society needs full equality and acceptance of lgbt people. This is because a huge number of children – over one in twenty – will at some point realize that they are lgbt.

    This is not a minor point. Lgbt children are just as important and worthy or protection as the non-queer children. And many of them will find it difficult to grow up healthy in a society that tells them that they cannot one day grow up and form families of their own.

    I think a lot of it simply comes down to love. Queer people – and many other stigmatized minorities, such as the disabled, fat people, and others – are taught by our culture that we are unworthy of being loved. A lot of people overcome that message, of course, but even having to overcome it is a terrible effort that I’d rather kids not have to go through. For those who don’t manage to overcome that message, the result is that we have trouble even loving ourselves, or imagining how others could love us.

  31. Jason Jackson says:

    Kevin.

    Well, no, marriage is as adult-based for straight people as for gay people. Adults make the decision to marry, or not marry, and to divorce.

    If sex didn’t produce children, no one would have thought it needed regulating through marriage. Sex would be a lot like tennis then.

    Marriage was created to be about children and women. To prevent single parents. If you change why marriage is created, well you will have single parents… which is precisely what has happened as marriage and sex have been divorced. Why has the success of feminism led to more single mothers?

    Barry:
    I think you are gay (based on how you spoke). If so, please don’t take this answer as any reflection on you. If not, I was not trying to “out” you.

    Jason, earlier you said (correctly) that correlation isn’t causation. Yet this statement says that SSM caused “bad consequences.” Which is it?

    Both. A correlation between same-sex marriage and out-of-wedlock birth rates is not causation. However, as I implied above, the way people think about sex directly impacts whether they get married and when. Accepting same-sex marriage changes how one thinks about sex. So the next generation will learn marriage is different then the ’90s did. As it is increasingly detached from the original purpose of marriage–a social purpose to raise the next generation– (which you may well deny, which just proves my point– people weren’t raised to understand “women need men to help raise their kids, so we have marriage”)

    We now know how important two parents are. It is not gay marriage but the rather the social meaning of marriage I am worried about. It is a shame gays got in the middle of this fight that has been going on since the sexual revolution– gays are just like the rest of us– members of the human family. Unfortunately, gay marriage necessitates that changing social meaning. I am opposing the codifying of marriage being further from it’s roots.

    And the M.V. Badgett link you gave is 7 years old. My link is 1 and a half. Badgett is really smart– she just didn’t wait long enough to do her study. From 2005-2011 trends became clearer. Could you look at something more recent for me? If your side has it.

    As to the divorce issue– cohabitation is a substitute. Those shaky couples in AL who are pressured into marriage and then divorce cohabit in CA instead. Yes, that is just a theory, but I’d love people to comment on it.

  32. Jason Jackson says:

    In a less obvious sense, I’d say that any fully child-centered society needs full equality and acceptance of lgbt people. This is because a huge number of children – over one in twenty – will at some point realize that they are lgbt.

    This is not a minor point. Lgbt children are just as important and worthy or protection as the non-queer children. .

    I actually agree with this part of what you said. (My moral views on homosexuality do not dictate unkindness). But given my strong, originalist/natural law answer to “what marriage is,” Telling me gay couples need marriage because gay couples do is like saying I must vote to allow people to shop on Sunday… completely against the purpose of how I view it. And I believe you don’t need to believe in God to believe marriage wouldn’t exist without children produced the way they are.

  33. Phil says:

    If sex didn’t produce children, no one would have thought it needed regulating through marriage.

    Jason, this is demonstrably untrue. Sex that doesn’t produce children can still be subject to expectations of monogamy. Lots and lots of heterosexual sex is incapable of producing children, and yet there are plenty of nonfertile heterosexual couples who marry. In fact, very few, if any, of the high profile people who advocate that the “purpose of marriage is procreation” also advocate that young heterosexual men and women who are incapable of producing children should remain single for their entire lives.

    Do you? Do you actually believe what you’re saying? If a young adult woman came up to you and said, “Jason, I’ve had a medical hysterectomy, but I want to live a normal, happy life,” would you counsel her to treat sex like tennis, since for her, sex cannot produce children? Would you advise her that, morally, she must remain single and unmarried her entire life, because procreative sex is the purpose of marriage?

    What would you say to a young woman who is absolutely incapable of conceiving a child, if she came to you for advice about the life she ought to lead?

    As it is increasingly detached from the original purpose of marriage–a social purpose to raise the next generation– (which you may well deny, which just proves my point–

    Rather than denying your point, Jason, I’ll point out that you have the burden of proof if you are claiming that something exists and can be known.

    Can you cite a source to establish what the original purpose of marriage is? Obviously, your argument would be most effective if you can cite a credible primary source that comes from the time that marriage originated, since–by definition–that is when the original purpose must have been determined.

    It is a shame gays got in the middle of this fight that has been going on since the sexual revolution– gays are just like the rest of us– members of the human family.

    Since you have opinions about marriage, and about what people ought to do with regard to marriage and their lives, I’d like to ask you specifically about what you think that gay people ought to do. I think that anyone arguing against legal SSM should be clear about this, too.

    Let’s say a 16-year-old gay man comes up to you, Jason, and says, “I used to think that I wanted to grow up, fall in love with a decent man who is good to me, get legally married, and spend the rest of my days with him. But you have persuasively argued that gay people shouldn’t get legally married. So, what should I do with my life instead?”

    I invite anyone else who argues against legal SSM to answer this question, too.

  34. [...] marriage and policy which is NOT, by and large, about same-sex marriage. The big exception was anti-marriage-equality activist Ryan Anderson, who pretty much argued that there can be no pro-marriage policy that is not premised on opposition [...]

  35. Jason Jackson says:

    Sex that doesn’t produce children can still be subject to expectations of monogamy

    Right. But it would be so unlikely every society would have developed marriage if children didn’t exist.

    Can you cite a source to establish what the original purpose of marriage is?

    Well, I’d like to cite Genesis, but I doubt you believe that. You and I both know marriage predates written history no matter your faith.

    Let me ask you, why did marriage pop up in every culture? I’ve given you one reason, why not give me a counter one and let the people here decide which was plausible?

    Do you? Do you actually believe what you’re saying? If a young adult woman came up to you and said, “Jason, I’ve had a medical hysterectomy, but I want to live a normal, happy life,” would you counsel her to treat sex like tennis, since for her, sex cannot produce children?

    No, because of the binding power of sexual activity… It would hurt her to do that. But I doubt that that reason–or any other social reason you suggest–would be enough, to create marriage in every culture.

    Let’s say a 16-year-old gay man comes up to you, Jason, and says, “I used to think that I wanted to grow up, fall in love with a decent man who is good to me, get legally married, and spend the rest of my days with him. But you have persuasively argued that gay people shouldn’t get legally married. So, what should I do with my life instead?”

    Be happy. Live life. Plenty of wonderful people never get married. If it was a religious setting, I would discuss morality of chastity. If not, I would point him to many single people who never get married and do downright awesome things.

  36. Jason, all the data I cited from the United States is of fairly recent vintage, and for obvious reasons more directly relevant to the question of how SSM will work in the USA.

    However, as I implied above, the way people think about sex directly impacts whether they get married and when. Accepting same-sex marriage changes how one thinks about sex.

    And yet, people from my cultural background – college educated, putting off marriage and children until a decade or so after beginning to have sex, and generally favoring lgbt equality – are some of the people in the US who are most likely to have long, happy marriages, and to not have children outside of marriage.

    As it is increasingly detached from the original purpose of marriage–a social purpose to raise the next generation–

    I don’t think there is such a thing as a known, singular “original purpose of marriage.” Marriage precedes written history, and quite obviously serves multiple functions in every society that has it; without resorting to religion, how can you or anyone else possibly know what “the original purpose of marriage” was, or even that such a thing ever existed?

    And even if that was true, what would it prove? Surely you’re not saying that prehistoric societies were better than our society in every way. Even if you could show that you’re right about the prehistoric purpose of marriage (and I don’t think you can), why should we assume that it’s impossible to improve on how prehistoric humans ran things?

    And the M.V. Badgett link you gave is 7 years old. My link is 1 and a half.

    Nothing in your link shows that gay marriage has made heterosexual marriage worse. The most you could conclude from the data is that it hasn’t made straight marriage better. And I frankly think the article you link to engages in cherry-picking.

    Out of curiosity, does that data actually have any effect on your position? Suppose that in another 10 years, the trends in the Netherlands clearly demonstrates no effect on heterosexual marriage from same-sex marriage. Would that change your mind about opposing SSM in the US?

    Furthermore, I provided a few links to recent data from the USA. That data is more relevant to the question “what effects does SSM have in the USA” than data from the Netherlands.

    I actually agree with this part of what you said. (My moral views on homosexuality do not dictate unkindness). But given my strong, originalist/natural law answer to “what marriage is,” Telling me gay couples need marriage because gay couples do is like saying I must vote to allow people to shop on Sunday… completely against the purpose of how I view it.

    Could you clarify this? It sounds as if you’re saying you think Sunday shopping should be legally banned. Is that really your view?

    I don’t doubt that you are personally warmhearted and wish lgbt children only the best. Alas, however, I do think your views on homosexuality dictate unkindness, regardless of your good intentions. Telling those kids that they cannot hope for a normal life, cannot hope for marriage and family, is inescapably unkind. In the worst cases, it leads to children who grow up believing that they are fundamentally unlovable and unworthy of love. What could be less kind than that?

  37. Ned Flaherty says:

    “We need to advocate for policies that are family-based and child-based, not adult-based (and gay marriage is adult-based).”

    Jason Jackson assumes — incorrectly — that same-gender marriage is not family-based and is not child-based. That is untrue. Same-gender couples raise children from prior marriage, adoption, and/or surrogacy, so same-gender couples can be just as family-based and just as child-based as any other couple. Therefore, Jackson has no fair basis for denying same-gender couples the constitutional right to marry.

    Jackson also assumes — also incorrectly — that all opposite-gender marriages are family-based and child-based. That also is untrue. Many opposite-gender marriages never contain any children or family members other than the two adults who comprise the married couple. Sometimes this outcome is intentional from the outset and sometimes it is not. Jackson would never deny marriage to an opposite-gender couple purely because they intend not to raise children, or because they might end up never having children. Therefore, he has no fair basis for denying the constitutional right to marriage to a same-gender couple.

  38. Ned Flaherty says:

    David Jackson assumes — incorrectly — that allowing same-gender marriage requires denying that all marriages can involve procreation. That is untrue. Allowing same-gender marriage requires nothing more than: allowing same-gender marriage. All marriages — same-gender and opposite-gender — may involve procreation, but in no marriage is it required.

    “We haven’t ended our problems if we accept gay marriage; we’re at the start of our problems.”
    — David Jackson

    Jackson assumes — incorrectly — that the existence of same-gender marriage causes problems in opposite-gender marriages. That’s untrue. As proven in multiple federal court rooms, there is not a shred of credible, peer-reviewed, scientific evidence for this superstition. There also is no logical rationale behind it. The problems that opposite-gender marriage may have now are problems that it had long before same-gender marriages began, and there’s no scientific evidence that same-gender marriage increases those problems. It’s true that in some places opposite-gender marriage rates declined after same-gender marriage began, but with only that data, no conclusions can be drawn. The decline might have been worse than it was without same-gender marriage, or it might have stayed the same without same-gender marriage.

    “Equating procreative sex with gay sex destroys the importance of staying together for the kids.” — David Jackson

    Jackson is wrong, on two counts. Firstly, kids themselves provide the importance of staying together; what people do or don’t think about differences between gay sex vs. straight sex doesn’t change that. Secondly, allowing same-gender marriage doesn’t require anyone to equate any sexual activity with any other sexual activity, and it doesn’t require anyone to equate heterosexual activity with homosexual activity.

    There isn’t a divorced couple anywhere on earth who says, “We split up because since gays started marrying, we see straight gay sex and straight sex the same way.”

  39. La Lubu says:

    Jason, perhaps you would like to answer the question I asked earlier of Ryan Anderson, who has heretofore been uninteresting in answering: what purpose does marriage serve for heterosexual couples who are childless by design (either due to age or voluntary sterilization)? Why should society have any interest in permitting these couples to access marriage, if the purpose of marriage is to provide for the caring of children? For that matter, what purpose does marriage continue to serve for couples with grown children?

    I would appreciate that you leave out any reference to your personal religious beliefs in your answer (should you choose to answer). While you absolutely have a right to your beliefs, I do not share them—any public policy must serve the needs of the entire public. It is appropriate that you use your beliefs to guide your life; it is inappropriate that your beliefs serve as the foundation by which we all must live our lives. I trust that you would feel the same towards my spiritual outlook as well. So: secular answers only, please!

  40. JHW says:

    La Lubu: For what it’s worth, Ryan Anderson and his co-authors respond to that objection in their paper “What is Marriage?”, which you can find for free on the Internet. I assume they also do, probably at greater length, in their book, but I haven’t read it.

  41. Jason Jackson says:

    Jason, perhaps you would like to answer the question I asked earlier of Ryan Anderson, who has heretofore been uninteresting in answering: what purpose does marriage serve for heterosexual couples who are childless by design (either due to age or voluntary sterilization)? Why should society have any interest in permitting these couples to access marriage, if the purpose of marriage is to provide for the caring of children? For that matter, what purpose does marriage continue to serve for couples with grown children?

    La Lubu–
    I actually already answered that, in a different way than Anderson does. Heterosexual activity enables bonding between men and women. The “hook-up” culture–independent of child-rearing–is hurting our youth. See http://www.amazon.com/Hooked-Science-Casual-Affecting-Children/dp/0802450601

    Ned,

    Jackson assumes — incorrectly — that the existence of same-gender marriage causes problems in opposite-gender marriages. That’s untrue. As proven in multiple federal court rooms, there is not a shred of credible, peer-reviewed, scientific evidence for this superstition.

    Dead wrong. I don’t assume this, I explain exactly why the causation probably flows that way. In one sentence: the entire sexual revolution has diminished the importance of children as a major factor to consider in adult sex life; as gay marriage is almost completely about “equality” (that is the main argument), it is more of the same,

    Firstly, kids themselves provide the importance of staying together;

    I’ll believe this when we don’t have single mothers everywhere.

    Secondly, allowing same-gender marriage doesn’t require anyone to equate any sexual activity with any other sexual activity, and it doesn’t require anyone to equate heterosexual activity with homosexual activity.

    I’m not talking about requiring, I’m talking about social norms. To use a non-gay example; I think a show that has a student (18 Senior in High School) kissing and in a relationship with each other, make the youth more accepting of plain normal high school sex. There is a cultural argument that is different than this “requires” issue.

    You change marriage, you change a culture.

    There isn’t a divorced couple anywhere on earth who says, “We split up because since gays started marrying, we see straight gay sex and straight sex the same way.”

    Oh, I wasn’t arguing that. I was arguing when the next generation learns about marriage they won’t be as likely to mentally link marriage to sex.”

    Barry,

    I actually agree with whatever you say that I don’t respond to.

    And yet, people from my cultural background – college educated, putting off marriage and children until a decade or so after beginning to have sex, and generally favoring lgbt equality – are some of the people in the US who are most likely to have long, happy marriages, and to not have children outside of marriage.

    We strongly disagree. I think Brad Wilcox would agree with me, and other scholars might agree with you.

    how can you or anyone else possibly know what “the original purpose of marriage” was, or even that such a thing ever existed?

    Logic. Why else would marriage emerge in every culture–every single one, developed independently. You have let to give one reason

    And even if that was true, what would it prove? Surely you’re not saying that prehistoric societies were better than our society in every way. Even if you could show that you’re right about the prehistoric purpose of marriage (and I don’t think you can), why should we assume that it’s impossible to improve on how prehistoric humans ran things?

    Because, if it was created because children exist (and you have no other theory why it was created that would explain why it is so universal), then we should think about that reason more in this argument then having people like you sweep it away.

    Could you clarify this? It sounds as if you’re saying you think Sunday shopping should be legally banned. Is that really your view?

    Yes, for purposes of the example.

    Alas, however, I do think your views on homosexuality dictate unkindness, regardless of your good intentions.

    Well, then you necessarily discount most religions that both oppose homosexuality and premarital sex. If we have no religious justification for premarital sex, then it’s really a sexual free-for all– religion is the best way to bring those principles I mentioned to David B earlier.

    . Telling those kids that they cannot hope for a normal life, cannot hope for marriage and family, is inescapably unkind. In the worst cases, it leads to children who grow up believing that they are fundamentally unlovable and unworthy of love. What could be less kind than that?

    We disagree on many fundamentals. I have explained the secular public purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage. On the religious level, one is happiest by following Christ. That’s just what Catholics tell their nuns and priests. That’s what the LDS faith tells heterosexuals who don’t get married (and that is more than 3 or 4%).

  42. Jason Jackson says:

    As a footnote, it is unwise to look at divorce rates without mentioning cohabitation break-up. I have little doubt relationships as a whole are less stable and shorter.

  43. La Lubu says:

    Jason, you have not provided an explanation for why marriage is desireable for heterosexual couples without children. Saying that marriage provides for bonding between heterosexual couples makes sense, but it makes an equal amount of sense to say that marriage provides for bonding for same-sex couples. Why not encourage marriage for all couples who wish a deeper bond with one another?

    The “hook-up culture” is a myth. The overwhelming majority of sexual activity between young men and young women is within the context of a relationship.

    Look, I grew up in the 70s. I got the idea that one could have a happy, healthy marriage without having children from the heterosexual married couples in my environs (urban, rust-belt, working and/or lower-middle-class). Both the minority of couples who chose not to have children, and the majority of couples who made absolutely no bones about how much they looked forward to the kids growing up and moving out of the house. Seriously, back-in-the-day marriage was very adult-centric. Children spent a great deal of time without adult supervision, and adults used every opportunity to have private time. It was very much understood in my environs that being a child meant learning how to be an adult and growing up and being responsible for oneself after high school. Adults spoke openly, frankly, and freely about what a blessing it was to be able to limit the number of children they had—that was still a new thing for my parents generation—and the birth rate plummeted as soon as effective contraception became available. Parents enjoyed parenthood more with fewer children, but what they enjoyed even more than that was the return to the child-free life….lots more vacations, evenings out, and togetherness.

  44. Kevin says:

    Jason Jackson says:

    “But it would be so unlikely every society would have developed marriage if children didn’t exist.”

    Let’s pretend that marriage was invented in order to get adults to stay together to raise their children. It seems like a far-fetched idea, and is particularly insulting to straight people, who evidently are so irresponsible with their own flesh and blood that they’ll abandon their children unless incentivized. I have a higher opinion of straight people, but let’s go with it.

    First, marriage was invented a long time ago, I think we can all agree. But times change, as do institutions. Society adapts to new circumstances and new norms. So whatever marriage’s “purpose” of thousands of years ago was, that purpose can change. There’s no law, rule, directive that says marriage can’t change. In fact, we know marriage HAS changed over the years, most notably in the number of people allowed to participate in a marriage. You may wish to stop people from calling cars, trucks, airplanes and helicopters “transportation,” since they didn’t exist when the word was likely created, but I think you’d have a tough time fighting the progress that has led to new forms of transportation. Unless you think only a horse is accurately called transportation. So whatever reason marriage was invented, that reason may or may not be relevant today, and today’s purpose for marriage may have expanded or contracted.

    Second, encouraging gay couples to marry accomplishes the same thing that that you say marriage was invented for anyway: staying together to raise the children. An unmarried couple is more likely to separate, whether straight or gay. If there are children in the household to be raised, it’s good that the couple remain together, in order to raise the children. If gay couples were incapable of raising, or denied the right to raise, children, then your argument might hold some water. But why would society want to distinguish between the children being raised by straight couples, and the children being raised by gay children? Shouldn’t all children have the right to the best circumstances of their upbringing, within the context of those circumstances?

    I think marriage was invented so that men could secure and formalize wives as property. The Bible reinforces this notion in the Ten Commandments, when God prohibits coveting a neighbor’s possessions, including his wife or wives. Having multiple wives, too, helps explain that marriage originated as a form of human ownership. And it is only until amazingly recently that wives are no longer subordinated to their husbands legally and in other ways.

  45. David Lapp:

    I’m not arguing against your view of sexual life. In fact I find much to admire in it. And I’m not arguing against your desire to pass along that vision to others. Again, I find much to admire in that vocation.

    I am arguing a particular strain of commentary in the public debate, of which I thought Jackson’s comment was an example, that greets nearly every practical, incrementalist idea for marriage-strengthening that comes up with the “not-so-fast!” rejoinder that nothing, really, will do any good until we roll back the sexual revolution in its entirety and (I would think, of necessity) end contraception in the U.S.. It’s the insistence that nothing seriously good can happen until THAT happens that causes me to say, No, thank you.

    Premising all progress on a roll-back of the contraceptive culture is a bit like premising all progress on a roll-back of gay marriage. It’s a totalistic view of what is possible that is primarily based, in my view, on a comprehensive religious doctrine and the sociological evidence (and there is some) that can be used to support and advance that doctrine, rather than on an empirical assessment of what is actually possible in terms of social change in the actual world that we live in today. At best, then, it’s a view on which to build a religiously informed counter-culture; it’s not view that is likely to do much in the culture at large — other than, as I said, create a space for I’m-more-radical-than-you, I-told-you-so jeremiads and, ultimately, a kind of angry and alienated disaffection from the society at large.

  46. Billy says:

    I feel a little guilty in posting this since I have nothing pertinent to add to this discussion, but I do want to thank David Blankenhorn, Barry Deutsch, JHW, Ned Flaherty, La Lubu, and Phil for making excellent points and penetrating observations. This discussion is a real contribution to clearing out the question-begging and irrationalities that the anti-ssm crowd has been propagating for some time now, but which increasingly seems strident and special pleading as they grow ever more desperate as the world-wide movement for equal rights makes progress. Thank you.

  47. Jason Jackson says:

    Kevin,

    is particularly insulting to straight people, who evidently are so irresponsible with their own flesh and blood that they’ll abandon their children unless incentivized. I have a higher opinion of straight people, but let’s go with it.

    Mind looking at the data which shows a whole ton of dads abandoning their children? Or 41% of births out of wedlock? You are denying the core of the problem. The commitment to marry does change incentives.

    Second, encouraging gay couples to marry accomplishes the same thing that that you say marriage was invented for anyway: staying together to raise the children.

    Fair enough, but you only got to this point in your argument by first arguing children are irrelevant to marriage. So you can’t argue that social norms about gays will work the same way as for straights, when you deny the same social norms are relevant for straights in the first place.

    Mr. Blakenhorn:

    At best, then, it’s a view on which to build a religiously informed counter-culture; it’s not view that is likely to do much in the culture at large — other than, as I said, create a space for I’m-more-radical-than-you, I-told-you-so jeremiads and, ultimately, a kind of angry and alienated disaffection from the society at large

    I truly respect your view, and I was absolutely not staying stop the marginal work.

    As a more direct response, I note that as long as the heat is on, the frog will boil. Yes, we can put colder water in the pot (which is a nobel cause in and of itself), but as long as the heat is on, that’s only a delay tactic.

    All:
    I’ve commented enough. Have fun ripping me apart. And please don’t ask me questions– There is a comment limit, and I want to follow that to some degree by stopping now.

  48. Kevin says:

    I think marriage was invented so that men could secure and formalize wives as property.

    Well, that is pretty much what Engels said in his famous old book on the origins of the family, and that is pretty what Marxists everywhere have said ever since. And it never ceases to amaze me how often left-of-center people who are not Marxists and who have never read Engels repeat that idea, even today.

    And it’s become even more popular in recent years, in the gay marriage debate, as people who are pro gay marriage look for pretty much any argument available to suggest that traditional marriage has generally been a very very bad thing in human history, which therefore makes marriage’s modernization via gay marriage even more of a logical necessity. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this argument, I’d be in the tax bracket that that the people in Washington are now food-fighting about.

    But Kevin, recognizing that this not the forum to explore this topic in the detail that would be required to settle the matter to your satisifaction, or to mine, permit me simply to register the opinion, based on having read as much of the relevant anthropological literature on this topic as I’ve been able to locate, that it is simply not true that marriage originated in human groups due to the male’s desire to turn women into property. Instead, marriage originated primarily due to the fact that we humans are sexually embodied creatures who reproduce sexually and give birth to infants who need extensive care over a long period of time and who therefore are more likely to survive when both parents, and not just one (as in the case with most primates), care for the young.

    I know that stating this thesis does not prove it. And I know that some smart people with high credentials will disagree. But there it is, for what it’s worth.

  49. Kevin says:

    It remains, David and Jason, that for whatever reason marriage was invented, it has evolved in form, purpose and practice. Today’s marriage argument, whether to allow gay people to marry, is not in any way decided by discussing what the original purpose of marriage was. The question is, therefore, do we make yet another change to the current state of marriage and allow same-sex couples to marry? If not, why not?

    It’s been said a thousand times now: if marriage is exclusively about procreation and child-rearing, why are infertile straight couples allowed to marry? How can this very same reason that is used to exclude gay couples be used to include some straight couples?

  50. “Let’s Reason Together About Marriage, Mr. Blankenhorn”

    When the Institute for American Values asked me to write a short response to their new report on marriage, I was happy to oblige and am grateful they posted it. It turns out the president of IAV, David Blankenhorn, is decidedly unhappy with what I wrote, replying in his own piece: “No thank you. And, no thank you. It’s time for a new conversation.”

    In my response to the IAV report, I mentioned how odd it was that a report titled “The President’s Marriage Agenda” never once says what marriage is. I asked, “How successful can a ‘new conversation on marriage’ be when its leaders can’t even say what marriage is?”

    Blankenhorn’s response fails—again—to say a word about what marriage is. So the question remains: What is marriage?

    We have yet to hear how redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships provides a rationale for marital norms IAV seeks to promote.

    Blankenhorn summarizes my argument thus:

    Ryan Anderson’s core argument is that no one can do or say anything effectively to strengthen marriage without first agreeing with him that gay marriage is bad. How does that sound, as a basic idea?

    He goes on to argue that he changed his position on redefining marriage so that he could

    get out of the very box that Ryan Anderson wants to put me and everyone else in — the little box inside of which the culture war on gay marriage must precede and overwhelm and define everything else.

    No thank you. And, no thank you. And I can report from personal experience that the air is much easier to breath, [sic] once you are outside that stifling little box.

    Nothing good can happen until we all agree with him on matters of definitions and core principles? Really? I must have missed that memo.

    Of course that’s not what I argued, and Blankenhorn quotes nothing I actually wrote to support his assertions. Instead he simply makes something up:

    And for those who, like Mr. Ryan, can only say “Oh no! You must jump in my little definition box until I say it’s OK for to come out and do something else,” I say, no thank you. And, no thank you.

    My piece on the report made arguments—something entirely missing from Blankenhorn’s series of bald assertions—about why not talking about what marriage is makes advancing a marriage agenda difficult, and why redefining marriage to exclude sexual complementarity is at odds with the goals that Blankenhorn and I both share as far as building a marriage culture goes.

    I asked specific questions, questions that Blankenhorn never bothered to even attempt to answer:

    The authors [of the IAV report] encourage President Obama to embrace his position as “a cultural leader who can inspire citizens, especially young people,” because “if we are to strengthen marriage and families in America, ultimately this will happen because young people want to bond with one another and give their children the gift of their father and mother in a lasting marriage.” But how can President Obama stress the importance of fathers and mothers while supporting the redefinition of marriage to exclude sexual complementarity?

    And I added:

    The authors propose that the United States ban anonymity in sperm donation “and reinforce the consistent message that fathers matter.” But how does marriage policy reinforce that message if it redefines marriage to say that mothers and fathers—one of each—are optional for marriage? How does redefining marriage to include lesbian relationships not further incentivize the type of anonymous sperm donation and resulting fatherless children that the authors protest?

    Had Blankenhorn answered these questions and showed how the “President’s Marriage Agenda” is compatible with redefining marriage, he might have written a more constructive response.

    Instead Blankenhorn engages in ad hominem:

    Ryan Anderson wants to sit up in philosophical heaven and shout “Stop!” until until [sic] all definitions are agreed on and all principles are understood and accepted. And it just so happens that he already knows exactly what those definitions and principles are — so all we have do in practice is agree with him, and once we do, we can then (but only then) feel free to try to go to work in the real world to strengthen marriage. I view that as a fairly brassy and arrogant demand.

    And he concludes:

    The fundamental implication of Mr. Ryan’s argument is that by definition nothing can be said or done in the U.S. to strengthen marriage that is not premised in opposition to gay marriage. That’s the box that he wants us all to be in.

    The argument I made in my piece responding to the report—like the arguments I made in the various linked articles such as arguments in my new book What Is Marriage?—are all at the service of discovering the truth about marriage and better understanding why and how that truth matters. It’s not about agreeing with me, it’s about discovering and understanding the reality about marriage, and then moving law and policy and culture closer to a better embrace of and adherence to that truth—because the truth about marriage matters for law and policy and culture.

    David Blankenhorn is free to conclude that I’ve gotten it wrong, and he could help move the conversation along by pointing out the mistakes that I’ve made. However, that would require engaging with my arguments, countering the reasons I offered with reasons of his own, answering my questions to show how squaring this circle is possible.

    Blankenhorn is also free to conclude that there simply is no truth about marriage, or that none of us can know the truth, or that the truth doesn’t matter for law, policy and culture. But then again, I’d want to hear arguments and reasons why—not just heated rhetoric.