Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Smith on "marriage," "equality," and question-begging

Following up on Michael's post regarding Andy Koppelman's review of George et al.'s book (phew!) . . . here's a piece by Prof. Steven Smith, with whose work I imagine most of us are familiar, from Public Discourse, called "The Red Herring of 'Marriage Equality.'"  As both the George et al. book and Andy's review of it remind us, it is not possible to avoid, in the argument / debate / conversation about same-sex marriage and whether its legal recognition is constitutionally or morally required, the question of what "marriage" is.  And, I'm inclined to agree with Steve that, often, the appeal to "equality" (as in "marriage equality") in this context unhelpfully skips past this question, or assumes a contestable answer to it.  (And, Andy would say, in response, that those who oppose legal recognition of same-sex marriage do the same thing.) 

This sometimes happens, of course, in the abortion debate, too, when the question is framed as "why shouldn't a woman have the right to decide what to do with a part of her body?" when, after all, those who abortion would agree that (generally speaking) we all have a right to decide what to do with a "part of [our] bodies" -- the right question is, "is the unborn child, for purposes of answering a question about what we may do to him or her, a person?"   


Garnett, Rick | Permalink


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I agree with Prof. Smith's point, but think it's unfortunate that he chose the illustrative example of the not granting driver's licenses to blind people, inviting those disinclined to listen to say that he's comparing same sex attraction to a defect like blindness, and thus opposition to same sex marriage must be grounded in the notion that same sex attraction is some kind of defect.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Mar 27, 2013 11:40:39 AM

If you follow the Holy Father's definition, it is a defect, seriously disordered. If it were not a psychological defect, why are we having the debate. It has been illegal to engage in sodomy for centuries and suddenly it is OK? Homosexual acts clearly violate natural law. A man and a man or a woman and a woman can NOT become one flesh as the Word of God says happens in Christian marriage. By what definition are homosexual act NOT defective?

Posted by: Mac Boney | Mar 27, 2013 11:50:43 AM

I never read the Holy Father's definition that way. It is a "disordered desire", in that it is not ordered to the good, similar to a married heterosexual man's attraction to a woman who is not his wife.

If the argument is dependent on the assumption that same sex attracted individuals are intrinsically defective, then it's an argument that deserves to lose.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Mar 27, 2013 12:39:57 PM

A complaint about the rhetorical use of the word "equality" seems like pretty weak tea to me. Which rhetorical slogan cannot be accused of skipping past important questions? "Religious liberty", anyone?

Posted by: WmBrennan | Mar 27, 2013 1:02:48 PM

WmBrennan -- true enough. As everyone knows, almost any abstraction can be deployed in a way that (conveniently) skips past obstacles and dodges hard questions. I guess I think -- with Westen, etc. -- that this skipping is *particularly* common, though, with respect to this *particular* abstraction ("equality"), as one sees in the debates about anti-discrimination laws.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Mar 27, 2013 2:54:55 PM

Professor Garnett, with all due respect to Professor Smith, it is unreasonable to suggest that existing in relationship as husband and wife is not a necessary requirement for Marriage.

Posted by: N.D. | Mar 27, 2013 3:27:54 PM

Is the legal recognition of same-sex marriage constitutionally required? Only if the principle of equality under the law is a constitutional mandate; most think it is; as do I.

Whatever marriage is, it long ago was legally and culturally severed from procreation and child-rearing, so those matters no longer are legitimate requisites to marriage.

The fault in Smith’s example of drivers’ licenses and blind people is that allowing the blind to drive is a hazard to all. Recognizing same-sex marriage is a hazard to no one.

With respect to the Pope, I know gays and lesbians, and I know that their lives are not “seriously disordered”.

Does homosexual conduct violate natural law? No. Homosexuality is natural; it is a trait given by nature; homosexual activity violates no law of nature. Honest people may disagree on that point, but one person’s opinion should not impose limits on the harmless conduct of others.

The comment on Religious Liberty (from WmBrennan) should remind us that gays and lesbians ALSO have religious rights; forbidding them to marry on religious grounds violates their religious rights. Often comments couch their concerns in terms of “moral” grounds, but usually those turn out to be moral principles peculiar to particular religious viewpoints. To impose those unnecessarily on others is a violation of Religious Liberty.

It is quite reasonable to suggest that gender-specific terms like husband and wife are not necessary to marriage; no more than a dowery is.

I’d love to be able to comment on the nonsense in Robert Araujo’s post (which followed this one chronologically) but comments are not permitted. Just as well, his comments would not withstand scrutiny.

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | Mar 27, 2013 5:39:35 PM


Prof. Smith's case does not rest on there being a hazard (though this is another reason why his choice of illustrative example was unfortunate). It was that the principle that similar cases be treated similarly. In Prof. Smith's opinion, that heterosexual couples ordinarily produce children and same-sex couples do not is sufficient reason to treat them differently. There would be no immediate hazard to, for example, allowing minor children to vote, but the principle of equality under the law does not demand it.

What I think you and other advocates need to recognize is that for may of those opposed, marriage is still about pro-creation, at least in theory. This is seen as valuable -- it is what ensures a child to know that her mother and father are committed to staying together and raising them, and that this has value, and eroding this norm does cause harm.

Now, I am of the opinion that our culture's concept of marriage has drifted sufficiently that this is norm is no longer operable, and thus continued opposition to same sex marriage is no longer prudent, and we should instead focus our energy on strengthening these norms in this new context. But I understand those who have not yet given up, and I'm not 100% sure they're wrong, and I'm finding the carnival of self-congratulation I've been seeing in my FB and Twitter streams the last couple days more than a little off-putting, if understandable.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Mar 27, 2013 6:23:20 PM

Sean, the fact that we exist in relationship as husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, is not a matter of opinion. The fact that some do not respect the Sanctity of Marriage, does not change the essence of Marriage. One should never underestimate the value of a Loving friendship that desires only that which is Good for the other.

Posted by: N.D. | Mar 27, 2013 7:02:26 PM

Rick, I guess we have different intuitions about how commonly "equality" is deployed to skip hard questions as compared to other popular abstractions (e.g., liberty, fairness, freedom, democracy, justice, rights, etc.).

I will note, however, that I think that Smith's own formulation of what is really at stake engages in its own obstacle-skipping: "So the real disagreement is not about equality, but rather about what marriage is, or what it should be thought to include." I think this framing improperly omits acknowledging that the matter under discussion is the legal definition of civil marriage. Many people (inlcuding in this comment thread) respond to Smith's formulation by arguing as if the courts were empowered to weigh and approve their explicitly theological or revelation-based arguments. I am sure you agree that the courts may not do so. I am not suggesting that this is somehow deeply problematic for Smith to have slanted his rhetoric this way in a brief internet posting, just pointing out that we shouldn't be too upset to find that slogans and very brief arguments are reductive.

Posted by: WmBrennan | Mar 28, 2013 10:04:54 AM


In general, similar cases should be treated similarly. If the “fact” that “heterosexual couples ordinarily produce children” is sufficient to treat same-sex couples differently because they do not, then we would also use that fact to bar marriage of infertile couples (due to age or infirmity). But we do not. Our bar marriage to same-sex marriage has nothing to do with whether a couple will “ordinarily produce children”. That being the case, the difference Professor rests on is not valid. Same-sex couples are very similar to infertile different-sex couples whose failure to “ordinarily produce children” is not regarded as important. So why is it suddenly important re. same-sex couples?

I recognize that for many who oppose same-sex marriage, they still think of marriage as being about procreation. That’s fine, but since a same-sex marriage does not interfere with different-sex marriages or their procreation, this question is really about Justice. Should one group of people be barred from harmless marriages because another group has a particular opinion about marriage?

You speak of “eroding” the norm of marriage, but allowing ANY childless couple to marry “erodes” this norm, so we are back to wondering why non-procreative different-sex marriages are celebrated. A same-sex marriage in no way interferes with a child’s relationship with their parents. The “harm” is imaginary.

You are correct about one thing: “we should instead focus our energy on strengthening these norms”. When you do, you will find many things threaten the norm: principally career and financial pressures, and the ready acceptance of disposable marriages (think of the lavish marriage between Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries which lasted all of 72 days.) What you will not find is any harm from same-sex marriages. They are harmless to the “norm”. Who your neighbor marries has no effect on your own marriage.

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | Mar 28, 2013 10:38:10 AM


The “fact that we exist in relationship as husbands [and] wives” is not a matter of opinion, but it is also not a matter of nature nor logic. Until recently, those were the only marital relationships ALLOWED BY LAW. This effort is to change LAW, nature cares not either way.

Same-sex couples respect the sanctity of marriage as much as different-sex couples; that’s part of why they want to be able to marry.

I agree whole-heartedly with you on this point: One should never underestimate the value of a Loving friendship that desires only that which is Good for the other. That describes several same-sex couples I could name if I chose to.

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | Mar 28, 2013 10:39:41 AM

Sean, same-sex sexual acts do not respect the inherent personal and relational Dignity of the human person and are thus not acts of Love.

Posted by: Nancy | Mar 28, 2013 12:22:52 PM

Nancy, you are entitled to your opinion, but it is no more than that, and imposing your beliefs on others violates their Religious Liberties. When same-sex couples ignore your beliefs, their conduct does neither you nor anyone else any harm.

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | Mar 28, 2013 1:42:54 PM

Sean, with all do respect, assigning personhood to sexual preference or inclination, does not change the fact that a man remains a man, a woman remains a woman, and sexual acts and sexual relationships are not equal. The State does not have the authority to condone any type of sexual act or sexual relationship that does not serve the Good of the husband, the Good of the wife, or the Good of the new family that is created when a man or woman are united as husband and wife. Defining oneself or someone else as an object of sexual desire, does, in fact, demean the inherent Dignity of the human person. Most of our Civil Rights are grounded in the inherent Right of all persons to be treated with Dignity and Respect, even if one does not desire to recognize this fundamental, unalienable Right, to begin with.

Posted by: N.D. | Mar 28, 2013 2:41:40 PM

I read Robert George’s comment above; “What is Marriage?” which seems to invite comments: “Nothing would please me more than for people to read through these exchanges and decide for themselves who is offering the superior argument” he writes, but alas! comments are not permitted.

I followed the links provided. Reading these thinkers in their attempt to figure out what marriage is, I conclude this is primarily an empty, academic exercise. How did we ever get married before these big-heads told us what we were doing?

Snarkiness aside, it seems these people are debating something completely independent of what marriage actually is out here in the real world. The “institution of marriage” is most meaningfully the consensus of practices and beliefs in the community, it is not a Mandate from On High.

It hardly matters who has the superior argument, it seems to resemble angelic, pin-head choreography. It may be intensely interesting to philosophers and other theoreticians; to those of us out here in actual marriages (26 years this July) it is irrelevant.

Certainly in the context of same-sex marriage, it is ludicrous. A marriage is whatever the two want it to be, and as long as they agree voluntarily and harm no one (including each other), then no chorus of thinkers have the standing to tell them they’re “doing it wrong”.

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | Mar 28, 2013 3:12:50 PM


I confess I cannot make out what your first sentence is about; “assigning personhood to sexual preference or inclination”; what is that about?

Regarding “sexual acts and sexual relationships are not equal”; they need not be. Homosexual and heterosexual persons ARE EQUALS. So they are entitled to equal protection of the laws. This is not about giving equality to acts or relationships; it’s about recognizing the equality of PERSONS.

Recognizing same-sex marriage is not about condoning it but–ahem–RECOGNIZING it. Recognizing same-sex marriage is about condoning the rights of individuals to make their own choices. Recognizing same-sex marriage is about condoning the right of two gay or lesbian persons to choose to form their marriage with all the same legal recognition and status as any two equivalent heterosexuals. This recognition treats gays and lesbians with the “Dignity and Respect” on which you say all civil rights are founded. Refusing to recognize same-sex marriages violates this “fundamental, unalienable Right”.

It is not for you (or the State) to decide when a voluntary, non-violent, non-coercive relationship between consenting adults is “demeaning”. You think a same-sex relationship is demeaning; gays and lesbians vehemently disagree. Why should your opinion (and it is nothing more than an opinion.) control their lives? Their choices impose nothing on you but the duty to let them decide about their own lives.

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | Mar 28, 2013 3:36:38 PM

Sean, since you believe" marriage is whatever the two want it to be" and thus any two people can declare that they are married to each other, is your argument that persons existing in relationship as a husband and wife, along with their children should not get any special benefits?

Posted by: N.D. | Mar 28, 2013 3:37:35 PM


Fair question. If two people are already married, and one of them wishes to be married to a third person, then the prior marriage must be dealt with first. This situation already happens, and usually results in a divorce followed by a second marriage for the wandering spouse; second marriages being a “triumph of hope over experience”! Nothing new here.

Recall that my statement was longer than what you snipped out. I said that “A marriage is whatever the two want it to be, and as long as they agree voluntarily and harm no one (including each other), then no chorus of thinkers have the standing to tell them they’re ‘doing it wrong’.” An unfaithful spouse is harming their partner (and any involved children) so others DO HAVE STANDING to interfere in that case.

Regarding your comment,“...and thus any two people can declare that they are married to each other”; that does not follow. The two can decide what they want their marriage to be, but that does not give any two persons to create the marriage without regard to harm to others or to legal process. Legal recognition fairly requires some formality to record the marriage. Otherwise, this is nothing new.

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | Mar 28, 2013 4:01:26 PM

Sean, my question was, is your argument that persons existing in relationship as a husband and wife, along with their children should not get any special benefits? Obviously, if you believe a couple can define the essence of Marriage so that the definition of marriage becomes "whatever the two want it to be", the two can redefine the essence of that which is harmful and that which is Good.

Posted by: N.D. | Mar 28, 2013 4:32:09 PM


I’ve already answered your question. That situation already occurs; it is handled already under divorce law; the betrayed spouse and children are entitled to the benefits divorce law already provides; I fully support those benefits.

Again you truncate my statement and then ask questions about matters addressed in the part of my statement you chose to omit. I am not sure what the purpose of that tactic is.

Marriage is whatever the two want it to be as long as they agree voluntarily about it and harm no one (including each other).

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | Mar 28, 2013 5:22:22 PM

Sean, I asked you a simple question, that requires a simple yes or no.

Posted by: N.D. | Mar 28, 2013 5:54:34 PM


If you've been reading my replies, you already have your answer. If there's some ambiguity, please tell me what it might be.

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | Mar 28, 2013 7:24:06 PM

As long as we're discussing the use of "equality", we should discuss Araujo's understanding of that concept in the following post. Araujo clearly accepts that Virginia had the better argument in Loving v. Virginia by arguing that all that equality demands is that everyone is, formally speaking, disabled in their choice of marriage partner by reference to the same quality. In Loving, the state argued that persons of any race were "equally" disabled from marrying a person of another race; and now, in Araujo's words:

"The final point I’ll offer today is this: heterosexual, homosexual, bi-sexual, transgendered, and sexually questioning persons share the same position under Proposition 8 which treats all alike. No heterosexual man can marry another man regardless of his orientation. No homosexual man can marry another man regardless of his orientation. No heterosexual woman can marry another woman regardless of her orientation. No homosexual woman can marry another woman regardless of her orientation.

This is not inequality; rather it is equality pure and simple."

I say that the Virginia/Araujo argument is seriously wrong. The "equality" they point to is purely formal and specious. Moreover, that conception of equality has been discredited thoroughly for decades now and to rely on it reveals only the desperation and lack of moral sense of those who continue to promote it. If (a big if) SSM is bad policy, it cannot be for this reason.

I am curious to see if Rick and others here agree.

Posted by: WmBrennan | Mar 29, 2013 11:34:26 AM

The Virginia argument simply affirms that regardless of one's ancestry, a son or daughter of a human person, who grows up to be a man or woman, has an inherent right, if he is a man, to choose a woman to be his wife, and if she is a woman, to choose a man to be her husband.

Posted by: N.D. | Mar 29, 2013 11:56:05 AM

WmBrennan -- Your objections to Fr. Araujo confirm, it seems to me, at least part of what Prof. Smith was suggesting, namely, that "equality" only "works" in moral argument when there is agreement as to whether or not the cases in question are "like" cases, in a meaningful way. A claim that "X and Y are being treated the same, therefore 'equality' is being respected" does not work if, for some morally relevant reason, X and Y are *not* similarly situated with respect to the treatment in question, or if it is not the case that they are *actually* (as opposed to apparently) being treated the same. So, it seems to me that the "marriage equality" argument only works -- and, indeed, it is a powerful argument -- if "marriage" is what, say, Andy Koppelman says it is, in his review, and it is not what George et al. say it is in theirs. And, it seems to me that's what is in dispute, not whether everyone should have "equal" access to "marriage." So, as things stand, how do we decide -- and, with respect to the Court cases, *who* should decide -- whether Andy K. or Robby G. is right about this? Or, perhaps the better question is, "since there is no way we are going to reach consensus regarding the 'who is right about what 'marriage' is?" question, how should we decide -- constitutional litigation or persuasion-and-politics -- what our policy should be?" My own sense is that public opinion is and has been moving toward Andy's view, and so I expect that persuasion-and-politics will result in more states (but probably not all) adopting SSM. And, my hope is that this happens without bullying and name-calling, or conversation-stopping epithets, and with reasonable accommodations for those who disagree.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Mar 29, 2013 12:00:41 PM

As I understand most of the arguments against same-sex marriage I have read here and on First Things, if they are correct, the Supreme Court should rule in the California case that same-sex couples have no right to marry in that state because there can be no such thing as same-sex marriage. And the Supreme Court should uphold DOMA on the grounds that the federal government does not have to treat same-sex "married" couples as married in states that permit same-sex marriage because those couples are in fact not really married couples at all. But is there any chance of that happening at all?

It seems to me that if the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA on the grounds that marriage is defined by the states, and the federal government must accept decisions about marriage of the states, it is acknowledging that same-sex marriage is indeed marriage and not some kind of legal fiction or logical impossibility.

Posted by: David Nickol | Mar 29, 2013 12:04:07 PM

Professor Garnett, do you believe that same-sex sexual acts serve the Good of the persons engaging in those acts and thus it is reasonable to condone and affirm same sex sexual relationships and thus same sex sexual acts?

Posted by: N.D. | Mar 29, 2013 12:13:38 PM

At the end of the Day, we can know through Faith and reason, The Truth of Love. To whom much has been given much more will be expected, for when Christ comes again, how can He say, "Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing", when The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us? I rest my case and wish you all Peace In Christ.

Posted by: N.D. | Mar 29, 2013 12:27:21 PM

Hi Professor Garnett,

And that's what I hope for, as well. I also hope that we don't have the same resolution that we've had in some of the state cases where the local Catholic Charities was forced out of the adoption business. I think that's a crying shame and that there has to be accommodations on this for all involved.

On a different note, Go Green, Go White tonight!

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Mar 29, 2013 1:18:31 PM

It seems to me that most of the arguments against same-sex marriage is that it is an oxymoron. There simply can't *be* a marriage between two men or two women. But what are the odds of the Supreme Court deciding the Proposition 8 case or the DOMA case based on those arguments? It would appear they are extraordinarily slim to zero. The court has the power in its hands to end the entire same-sex marriage movement with these two decisions by declaring that states cannot permit same-sex marriage because no such thing as same-sex marriage exists. But does anybody expect that to happen?

Posted by: David Nickol | Mar 29, 2013 3:24:14 PM

David, *no* one thinks (I *think*)that the Constitution does not *permit* states to adopt a definition of "marriage" that includes same-sex unions (even though, of course, many believe that such a definition would not accord with what "marriage" in fact is). So, you are right, the Court will not say -- but no one is asking it to say -- that states cannot permit same-sex marriage. The most they'll say (and the most that, I think, they are being asked to say) is that the Constitution does not require states to adopt definitions of "marriage" that include same-sex unions. (In this sense, the debate is different from the abortion one, where there *are* arguments made that the Equal Protection Clause requires the states to protect unborn and born people -- all "persons" -- alike from violence.)

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Mar 29, 2013 3:59:39 PM

N.D. wrote that “The Virginia argument simply affirms that regardless of one's ancestry, a son or daughter of a human person, who grows up to be a man or woman, has an inherent right, if he is a man, to choose a woman to be his wife, and if she is a woman, to choose a man to be her husband.”

If all men were the same as other men, and all women likewise, this claim might be valid. The problem is that some men are born to seek intimacy with women, some men are born to seek intimacy with men. Likewise for women.

To treat all men as if they were part of the first group and not the second is inherently UNEQUAL. The first group is permitted (Nay! Encouraged!) to marry someone to whom they are naturally attracted. The second group is forbidden to marry someone to whom they are naturally attracted, and reviled for seeking that right. Likewise for women.

The argument for same-sex marriage is more powerful than even Loving had; there’s little evidence of an natural orientation toward persons of a different ethnicity; there’s abundant evidence that sexual orientation (hetero- or homosexual) is naturally determined.

To borrow from WmBrennan, in the matter of sexual orientation, not all people are “like cases” in a meaningful sense. The Law must take these differences into account in order to approximate Justice.

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | Mar 29, 2013 4:01:24 PM


I was not trying to be provocative. I should have made it clear that I was speaking about most of the arguments I encounter in places like First Things or even here, not the legal arguments made in briefs to the Supreme Court. Apologies.

The underlying argument, for example, of Girgis, Anderson, and George is that marriage is something objectively real, and there can't possibly be a marriage between two men or two women. Consequently, government should not approve same-sex "marriage." I don't suppose the argument means that government *can't* permit same-sex marriage, but it is certainly true that if government does permit same-sex marriage, it may be *legal* marriage, but it is not *real* marriage.

I have indeed encountered many people (none of them lawyers, that I know of) who insist that same-sex married couples are not even *legally* married, because government can't "redefine" marriage any more than it can repeal the law of gravity. A government decree that people are weightless will not make them float. Marriage precedes government, and consequently government can't make marriage something that it is not.

I can now quote you to the people who argue that government doesn't have the power to "redefine" marriage. My answer is that obviously government does, because the governments of eleven countries and nine states *have* redefined marriage.

Posted by: David Nickol | Mar 29, 2013 5:28:58 PM

Hi David -- I understand Anderson et al. the way you do. And, I'm not sure why there's any point in quoting what I write in a blog-post-comment to anyone, for any purpose. (I'm reminded of Garner's description of the worth of the vice-presidency.) In any event, the fact that government can, obviously (to me), "redefine" the positive-law category of "marriage" does not necessarily mean that Andy is right that "marriage" really *is* just "constructed" by positive law or that positive law can change what "marriage" (as a pre-political institution, etc.) is. This is, again, what I understand to be in dispute.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Mar 29, 2013 6:16:04 PM

Rick, I do think that your (and Smith's) criticism of how "equality" is (mis-)used
has some bite. But I don't think that equality claims ought to be entirely abandoned either, as the concept is central to American's view of our ourselves and our country's project -- we are "a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" (as Smith references). Even acknowledging there are limits on the usefulness of equality claims, however, I think it is legitimate to point out that Araujo's adaption of Virginia's discredited "equality" argument is particularly wrong-headed.

Posted by: WmBrennan | Mar 30, 2013 8:45:19 AM

Dear WmBrennan -- I agree, and I don't think Steve's suggestion would be to discard the idea as "empty"; just to be sensitive to the ways in which the invocation of "equality" usually cannot, all by itself, answer an important moral question. I tried to flesh out this idea, FWIW, in this paper: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2087599

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Mar 30, 2013 11:05:25 AM


We still call a car whose engine has been removed a "car" without changing the essence of what a car is. But we would not set out to build a car without an engine, or a place where an engine would go.

To me, this is the difference between recognizing the marriages of infertile heterosexual couples (even ones that are obviously and permanently infertile) and expanding marriage to include same sex couples.

A publicly infertile or non-procreative couple challenges the linkage between marriage and procreation, but does not break it. A same sex couple breaks it.

"Who your neighbor marries has no effect on your own marriage."

I disagree. Does a same sex marriage mean that I will go out and get divorced tomorrow. No. But it weakens what me mean when we say we are married -- it means less than it did yesterday, in particular to our children. Again, many other societal developments driven by and used by heterosexuals have played a greater role in doing this, this vision is somewhat mystical, and thus perhaps not best enforced by civil law, but it is not "no effect."

Posted by: JohnMcG | Apr 1, 2013 5:57:17 PM


I appreciate your effort here, but I think your metaphor is weak and does you no service.

First, it’s not clear to me what the engine in your metaphor symbolizes; procreation? Children? But either way, the metaphor is not helpful to you.

Like a car without an engine, is a childless marriage a “broken-down” marriage? That is a cold, cruel thing to say.

Every day, like it or not, we “make cars” (marriages) without “engines” (procreation or children) and without places for “engines”; every day we “make cars” which are doomed to be torn apart when an “engine” is added; every day we “make cars” that are short-term and disposable. As you wrote, these problems have been created by heterosexuals, so banning same-sex marriage will not help, and is unfair.

The biggest problem with your metaphor is that neither children nor procreation have been essential to marriage for a very long time. A same-sex marriage cannot “break” the link between marriage and procreation; that link was removed long ago.

I simply do not understand how a same-sex marriage makes the meaning of marriage “less”? Less important? Less important to whom? Less exclusive (now you have to share)? Isn't sharing important? This claim of yours makes no sense to me.

Can’t speak for you, John, but what I and my wife meant when we got married has nothing to do with what others think; their marriages weaken our marriage not even a bit. If they weaken yours, that’s on you. My loyalty and fidelity are to my wife and my children, not to some fictional “institution”. Whatever you do in response to same-sex marriage, it is your doing, not the doing of same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage has no effect on you unless you GIVE it effect; that’s on you.

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | Apr 2, 2013 11:28:27 AM


Yes, it is broken down in a sense. It is without love? No. Is it all that marriage ought to be? No, it is not. You can flop on behalf of these couples if you want, but it doesn't change that truth.

But what effect does it have on the world? What effect does it have on children, who before that that their parents being married meant something (that they were in part united for their benefit) but it now means something else? Perhaps the spouse's commitment to each other is unchanged, but other's ability to count on it is. What one meant one thing now means something else.,

This is something. Perhaps not everything, and perhaps not even enough to outweigh the discriminatory effect of limiting marriage to same sex couples, but it is more than nothing.

You and your wife actually got married, rather than make private promises to each other, right? That seems to indicate the institution is something more than fictional. I do not plan on changing my behavior as a result of same sex marriage, but I will have a more difficult time assuring my children that marriage means that we are together, in part, for them,

Posted by: JohnMcG | Apr 3, 2013 6:46:49 PM


Perhaps a same-sex marriage is not “all that marriage ought to be”; but no marriage ever is. After all, we’re talking about ordinary people; not saints nor übermensch.

If a different-sex couple marries because, among other things, they want have children, then their children benefit that “they were in part united for their benefit”. Same-sex marriage does not change that at all. What any different-sex couple means by what they do is not altered by what someone else does. The whole notion that same-sex marriage changes ALL marriages is absurd. It does not change mine, nor yours nor any other. They still mean what they always meant.

If you have trouble “assuring your children that marriage means that you are together, in part, for them” then that’s on you. Same-sex marriage does not interfere with that. Marriage has always included childless couples; some by choice and some not. As long as your children are assured that you and your wife will be there for them, they will be fine. If this is unsatisfactory, then that’s on you. It worked for us so far.

sean s.

Posted by: sean samis | Apr 4, 2013 4:32:43 PM