Gay marriage panel

On November 2, from 1-3pm in the TSC Auditorium there will be a panel discussion on gay marriage.  It is called “Gays and Marriage: Religious Perspectives” and is sponsored by the Center for Women and Gender Lecture Series.  Representatives from various faith traditions will be on the panel – Episcopalian, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Buddhist, and Hindu.  I (Kleiner) will be the “practicing representative” of the Roman Catholic faith.

It sounds like the panel discussion was occasioned by the screening of the 8: A Mormon Proposition documentary last week.  The hope, as I understand it, is to gather together some religious perspectives with the aim of having a dialogue that does not simply throw gasoline on the fire.  The event is open to students, faculty, staff, and members of the community.


Author: Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.

32 thoughts on “Gay marriage panel”

  1. Rev. Susan Springer (St John’s Episcopal Church) – Episcopal
    Michael Sowder (USU English) – Buddhist
    William Duncan (Director, Marriage Law Foundation) – LDS
    Vikram Garg (Gastroenterologist/Internist) – Hindu
    Rabbi Ilana Schwartzman (Kol Ami Congregation) – Jewish
    Harrison Kleiner (USU Philosophy) – Catholic

    I think they are trying to scare up an Evangelical.

    My understanding is that this is not meant to be a debate, but rather a discussion that considers various religious perspectives.


  2. Any suggestions as to an article with good arguments against same-sex marriage to which a nonbeliever might be receptive? I’m having a hard time finding anything that doesn’t seem, ultimately, to depend upon either religious faith claims and/or dubious empirical claims.


  3. Sorry in advance for the inadequacy of this response – I am just too swamped with work to provide much more. So I am going to tap away for 5 minutes and let that be all that I can afford right now.

    No atheist/secular representative is planned. Why? Well, I was not an organizer of the event, but they want to limit it (for whatever reason) to religious perspectives. My guess is that this is because there was already a heavy dose of an anti-religious perspective in the Mormon Proposition movie. My sense is that they want to have a positive conversation, not a discussion that devolves into throwing gas on the fire. By limiting it to religious perspectives, you avoid at least one fire-fight.

    Rob – I don’t have a really great article at my fingertips. But, as you might predict, most arguments are going to be natural law arguments. You can find some old natural law arguments at You can find some “new natural law” arguments by googling Robert P. George. A popular article that comes to mind is this feature in the Times.

    While many arguments use Genesis language, I don’t think that makes them necessarily sectarian. Sexual difference is a reality and has to be accounted for. The arguments are typically going to insist that the primary teleological end of sex (the fulfillment of the unitive and procreative dimension of the covenant of marriage) is perfectly united to its biological function. In other words, the unitive and procreative acts are metaphysically related.

    To me, though, the gay marriage issue is starting to boil down to one issue. The state, it seems to me, has an interest in incentivizing those relationships wherein children can be made and raised in ideal environments. It is widely accepted that children reared by two parents are, as a general rule, better off than children raised by only one parent. But the issue is this – do children need mothers and fathers? If you read Judge Walker’s Prop 8 decision, he makes two basic claims.

    (a) The concept of fatherhood and motherhood are archaic and now meaningless. “Parenthood” is, as it were, neuter. To quote Walker, “the gender of a child’s parent is not a factor in a child’s adjustment”.
    (b) The absence of a biological attachment between parents and children has no impact, as a general rule, on the welfare of the child.
    Walker then concludes that the only possible explanation for bans on gay marriage is “animus”.

    Let me say that, minimally, (a) seems counter-intuitive to me. I suspect that we all share my own anecdotal experience here – while there is a range of gender expressions, my father was qua being a father a different kind of parent than my mother qua being a mother. My father provided me with a kind of formation and inculturation that was different than what my mother provided. Stereotypes abound here (Dad just told me to brush myself off when I fell, Mom doted, etc), and they abound here frankly for a reason. There is something to them. Having children of my own now is only confirming my suspicions about the real difference between mothers and fathers and the important and unique role each plays.

    In short, I am extremely dubious about Judge Walker’s dismissive attitude about the unique role of mothers and fathers. And I am skeptical about his claim that biological attachment is unimportant (there is actually a lot of social science on this). But can one quantify in a social science study the difference between mothers and fathers? I am not so sure. There is a decent pile of evidence that children do best in low-conflict homes with their biological mother and father. Walker depended heavily on the testimony of Dr. Lamb and a host of studies that some suggest are methodologically flawed. But I am not a social scientist or a statistician, so I am left unsure about all of this. Having no really delved into the studies, all I can say is that Walker’s claim certainly appears counter-intuitive to me.

    Point is, my view is less dependent on doomsday predictions. My view is not a consequentialist one, rather the natural law arguments suggest that there is something intrinsically disordered about certain sexual acts. So for me it is about the meaning of natural marriage (I would argue that marriage is a natural institution that arises out of natural needs and the pursuit of natural goods, and so not an institution whose fundamental meaning can be changed by positive law) and the importance of mothers and fathers. That said, I don’t think it simply crazy to suggest that the demotion of the unique role of fathers might undermine efforts to promote fatherhood in communities where the absence of fathers has caused seriously negative outcomes. I am reminded of Humanae Vitae. I don’t think the doomsday predications about the consequences of readily available contraception there are, by themselves, a very good argument (I think JPII makes a much better argument by looking to the natural meaning of sex). But still, if you look back to Humanae Vitae one is struck by just how many of those doomsday predictions came true. Janet Smith edits a nice collection on this point called “Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader”.


    1. “To me, though, the gay marriage issue is starting to boil down to one issue. The state, it seems to me, has an interest in incentivizing those relationships wherein children can be made and raised in ideal environments.”

      This is true. But should the interests of the state take priority over the interests of the people represented by the state? Should the state even have its own interests (separate from those of its people)? And isn’t it the obligation of the state to protect the equal rights of minorities?


      1. I’m assuming this is Dan the piano player. If so I believe we’ve talked about this before at your home (or, the paraphrase the movie Seven “the home the university has allowed you to have” :) ). Its true, the state should serve the populace and its interests (not always its wants), which is why our nation was founded partially on the notion that gov’t be grounded in the people. The consensus of citizenship in culture and values should be served and protected, and gay marriage has been voted down most of the time. If you want to say (you haven’t but could) that marriage is a right then it shouldn’t be up to the states/cities/provinces what have you anyway, it should be a right provided by THE state, the federal state, nation etc.
        How that ties into your question of a state interest is this. If a state is grounded in the people, then the state interest would be the interest of those people. The state can have an interest itself regarding a family (more healthy populace makes for more capital) but that interest should be grounded in service (that capital assists the state in better assisting its people, not so much through welfare but through needed projects or services like law enforcement). So the state interest is to better its human interest. An incentive toward healthy family serves the state itself but also the people in that family, as healthy youth growing assist the welfare of their parents and can gain the proper tools to establish a healthy family of their own through education culture and whatnot.
        So a state interest doesn’t take priority over the people’s interest, they are tied together, it would take priority however over their wants that might obstruct that interest. I might want to burn books I don’t like or adopt to gay couples, but those wants might not suit the interests (so think of interest here as need perhaps) of the people overall.

        This is why teh gay marriage debate is one worth having, though one having coherently, because the issue is one of great importance to the need of the people in the state, and therefore the need of the state.

        There are those who would say, what you alluded to in question, that the state only serves itself for itself and marriage incentives are just to simplify tax collection. Its entirely possible to have such a state, but as a Republic I don’t think it would work very long. State incentive is about big picture concept (healthy family for long term benefit of people and state) not short term (tax collection of that year, in the moment). If you are only voting for a politician because his short term goals appear to align with yours, there is then no grounds to remove him because he shifted position, since he was fundamentally going to do that anyway, but anger would result and apathy would set in and the republic would grind to a halt and become democracy and fall. Its possible that is what is happening to us now but we were not set up that way.

        As for the rights of minorities, it is true that a very thin minority of people are homosexual, with gray area of people who act but aren’t or whatnot (I’ve known and encountered both), and as they are human persons they are due rights on those grounds, and inso far as a state has not protected them that is a crime. Rights in our nation protect minority from the tyranny of majority, whatever that minority may mean. Whether or not marriage falls into that category is a question I’m still pondering, even though I support gay marriage.

        I also don’t know if homosexuals can be properly categorized as “minorities”, at least in the sense of what we normally mean by that (religions, ethnicity, race, country of origin etc). Homosexuality can be as “accidental” as those other qualities (I don’t choose my nature or my American status) but the argument could be made that it is different. I don’t think a man with a genetic disposition to alcoholism (yes I know this is a tired comparison but may work here) could be considered a minority even though he is in the margins of society.

        Sorry for the length again, Kleiner or someone else might have more clarity on that issue than me (wouldn’t be hard anyway).


    2. This is very helpful and informative, Kleiner. Many thanks. Although I’m incorrigibly captive to stereotypically liberal prejudices on this topic, some of the opposition’s arguments, like George’s, sure are more interesting to me than those made by folks with whom I agree.

      Brings to mind a couple recent studies:,8599,1994480,00.html


  4. You know me, Vince. I am as sympathetic to environmental concerns as anyone. But I simply reject the neo-malthusian / population bomb premise of your post. Every prediction made by the pop bomb types has been wrong. The truth is the opposite of what Malthus suggested – overpopulation does not cause poverty. Rather poverty and other factors (unjust distribution of resources, tribal warfare, etc) is a cause of overpopulation. Developed countries have dangerously low fertility rates and are facing a serious demographic crisis as a result (without younger workers, the CBO predicts that by 2035 federal debt held by the public will be 200% of GDP).

    My view: climate change and other serious environmental issues are not best dealt with by artificially limiting population through technology. Climate change is a function of over-consumption, not overpopulation. Places with high fertility rates have per capita carbon footprints that are something like 300 times smaller than the per capita carbon footprint of an American. Americans need to consume less or at least develop technologies so that their consumption has a lower carbon footprint. But to avert demographic crisis, they need to have more children. Human life is an intrinsic good, so it can never not be a value. As an environmentalist, my concern is not with population size but sustainability.


    1. Overconsumption is arguably the most serious of contemporary problems. This we can agree on. However it seems a simple task to grasp how overpopulation can be the cause of poverty. If a state has the means to adequately support a population of, lets say 1,000,000, it must maintain a population of less than or equal to 1,000,000 and maintain an equal distribution of goods. If the population was to exceed 1,000,000 the result is poverty. Other factors such as income inequality will only amplify this poverty.


    2. Again, I entirely disagree with Malthusian claims. The neo-Malthusian / pop bomb crowd has consistently underestimated the “carrying capacity” of earth. How many incorrect predictions will this crowd make before people stop taking it seriously? Malthus’ predictions were completely off the mark. The Ehrlichs (“Population Bomb” fame) predicted hundreds of millions of starvation deaths would come in the 1970s. The problem with these “carrying capacity” arguments is that they consistently underestimate human ingenuity. As it turns out technology/food capacity grows much faster than we ever expect, so we really have no idea what the carrying capacity limit of “spaceship earth” really is.

      Malthus thinks that overpopulation leads to poverty and hunger (by exceeding the carrying capacity). But the evidence suggests that the exact opposite is true – poverty and hunger lead to overpopulation. Development and fertility have an inverse relationship (to the point where Europe is not even replacing itself and so is facing a serious demographic crisis). The evidence suggests that the best way to reduce fertility rates, if that is an interest, is to encourage economic development and particularly the rights of women in the developing world.


    3. You seem to be focused on overpopulation of the world as a whole, if I am not mistaken. My focus is smaller scale overpopulation within regions where political and geographic boundaries confine a given population. Would you argue that even in this situation, or any situation for that matter, overpopulation cannot be the cause of poverty?


  5. Even if I accept Kleiner’s claim that it’s good for a kid to have mommy-type influences and daddy-type influences, I am not sure that those influences can be provided only by girl mommies and boy daddies. Moreover, I am not sure that the alleged good gained by having heterosexual moms and dads clearly outweighs the civil right of minorities to marry the people they love.


  6. Loooong post. Sorry about this ahead of time.

    “by girl mommies and boy daddies.”

    Does an antithesis exist? I’ve never met a male mother in my life or know how it would exist. Mothers and fathers are distinct kinds of things with distinct properties, in spite of the modern attempt to say it is only human categorization of things with no real existing value (modern Anthropology books, such as mine, are quick to say things like “race doesn’t exist” which I find a rather strange thing to hear growing up in the South).

    I know you didn’t mention race here but I know of your claims on it before and this follows from that founding principle. I might be wrong and am open to correction.

    I support gay marriage as I support marriage as a responsibility, something that has been horribly forgotten in the modern era, even by the gay marriage movement (t shirt jokes, and they are jokes but are taking hold in teh conversation, such as “gays have a right to be miserable just like everyone else”). If marriage is so trivial or constructed or something that doesn’t provide happiness then why fight for it at all? It is a good, a wonderful good, like sex, when expressed and done appropriately and responsibly, and can be destructive (or at least counter productive) when not done so.
    If we consider marriage a civil right then is it a right than can never be abridged? If we say no,it cannot be abridged, do we understand what that might entail? I would say many marriages, gay or straight, should probably be denied because they are not responsible or are fallacious (marrying for tax breaks or celebrity status). Going by the slippery slope, what then about the forced marriages of some polygamous camps? Where is the line between a civil right and an unjust or improper action?
    If those concerns have merit and we say yes it can be abridged, under what guidelines then do you draw such restrictions and how would gay marriage, in the big picture, fit into it?
    I’m willing to take away gov’t’s role in marriage because it has become so politicized and has lost cultural pull (marrying for money or status, has gone on forever but still may perhaps be fixed). I do not think marriage is a trivial or constructed issue any more than homosexuality is a temptation or some made up desire. If it has value and is real, then it is.
    However, where my arguments, if they’ve even been arguments to this point, run into a wall (i’ve tried talking to Kleiner about this) is this, I think to restore the sanctity of marriage as a responsibility and good in the world (which is the only kind of marriage gays ought to have interest in) the issue of fertility is paramount, that the marriage is about more than just the two people joining hands, it is both about the life they may create (children, or perhaps for each other for some) and the Good that they aspire and pledge an oath to. This is fairly sectarian and I can’t talk my way around well, but I think that transcendant good and responsibility must stay paramount for marriage.

    The problem then is with gay marriage which is held from producing life in the fertile sense. I am still wanting to say that insofar as the marriage still seeks a good end and responsible end, it should be promoted, and gay marriage doesn’t obstruct that in and of itself, though certain gay people, like certain straight people, do.

    Dumbing down marriage to a “civil right of a minority to marry the person or people they love” I think is going too far. Most marriages have not been about love at all, but about something else or serving some other purpose. That’s destructive as well. But love can be too easily manipulated without outside responsibility into a sort of good feeling or maybe even narcissism, and I’ve seen those marriages plenty, and they never end well.

    If marriage is just an action out of feelings, why is it so important to have? If being gay or black or whatnot is just a construct we create on people, why are they worthy of recognition as a minority, or as anything? If parenthood or childhood are just memes we use for convenience, why bother with laws that deal with child abuse?

    i’m not trying to play “gotcha” with any of this, since I don’t think they are those types of questions, my point (at long last) is I think it is a mistake to be a derridane deconstructionist (Huenemann, you’ve finally discovered your Ears for the Other!) with such things and then try to uphold their value. Its not a case of us constructing reality, its a case of us seeing reality however well we can and giving things their proper name, both good and bad, and seeking their end for the sake of Good. If there is no good to be sought, I just don’t see why we bother these things at all. If there are no rules to a good poker game, why bother shooting the guy with an ace up his sleeve?

    Sorry for the length.


    1. All I meant by my comment about boy/girl mommies/daddies was that if you take whatever behavioral qualities Kleiner likes about daddies/mommies, it seems to me those qualities might well be instantiated by members of either sex.


      1. Sorry about the long missing of the point :)

        But I would perhaps argue that what it is that mothers and fathers do is tied in specifically to their gender. My wife can probably teach my son how to play baseball just fine, but she cannot teach him fully how to be a man, just as I cannot teach fully how my daughter should be a woman.


  7. Dan, Huenemann, I reject the idea that this is a civil rights issue. I don’t think anyone (gay or straight) has a “fundamental right” to government recognition of their private feelings and associations. Gay people are already free to bind themselves before friends or their god. They are also already free to make medical decisions for each other, have hospital visitation rights, and estate privileges (they need only sign power of attorney documents and write wills). The question is whether or not there is a compelling state interest in recognizing certain private associations that have public significance, and whether same-sex unions fit that bill.

    As I understand it, the Equal Protection Clause does not require identical treatment in all cases, nor does it require equality in all of the laws (if it did, there would have been no need for the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote). The State treats not-for-profits in a way that is different than for-profit companies, and this does not violate Equal Protection. Why? Because the State has a narrowly defined compelling interest in encouraging not-for-profits and the work that they do. I am not a legal scholar, but I believe these differences fall under “reasonable purpose” instead of “strict scrutiny”. They do not concern matters of “fundamental rights” but are instead civic affairs. The laws demanding Equal Protection are just those laws of Due Process in the protection of fundamental rights.

    So also with Due Process. The due process clause protects only “those fundamental rights and liberties which are, objectively, ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition’” (Moore v City of Cleveland). There is nothing in precedent that would suggest that same sex marriage qualifies. Worth noting that none other than Obama nominee Elena Kagan has made this point: “Constitutional rights are a product of constitutional text as interpreted by courts and understood by the nation’s citizenry and its elected representatives. By this measure, which is the best measure I know for determining whether a constitutional right exists, there is no federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage.” Based on that, it would appear that Kagan will reject Judge Walker’s claim that marriage is a “fundamental right”.

    So the State treats lots of groups and people differently depending on various compelling State interests. The State should not be involved in marriage at all unless it has a compelling interest in being so involved. I made a case for a compelling public/State interest. Outside of that interest, it seems to me that the State should just get entirely out of the marriage business. Really, why should the state be involved in validating the private feelings of the populace outside of some compelling public interest?


    1. I agree that government should not be involved in the business of marriage, but given our current circumstances, don’t you think that gay couples at least deserve the right to claim joint taxes, be able to share insurance benefits, and be recognized by the state for legal purposes?

      How about if a male foreigner marries an American male and the couple decide to reside in the United States? Do you not think that it should be a legal marriage so that the former male can gain citizenship if the couple so chose to live in America?

      As a gay man, I can care less about the view points of those around me (though support does help). What I care is that I get legal rights just like everyone else given the circumstances. I want to be able to file jointly with my partner, to be on the same insurance plan, and to be legally binded in case anything else may come up that we may benefit from just like straight couples do. This really isn’t a social issue anymore; pride parades (though I am adamantly against them) do the trick. This is a political issue, and as most political issues go, and I completely reject the idea of having religious or social view points injected into it.


    2. If there is this thing called “marriage,” and certain rights and privileges accrue specifically to it, and then someone wants to introduce legislation restricting what kinds of people can enter into it, then there had better be very compelling reason for doing so, and reason that relates to the public good in some respectable, secular way. Up to this point, I haven’t seen evidence that advances very far beyond “Ewww.”


      1. Come on, Huenemann. I’ve come nowhere close to making an “ewww” argument. In fact, I don’t have any “ewww” at all. What has been provided has been a pretty serious account of the meaning of human sexuality and marriage, along with an account of mother/father parenting that minimally has plausibility. You don’t have to buy it, but I do think it deserves better than to be treated as a front for “ewww” distaste. This is the ridiculous thing with this debate, no one can object to gay marriage without being accused of having some primitive and unreflective mere distaste for homosexuality or, worse, outright animus.

        Has anyone here made much of an argument FOR a revised understanding of marriage, aside from slogans about supposed “rights”? Perhaps no one else finds my arguments compelling, but at least I have made arguments.


      2. Yesterday, in a discussion of this topic, after growing tired of so many patently nasty positions and implications being ungenerously pinned to an intelligent and courteous opponent of same-sex marriage, I tried to briefly assist him by turning the “ewww” factor against my fellow liberals in reiterating the question he had asked earlier, but which had essentially gone unanswered, asked by an opponent of same-sex marriage: do you oppose polygamy (and polyandry)?

        Now, there were a few folks, like me, glibly nonchalant about hedonic redefinition of marriage ( –a rather easy thing for serial quasi-monogamists with no pretensions to marriage or parenthood), but among most of them you could sense the rationalization hamsters in their minds working just as hard to rationalize their WEIRDly intuitive opposition to polygmay/polyandry as conservatives do to oppose same-sex marriage.


      3. I will admit that I am guilty of not properly researching the relevant natural law arguments. The little I have seen/heard has not been promising, as each argument turns on some totally unverifiable claim about the ways in which people are “meant” to develop loving unions, or (worse) the ways in which bodily parts are “meant” to be used. I call these arguments little more than “ewww” because the premises seem to me so implausible intellectually that I can only believe that what motivates intelligent people to present them is some hidden “ewww.”

        Consider this passage from the NYT article you linked to:

        “George argues that only vaginal intercourse — “procreative-type” sex acts, as George puts it — can consummate this “multilevel” mind-body union. Only in reproduction, unlike digestion, circulation, respiration or any other bodily function, do two individuals perform a single function and thus become, in effect, “one organism.” Each opposite-sex partner is incomplete for the task; yet together they create a “one-flesh union,” in the language of Scripture. “Their bodies become one (they are biologically united, and do not merely rub together) in coitus (and only in coitus), similarly to the way in which one’s heart, lungs and other organs form a unity by coordinating for the biological good of the whole,” George writes in a draft of his latest essay on the subject.”

        Is that an argument really worth taking seriously? I just can’t.

        An argument, per your request:
        1. Society has an interest in promoting stable relationships which allow for the moral development of children, concern for quality of schools and neighborhood, nourishing home environments, etc.

        2. One highly significant way to promote such relationships is by recognizing such unions as marriages, with all the benefits and rights that come along with the designation.

        3. There is no reason whatsoever to suspect that homosexual unions are any intrinsically less reliable than heterosexual ones in meeting the societal interests described in #1.

        4. Therefore, every reason society has for allowing and promoting heterosexual marriages also supports homosexual marriages.

        Now there may be evidence for thinking #3 is false. That sort of evidence I’d be interested in hearing and sorting through. But no more claims about what naturally fits where.


      4. That was similar to my impression of that portion of the NYT piece on George — pretty much how I regard all cerebration by smart religious folks: an interesting, almost fascinating, stimulus to imagine what sort of psychological mechanisms it takes to get from the “ewww” to esoteric precipitates of their apparently “self-develop[ing], cold, pure, divinely insouciant dialectic” (Nietzsche, BGE 5), such as that exquisitely frilly stuff in the quoted passage. Aesthetically, no argument I’ve heard from pro-same-sex marriage folks comes even close.

        As for #3, I armed myself with that recent longitudinal study on children with lesbian parents (which is still ongoing and, I think, will also be extended to gay couples) in the Journal of Pediatrics that found the kids fare better along several dimensions.

        Now, you can pick at the study, but as far as I can tell, it’s simply bunk to claim that empirical support exists for the notion that kids raise by lesbian or gay parents are worse off than under heteros. Of course, I welcome correction.


      5. I mean this in jest. Sort of.
        Huenemann and Rob – there is just no reasoning with you folks who are so totally enthralled with the desire to reduce everything to psychology! Why bother investigating the arguments if all that is at play is our own individual psychology? Of course the habit is to point out how others are making arguments just as cover for their own prejudices. But what psychological mechanisms are at work in your support of gay marriage?
        Keep in mind that if we insist on playing this game, no one has a really good reason for anything. So it hardly counts for much when you say my arguments are not compelling. ;)

        Regarding the studies. I am not a social scientist or a statistician. But there are experts in the field who think these studies are methodologically unsound. Complaints include that the studies “use insufficient sample sizes, self-selecting participants, draw premature conclusions based upon one-time self-reported snapshots rather than sustained temporal monitoring, failure to control for pertinent variables, a paucity of studies looking at gay fathers, and politicized methodology that casts doubt on the validity of the conclusions presented by those who authored or managed the studies.”

        My quotation here is from a legal brief a friend of a friend wrote on the matter. I will seek his permission to post it here. He lists a slew of citations for all of these claims. And I have seen, in his brief and other articles, reference made to the Affidavit of Prof Steven Lowell Nock in Halpern v. Attorney General of Canada on this point.

        I might add one more point. Since we are dealing here only with what requires reasonability, Judge Walker in the Prop 8 case was committed to the claim that it is “irrational” to think that children are better off with a biological mother and father. “Irrational”? Reading Huenemann’s premise 3, “no reason whatsoever for thinking …” just seems too strong. Is it really so perfectly obvious that there is no real difference between mothers and fathers and that biological connection matters not at all from the point of view of child development?

        And doesn’t the enormous mass of research showing that children do best with a biological mother and father count as at least a decent reason for thinking that there is something to mother/father and biological connection? What about the deposit of wisdom from the tradition that supports this view? Does that count as a reason? SCOTUS has been willing to uphold as rational the “commonsense” notion that children do best with a mother and father. (see Bowen v. Gilliard). In short, it seems ridiculously strong to insist that the view is “irrational”, though (as I understand it) in order to overturn Prop 8 that is the standard that must be met.


      6. Well, if there were evidence that children fare better with biological parents, you presumably would not use that evidence as a reason to deny marriage to heterosexual couples who couldn’t have children, right?


      7. Huenemann’s objection is a common one – what about infertile couples, etc? It is certainly true that not every marriage will or can produce children. We don’t have, nor do I think anyone is interested in proposing, fertility tests for marriage.

        How is this for a response: It is a question of “kind”. Heterosex unions are the kind of union that can produce children with biological mothers and fathers. To borrow from George, the acts fulfill the behavioral conditions of procreation, whether the non-behavioral condition happen to obtain or not. So, supposing that we could demonstrate that children are best with mothers and fathers, we would then have the State incentivize that kind of union which is capable of serving the state interest (without the unnecessary imposition on liberty by requiring that it serve that state interest). That some marriages do not result in children, though, does not require that we re-think and re-define the core meaning of marriage, as would same-sex marriage.
        I suspect Huenemann will find this to be too much mental gymnastics.


  8. Back to Rob’s request: “What Marriage Is, and Isn’t” by Robert George is a good article. It was published in First Things, Aug/Sept 2009.
    What I find particularly compelling is his account of what kind of anthropology travels with each view of marriage. I am very sympathetic with his arguments against the kind of dualism that follows from the “liberal” view of marriage.


  9. First let me say – this is great. This is exactly the way these sorts of debates should proceed. Hard headed, making arguments, being critical and not emotional.

    But there is this problem in this discussion that “older” philosophical disputes get in the way of us making any headway. So Huenemann, for reasons quite apart from questions of sexuality, is skeptical of teleological claims. I respond that it is impossible for him to not disclose his world in this way. Little headway is made. But having not sorted that older issue out, Huenemann is immediately skeptical of any marriage/sex claim couched in teleological terms. But I say that we cannot possibly understand sexuality (or anything else, for that matter), unless we use teleological terms. And so we find ourselves at an impasse.

    Still, I will try to advance the ball. Huenemann says, “If there is this thing called “marriage, …”

    Rob’s last post is helpful here, because his rejoinder (against his own position) about polygamy encourages the quidditive question. I am not all that impressed with consequentialist arguments against gay marriage. Yes, it may well be the case that if gay marriage is legalized, plural marriage will soon follow. But to me it is a question of the nature of the thing. In other words, I am not sure raising the question of polygamy as a “doomsday” consequence is all that moving, but raising it does force one to sort out just what they think marriage is to begin with.

    So the first thing we need to sort out is “the why” of marriage. I mean this in the Aristotelian sense – we need to sort out what it is and what it is for. Only if we do that can we sort out whether various exclusions are defensible or not. If something is unnatural, it is not a form of “oppression” to say that some cannot participate in it. I am reminded of Life of Brian:

    So natural law defenders have a proposal. And, like Reg, they ask “What is the point of fighting for the right to have X when you cannot really participate in X in light of the nature of X?” As far as the counter-proposals, I would argue that most of the gay marriage “arguments” depend upon extremely vacuous definitions of marriage.

    Regarding Huenemann’s last post.
    a) Yes, I do think George’s argument is worth taking seriously. Is it so absurd to insist that human sexuality has something essentially to do with procreation? Is it so ridiculous to point out that this is a unique biological function in that it requires two sexually different persons for its actualization (no other biological function requires two)? The idea that these extremely basic observations cannot be taken seriously is something that I have a hard time taking seriously. And the suggestion that the unitive end of sex can be entirely divorced from the procreative end implies a dualism that I find philosophically unacceptable. Those arguing the natural law are not Platonists about it, they think the body really matters and that personal truths and truths about human nature are “inscribed in” the body.

    b) Thank you for an argument. It is a good argument, and it is the kind of argument that Jonathan Rauch and others who make more serious proposals tend to make (as opposed to the more vacuous ‘how come society won’t let us love each other’ stuff). I have two comments on the argument:

    i) It is still worth trying to define marriage. Is all that we mean by marriage a “stable relationship”? That seems much too broad. Huenemann narrows it by including children, community involvement, nourishing home/care environments, etc. But that also seems rather broad. Couldn’t two sisters adopt a child and have this kind of home? Should they be able to be “married”? And, of course, once you include children it is worth noting that there is something unique about heterosex unions regarding children (they are the only kind of unions that can produce them). Finally (and this is something George does in his article), one should ask what other philosophical commitments (especially claims about philosophical anthropology) are going to travel with their definition of marriage. There is a reason why the first section of the Theology of the Body is dedicated to “developing an adequate anthropology”. Sex matters. What we say and believe about sex informs in the deepest possible way our convictions about the nature of man and his social condition. George argues that the “liberal” view of marriage almost necessitates a hard mind-body dualism.

    ii) Setting the quidditive question aside for now, I think Huenemann has articulated the strongest argument for gay marriage. This is why I said, in one of my first posts here, that for me the issue regarding gay marriage is starting to boil down to whether there is a real difference between mothers and fathers. In other words, it is premise 3 that is going to be the crucial question.

    I must say, it seems extremely counter-intuitive to me to say that “there is no reason whatsoever” to think that there a real difference between two fathers/two mothers as opposed to a mother and a father. Are the terms “father” and “mother” just empty, archaic terms which have no distinct and unique meaning? That seems like a very strange claim, but I readily admit that I offered only anecdotal evidence against Huenemann’s #3.

    I have been looking over the last few months for some social science on this, but it is hard to find. The trouble you run into is three-fold: (i) While there is tons of data to show that children do best in low conflict homes with their biological mother and father, that data does not really tell us what about the mother/father dynamic is unique and important. (ii) The data in support of Huenemanns’ #3 (Rob cited one article) is under considerable debate. I’ve been told by clinical psychologists that most of those studies are methodologically flawed and is often advocacy research. Again, I am not really in a position to make a judgment on that debate. (iii) It may be that there is a real difference between mothers and fathers, but it is just not the kind of thing that can be tidily demonstrated in the reductionistic world of social science data.

    So I ended up appealing to anecdotal evidence, though it is anecdotal evidence that seems to be pretty universal. In fact, Huenemann shared a story about his son recently that was similar in tone.

    Huenemann – care to try to offer an argument for and against #3?


    1. I think you are probably right that we really don’t have good evidence about optimal parent set-ups, and there are so many variables to control for that just about any study will be hotly contested. My apriori sociological hypothesis is this: that if you take all sets of heterosexual parents, they will fall along a broad continuum from bad to good; and if you took all sets of homosexual parents, you’d probably find about the same range from bad to good, with plenty of overlap, though the question would be whether there were slightly more bad than good or good than bad in either set. (Hope that made sense.) Then the next question would be whether that difference was worth legislating over. (Question: if it turned out that Rob’s data were correct, and gays turned out to be better parents, would we then consider defining marriage as a union of same-sex people?)

      But I can *imagine* the evidence turning out that gays are terrible parents and the children they raise mostly turn out to be criminals. In that case, I’d recommend not legalizing gay marriage. Rob had raised the point earlier about polygamy, and I really don’t have a problem with the practice, except that the anecdotal evidence suggests that wives often end up unhappy, stunted, and/or held captive. But if some people can develop a happy, flourishing polygamous/polyandrous relationship, that’s great. But here I suspect biological constraints come strongly into play.


      1. Just a quick thought:
        I don’t think the position I am defending requires saying that children of gay parents will all turn out to be criminals or some such thing. These seem to be the relevant questions:
        a) Is it optimal for children to be raised with mothers and fathers?
        b) Supposing the answer to (a) is yes, then should the state only incentivize the optimal family structure?

        I can imagine many answering yes to (a) and no to (b). For instance, one might grant (a) but say that it is surely better for a foster child to be raised by two loving gay parents than to have the child spend his formative years as a ward of the state. I would be the first to say there is something to that argument. The question then becomes, what are the costs to treating same-sex parenthood as normative as hetero-sex? Here the conservative in me moves – we don’t know and I trust the wisdom of the tradition. Since law is a formative influence on culture, we should proceed cautiously.


      2. Huenemann has covered pretty much everything I think seriously about this issue, but I would just add this. I’ve heard that in some European countries (Scandinavian ones in particular), ones snickered at by American conservatives as “nanny states”, single-parent kids are, on average, at significantly lower risk for various troubles than their American counterparts. Seems reasonable to assume that whatever advantage gap, supposing there were one (which I doubt and the J of P study provides evidence of the exact contrary, at least for lesbian parents), exists between having hetero vs. same-sex parents might be closed by a cultural environment in which same-sex parents reached a tipping point of normality and pervasiveness. In other words, even if data did produce grounds for belief that hetero parents were optimal, this would still be data drawn from a cultural environment still quite, in regard to parenting, “heteronormative”… Of course if data came up after decades of parenting by same-sex married couples showing that hetero parenting was somehow, on average, alarmingly superior, then it would probably be too late to retract the institution to its former traditional limits.


  10. The question of definition came up early in the discussion I participated in. The fellows opposed to same-sex marriage wanted, early on, to establish that marriage is a kind of thing with an essence or essential components, and I objected that I didn’t see why we couldn’t (or shouldn’t) regard marriage as a concept in the way that Wittgenstein regards (perhaps erroneously, given Bernard Suits’ critique) the concept of a game — that is, not as something which has static characteristics across time and all instantiations, but as a rope no single strand of which extends across its entire length. Allowing same-sex marriage would be, if the analogy holds, to sever the “only between a [single?] man and woman” thread, making it an of course frequently reappearing, but discontinuous portion of the threads making up the length of the rope. (The point is also made by Nietzsche in GM 2.12.)


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