Monogamy, Exclusivity and Permanence?

Yesterday’s post explained government’s policy interest in marriage. Government needs to get marriage policy right, because it shapes the norms associated with this most fundamental relationship.

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—like monogamy, exclusivity and permanency—optional, as my co-authors and I argue in our new book, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. We also show how it is increasingly confirmed by the rhetoric and arguments of those who would redefine marriage (“revisionists”) and by the policies that their more candid leaders increasingly embrace. Indeed, several commentators on Tuesday’s post explicitly jettisoned monogamy, sexual exclusivity and pledged permanence as demands of marriage.

Consider the norm of monogamy. In testifying before Congress against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), prominent New York University professor Judith Stacey expressed hope that the revisionist view’s triumph would give marriage “varied, creative and adaptive contours . . . [leading some to] question the dyadic limitations of Western marriage and seek . . . small group marriages.”

In their statement “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage,” more than 300  self-styled LGBT and allied scholars and advocates—including prominent Ivy League professors—call for legally recognizing sexual relationships involving more than two partners. University of Calgary professor Elizabeth Brake argues in her book Minimizing Marriage that justice requires using legal recognition to “denormalize the ideal of heterosexual monogamy” and correct for “past discrimination against homosexuals, bisexuals, polygamists and care networks.”

And exclusivity? Andrew Sullivan, who has extolled the “spirituality” of “anonymous sex,” writes in his book Virtually Normal that the “openness” of same-sex relationships could enhance the bonds of husbands and wives:

Same-sex unions often incorporate the virtues of friendship more effectively than traditional marriages; and at times, among gay male relationships, the openness of the contract makes it more likely to survive than many heterosexual bonds. . . . [T]here is more likely to be greater understanding of the need for extramarital outlets between two men than between a man and a woman. . . . [S]omething of the gay relationship’s necessary honesty, its flexibility, and its equality could undoubtedly help strengthen and inform many heterosexual bonds.

Similarly, in a New York Times Magazine profile titled “Married, With Infidelities”, Dan Savage encourages spouses to adopt “a more flexible attitude” about allowing each other to seek sex outside their marriage. A piece titled “Monogamish” in The Advocate, a gay-interest newsmagazine, supports this point still more candidly:

Anti-equality right-wingers have long insisted that allowing gays to marry will destroy the sanctity of “traditional marriage,” and, of course, the logical, liberal party-line response has long been “No, it won’t.” But what if—for once—the sanctimonious crazies are right? Could the gay male tradition of open relationships actually alter marriage as we know it? And would that be such a bad thing?

As the article’s blurb reads: “We often protest when homophobes insist that same-sex marriage will change marriage for straight people too. But in some ways, they’re right.”

These are the words of leading supporters of same-sex marriage. If you believe in monogamy and exclusivity—and the benefits these bring to orderly procreation and child wellbeing—but would redefine civil marriage, take note.

Some revisionists have embraced the goal of weakening the institution of marriage in these very terms. Former President George W. Bush “is correct,” says lesbian journalist Victoria Brownworth in “Something Borrowed, Something Blue: Is Marriage Right for Queers?” “when he states that allowing same-sex couples to marry will weaken the institution of marriage. . . . It most certainly will do so, and that will make marriage a far better concept than it previously has been.” Professor Ellen Willis writing in The Nation celebrates the fact that “conferring the legitimacy of marriage on homosexual relations will introduce an implicit revolt against the institution into its very heart.”

Gay radio host Michelangelo Signorile in Out magazine urged those in same-sex relationships to “demand the right to marry not as a way of adhering to society’s moral codes but rather to debunk a myth and radically alter an archaic institution.” They should “fight for same-sex marriage and its benefits and then, once granted, redefine the institution of marriage completely, because the most subversive action lesbians and gay men can undertake . . . is to transform the notion of ‘family’ entirely.”

The world’s limited experience so far suggests that these ideas play out in policy. Since countries have begun recognizing same-sex unions, officials have proposed bills, made administrative decisions or allowed lawsuits challenging nearly every other traditional norm: Mexico City considered expressly temporary marriage licenses. A federal judge in Utah allowed a legal challenge to anti-bigamy laws. A public notary in Brazil recognized a triad as a civil union, saying in almost so many words that the redefinition of marriage required it: “The move reflected the fact that the idea of a ‘family’ had changed. . . . ‘For better or worse, it doesn’t matter, but what we considered a family before isn’t necessarily what we would consider a family today.’ ”

The New York Times recently reported on a study finding that exclusivity was not the norm among gay partners: “‘With straight people, it’s called affairs or cheating,’ said Colleen Hoff, the study’s principal investigator, ‘but with gay people it does not have such negative connotations.’”

In proponents’ own words, redefining marriage would make individuals less likely to abide by marital norms—precisely the concern that led to the marriage movement in the first place.

But as yesterday’s post showed, the state has an interest in marriage and marital norms because these serve the public good: protecting child wellbeing, civil society and limited government.

Government policy addresses male-female sexual relationships in a way it does not address other relationships because these alone produce new human beings. For highly dependent infants, there is no path to physical, moral and cultural maturity—no path to personal responsibility—without a long and delicate process of ongoing care and supervision. Unless children do mature, they never will become healthy, upright, productive members of society. Marriage exists to make men and women responsible to each other and any children they might have.

And marital norms serve these same ends. The norms of monogamy and sexual exclusivity encourage childbearing within a context that makes it most likely children will be raised by their mom and dad. These norms also help ensure shared responsibility and commitment between spouses, sufficient attention from both parents to their children, and avoid the sexual and kinship jealously that might otherwise be present.

The norm of permanency ensures that children will at least be cared for by their mother and father until they reach maturity. It also provides kinship structure for the interaction across the generations, as elderly parents are cared for by their adult children and help care for their grandkids, without the complications of fragmented step-families.

Again, if you believe in monogamy and exclusivity—and the benefits these bring to orderly procreation and child wellbeing—but would redefine civil marriage, take note.

  1. Joseph Paquette

    DOMA should be struck down for violation of the full faith and credit clause of the constitution.  It states in plain language that each state shall accept the findings of other jurisdictions.  For example if a 15 year old marries in Kentucky, but moves to Texas, she’s still married.  It is up to each state to define and grant a marriage certificate. 

    (Further, As a libertarian I don’t think the government should issue marriage licenses any more than they should issue Baptism or First Communion licenses.  It’s a church sacrament, not a driver’s permit )

  2. Robert Lux

    To add to this parade of perversity, mention might be made of Martha Nussbaum, the lionized demi-godess of analytic rigor and seriousness who welcomes sibling incest and denies any concrete grounds for opposing group marriages. To echo David Berlinski’s bon mot about Daniel Dennett, it astonishes me that no one is dousing this woman with a bucket of water:  

    No group of people may be fenced out of this right [of marriage] without an exceedingly strong state justification. It would seem that the best way to think about the cases of incest and polygamy is that in these cases the state can meet its burden, by showing that policy considerations [i.e., questions of mere utility] outweigh the individual’s right, although it is not impossible to imagine that these judgments [against group marriages, polygny, and incest] might change over time.

    [Emphasis mine].  “A Right to Marry? Same-sex Marriage and Constitutional Law,” pp. 9-10.

    The consequences of historicism. She (like Rawls, like Rorty, like every major exponent of liberal rectitude) is up front that none of her arguments are based on human nature. Rather they are arguments from autonomy.

  3. Charles Mark

    Infidelity can ruin the lives of innocent children.

  4. Tom Meyer, Ed.
    C
    Ryan T. Anderson, Guest Contributor:

    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—like monogamy, exclusivity and permanency—optional, as my co-authors and I argue… We also show how it is increasingly confirmed by the rhetoric and arguments of those who would redefine marriage (“revisionists”) and by the policies that their more candid leaders increasingly embrace.

    You demonstrate — quite effectively — that many who advocate  for making sexual complementaritiness optional also advocate for making other aspects of marriage optional.

    But despite the correlation, I’ve yet to see a persuasive demonstration of how the one necessitates the others.  You assert it does — and cite examples of prominent people who believe as much — but that doesn’t make an argument for it.  I’m not Dan Savage and I’m no more responsible for his argument about monogamish relationships than I am for his arguments for voting for President Obama.

    Shorter version: why is it inconsistent to hold that marriage should be exclusive, life-long, and between only two parties?

  5. Robert Lux

    BTW: Nussbaum’s interlocutor Katha Pollitt, who I think is probably more intelligent — or more honest — than Nussbaum:

    Nussbaum does nothing to allay fears [of slippery-slopes into incest, plural marriages]. In fact, she seems to suggest that further down the road (when, opponents might say, gay marriage has softened us up), the law may indeed permit plural marriage, as long as it works both ways, at least on paper, as well as marriage between brothers and sisters. Leaving incest aside (perhaps because, like an opponent of gay marriage, I feel too much disgust to discuss it rationally)….

    [Emphases mine]  –Pollitt, letter in response, Dissent Magazine

    This is telling, as it speaks unwittingly to the demagogic abusiveness of Nussbaum: Nussbaum’s criterion for forcing society to accept same-sex marriage is a policy of “no disgust.” Feelings of disgust are inadmissible — they cannot inform higher principles — against SSM.

    One can see, then, that Nussbaum’s standard equally convicts Pollitt — who otherwise staunchly advocates SSM — as surely as it does opponents of SSM.  They merit Nussbaum’s epithet of “moral obtuseness” (quick video clip here).    

  6. Ryan T. Anderson, Guest Contributor
    C
    Tom Meyer

     

    Shorter version: why is it inconsistent to hold that marriage should be exclusive, life-long, and between only two parties? · 8 minutes ago

    It’s not inconsistent, it just isn’t coherent. Just as it isn’t inconsistent to say marriage is a relationship between blue-eyed men and blond women born on Tuesdays. But what’s the reason for so defining it?

  7. Howellis
    Joseph Paquette: DOMA should be struck down for violation of the full faith and credit clause of the constitution.  It states in plain language that each state shall accept the findings of other jurisdictions.  For example if a 15 year old marries in Kentucky, but moves to Texas, she’s still married.  It is up to each state to define and grant a marriage certificate. 

    Article 4, sec. 1 reads as follows:  ”Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.”

    The second sentence indicates that the effect given by one state to another’s laws can be limited by Congress.  That is what section 2 of DOMA does.  It is section 3 that is being litigated in the Supreme Court this year.  It is my impression that the constitutionality of section 2 is not considered to be controversial on full faith and credit grounds, though many would like to see it repealed.

  8. Tom Meyer, Ed.
    C
    Ryan T. Anderson, Guest Contributor

    It’s not inconsistent, it just isn’t coherent. Just as it isn’t inconsistent to say marriage is a relationship between blue-eyed men and blond women born on Tuesdays. But what’s the reason for so defining it?

    Because defining marriage in the way I’ve suggested provides the greatest social benefits.  As I defined them earlier, the purpose of marriage is to foster:

    1. Emotional and financial stability for the spouses;

    2. An emotionally and physically beneficent environment for sex, and;
    3. A nurturing and stable environment for any children born to or adopted into that marriage;

    These are long-standing, long-acknowledged, well-tested purposes of marriage.  I think most traditionalists would find nothing wrong with them, provided I defined spouses as being opposite sex.

    Assuming I’m correct about the above, why does all of this fall apart when sexual complimentariness is removed?

  9. Indaba

    I am living in Canada where gay marriage has been in place for nearly a decade. The lesbian couples I see do tend to be stable and stick with each other to raise a child. The male couples I know tend to be the more educated and in the early days got married but seem to nit be getting married now. Quebec has more unmarried couples and I am told it is because of the government tax code.

    Personally, if government is getting involved and we know gay marriage was to get access to benefits and pensions, at-home mothers should get to the trough first.

    At-home mothers do not have an advocate group like feminists to put forward their case. I do believe it could counter an Andrew Sullivan who needs to watch Parenthood to understand what marriage is all about.

    Women sacrifice money earning time to bring up children well. If they were taxed as a couple, with the at-home mum earning a pension, she would be accumulating worth to the husband as she got older, not becoming less valuable. She would be doing a valuable job to society. Signals from the government do impact the stay at home mum.

  10. Indaba

    For those who think gay marriage would end the hate, dream on. In Canada, the gay groups go for the education curriculum. They wanted grade 6 to be taught about anal sex and Canada already has that age being taught how to put a condom on a cucumber. No kidding! It is in “health” class. What stopped the anal sex was a parents group fir the Catholic schools who took it to the media and made such a stink about it. Imagine reading that in the headlines? I have had to stay in top if my sons’ curriculum as teachers are socialists, has been the case since my mother’s time and will be so.

    Parents have to teach their values on a daily basis to their children.

    I think the family values and behaviour has more power than the school and society until teenage years, just as the health classes begin. It was a shock to me to hear what my sins were being taught but they could speak to me about it and that was because we had already discussed it in many forms before they were teens. But society takes power.

  11. Indaba

    Gay men do not understand women. We have been told that we are the same as men and to do what men do. We are not the sane below our shoulders, why in earth would we be the sane above our shoulders? Marriage and monogamy was needed to pass property down to the man’s flesh and blood. Now, women value monogamy because it does fit their sexual needs more than a man. There are studies that women divorce because of infidelity and are the main party to end marriage. Public debate misses the female side of marriage and the value of the stability of monogamy for the children because us women are too busy just making it through the week. I have to look after my son and make it to work right now.

  12. James Of England
    Howellis

    Joseph Paquette: DOMA should be struck down for violation of the full faith and credit clause of the constitution.  It states in plain language that each state shall accept the findings of other jurisdictions.  For example if a 15 year old marries in Kentucky, but moves to Texas, she’s still married.  It is up to each state to define and grant a marriage certificate. 

    Article 4, sec. 1 reads as follows….

    The second sentence indicates that the effectgiven by one state to another’s laws can be limited by Congress.  That is what section 2 of DOMA does. 

    Even without DOMA, Article IV has never been understood this way. There are more nineteenth century cases about incest than about age, with varying responses, (New York , for instance, recognized foreign uncle/ niece marriages, but did not celebrate them domestically), but the states always had discretion over recognition. I just wrote about conflicts at greater length (more than a comment) about half way through here.

  13. Robert Lux
    Tom Meyer

    Ryan T. Anderson

    Assuming I’m correct about the above, why does all of this fall apart when sexual complimentariness is removed?

    Because marriage is part of a public teaching. Teaching regarding the norms for most people must conform to what is possible for most people, i.e., that their nature is oriented toward heterosexuality and their choices must be shaped to it. Individually, the naturally homosexual person will be distressed by this same teaching.

    But you want to say, as most libertarians do, that we can tailor the collective teaching or norm to the natures of discrete individuals, which is to say that there is no collective teaching. 

    The public teaching that conforms to nature, which when inculcated generally leads to greater happiness generally, requires different roles for men and women. The choice consistent with nature is one that teaches men to be good husbands and fathers and women to be good wives and mothers. 

  14. Scarlet Pimpernel

    Don’t make the best the enemy of the good.

    Supporting gay marriage on the condition that adultery be made actionable again might be the best way forward.

    It is never the case that the laws of any given society are simply the laws of nature.  There always is daylight between the perfect law, that would be most fitting for man qua man, and the best law we can secure in the U.S. in 2012.

  15. Robert Lux
    Robert Lux

    Tom Meyer

    …which is to say that there is no collective teaching. 

    Which is to say, one can only make a prudential argument (tolerate an exception or idiosyncrasy such as homosexuality) if one already has a natural framework for morality to begin with.

    As I’ve said before:

    Society can accommodate an exceptional behavior only if it understands where that exceptional behavior fits in within a greater whole or hierarchy. The argument about “the whole” (as the philosophers call it) is an argument about where everything has its place. But the liberal and libertarian argument for the domestication of homosexuality is not made on natural grounds.  It is not based on an argument about a larger whole.

    It’s therefore necessarily based on an appeal to individuality.

    On the grounds of individuality, homosexuality can be domesticated only if one domesticates all things, which of course is impossible.

    The liberal/libertarian affirmation of homosexuality presupposes that there are no fundamental distinctions. Nature ceases to be a term of distinction. Everything is equivalent to everything else. This is precisely the “effectual truth” of teaching homosexuality to children in public schools. Breakdown in distinction between public/private.  Nihilism pure and simple.

  16. Scarlet Pimpernel

    The other argument to make is a bit icky, but does help explain some of the issue.  In America today, we start teaching sex ed by age twelve or so. Think about what gay marriage means we are teaching children?  Given that the argument for gay marriage is built on a critique of the double-standard, we must teach that any sex act that is okay for two men would also be okay for a boy and a girl.  Teaching anal sex to twelve-year-olds is barbarism.

    In other words, supporting gay marriage would entail teaching abstenance in the schools.

  17. Ed G.
    Tom Meyer

    Ryan T. Anderson, Guest Contributor

    …..But what’s the reason for so defining it?

    Because defining marriage in the way I’ve suggested provides the greatest social benefits.  As I defined them earlier, the purpose of marriage is to foster:

    1. Emotional and financial stability for the spouses;

    2. An emotionally and physically beneficent environment for sex, and;
    3. A nurturing and stable environment for any children born to or adopted into that marriage;

    These are long-standing, long-acknowledged, well-tested purposes of marriage.  I think most traditionalists would find nothing wrong with them, provided I defined spouses as being opposite sex.

    Assuming I’m correct about the above, why does all of this fall apart when sexual complimentariness is removed?

    Tom, I don’t think there’s any great public interest to be served in either #1 or #2 outside of the context of procreation, or the possibility of such, because the risk to society or the risk to the parties involved if such a relationship dissolves is limited. The upside is limited too.

  18. Tommy De Seno
    C

    Ryan,

    You cite to people who come down on the same side of SSM as some of us on Ricochet, but they have radically different reasons for doing so.  Those people are also predicting consquences they have no proof will occur, which is also a holding Ricochet proponents of SSM don’t share.

    You cite no one who is representative of the Ricochet conservative view favoring SSM from a limited government powers perspective.

    Don’t we conservatives have to put up with enough false claims of associations we don’t share from the left to have to put up with it here at home base?

    You haven’t mentioned a word of constitutional power and republican form of government when it comes to government or majority control of people’s lives.

  19. Ed G.
    Tommy De Seno: Ryan,

    You cite to people who come down on the same side of SSM as some of us on Ricochet, but they have radically different reasons for doing so.  Those people are also predicting consquences they have no proof will occur, which is also a holding Ricochet proponents of SSM don’t share.

    You cite no one who is representative of the Ricochet conservative view favoring SSM from a limited government powers perspective.

    …..

    That’s because the disagreement with your view was already addressed and that disagreement occurs higher up the argument chain. The argument with your particular viewpoint ends there (ie ends at the question of whether government should be in the marriage business). The subject of this post addresses those who agree that government has an interest yet disagree that monogamy, exclusivity, and permanence have anything to do with it.

  20. Tom Meyer, Ed.
    C
    Merina Smith: [T]here’s a question I really want to ask SSM supporters… We know it works best for children to be raised by the mother and father who conceived them.  If this is likely to happen more often when traditional marriage only is recognized, is it moral to favor SSM when it might prove to be harmful to the wellbeing of children?

    Yes, I absolutely think it’s highly preferable for children to be raised by a married heterosexuals: having both male and female models is extremely important. For that reason, I’m skeptical of homosexual couples who contract with surrogates or sperm donors; I wouldn’t legally bar them from doing so — a gay couple is best able to judge their own skills and circumstances — but it strikes me as dubious and (perhaps) selfish.

    So would SSM increase the number of children born without opposite-sex parents and is that undesirable?  Probably, though we’re talking about a small minority of a small minority (people who are gay and want kids).  Moreover, there’s a lot of things a gay couple can do to correct for the inherent short-comings: i.e., giving roll models through grandparents.

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