A Pointed 104 Seconds on the Marriage Debate

 

Here at Stanford this past spring, the Anscombe Society braved threats and intimidation of all kinds to host a conference in favor of traditional marriage. In this video one of the speakers, the marvelously articulate and completely fearless Ryan Anderson, replies to a questioner. Watch the video, if you have 104 seconds to spare, and then note, if you would, my questions below:

Without quite realizing it, I saw when I listened to this exchange, I’d been sliding toward at least a grudging acceptance of the libertarian position on marriage—namely, that we should get the government out of the business of defining marriage altogether. Which leads to:

1) Anderson is right, isn’t he, that such an approach leads inevitably to viewing marriage as merely a subset of contract law? If a man wants to marry a man, fine; let them draw up a legally binding contract. If one man wants to marry six women; or two men, two women; or one woman another—again, fine. Let them simply draw up the proper contracts, and let the government enforce them as it would any contract.

2) This really won’t do, will it? Marriage between one man and one woman really is different, and the state needs to recognize that reality, or—what? Or chaos. Yes?

There are 124 comments.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  1. Inactive

    2) Yes, that is my view. Marriage is society’s primary way of defining parenthood. Male/female = bearing children = two natural parents for those children. The children have a vested interest in the stability of their parent’s union. Man/woman marriage is the least statist way to respect the rights and needs of children. Without a strict understanding of marriage on the front end, the state will grow and grow in order to administer what happens to children. Reference: the growth of the state under “no fault divorce.”

    • #1
    • July 30, 2014 at 1:12 pm
    • Like
  2. Inactive

    Not to mention a windfall new industry for lawyers.

    Again, if marriage was only marriage, the “mere contract” argument might fly. But because we have always understood marriage to be part of a larger fabric … i.e., parenting and family … you can’t make changes to marriage without, in turn, making changes to the rest of the social structure. Social roles become whatever the individuals decide them to be, and can change at any time, and so the structures of the whole society stop being dependable and deteriorate.

    • #2
    • July 30, 2014 at 1:23 pm
    • Like
  3. Member

    One marriage becomes merely a contract, what Roger Scruton calls “a lifelong series of handshakes,” marriage as permanent, exclusive, etc., and, as Anderson explains, loses any real meaning or purpose. In the end, couples (or serial polygamists) will see no point in making a vow. Instead, the contract will give them an easy out–after all the law encourages efficient breach. Children are not part of the contract and would have no power to enforce its terms, assuming that permanence is even part of an enforceable deal. Increasingly the young are either putting marriage off in the distance, or forgoing it entirely. Yesterday I heard of a new proposal to treat marriage like real estate mortgages, e.g., term of years–5,7,30). This would be the end of marriage–the word would truly lose any meaning.

    • #3
    • July 30, 2014 at 1:25 pm
    • Like
  4. Inactive

    He’s right that this devolves into contract law, and that puts the lie to the SSM movement’s claim this is about equal rights. If it were about equality, civil unions which provided all of the same legal rights under the law (possession of property, disposition of estates and heritability, visitation rights, etc) would be enough. That it is not enough and that there is a continued push to claim the word “marriage” for what has never been defined as marriage show the movement’s goal is legitimacy. It is not enough to be given the same rights; it has to be called the same thing. Once the term has been emptied of content to fit whichever group wants to appropriate it, the laws based on it fall apart and are redefined down into nothing more than civil contracts which results in the effective abolition of marriage as it had always been defined.

    • #4
    • July 30, 2014 at 1:32 pm
    • Like
  5. Contributor

    Whiskey Sam:

    He’s right that this devolves into contract law, and that puts the lie to the SSM movement’s claim this is about equal rights. If it were about equality, civil unions which provided all of the same legal rights under the law (possession of property, disposition of estates and heritability, visitation rights, etc) would be enough. That it is not enough and that there is a continued push to claim the word “marriage” for what has never been defined as marriage show the movement’s goal is legitimacy. It is not enough to be given the same rights; it has to be called the same thing. Once the term has been emptied of content to fit whichever group wants to appropriate it, the laws based on it fall apart and are redefined down into nothing more than civil contracts which results in the effective abolition of marriage as it had always been defined.

    In turn, if traditional marriage supporters are in favor civil unions that offer all of the same legal rights, then the government is no longer offering any incentives for their preferred behavior, and therefore marriage is also rendered just as irrelevant as if it were a question of contract law.

    So what we really have are traditional marriage supporters who want the government to keep SSM illegitimate, and SSM supporters who want the government to legitimize it.

    Forgive those of us who think this is a silly fight for the government to be arbitrating.

    • #5
    • July 30, 2014 at 1:40 pm
    • Like
  6. Thatcher

    Why do some people opt for optional “Covenant Marriage” in some states if all that really matters is basic governmental marriage, why bother with this extra contract?

    I think because people would like the option to tailor their marriage contract to their own relationship. Those who believe more strongly in the bond they are creating can show it in their contract. Churches and societies could make their own contracts for their constituents.

    Lets be honest, the government default is terrible, and people, being who they are, usually opt for the default, because otherwise you’re weird or you may be accused by your significant other of not loving them by wishing for a prenup.

    Perhaps there are ways we could make actual marriage better if we weren’t hamstrung by whatever the state deems is “marriage.”

    • #6
    • July 30, 2014 at 1:46 pm
    • Like
  7. Inactive

    No, not chaos as you suggest. I think the more accurate word is dissolution. As goes the family, so goes the nation.

    • #7
    • July 30, 2014 at 1:50 pm
    • Like
  8. Inactive

    Frank Soto:

    Forgive those of us who think this is a silly fight for the government to be arbitrating.

    Frank, do you think society has a duty to mandate that children have two, and only two, [legally recognized] parents?

    • #8
    • July 30, 2014 at 1:57 pm
    • Like
  9. Contributor

    Jennifer:

    Frank Soto:

    Forgive those of us who think this is a silly fight for the government to be arbitrating.

    Frank, do you think society has a duty to mandate that children have two, and only two, [legally recognized] parents?

     Forget what I think. Do you think that society should be able to stop a lesbian from getting pregnant, and raising a child with their partner? If not, then your question is somewhat academic and doesn’t shine any interesting light on the issue.

    • #9
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:05 pm
    • Like
  10. Inactive

    I think Mr. Anderson does a great job of articulating that redefining marriage means abolishing marriage.

    I am open-minded (probably too open-minded) about the possibility that same-sex marriage could be accepted as a kind of legal construct without contradicting that reality of traditional, male-female marriage. I’m not a lawyer, but my understanding is that sometimes things can be called something for legal purposes even when it’s not objectively true. E.g. corporations are legal persons, but not literal flesh and blood persons. For purposes of some animal welfare laws, white lab mice and lab rats are not legally animals.

    There can be little doubt that same-sex couples are not biologically the same as heterosexual couples, but one could argue that they are functionally equivalent for purposes of adopting children. I’m not sure if that is true, but certainly many people believe it is true.

    The gay marriage movement would never accept this argument, however, because it’s premised on the idea that same-sex marriage isn’t real, true marriage, which is basically a hate crime at this point.

    • #10
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:05 pm
    • Like
  11. Inactive

    Frank Soto:

     

    In turn, if traditional marriage supporters are in favor civil unions that offer all of the same legal rights, then the government is no longer offering any incentives for their preferred behavior, and therefore marriage is also rendered just as irrelevant as if it were a question of contract law.

    So what we really have are traditional marriage supporters who want the government to keep SSM illegitimate, and SSM supporters who want the government to legitimize it.

    Forgive those of us who think this is a silly fight for the government to be arbitrating.

    There is no getting away from having government involved in marriage. What other recourse does a spouse who has been abandoned have to force support for themselves or more importantly for the children of that marriage if they don’t have the ability to enjoin the state to force the spouse who left to live up to their responsibilities?

    • #11
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:06 pm
    • Like
  12. Member

    Peter Robinson: Marriage between one and one woman really is different, and the state needs to recognize that reality, or—what?

    This is the crux. One side simply denies this reality. From there, the argument spins off the rails. 

    I had one friend tell me legal gay marriage has been mandatory starting the moment the 14th Amendment was passed. This is Kane’s Second Theorem: “Everything is equal to everything else.”

    • #12
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:07 pm
    • Like
  13. Contributor

    Whiskey Sam:

    Frank Soto:

    In turn, if traditional marriage supporters are in favor civil unions that offer all of the same legal rights, then the government is no longer offering any incentives for their preferred behavior, and therefore marriage is also rendered just as irrelevant as if it were a question of contract law.

    So what we really have are traditional marriage supporters who want the government to keep SSM illegitimate, and SSM supporters who want the government to legitimize it.

    Forgive those of us who think this is a silly fight for the government to be arbitrating.

    There is no getting away from having government involved in marriage. What other recourse does a spouse who has been abandoned have to force support for themselves or more importantly for the children of that marriage if they don’t have the ability to enjoin the state to force the spouse who left to live up to their responsibilities?

     Seems silly then to exclude children who were for example raised by a lesbian couple from that process then doesn’t it? After all if it’s necessary, then it’s necessary not only under the ideal man and woman arrangement.

    • #13
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:09 pm
    • Like
  14. Inactive

    Frank Soto:

    Jennifer:

    Frank Soto:

    Forgive those of us who think this is a silly fight for the government to be arbitrating.

    Frank, do you think society has a duty to mandate that children have two, and only two, [legally recognized] parents?

    Forget what I think. Do you think that society should be able to stop a lesbian from getting pregnant, and raising a child with their partner? If not, then your question is somewhat academic and doesn’t shine any interesting light on the issue.

    You said it was a silly fight for the government to be arbitrating. I’m trying to understand if you think it’s silly for society, via the government, to insist on a nature-based limitation for the number of parents for children. That is one of the functions of state recognized m/w marriage.

    • #14
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:11 pm
    • Like
  15. Contributor

    Mark Wilson:

    Peter Robinson: Marriage between one and one woman really is different, and the state needs to recognize that reality, or—what?

    This is the crux. One side simply denies this reality. From there, the argument spins off the rails.

     Can you address my point to Whiskey Sam above then. A while back we did a Ricochet poll which found overwhelmingly that the Ricochetti supported civil unions with the same legal rights as marriage (from the 1.0 days, God knows if the thread made it over or if the comments are in any coherent order after 2.0 digested it).

    If you believe that, how then with the government no longer providing incentives exclusive to the traditional marriage, is the situation any different? If everyone is special, then no one is special. Don’t civil unions destroy marriage (by other’s definition, not mine) just as assuredly SSM, or the government getting out of the marriage business?

    • #15
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:17 pm
    • Like
  16. Inactive

    Frank Soto:

    Whiskey Sam:

    There is no getting away from having government involved in marriage. What other recourse does a spouse who has been abandoned have to force support for themselves or more importantly for the children of that marriage if they don’t have the ability to enjoin the state to force the spouse who left to live up to their responsibilities?

    Seems silly then to exclude children who were for example raised by a lesbian couple from that process then doesn’t it? After all if it’s necessary, then it’s necessary not only under the ideal man and woman arrangement.

    A lesbian couple did not create the child. One of them did using genetic material from some third party. The other partner could be the legally defined co-guardian of that child, but they are not its parent and do not have an inherent moral obligation to care for what is not their offspring.

    • #16
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:19 pm
    • Like
  17. Contributor

    Jennifer:

    Frank Soto:

    Jennifer:

    Frank Soto:

    Forgive those of us who think this is a silly fight for the government to be arbitrating.

    Frank, do you think society has a duty to mandate that children have two, and only two, [legally recognized] parents?

    Forget what I think. Do you think that society should be able to stop a lesbian from getting pregnant, and raising a child with their partner? If not, then your question is somewhat academic and doesn’t shine any interesting light on the issue.

    You said it was a silly fight for the government to be arbitrating. I’m trying to understand if you think it’s silly for society, via the government, to insist on a nature-based limitation for the number of parents for children. That is one of the functions of state recognized m/w marriage.

    I said it was silly for the government to be arbitrating the specific question which is really at the heart of this debate. As I said in my previous comment, if you support civil unions (which SSM opponents do in clear majorities) then you might as well be supporting SSM, as their are no longer exclusive incentives for traditional marriage. It means this debate becomes an instance of trying to use the government as moral arbiter, instead of the arbiter of any practical questions of family law.

    • #17
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:21 pm
    • Like
  18. Inactive

    Frank Soto:

    I said it was silly for the government to be arbitrating the specific question which is really at the heart of this debate. As I said in my previous comment, if you support civil unions (which SSM opponents do in clear majorities) then you might as well be supporting SSM, as their are no longer exclusive incentives for traditional marriage. It means this debate becomes an instance of trying to use the government as moral arbiter, instead of the arbiter of any practical questions of family law.

    But the LGBT activists do not want civil unions. Why should I argue for a policy that their most vocal and political members do not want?

    • #18
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:27 pm
    • Like
  19. Inactive

    Frank Soto:

     

    If you believe that, how then with the government no longer providing incentives exclusive to the traditional marriage, is the situation any different? If everyone is special, then no one is special. Don’t civil unions destroy marriage (by other’s definition, not mine) just as assuredly SSM, or the government getting out of the marriage business?

    The rights they allegedly are fighting for are things like disposition of property, visitation rights, etc, that have historically been granted with marriage but do not have to be limited to marriage. Do they want rights or do they want the word, because you don’t need the word to have the rights. Giving them legal contract rights that normally attach to marriage removes the inequality of personal contracts while keeping the state removed from ruling on the legitimacy of other arrangements which are not by definition marriage. Instead we have the federal government redefining the word marriage under the rubric of extending rights. A civil union could be open to any combination of people (not just lovers but siblings or friends for whom it is economically/legally beneficial) without touching on the definition of marriage or the legitimization of lifestyles.

    • #19
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:29 pm
    • Like
  20. Contributor

    Whiskey Sam:

    Frank Soto:

    Whiskey Sam:

    There is no getting away from having government involved in marriage. What other recourse does a spouse who has been abandoned have to force support for themselves or more importantly for the children of that marriage if they don’t have the ability to enjoin the state to force the spouse who left to live up to their responsibilities?

    Seems silly then to exclude children who were for example raised by a lesbian couple from that process then doesn’t it? After all if it’s necessary, then it’s necessary not only under the ideal man and woman arrangement.

    A lesbian couple did not create the child. One of them did using genetic material from some third party. The other partner could be the legally defined co-guardian of that child, but they are not its parent and do not have an inherent moral obligation to care for what is not their offspring.

    Interesting. It is strange to me how you write passionately about the necessity of the government’s role in litigating disputes of the family (theoretically for the good of the child) and then abandon the principle as if the same problems that plague a divorcing heterosexual couple divorcing don’t plague a homosexual couple in divorce.

    If a man walking out on his wife and abandoning his agreed upon responsibilities requires government intervention, as a child may now be hugely disadvantaged moving through life, why wouldn’t a women walking on her wife require the same intervention.

    I say agreed upon responsibilities, because clearly biology isn’t the only factor in having parental responsibilities. Sperm donors for example have no parental responsibility.

    • #20
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:30 pm
    • Like
  21. Member

    Frank Soto: Don’t civil unions destroy marriage (by other’s definition, not mine) just as assuredly SSM, or the government getting out of the marriage business?

    I don’t argue that civil unions destroy marriage, just that it is fallacious to support them on equal protection grounds.

    • #21
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:32 pm
    • Like
  22. Contributor

    Whiskey Sam:

    Frank Soto:

    If you believe that, how then with the government no longer providing incentives exclusive to the traditional marriage, is the situation any different? If everyone is special, then no one is special. Don’t civil unions destroy marriage (by other’s definition, not mine) just as assuredly SSM, or the government getting out of the marriage business?

    The rights they allegedly are fighting for are things like disposition of property, visitation rights, etc, that have historically been granted with marriage but do not have to be limited to marriage. Do they want rights or do they want the word, because you don’t need the word to have the rights. Giving them legal contract rights that normally attach to marriage removes the inequality of personal contracts while keeping the state removed from ruling on the legitimacy of other arrangements which are not by definition marriage. Instead we have the federal government redefining the word marriage under the rubric of extending rights. A civil union could be open to any combination of people (not just lovers but siblings or friends for whom it is economically/legally beneficial) without touching on the definition of marriage or the legitimization of lifestyles.

     You’ve missed my point. I agree they want the word. I want you to acknowledge that all you are fighting for is the word as well.

    Neither side is truly addressing the concept.

    • #22
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:32 pm
    • Like
  23. Inactive

    Peter Robinson: 2) This really won’t do, will it? Marriage between one and one woman really is different, and the state needs to recognize that reality, or—what? Or chaos. Yes?

    I don’t know about chaos.

    Oak trees and Apple trees are different. The state ought to recognize that reality. Whether it does so explicitly in law (which would be odd) or not really doesn’t change the fact that you can’t pick an apple off an oak tree.

    Where this would really get odd is if the state passed a law that said we can only recognize both trees as trees and nothing more. But we’d all still know where to pick our apples.

    In response to this some might say “we ought to get the state out of the tree recognizing business and let people decide about the trees themselves.”

    Would we then have chaos?

    I suppose some people would go around calling oak trees apple trees but even so they still couldn’t pick an apple off of it.

    At the center of all of this nonsense is reality.

    • #23
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:33 pm
    • Like
  24. Contributor

    Mark Wilson:

    Frank Soto: Don’t civil unions destroy marriage (by other’s definition, not mine) just as assuredly SSM, or the government getting out of the marriage business?

    I don’t argue that civil unions destroy marriage, just that it is fallacious to support them on equal protection grounds.

     I agree that most of the rhetoric form the pro-SSM (including their use of the equal protection clause) is faulty.

    My point is, just as Ryan Anderson is saying that treating marriage as a contract would destroy the privileged place of marriage in society (a point I don’t agree with, but for arguments sake), so too do civil unions. Yet opponents of SSM general favor civil unions.

    I’m asking someone to square the circle.

    • #24
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:35 pm
    • Like
  25. Inactive

    Frank, I can’t directly speak for the others, but I am not fighting for the word “marriage.” And I don’t think they are either. I’m fighting for the purposes and functions of marriage. For example, society has a duty to impose a nature-based limitation on the number of legally recognized parents for children. That is one of the things that marriage does. So clearly I’m not fighting for the word.

    • #25
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:38 pm
    • Like
  26. Inactive

    Frank Soto:

     

    Interesting. It is strange to me how you write passionately about the necessity of the government’s role in litigating disputes of the family (theoretically for the good of the child) and then abandon the principle as if the same problems that plague a divorcing heterosexual couple divorcing don’t plague a homosexual couple in divorce.

    If a man walking out on his wife and abandoning his agreed upon responsibilities requires government intervention, as a child may now be hugely disadvantaged moving through life, why wouldn’t a women walking on her wife require the same intervention.

    I say agreed upon responsibilities, because clearly biology isn’t the only factor in having parental responsibilities. Sperm donors for example have no parental responsibility.

    A lesbian partner does not have inherent responsibilities to a child that is not their biological offspring. They would only have legal responsibilities if they were granted legal guardianship of the child. This is no different than a child who has been adopted by an unmarried couple. The state does not need to rule on whether a couple is married to enforce their responsibilities as legal guardians.

    • #26
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:42 pm
    • Like
  27. Inactive

    Frank Soto:

    Whiskey Sam:

    The rights they allegedly are fighting for are things like disposition of property, visitation rights, etc, that have historically been granted with marriage but do not have to be limited to marriage. Do they want rights or do they want the word, because you don’t need the word to have the rights. Giving them legal contract rights that normally attach to marriage removes the inequality of personal contracts while keeping the state removed from ruling on the legitimacy of other arrangements which are not by definition marriage. Instead we have the federal government redefining the word marriage under the rubric of extending rights. A civil union could be open to any combination of people (not just lovers but siblings or friends for whom it is economically/legally beneficial) without touching on the definition of marriage or the legitimization of lifestyles.

    You’ve missed my point. I agree they want the word. I want you to acknowledge that all you are fighting for is the word as well.

    Neither side is truly addressing the concept.

    I’m not fighting for just a word because marriage goes beyond the attendant legal trappings being discussed.

    • #27
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:43 pm
    • Like
  28. Contributor

    Jennifer:

    Frank, I can’t directly speak for the others, but I am not fighting for the word “marriage.” And I don’t think they are either. I’m fighting for the purposes and functions of marriage. For example, society has a duty to impose a nature-based limitation on the number of legally recognized parents for children. That is one of the things that marriage does. So clearly I’m not fighting for the word.

     Okay, so can I assume you oppose civil unions?

    • #28
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:43 pm
    • Like
  29. Contributor

    Whiskey Sam:

    Frank Soto:

    Whiskey Sam:

    The rights they allegedly are fighting for are things like disposition of property, visitation rights, etc, that have historically been granted with marriage but do not have to be limited to marriage. Do they want rights or do they want the word, because you don’t need the word to have the rights. Giving them legal contract rights that normally attach to marriage removes the inequality of personal contracts while keeping the state removed from ruling on the legitimacy of other arrangements which are not by definition marriage. Instead we have the federal government redefining the word marriage under the rubric of extending rights. A civil union could be open to any combination of people (not just lovers but siblings or friends for whom it is economically/legally beneficial) without touching on the definition of marriage or the legitimization of lifestyles.

    You’ve missed my point. I agree they want the word. I want you to acknowledge that all you are fighting for is the word as well.

    Neither side is truly addressing the concept.

    I’m not fighting for just a word because marriage goes beyond the attendant legal trappings being discussed.

     Once you move beyond legal trappings, you have moved beyond the scope of the government.

    • #29
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:44 pm
    • Like
  30. Contributor

    And the dam just broke at work. I’ll be fixing an application until God knows what hour. Forgive me for ducking out. I’ll try to hop back into the conversation tomorrow, though I suspect there will be 500 comments by then.

    • #30
    • July 30, 2014 at 2:46 pm
    • Like
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5