National Review: The Case for Marriage

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In the current issue of National Review, the conservative magazine's editorial board sets out the case for marriage as it has traditionally been defined, a definition that has been reaffirmed repeatedly by Congress, legislatures, and the voting public from coast to coast.

If you are a conservative, you need to study this article and fully digest it. National Review has done a great service with this piece, equipping conservative elected officials, activists, writers, and voters with sound argument to back up the conservative intuition against proposals to alter radically the institution of marriage. One of the challenges of conservatism is that you are called upon to defend ideas and customs that are long-established and were once universally accepted. When a radical idea like same-sex marriage is no longer immediately derided as a crackpot notion, conservatives need to prepare themselves to argue from first principles.

We think that there is quite a bit to be said for [marriage]: that it is true, vitally true. But it is a truth so long accepted that it is no longer well understood. Both the fact that we are debating same-sex marriage and the way that debate has progressed suggest that many of us have lost sight of why marriage exists in the first place as a social institution and a matter of public policy.

The editorial sets out the reason government is involved in marriage at all:

So at the risk of awkwardness, we must talk about the facts of life. It is true that marriage is, in part, an emotional union, and it is also true that spouses often take care of each other and thereby reduce the caregiving burden on other people. But neither of these truths is the fundamental reason for marriage. The reason marriage exists is that the sexual intercourse of men and women regularly produces children. If it did not produce children, neither society nor the government would have much reason, let alone a valid reason, to regulate people's emotional unions. (The government does not regulate non-marital friendships, no matter how intense they are.) If mutual caregiving were the purpose of marriage, there would be no reason to exclude adult incestuous unions from marriage. What the institution and policy of marriage aims to regulate is sex, not love or commitment. These days, marriage regulates sex (to the extent it does regulate it) in a wholly non-coercive manner, sex outside of marriage no longer being a crime.

Marriage exists, in other words, to solve a problem that arises from sex between men and women but not from sex between partners of the same gender: what to do about its generativity. It has always been the union of a man and a woman (even in polygamous marriages in which a spouse has a marriage with each of two or more persons of the opposite sex) for the same reason that there are two sexes: It takes one of each type in our species to perform the act that produces children. That does not mean that marriage is worthwhile only insofar as it yields children. (The law has never taken that view.) But the institution is oriented toward child-rearing. (The law has taken exactly that view.) What a healthy marriage culture does is encourage adults to arrange their lives so that as many children as possible are raised and nurtured by their biological parents in a common household.

The article addresses the distinction between bans on interracial marriage and affirmations of the traditional definition of marriage, and it addresses the oft-stated objection that childless couples are allowed to marry:

Some couples that believe themselves to be infertile (or even intend not to have children) end up having children. Government could not filter out those marriage applicants who are certain not to be able to have children without extreme intrusiveness.

I appreciated this point, too, which echoes a discussion we had in the comments here:

Same-sex marriage would introduce a new, less justifiable distinction into the law. This new version of marriage would exclude pairs of people who qualify for it in every way except for their lack of a sexual relationship. Elderly brothers who take care of each other; two friends who share a house and bills and even help raise a child after one loses a spouse: Why shouldn't their relationships, too, be recognized by the government? The traditional conception of marriage holds that however valuable those relationships may be, the fact that they are not oriented toward procreation makes them non-marital. (Note that this is true even if those relationships involve caring for children: We do not treat a grandmother and widowed daughter raising a child together as married because their relationship is not part of an institution oriented toward procreation.) On what possible basis can the revisionists' conception of marriage justify discriminating against couples simply because they do not have sex?

Read the whole thing and arm yourself to make a stronger defense of the societal benefits and rationale behind the government recognition of marriage, as traditionally understood.

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2 Comments

mark said:

I'm anxious to read the entire National Review piece, Michael.

The premise you highlight -- that the State sanctions and regulates opposite sex marriage because of the potential "problem" of sexual activity -- is intriguing and facially quite compelling. In fact, I think its logical implications actually give fuel to same sex marriage's best argument.

If, as the National Review argues, "marriage exists . . . to solve a problem that arises from sex between men and women", what principled reason should prevent the State from also using marriage to solve problems that arise from sexual relations between same sex individuals? Children are not the only "problems" that arise from human sexual relations -- there are also diseases (think AIDS), violent crimes of passion, etc.

Even in these times of lax morals and easy divorce, marriage still has the ability to reduce promiscuity (and its resulting societal ills) by solidifying and solemnifying committed, loving relationships -- all in the interest of the overall health and happiness of our communities. The health (again, think AIDS) and welfare of gays and lesbians (and the rest of us) will be enhanced by a reduction in promiscuity in their communities. Marriage is an effective tool to achieve that goal.

I also have to ask why Christians, of all people, would rally against a legal reform that will foster more monogamous long-term relationships?!?

Moogle Author Profile Page said:

>> I also have to ask why Christians, of all people, would rally against a legal reform that will foster more monogamous long-term relationships?!

Because that isn't what it does. What is does is affirm the MSM characterization of marriage as nothing more than a living arrangement for the benefit of those involved, to last only as long as those involved are happy with it. And any benefit society gets from it -- IF society gets any benefit from it -- is purely accidental: There is no deliberate social purpose or obligation to it.

It has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity or any other religion. This is all about what society gets out of the deal. Modern, peaceful society derives its existence from stable marriages (be they monogamous or polygamous) that produce and conscientiously raise their children. Making social responsibility and obligation a part of marriage does society all kinds of good.

Redefining marriage to the MSM version as a convenient, feel-good, living arrangement purely for the benefit of the couple for however long it suits them, an arrangement that entails no social obligation (like raising your kids), is what gives us places like Camden, NJ and South Side Chicago.

The MSM characterization of marriage is detrimental to society. The only way homosexual marriage makes any kind of sense is to fully endorse the MSM view of marriage. That's the problem with it.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 8, 2010 11:56 AM.

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