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Two Views of Marriage, and the Falsity of the Choice Between Them
From the Feb. 7, 2011, issue of NR. A reply from Sherif Girgis will appear tomorrow.


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A tiered system would not oblige us to recognize polygamous or polyamorous relationships, because these are not maximal experiential unions. On the other hand, if there is value in polygamous relationships, polyamorous relationships, or relationships of any other type, if legal recognition of some kind is needed to protect that value, and if we can confer it without causing unacceptable harm, then we have no grounds to withhold it. But let us at all times discuss these things directly — noting, for example, that polygamous unions tend to be exploitative for reasons intrinsic to their hierarchical structure, and that polyamorous unions are both reproductive and unstable. Everything is what it is and not another thing. When the traditionalist asks, “Once you allow same-sex marriage, how will you disallow such-and-such?” we should challenge him to explain why he would disallow such-and-such. If he can, he will have answered his own question, and if he cannot it deserves no answer.

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It is all but impossible to separate judgments about marriage from judgments about sexuality. It is true that the traditionalist argument can be made without presenting any claim as to the value of same-sex relationships, but the traditionalist nonetheless holds that a special value inheres in a relationship between two heterosexual persons who are infertile but in love that cannot inhere in a relationship between two persons of the same sex who are in love. That is just what the revisionist rejects. He sees unique intrinsic value in maximal experiential union as such, and regards parental maximal experiential union — and the value that attaches uniquely to this subcategory — as its own kind of thing. 
 
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That the traditionalist’s position involves a moral judgment about homosexual relationships is evident in the following passage from Girgis et al.:
Because bodies are integral parts of the personal reality of human beings, only coitus can truly unite persons organically and, thus, maritally. . . . In this sense, it is not the state that keeps marriage from certain people, but their circumstances that unfortunately keep certain people from marriage (or at least make marrying much harder). This is so, not only for those with exclusively homosexual attractions, but also for people who cannot marry because of, for example, pressing family obligations incompatible with marriage’s comprehensiveness and orientation to children, inability to find a mate, or any other cause. . . . What we wish for people unable to marry because of a lack of any attraction to a member of the opposite sex is the same as what we wish for people who cannot marry for any other reason: rich and fulfilling lives. In the splendor of human variety, these can take infinitely many forms. In any of them, energy that would otherwise go into marriage is channeled toward ennobling endeavors: deeper devotion to family or nation, service, adventure, art, or a thousand other things.
But most relevantly, this energy could be harnessed for deep friendship. Belief in [the assumption that meaningful intimacy is impossible without sex] may impoverish the friendships in which single people could find fulfillment — by making emotional, psychological, and dispositional intimacy seem inappropriate in non-sexual friendships. We must not conflate depth of friendship with the presence of sex. Doing so may stymie the connection between friends who feel that they must distance themselves from the possibility or appearance of a sexual relationship where none is wanted. By encouraging the myth that there can be no intimacy without romance, we deny people the wonder of knowing another as what Aristotle so aptly called a second self.
The first sentence is what you get when you stop short of saying anything about homosexuality: Only persons who have sex like this can unite bodily (insert myopic biology), and only if persons unite bodily can their relationship possess the value of marriage. But then we realize that the authors — though surely no bigots — labor in blindness to the value of maximal experiential union as such, and to the fact that romance and friendship are different kinds of intimacy possessing different kinds of value. We detect no recognition that “those with exclusively homosexual attractions” can, while those who remain single for “any other reason” cannot, experience the value of committed romantic love. We get that quasi-reverential description of the possibility that a homosexual person might “harness[]” his or her “energy” for a platonic, Aristotelian friendship — the prescribed course, apparently. And we witness a special sympathy for persons who are afraid of sexual involvement, or even the false perception of it. 
 
I think much of the public finds these attitudes quite alien. But the point is rather that they are of a piece with the judgment that the value of a relationship between two persons in love depends, intrinsically, on the structure of their genitals.

— Jason Lee Steorts is managing editor of National Review. This article originally appeared in the February 7, 2011, issue of National Review.


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