Two Views of Marriage: Appendix
A reply to Sherif Girgis.


22. People in our culture typically do not decide to spend their lives together because they expect children; they expect children as a part of deciding to spend their lives together. Through the goods of sexual attraction and life-sharing, nature and culture bring about the goods of procreation and two-biological-parent child-rearing.

23. Since one falls in love with another person as he or she is, some unions include the possibility of procreation while others do not; and some people — those attracted to the same sex; the wife of the man with testicular azoospermia; the husband of a woman who has had endometrial cancer — face a choice between procreation and maximal experiential union. This is fully consistent with the fact that part of what you might fall in love with is the idea of the other person as the mother or father of your children. And there is no “ambiguity” in claiming, first, that maximal experiential union with parenting is deeper than maximal experiential union without it, and second, that either is deeper than relationships that are parental but not maximal experiential unions.

24. I do not draw a “sharp distinction” between “personal communion” and “joint activity” as if they were “two trees growing in the same soil” rather than “a tree and its branches.” I am just the better botanist. Where Girgis mistakes species for genus, I recognize a genus with two species. (And these are not: heterosexual relationships and homosexual ones, but: committed romantic relationships that produce children and those that do not.)

25. I do assume that you cannot choose whom you fall in love with, although you do choose whether to yield. I do not assume that any desire may be yielded to; only that if a sexual desire may not be, this is not due to the parties’ sexes.

26. I do say that committed romantic love is the most valuable kind of intimacy. That some are not lucky enough to have it does not show that I am wrong.

27. Concerning the sexual rogues’ gallery — polyamory, polygamy, incest — and why my definition of marriage rules it out: Incest is not a gift of the self, but the alteration of something that was not yours to give in the first place, namely your relation to this person. (The public-policy considerations — both the reproductive concern and the way in which incestuous relationships would destabilize families — follow from this. What I wrote about “overlapping bodies/minds” did not hit the nail on the head, though it is plausible, and my metaphor apt, if you think more carefully than Girgis did about how bodies — e.g., brains and DNA — are related to minds. It seems he did not think about this, because he obliterated “minds” with his ellipsis.) As for polygamy and polyamory, they are not reciprocal and maximal self-surrender.

IV. Procreative Orientation
1. Girgis thinks coitus achieves bodily union because it is “oriented to” a function, procreation, that each body on its own cannot perform. Against this, I say there are only two senses of “oriented to”: bringing about the consequence of and undertaken for the purpose, or with the expectation, of. They apply as follows. A couple’s awareness that their coital acts may be procreatively oriented in the first sense results in those acts’ being procreatively oriented in the second sense. This is just what is not true of the man with azoospermia and his wife, the woman with no uterus and her husband, and similar cases — let’s call them the “example couples.” The second sense does not apply because they know the first does not.

2. Likewise the elderly couples Girgis mentions. I thank him for the example.

3. What does “dynamism” mean for the man with azoospermia and his wife when Girgis writes: “The behavioral parts of the process of reproduction do not lose their dynamism toward reproduction if non-behavioral factors in the process . . . prevent conception from occurring”? I think it can mean only: If a different couple were doing what these two are doing, it might then have some dynamism toward reproduction. This hardly explains why these two should follow marital norms, or demonstrates that they are, “in a strong sense,” whatever that may mean, one flesh.

4. I can even concede the reality of final causes — if we look carefully enough at the instances pointing to them. 

5. It is only the vagueness of this “dynamism,” this sloppiness that does not look carefully enough at instances before assigning them to kinds, that lets Girgis count as “reproductive units” couples who are no such thing. That is the real “gerrymandering.”

6. If on some occasion a person’s intestines could not absorb nutrients and he knew it, his chewing on that occasion precisely would not be oriented to digestion. And if he knew they never could, it never would be.

7. In his law-review article, Girgis compares the coital acts of infertile persons to the practice of a losing baseball team. But it is possible that the team will win someday, and it practices under that assumption.

8. Girgis’s invocation of bodily union (in his special sense) does nothing to explain what would be wrong with the example couples, or an elderly couple, if they were brother and sister. Whatever it is, it has nothing to do with procreation.


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