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


3. Based as it is on recognizing signs of value, my argument does not presume to know the precise nature of others’ experiences (and in any case, “knowing the precise nature of an experience” means nothing other than having that experience). It simply posits their categorical similarity to our own when manifested by similar signs.

4. When we attend to signs of value, it becomes clear that committed romantic relationships are uniquely plausible candidates for default protection and privileging over other kinds of relationship. It is a reliable sign of whom someone would want to make decisions on his or her behalf, inherit his or her property, care for his or her dependents, and so on that he or she is having exclusive sexual relations with that person and that the two have merged domestic affairs in a way suggesting an intention of permanence.

5. Nor is it a question of our going out and looking for relationships to protect. When couples in committed relationships wish publicly to exchange vows and pledge exclusivity and permanence, they present us with the signs of value. The test of conscience is then whether to acknowledge them.

6. I think Girgis is not noticing the signs because he has already decided matters dualistically. His criterion for ruling that same-sex relationships are less valuable than those of the example couples is: “What do they do sexually with their bodies?” He stops there, and so omits from his account everything that — based on the public signs — we might plausibly assume committed same-sex couples to be thinking and feeling. Whatever Girgis the metaphysician believes, Girgis the ethicist looks at them as minds/bodies.

7. Or perhaps he does make an assumption about their minds, namely that they aren’t really in love in a way that is like the way the example couples are, feeling something like what the example couples feel, committing to each other as the example couples do, but rather that they are using each other to get a kind of sensual gratification. Perhaps he has that in mind when he tells us that the body is “no mere instrument for producing desirable feelings.”

8. I don’t know what it would mean to think one’s body an instrument for producing one’s own desirable feelings. “A telescope is an instrument for seeing distant bodies” — this I understand.

9. If rather than that the body is no mere instrument for producing desirable feelings, Girgis had written that one should not sacrifice lasting fulfillment for passing sensual gratification, I would understand and agree.

10. “That person’s body is an instrument for producing my desirable feelings” — this I understand and deplore. It is dualistic in a way similar to Girgis’s view of same-sex relationships and his apparent prescription, in his law-review article, of celibacy for homosexuals. Common to all is that in action they alienate selves from their bodies by paying no heed to the minds that come with the bodies.

11. The basic problem with Girgis’s philosophical outlook — and, frankly, the outlook of the entire tradition he represents — is its studied obliviousness to the reality of perspective. It is nothing less than a failure to think of persons as persons.

12. Its manifestation is a poverty of empathy that fancies itself an avoidance of sentimentalism.

VII. Judo-Like Deflection of Ill-Judged Rhetorical Blows

1. “For Steorts . . . marriage is ‘maximal experiential union’: It consists in ‘two persons’ sharing each other’s lives — conceived not as the facts about their bodies plus the facts about their minds, but rather as the facts about their experienced unity of the two — as comprehensively . . . as possible.’ Readers might wonder in what sense they could share ‘the facts about’ that experienced unity (or is it the experience of that experienced unity?) with their spouse. They might further wonder whether Steorts’s taste for oracular pronouncements hasn’t overwhelmed concern for coherence in this, the central statement of his definition of marriage.” To the contrary, the attentive reader would have noticed that between the dashes, and between them only, I discuss our conception of a thing rather than the thing itself and contrast alternative conceptions. (And kindly restore the words “and deeply” for which ellipses have tendentiously been substituted.)

2. “Steorts suggests that we might have formed sexual relationships even if our species reproduced asexually — a fantasy that your scientifically minded sixth-grader could dispel.” No, I stipulate this in answering a thought experiment from Girgis’s law-review article. He asked whether, if human beings reproduced asexually, any society would have developed an institution like marriage. I am arguing that sex and marriage attain a good distinct from procreation and child-rearing even when they also attain these goods, or have possibility or hope or expectation of them, i.e. real procreative orientation — so without the stipulation his thought experiment begs the question. It’s not that, as an empirical matter, human beings might have sex drives if the species reproduced asexually. What does seem empirically true is that the sex drive, along with the possibility of committed romantic love to which it gives rise, is in some human beings naturally directed toward persons of the same sex. (In connection with this, a humane thought from a character of Philip K. Dick: “There is nothing, he realized once more, which is ‘outside’ nature; that is a logical impossibility. In a way there are no freaks, no abnormalities, except in the statistical sense. This is an unusual situation, but it’s not something to horrify us; actually it ought to make us happy. Life per se is good, and this is one form which life takes. There’s no special pain here, no cruelty or suffering. In fact there is solicitude and tenderness.” —Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along after the Bomb)