In a fascinating article, “The Liberal Case Against Gay Marriage” (Public Interest, Summer 2004), Susan Shell argues similarly that the central concern in the state’s engagement with marriage is to secure “the relation between a child and a particular set of parents.”
She continues: “A husband is, until otherwise proven, the acknowledged father of his wife’s offspring, with recognized rights and duties that may vary from society to society but always exist in some form. And a wife is a woman who can expect a certain specified sort of help from her husband in the raising of her offspring. All other functions of marriage borrow from or build upon this one.”
As a result, Shell asks: “Can those who are not even potentially partners in reproduction, and who could never under any circumstances have been so, actually ‘marry’?” Her answer is clearly no.
Whatever else one may want to say positively about the emotional commitment of two men or two women to each other, it is simply not marriage. If the central concern of the state in marriage law is to secure a good relationship between a child and its biological parents, then by definition marriage can only involve a man and a woman.
A second, related argument supports the historic definition of marriage. Other things being equal, it is better for children to grow up with their biological parents. Only sexual relations (or some modern technological variation) between a man and a woman can produce babies. And the best way to produce healthy, wholesome adults is for those babies to grow up with their biological parents.
It’s a fact that marriage to the mother is by far the best way to ensure responsible fatherhood; when not married to the mother, few men are effective fathers. If the state’s central concern in marriage law is to produce healthy, wholesome adults, the optimal setting for this is in a good relationship between a child and his or her biological parents—which means marriage can only involve a man and a woman.
Everything depends on one’s definition of marriage. If, for the purposes of state law, marriage is a relationship of the type that characteristically produces children and encourages their biological parents to raise them because that is best for them and therefore good for the whole society, then gay marriage makes no sense.
If, on the other hand, marriage is not about bringing up children but about how adults solemnize their emotional commitment to each other, then gay marriage becomes plausible. But if this becomes what marriage is, why should the state have any interest in regulating it through laws? There are many important, intimate relationships—for example, the very close nonsexual friendship of two women over a lifetime—that the state rightly does not seek to regulate via laws.
The core idea of marriage—as a relationship between a man and a woman that obligates them to work together to nurture their biological children—has been important to every known civilization. Why? Because it corresponds with three fundamental realities of human existence: It takes both a man and a woman to make a child; any society that wants to survive must have children; children deserve both their mother and father.
If Gay Marriage Is Legal ...
What would happen if American law accepted gay marriage? While we must avoid fear-mongering or exaggeration, I think it’s increasingly clear that there would be multiple negative results.
1. It would weaken the connection between marriage and procreation and the connection between biological parents and their biological children. Almost every court case supporting gay marriage explicitly downgrades the role of procreation in marriage. In the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s decision bringing in gay marriage, the court explicitly said the state was indifferent to family structure; that is, society has no preference for children growing up with both biological parents!
2. The embrace of gay marriage will almost certainly change what is taught in public schools. If in law gay marriages are equal to marriages of husbands and wives, then the schools will certainly begin to teach that to all our children as the proper view for every good citizen.
3. There will be a variety of pressures to silence people who believe homosexual practice is sin. Virtually all legal experts agree that if the law sanctions gay marriage, there will be a colossal confrontation between religious liberty and “gay rights.” Through licensure and government grants a wide variety of faith-based organizations will face growing pressure to abandon their stand on homosexual practice and gay marriage.