A Dialogue on Marriage

*In the setting of John’s living room, watching the news and discussing topics therein*

John: It was a long and messy process for Florida, but I’m finally glad we got there.

Germain: What do you mean?

John: Well aren’t you watching? Florida’s same-sex marriage ban was ruled unconstitutional.

Germain: Did they say when?

John: I forget the exact date, but it was sometime around the end of August.

Germain: Goodness. You heard about Louisiana around the same time?

John: Ugh, yes. One headline read, “Gay marriage proves too modern for judge in Louisiana case.” Fitting.

Germain: It sounds to you like its time to reform.

John: And it doesn’t to you?

Germain: Well, you should know that I hold to a conjugal view of marriage.

John: Conju-what?

*Germain shifts his body facing John*

Germain: Heh, conjugal view. It’s just a fancy word that pertains to husband and wife, but of course means a little bit more than that.

John: Well then, explain a little bit more!

Germain: Well, a lot of authorities on marriage have written extensively about this and I could invoke more technical terms, but I don’t suppose you’d be too interested in that. The conjugal view just says that its not merely a bond like friendship or what have you, but is like a spiritual and emotional bond between two persons. It is distinguished by its comprehensiveness, which is just a way of saying that marriage comes together in three basic features: (1) unifying activity, (2) unifying goods, and (3) unifying commitment. This “function of union,” if you’d like to call it that, unites people in their minds and in their bodies, as well as with respect to procreation, family life, and so on.

John: I like the flow of your explanation. However, are you suggesting that marriage is primarily about procreation? Obviously, same-sex couples can care for a child just as well as straight couples. What is the difference?

Germain: Well, first we have to understand the basic fact that marriage and family life are connected. I don’t think you would argue with me there. Our law for centuries has recognized coitus (or sex, to use a funny word) – not adoption, birth, or etc. – as the event that consummates (or completes) a marriage. This is even the case with infertile couples.

John: Well, surely it seems then that you would agree that society should embrace marriage equality because its good for straight as well as gay couples to have that “special someone,” or whatever you’d like to call it, to have and to hold and etc. for the rest of their lives. Partnerships like these are good, not only for individuals but also for communities. This procreative element you throw in there seems arbitrary – even with the case of infertile couples. It seems you’re just explaining all this away with no basis.

Germain: Well, remember, we are discussing not whom should be allowed to marry but what marriage is.

John: You “traditionals” always say that but you always seem to forget that there are deep, personal realities at work here. Individuals and ones whom they choose to love are important in this matter, aren’t they?

Germain: Sure, but that only goes within the proper scope of the definition of marriage. Love and choice are not the basis for the consummation of marriage. I’m sure you would say that there is of course more to it than that, but it seems to boil fundamentally down to just that: choice. The marriage or the special bond between partners doesn’t need to exactly point past them. It’s simply a loving, emotional bond, one distinguished by intensity.

John: Well, answer me this.

*John shifts his body towards Germain and invokes an inquiring look*

John: Why should, for example, a same-sex couple be denied the right to file for a joint tax return, as opposed to a straight couple? What is the difference there and how is that not discrimination?

Germain: If you would allow me, I’d like to frame a follow up question as a kind of response.

John: Sure, as long as you answer me.

Germain: I’ll see where this question gets you first. Let’s take your question even further: Why should I not be able to file for a joint tax return if I’m in a throuple?

John: Oh goodness please don’t go into any “slippery-slope” business.

Germain: Of course not. But do you see what I’m asking? It seems as if you’re saying, “Tax code recognized marriages ought to be extended to same-sex couples,” which is all when and good, but where does that reasoning come to an end? Surely you aren’t special pleading and wish to just have these rights only for yourself and not for throuples, or quartets.

John: Like I said Germain, this sounds no different than the slippery slope argument and you’re ignoring my question.

Germain: I don’t think you’re seeing the force of the question. Granted you might dispute its truth, but its another to recognize and see its form. I’ll ask again in a different way: what principle are you working with here? If same-sex couples should be extended the same rights as straight couples, than why not extend those rights also over to the throuple? On your view it seems that there are no logical restrictions (if you’d like to call it that) to further re-shaping marriage to include multiple partners. Allowing equality for same-sex couples but stopping there not only seems arbitrary but also unjust, to step in your shoes for a moment.

John: If you’ve ever read some of the work by Jonathan Rauch, for example his Gay Marriage: Why It is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America (2004) he wrote just after the ruling in Massachusetts, he argues something (and I would agree) known as the “consent based idea,” which just says that marriage is a commitment marked by the emotional union of individuals. Interestingly, he calls same-sex marriage as a “win-win-win,” in that its (1) good for homosexuals, (2) heterosexuals, and (3) the institution of marriage itself, or just American society. Same-sex marriage is normative for homosexuals, and, if properly implemented, can better unify the community at large.

Germain: There’s a lot to talk about here, and I don’t want to divert too far from where we started. But, with regard to Rauch’s work, he does make the attempt to refrain from the recognition of the throuple, I’ll give him that. However, it doesn’t work. I am saying this: If you were to abandon my view, the “conjugal view” that I mentioned earlier, what principle or norm should we invoke to restrict marriage to two-person relationships, as opposed to polyamorous or polygamous relationships which can include up to three or more people?

John: I would say that not only have there been possible solutions to answer your problem, but to be relevant I had posed a question that you have yet to answer. How is this not discrimination?

Germain: Well, it goes like this. It’s not discrimination in the sense that everyone can participate – or, excuse me, not participate. Rather, that everyone is equally eligible for entering into the marital relationship insofar as you understand marriage as I have described it. That is, a union of sexual complimentary spouses between a man and a woman, husband and wife, mother and father, and so on.

John: It seems to me that this runs contrary to the current trend of thought, where even conservatives themselves are turning. Do you not suppose that there is good reason to not so much redefine marriage, but recognize marriage? A marriage, that is, primarily focused on the consensual bond between two emotionally committed adults and serves not only the good of the individuals but of the community at large? You might be on “the wrong side of history,” as they say.

Germain: A very wise man once said, “The fool is disturbed not when they tell him that his ideas are false, but when they suggest that they have gone out of style.” There is no such thing as being on the wrong side of history as there is being on the wrong side of Truth. There was this rather smart British philosopher by the name of John Stuart Mill who said that “if all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” He was saying that silencing an “expression of opinion” denied one an opportunity to submit error for truth, even if the opinion happened to be false. Likewise with what you’re doing here. It’s a mistake to suppose that my view (even if I were the only one to hold it or if everyone hated my view except for me) were false on this basis.


About Steven Dunn

A believer of the Gospel; a broken mind being reformed in grace.
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