The Plight of Adam and Steve Continued…

Jeremy Sig
gay_marriage_cartoon1In my last post on homosexuality I put forth an argument against using the Bible as a barometer for determining the validity of same sex marriage in today’s society. In this, my second post on the subject, I would like to address some of the non-biblical arguments against homosexual marriages. In response to my last post Dr. Wood suggested the book “The future of marriage” by David Blakenhorn. It is this work that I will be addressing in this post.

The basis of Blakenhorn’s argument is that the primary function of marriage in society is generative. As such he believes it vital for the health of society to put the growth needs of children over the rights of individual adults. He argues that there exist two universal ethics in regards to marriage. Those two ethics are the rule of opposites and the rule of sex. He then argues that the rule of sex is inherently procreative. He thus concludes that marriage is primarily about socially approved sexual intercourse, and the protection and nurturing of the fruit of that relationship. Given this premise of the intimate link between marriage and parenting, Blakenhorn argues that changing the definition of marriage will change the definition of parenting. He argues that research has shown that children raised in homes that have a different formula for parenting other than a mother and a father are detrimental to the health and well being of the child. As he eloquently states it:

“every child has the right to a name, a nationality, and a mother and father”.

By deinstitutionalizing marriage, society is forced to deny the double origin of the child. This he contends would cause serious repercussions not only for the individual child but society as a whole.

Blakenhorn is well thought out in his approach. He tries to honestly grapple with the huge ramifications of legalizing homosexual marriages. That said, I see one inherent flaw in his reasoning. That flaw is his fundamental premise that marriage is primarily generative.He presumes a universal sexual ethic in regards to marriage. However, this stance is no longer valid in society today. While it is true that procreation has historically been the primary purpose of marriage, this is not the case today. Previous societies saw the need for reproduction as primary due to the fact that without this emphasis mankind would suffer extinction. However, in today’s world which is over populated to the brink, reproduction is no longer the primary concern of modern society. In fact many sociologists have argued for some form of population control due to the detereoration of resources in the world.

This is why in today’s modern societies there exist no generative stipulations on the social union of marriage. Blakenhorn does not see any inherent risk in straight couples who remain childless. Similarly he seems to allow for sterile couples to reach out of their sexual union to adopt children. Both of these situations stand against the universality of the sexual ethic he proposes.

In fact Blakenhorn has produced six purposes of marriage in society as part of his “Statement of Principles” in 2000. These six purposes of marriage are in order:

1. a legal contract
2. a financial partnership
3. a sacred promise of commitment
4. a sexual union
5. a personal bond of collaborative love
6. and a family-making bond of obligation to care for any kin.

Reading these six purposes it seems hard to find an argument that procreation is the central purpose of a marriage. In fact according to Blakenhorn it is not even in the top five.

Blakenhorn, has stated that these multi-purposes are meant only to describe marriage in a private context. He still asserts that procreation is the primary public purpose of marriage. This, however, is still a position which does not hold with current societal definitions. By seperating a public and private purpose of marriage blakenhorn is left with the position that homosexual marriage has no societal value. This would, however, exclude sterile and childless marriages from having a public purpose as well. Likewise, any arguments for the natural state of sterility could be argued for homosexuality.

In my view, this requires that all six purposes be seen not only as privately valuable, but also valuable to society as a whole.With that in mind, one would be hard pressed to argue that a homosexual marriage can not fulfill the six purposes for marriage that have been presented by Blakenhorn.

A homosexual marriage can benefit the couple with legal advantages which also serve to create a permanent bond; it can create a sense of financial interdependance;it can help the couple to find values; it can elevate sexual cravings into a permanent sign of love; and it can create a deep personal bond between the two people. Homosexual marriages can also serve in the sixth purpose of child rearing in much the same way as a sterile straight couple could. It can also reinforce the role of the family unit much like any straight family that chooses to adopt.

It seems that homosexual marriages serve as no greater a threat to society than many straight sterile couples do. In fact in today’s wildly overpopulated world, homosexual couples can serve a unique purpose in revitalizing society by caring for the uncared for children and providing atmospheres to raise the many children that have already been produced. If Blakenhorn truly wants to affirm the “equal dignity of homosexual love” than it seems that these distinctions must be removed. Hopefully, Blakenhorn and others will see that marriage offers the homosexual community, at no cost to the rest of society, the opportunity to escape a hopeless life of drifting in and out of shifting relationships, much like it has for heterosexual individuals.

Marriage offers permanence and stability, enhanced by the opportunity to share it with children, to all who are allowed to partake in it. This is the value of marriage, and to deny it to the homosexual community is to deny their equality as human beings.

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20 Comments

  1. Good review, Jeremy! I’m not sure I want to post a long response since we’d be re-hashing issues already presented. However, I do want to quibble with this statement of yours:

    “While it is true that procreation has historically been the primary purpose of marriage, this is not the case today. Previous societies saw the need for reproduction as primary due to the fact that without this emphasis mankind would suffer extinction. However, in today’s world which is over populated to the brink, reproduction is no longer the primary concern of modern society. In fact many sociologists have argued for some form of population control due to the detereoration of resources in the world.”

    It is my understanding that in the Christian tradition, marriage serves three purposes: unitive (“one flesh”), procreative (“be fruitful and multiple”, and sanctifying (“better to marry than to burn”). One might argue that the primary purpose of marriage is not procreative, since procreation does not always happen in marriage and since there is a natural shelf-life to a couple’s procreative abilities (the “biological clock”). Rather, the primary purpose of marriage is unitive. The question then becomes, “What kind of union?”

    It is here that procreation comes into play, for as you rightly note, “without this emphasis [on procreation] mankind would suffer extinction.” Of course, last time I checked, this was true not only in pre-modern but also in modern societies. Side note: Have you ever read The Children of Men by P.D. James? It is an interesting speculation, in fictional form, of what would happen to a society in which procreation was no longer possible.

    One final thought: In his 1968 book, The Population Bomb, Paul Ehrlich famously predicted, “In the 1970s . . . hundreds of millions of people (including Americans) are going to starve to death,” because of the pressure of overpopulation on food supplies. He was wrong. Those people that did starve to death starved because the political and economic structures of their nations (typically Communist) could not adequately distribute food stuffs to their people. In other words, the problem was not supply but distribution. In the Twentieth Century, the only famines took place in countries with totalitarian regimes. Free societies don’t starve. That’s the real issue with mass starvation, not overpopulation.

    George

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  2. I applaud your insight Jeremy. You have put enough holes in Blankenship’s case to effectively sink what is already a melting iceberg into the cold sea of homophobia. I would however encourage you to go one step further. Conservatives continuously use creation and especially “healthy childrearing” as a primary argument without ever addressing heterosexual society’s increasing failure rate at the latter.
    They almost assume that all heterosexual parents flawlessly raise mentally and emotionally healthy children.
    In these words from your last paragraph,

    “…the uncared for children and providing atmospheres to raise the many children that have already been produced.”

    Here lies the biggest flaw in the conservative argument. Where do these uncared for children come from? Heterosexual people!
    Conservatives attacking homosexual marriage while sweeping under the rug the 50% failure rate of heterosexual marriage and the innocent children they damage is the clear hypocrasy here.

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  3. I can sympathize with Blankenhorn’s position but I agree that his premise is faulty. For the traditional Christian, the primary purpose of marriage is, in fact, union(George argues this above). For many Christians, marriage is a sacrament on the same level as Eucharist or Baptism.

    However, one cannot argue for the sacramental, mystical unity of marriage outside of the Christian worldview. Given this difficulty, many then default to the next “higher purpose” for marriage–proper care of offspring, which it seems Blankenhorn does.

    Jeremy already pokes enough holes in this argument. Unless the church is ready to start outlawing divorce, widows and widowers from adopting children, offspring coming from second marriages, etc… the argument that homosexual marriage has to be prevented while these other “deviations” from the purpose of marriage can continue, is an unfair double standard.

    Unfortunately, I feel this argument is too often framed in the language contemporary secular culture wishes to put it in. Being a Christian, I would much rather look at this in terms of our place in God’s redeeming purpose for the Church.

    Before we can start asking what deviances from the ideal picture of marriage are acceptable and unacceptable, we should first decide how we will be defining marriage–or in the wider sense, family. The fundamental question I see in this argument is:

    Should we define family as what is “should be” or as what it “is?”

    It would seem that contemporary secular culture would favor “is,” while many conservative Christians would favor “should be.” (at least in certain instances).

    In reality, I think the Church is called to live in the tension between these two. This is the “already but not yet” nature of our faith. We should never give up on the ideal purposes that God has for his people (this would be thoroughly un-Christian) but nor should we pretend that this Kingdom is already here and that everyone, Christian or not, should live by its standards (this would be thoroughly inhuman and in a “fallen world,” impossible).

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  4. Paul,

    You are right to point out the divorce rate and poor example of heterosexual marriages. Though I would question the fruitfulness of “taking it further.” It seems that a spirit of reconciliation, not of vengence, should be the guide in these kinds of conversations.

    Tony

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  5. Thank you to everyone who has responded to this post so far. I just wanted to throw a few things into the mix.

    George,
    I agree with you on the unitative emphasis of marriage within Christianity. However, I am not convinced that a homosexual marriage cannot serve this same purpose. In regards to overpopulation, you are correct in pointing out that this is not an absolute conscensus. The point that I was trying to make is that the societal purpose of marriage is not a universal or timeless ethic. It changes with the movement of society. While Ehrlic may have been wrong about the timing, that does not prove that he was wrong about the issue itself.

    Paul,
    Thank you for joining in the conversation. I personally feel you have alot to bring to the discussion. I also enjoyed your eloquent way of describing my argument. That said, I want to point out that I truly respect Blakenhorn. I don’t think that he is irrational or bigotted in any way. In fact he seems to come to his positions begrudgingly. Blakenhorn seems to have a real compassion for the homosexual community, but he doesn’t want that to cloud his assessment of the facts.

    Reed,
    You said :
    “one cannot argue for the sacramental, mystical unity of marriage outside of the Christian worldview”
    I disagree with this assumption. A sacramental, mystical unity within marriage is found in many of the world’s great faiths. I don’t want to get into symantics, but purphaps a better definition of what you mean by that statement is needed. From my assessment it seems that the unity of marriage is personally defined not institutionally. You also stated that you would rather look at marriage in regards to its place in God’s redeeming plan for the church. I would argue that this is too Christian centric. I will buy that this discussion should move to the spiritual. That said I think the real question is how does marriage fit within God’s plan for mankind. Specifically, when this discussion is a legal one taking place in country that recognizes the spirituality of multiple faiths. To limit the discussion to a Christian perspective is to remove its societal value. I agree that a discussion of what marriage should be must be introduced into the public conversation more. However, that definition of perfection must be produced from a national conscensus of some kind. The Christian church can’t even agree on a definition as of yet. This is why practically the discussion often remains in the “is” category.

    Tony,
    I cannot agree with you more. If this discussion is going to produce any lasting affects it is going to have to begin focusing on reconciliation. Much to the chagrin of everyone on this site, I plan on doing one more post on this issue. I feel that in order for this discussion to progress both sides are going to have to have a paradigm shift in regards to how they see each other. I agree that the divorce rate within the church should be a part of the discussion, but it should only be a part of the discussion within the church so as to bring perspective. Unfortunately, this discussion has all to often been driven by fear and hurt.

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  6. Jeremy:

    If the procreative purpose of marriage is not a universal or timeless ethic, then nothing is. Few social institutions are so closely tied to biology as marriage is. Correct that; no social institution is as closely tied to biology as marriage is. As long as we continue to be men and women, there will be marriage.

    What is interesting about modernity is its self-conscious rupture with biology. We separate sex from marriage and marriage from procreation. But the only way we can do that is by a variety of contraceptive and abortive technologies. In other words, if there is any sexual ethic that is not universal and timeless, it is modernity’s.

    George

    Reply

  7. George,

    I agree with you that modernity’s sexual ethic is not timeless or universal. That is precisely my point. There is no timeless universal sexual ethic. The creation of non-invasive contraceptive technology has removed the interconnection of biological reproduction and marriage. As technology and society continue to change, so too do the sexual mores. The social institution of marriage, like any other social institution, is bound to the relativity of the society for which it is enacted.

    Reply

  8. Jeremy
    You asked for more clarification:
    When I wrote of the “sacramental, mystical union” I was using this image as a contrast to the “contemporary secular worldview” that might explain marriage as little more than an antiquated social convention, sex as a purely biological function which has certain chemical consequences, or that the tradional idea of a family is quaint and outdated, etc… To be honest, I was not considering other religious worldviews at that time. It wasn’t my intention to claim that Christian faith had exclusive rights to the elevation of marriage to a “spiritual institution.” I only wanted to show this contrasted with the secular worldview. At best Christians and Jews can claim a common heritage in Genesis 1, but there are certainly parallels to these themes elsewhere.

    (It is interesting, however, that most world faiths that do operate with some sort of mystical view of marriage believe it only occurs between a man and a woman.)

    As to your question, “…how does marriage fit within God’s plan for mankind. Specifically, when this discussion is a legal one taking place in country that recognizes the spirituality of multiple faiths?” I agree that a liquid “legal” definition is inevitable in order for us to coexist peacefully. But this shouldn’t mean Christians (or any faith) should automatically accept the legal definition to be the same as the spiritual. This would contradict the nature of religious freedom.

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  9. But Jeremy, if there is no universal or timeless sexual ethic, why are you so insistent on gay marriage? Any argument that you make in favor of gay marriage, being non-universal and time-bound, can in no way morally obligate me to respect it.

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  10. George,

    You are morally obligated to comply with the universal timeless ethic of human equality. Not to mention that you are still morally obligated to the ethic of the culture for which you are in. Thus, even a culturally relative sexual ethic is incumbent upon you to follow. The universal truth is that God created all men equal. The culturally relative truth is that the constitution grants all men equal right to life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. So either way you slice it you are morally obligated to recognize homosexual marriages as you would any other.

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  11. Jeremy:

    I’m more than a bit amused by the fact that you consider human equality to be a “universal timeless ethic.” No society prior to modernity recognized human equality as a natural right. Many modern societies still don’t. Whence derives human equality as a universal timeless ethic? The Bible? Natural law? If either underwrites the ethic of equality, then either can underwrite a heterosexual, monogamous ethic. In the history of humankind, heterosexual monogamy has a far longer standing basis in ethics than does human equality.

    And I’m bit confused by you’re saying that “a culturally relative sexual ethic is incumbent upon you to follow.” Why? Or more basically, which one? It’s not exactly as a libertarian sexual ethic is the only option in American culture. There’s libertarianism, traditional marriage, plural marriage, serial monogamy, etc. Indeed, when you throw things into an international perspective, there are even more sexual ethics to choose from. Why choose the one prevalent in Western Europe and America rather than, say, in the Islamic world or the Christian south? And anyway, even if you could argue that libertarianism is the dominant ethic, how do you argue that it ought to be the morally obligatory one? How do you move from “is” to “ought”? What obligates me to observe a sexual ethic simply becuase it’s the dominant one? By that logic, Martin Luther King was immoral for challenging the moral status quo in the American South. The Abolitionists were wrong to rock the boat in pre-bellum America.

    Look, I understand arguments for same-sex marriage based on analogy to traditional marriage, perceived benefits, equal rights, etc. But this notion that I’m obligated to follow a culturally relative ethic simply becuase it’s, well, my culture’ ethic, makes absolutely no sense to me. Aren’t Christians supposed to be countercultural to a certain degree?

    George

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  12. George as a United States citizen you are morally obligated to follow the constitution. Which is why you are culturally obligated to allow for the rights of homosexual couples to have equal claim to happiness as everyone else. Now I understand conservatives like to point out that their allegiance is first to the kingdom of God, which is always bound to a relative definition. However, even if that were the case my first post dealt with why I believe that the kingdom has no sexual ethic as laid out in scripture. As far as human equality I don’t see how an argument from an unethical position invalidates the univesality of the position. I never argued that there were no timeless universal ethical truths, just that there are no sexual ethics in this position. But alas we have come full circle in our argument. I appreciate you participating in this discussion George. Unfortunately it seems we have both already made up our minds on this topic. While you presented your case eloquently I am afraid it is impossible for me to reconcile my belief in the duty of the church to love and accept with your position. While I understand where you are coming from, it seems to me to be an unfortunate position held more out of fear than Christian duty.

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  13. Jeremy:

    By your logic, you’re morally obligated to defend traditional marriage against gay marriage because (a) the Constitution is silent on gay marriage, (b) the Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on it, (c) the law of the land (passed by Congress and signed by the president) which prohibits the Federal government from recognizing gay marriages, and (d) in the absence of a contrary Supreme Court decision, standing law is sovereign. But whatever. I don’t think you honestly believe your the-Constitution-say-it-so-we’re-morally-obligated-to-obey-it argument since that would require you to have morally defended slavery, segregation, the disenfranchisement of women, and (depending on the decade) either the prohibition of liquor or the repeal of prohibition. Stated baldly, the first two sentences of your comment above are, to put it charitably, risible.

    I don’t know what to make of the rest of your argument. You’re right that we’re not convincing one another. If I understand you correctly, you’re arguing that there neither is nor can be a universal, timeless sexual ethic. And you’re further arguing that there is a universal, timeless ethic of equality. But if you apply equality to sexuality and further claim that I am obligated to recognize gay marriages because of equality, then in fact you have come up with a universal, timeless sexual ethic, namely, an egalitarian one. So, from my perspective, your argument, when it is not arbitrary, it self-referentially absurd.

    George

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  14. George,
    My point was to say that in the absence of a universal ethic one is morally obligated to follow the cultural ethic of their society. Now of course all of the things you mention go against what I have already stated is a universal ethic of human equality. I know you don’t recognize this to be the case. This is why I thought it better to simply drop the conversation. We can continue to wrestle with each other about which ethics are universal and which are cultural, but I do not believe that will provide any conscensus. I appreciate that you have given me a better perspective of a rational Christian argument that is not founded on bigotry. That said, it simply does not align with my personal view of Christianity which has been shaped by my understanding of reason and my personal experiances. Unfortunately it seems that there is simply too many things for which we simply do not agree for us to find conscensus on this issue. I am sorry that you have come away from this discussion feeling as though my positions are absurd. I can only assume that it is because of a lack of clarity in my presentation that this is the case. I believe we will just have to accept our differances on this issue as well as the fact that we will both be working within the same community to bring others to our position. As you are man with more influence than I, you may have an upper hand in this struggle. I can only have faith that whoever’s position best represents the nature of God will prevail.

    Jeremy

    Reply

  15. Jeremy:

    You have presented a multi-layered argument for same-sex marriage. I’m unconvinced by two of your arguments, for reasons noted above, but I think your other arguments have more weight.

    For me, part of the purpose of (sharp) debate is basically Darwinian: weeding out weak arguments so that the fittest survive. I cannot think of any reason why, in the absence of a universal ethic, I am morally obligated to follow my society’s ethic rather than, say, my own personally chosen ethic. Why cede individuality to society? Why not be a Nietzschean uber-Mensch? And I continue to think you argument about sexual ethics being temporal and relative but egalitarianism being timeless and universal is arbitrary. On what grounds? They are, in my opinion, weak arguments and should be weeded out.

    Your best argument is from the polymorphous sexual practice of Scriptural characters. I think there is a normative thread beginning at Genesis 1 and ratified by Jesus and Paul that affirms monogamy. You cite polygamy, concubinage, etc. as arguments in favor of multiple biblical sexual ethics rather than a single biblical ethic. I think you’re wrong, but that’s a much stronger argument and much harder to rebut.

    Part of the problem is that we’re coming at this issue with different epistemological authorities. For me Scripture is the norming norm, while tradition, reason, and experience are normed norms. For you, reason and experience are norming norms that critically evaluate Scripture and tradition. That too is a bigger and better argument than the two I specifically critiqued above.

    Maybe I should re-read your posts on authority and respond to them.

    George

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  16. George,
    You may have a point. As I reread through the various strands of our discussion on this issue I realized that the issue of moral obligation to a cultural ethic was a side point that you rightly exploited and forced me to defend. My main argument was that human equality not sexuality is the universal ethic. While I still hold to the position that, in the absence of a universal ethic, one should ascribe to the ethic of their society I realize that this does not mean there is a moral obligation. I also realize that to argue for this as a moral requirement is an undefendable position. The reason that I made the point originally is because of my belief in the progression of mankind. It seems to me that descension for descension sake is counter-productive to the growth of society. Descent should be birthed from a belief that culture has overridden a universal ethic with a temporal or relative ethic. This was why my main point was to argue for the universal ethic of human equality.

    You made the argument that human equality is not normative because it was not culturally accepted in most ancient civilizations. My position was that as a universal ethic it did not matter which societies accepted it. After all the point of a universal ethic is that it surpasses contradiction with cultural ethics. Now I understand that this same argument can be made the other direction in regards to a universal sexual ethic. This is why I came to the conclusion that our discussion was not going to bear much fruit. After all it seems unlikely that either of us will see the others position as anything more than an arbitrary choice.

    I appreciate your insight when it comes to the tiers of my argument. The reason that I did not bring up scripture again is because I don’t believe that scripture is the authority that should be appealed to in this case. Also this post was written with the assumption that I had already made my arguments against scripture known. I was trying to move the discussion into the forum of modern reason.

    If you would like to discuss epistemological authority I would be more than happy to. However, it is my experience that those discussions often go nowhere. That said, if you would like to try and change my mind you are more than welcome to try.

    Jeremy

    Reply

  17. George,

    After ruminating on this discussion that we have been having I have had a bit of a change of heart. I realized that my goal for this discourse is differant from your stated goal of intellectual sharpening. I have been debating this issue for going 3 years in various forums. During that time I have had many opportunities to sharpen my tools if you will. Likewise I am quite sure that you have also had many opportunities to become more adept at advocating for your position on this isssue. Because of this I believe that it is unnecessary for either of us to continue in our current fashion.

    As I see it, both sides of this debate have errored. For too long we have held our positions as penultimate desiring to end the viability of the opposing position. Unfortunately, this has often led to harsher rhetoric and stronger dogmatism. Entrenched interests are very rarely able to discover pragmatic solutions.

    Because of this, I have decided to no longer engage in a Darwinian weeding of arguments. Instead, I would like to offer an alternative. I believe that many valuable actions can be produced from discussions like ours. However, it will require a less dogmatic approach.

    My good friend Paul, upon reading my post, asked if I truly cared to bring change to the Christian church’s response to homosexuals or if I was simply engaged in theological masturbation. I have concluded that my true goal is not to be right, but to see progressive action taken within the church in regards to its treatment of the homosexual community.

    As such I extend to you an invitation to a differant conversation. Rather than wrestling with each other over who’s perspective is penultimate let us begin to dialogue about a way forward for the church. The first step may be to share what inherant dangers you feel are present should the church adopt a pro-homosexual stance. In turn I can share what I believe are the consequences of the current stance within the church. Possibly then we can move toward solutions to the issues that are brought forth. I am willing to assume that your apprehensions are well founded. If you are willing to do the same, then maybe this conversation can go someplace that it rarely does within our religious community.

    Jeremy

    Reply

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