Saturday, November 15, 2008

Marriage and Procreation: Bodily Union of Spouses

"Gay Marriage is Not a Civil Right," my earlier essay, generated quite a comment thread. As is always the case, the radical leftists visiting advanced a secular authoritarianism bereft of intelligence, nuance or reason. Sometimes they just spew hatred.

One comment was particularly noteworthy, in response to the notion that marriage is an institution historically founded in the human pairing for procreation:

In America, marriage is not solely for reproduction. If it were, people who couldn't or didn't want to have children, wouldn't be allowed to get married.
In rebuttal, note Michael Novak's 2004 essay, which makes the unimpeachable case on the foundation of marriage in the togetherness of one man and one woman in an inseparable biological union, with the birth of a child from that unity the flesh-and-blood blessing of the couple's fertility:

Before male and female mate, they are two. But when they mate they become a biological unity, performing the only type of act that can result in the coming to be of a child, as a gift that flows from mutual self-giving by a man and a woman in the sexual expression of their marital oneness. The male and female who were two become a reproductive unit. He alone cannot reproduce; she alone cannot reproduce; when the two become one flesh, they can. This bodily union of spouses is the foundation of the multi-level sharing of life that constitutes marriage ....

It is true that, quite often, children are the fruit of marital union. But not always. Compared to the number of individual acts of marital union, the number of children has always been proportionately smaller, even when families were typically much larger than today. But the purpose of marriage is the act of marital unity even if children do not result from it. That is why even those marriages that for one reason or another do not result in children - do not share in the blessings of fertility, the gift of God that children in fact are - may still fulfill the purpose of marriage through the consummation of the marital act. They exhibit the fulfillment of the natural, created order. They are honored for fulfilling the laws of nature and nature's God, and for exemplifying family love - even if, through no fault of their own, it is in their particular case fruitless. The biological-sexual unity that is the foundation of marriage has its meaning, value, and significance not simply as a means to procreation or any other good, but as an end in itself. By fulfilling the behavioral conditions of procreation - by becoming one flesh - spouses actualize the great good of marriage even in circumstances in which the nonbehavioral conditions of procreation cannot obtain, or happen not to. Homosexual conduct, no matter how loving, cannot aspire to the same.

Read the whole thing, "What Marriage Is."

19 comments:

repsac3 said...

For those who believe, I'm certain this is a compelling argument. But for those who're gay, I suspect that their coming together as one is just as spiritual & fulfilling an act, and just like some of us heteros, just as bereft of conception...

Still, it is a compelling argument, particularly for those who once were or still are faithful... This is why marriage should not play any part in secular law, but should instead be what it is; a religious rite.

As long as "marriage" is a part of secular law that affords people rights & privileges, and as long as a class of citizens are not allowed to partake of the "marriage" union that affords them every one of those rights & privileges, based on something about them (be it the color of their eyes or skin, the gender of their beloved, or the religion the believe in), marriage will continue to be a civil rights issue.

Donald Douglas said...

"As long as "marriage" is a part of secular law that affords people rights & privileges ... marriage will continue to be a civil rights issue."

Read Novaks' whole piece. He rebuts your comment above as well.

Civil law dating back to the Magna Carta and beyond is been rooted in Judeo-Christian principles of moral right. Civil authorities can only legally perform a marriage under state power, but the private bonds the marriage represents and legitmizes in law is sanctified by faith.

Marriage as such by definition is available only to one man and one woman, but read Novak in full.

justaguy said...

He gives a very eloquent argument for the tyranny of the majority - since most Americans are religious, religious doctrine can be enforced by law. There are so many problems with his argument it is hard to know where to start.

His appeals to tradition are deeply flawed. The meaning of marriage has changed significantly in the past 5,000 years. Women no longer enter marriage as the property of their husbands. Is that an affront to tradition, or to our Judeo-Christian heritage?

He explicitly argues Christian supremacy - since most people are not secular they can institute explicitly religious laws. How this doesn't violate the 1st Amendment isn't made clear.

The same argument could be made for forbidding atheists from marrying. Marriage has its roots in a religious tradition, it has been a symbol of the unity of God for 5,000 years, most Americans are not atheists. Why not?

And he presupposes that anyone who supports gay marriage isn't religious. If you admit that there are gay people who are view their marriage as a fulfillment of their understanding of the divine Novak's argument falls to pieces. Then the ban on gay marriage prevents people from acting out their faith in this world.

Donald Douglas said...

Just a Guy!

You're making me laugh, because you've totally abandoned the "marriage is not solely for reproduction" line.

Now it's all about religious tyranny. Ha Ha Ha...

We have protections for that ... it's called the democratic process and the judicial system. Prop 8 was passed by a majority vote, and if you think this is such a bad thing, why don't you convince the majority that gay marriage is a wonderful. At some poin the U.S. Supreme Court will decide the issue, but at this point the federal government does not recognize gay marriage.

So, you're out of luck.

Not only that, you're a fraud, and a loser...

justaguy said...

A fraud and a looser? I guess if you can't win through rational discussion, try name calling... Do you have any response to specific points that I've raised, or are you just going to hurl insults?

Like I said, his argument is flawed in so many ways I couldn't get to them all.

Novak seems to be arguing that marriage is for reproduction, except for when it isn't, but that either way homosexuals shouldn't get married because they can't have kids. That's pretty thin.

That's his point of view as a Catholic. What relationship that should have to US law is beyond me.

A friend of mine who had a vasectomy just got married. He and his wife do not aspire to procreate. That in no way diminishes the legitimacy of their marriage under US law.

And yes, we have a democratic process, a judicial system, and constitutionally protected rights that prevent a majority from imposing their will on the minority.

Donald Douglas said...

"A friend of mine [sic] who had a vasectomy just got married. He and his wife do not aspire to procreate. That in no way diminishes the legitimacy of their marriage under US law."

I thought you were arguing for gay marriages, Just a Guy?

Novak plainly states that not all marriages result in children, but the fundamental rationale of the union of man and woman is affirmed by your friend's marriage.

Gays cannot achieve that same level of affirmation, because marriage historically is about biological unity.

justaguy said...

Historically marriage has been about biological unity? In what time frame are we talking about? Care to back that up with anything beyond assertion?

"Novak plainly states that not all marriages result in children, but the fundamental rationale of the union of man and woman is affirmed by your friend's marriage."

The fact that a man and a woman got married affirms that marriage is a union of a man and a woman? What?

Frankly, if that's the level of logic that you're going to use, I prefer it when you're just insulting me.

Novak - and you - are trying to have it both ways. You want to argue that marriage is based on reproduction when that allows you to exclude gays, and that it is not based on reproduction when you want to include heterosexual couples who don't have kids. You do so by trying to phrase it in terms of biological unity, the laws of nature, etc. which are essentially meaningless.

Its just a way to cover up the fundamental contradiction of your position - that marriage is about reproduction, except when isn't.

But that's all besides the point. What does Novak's meditation on his views of marriage as a Catholic have to do with US law?

justaguy said...

"Historically marriage has been about biological unity? In what time frame are we talking about? Care to back that up with anything beyond assertion?"

To clarify that - I mean, can you provide any evidence that your and Novak's definition of marriage as a biological unity based on reproduction - as opposed to, say, a financial interaction in which a wife is acquired as property - has been the fundamental meaning of marriage throughout history.

Donald Douglas said...

Just a Guy:

You're so flummoxed by this argument that you're left to simply throw up your hands:

"But that's all besides the point. What does Novak's meditation on his views of marriage as a Catholic have to do with US law?"

Nice try. :You want to just dismiss Novak out of hand, and that's after you already tried to change the subject to something else after being initially dumbfounded.

So much for wanting to argue on the basis of reason?

Keep digging man, at some point you're bound to hit the bottom of immorality.

justaguy said...

Hmmmm... again, you've yet to respond to any of my criticisms of Novak.

No, I wasn't dumbfounded - I was underwhelmed by the lack of a substantive argument.

And I'm not dismissing Novak per se, I'm saying that there is a difference between theology and law, between reflections on the religious meaning of marriage, and the legal institutionalization of marriage. Its a pretty basic distinction.

Donald Douglas said...

Just a Guy:

"...the legal institutionalization of marriage..."

I've already addressed that point, but you really are flummoxed.

You're arguing ad hoc, abandoning your initial clalims. You've yet to defend YOUR substantive claim that "marriage is not solely for reproduction."

You clearly can't defend that claim, especially since Novak's argument is primarily biological: only one man and one woman can create a child and raise it as a blood family of NATURE'S unity, and civil legal institutions are the only ones that legitimize that relationship.

You're the one who's smuggling religion in here, because your atheistic bigotry is the only basis for whatever argument you're able to muster.

justaguy said...

1. I’m not an atheist and have no idea why you’re suggesting that I am. I may disagree with your religious ideas, but that doesn’t mean that I have religious notions of my own.

2. How am I bigoted? I don’t think that pointing out that there is a difference between religion and law in the US, or suggesting that people should not be able to enforce their religious views on others through law is bigotry.

3. I’m smuggling religion in here? This is a post about an article written by a theologian who bases his argument on ‘nature’s God’. In the article he is very explicit that he is basing his views on his religion.

4. Novak’s claims are not biological. Yes the fact that males and females make babies is biological. The role that fact plays in social organization is not biological at all.

5. Novak’s idea of biological union is, as far as I can tell, completely meaningless in terms of biology.
“They exhibit the fulfillment of the natural, created order. They are honored for fulfilling the laws of nature and nature's God, and for exemplifying family love - even if, through no fault of their own, it is in their particular case fruitless. The biological-sexual unity that is the foundation of marriage has its meaning, value, and significance not simply as a means to procreation or any other good, but as an end in itself”
That uses the word biological, but it isn’t based on biology as a science.

6. How can I argue that marriage in America is not based on reproduction? In order to get married in America, you do not have to have either the intent or the ability to reproduce. Infertile couples or people who for, whatever reason, have no desire to have kids can get married. They are, legally and socially, recognized as being married. Thus, marriage is not based on reproduction.

7. Where did I abandon my earlier argument that marriage is not solely for reproduction? I might not mention it in every comment, but that isn’t making an ad hoc argument.

8.“I've already addressed that point, but you really are flummoxed.”

Flummoxed? Are you talking about where you argue “Civil authorities can only legally perform a marriage under state power, but the private bonds the marriage represents and legitmizes in law is sanctified by faith.” The sanctification of your marriage by your faith is a matter of your individual faith. It is not a function of the state’s recognition of marriage. If the sanctification of one's marriage in faith were a necessary condition for getting married by the state, atheists would be banned from marriage.

Donald Douglas said...

Just a Guy:

"Novak’s idea of biological union is, as far as I can tell, completely meaningless in terms of biology."

Geez, that's one mouthful of a tautology!

But really, when did men become able to procreate, that is make babies?

That's why we have marriage, as an institution for families, and civil laws provide the legal foundation for social stability.

That's the fact of the matter, and you argue an athiestic attack on religion even if you claim to be a believer.

Grace Explosion said...
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Grace Explosion said...
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repsac3 said...

Just a guy is correct. Traditionally, marriage had more to do with transfer of property than the birth & raising of children. Much of that tradition has thankfully been left behind, already, by folks who were called "radicals" & "nihilists" once too, I've no doubt.

If one believes, and wishes to see marriage as a blessed union based on the biological fact that God gave men & women parts that fit together, and that it's possible for them to procreate, if they choose, that's fine by me. Everyone has a right to their religious beliefs.

But US law is not & should not be based on anyone's religious beliefs. (Because who's religion & what denomination or sect would we choose? Suppose it isn't the one you practice? To what Plymouth Rock would you sail, and what would you call your New World?)

Marriage is a religious rite. The error was allowing a religious rite to have any place in US law, giving the state any measure of power or control over said rite, and at the same time, offering the church a say in US law, which governs all citizens, whatever their religious beliefs... including those who do not believe, at all.

While the church is free to discriminate against anyone who is not practicing the tenets of the faith as the church teaches, the state--that is, US state law--is obligated to treat everyone as equal under the law, & be blind to faith & the teachings of the church. Confounding a religious rite with the granting & withholding of rights under US law is what got us into this mess, and realizing & correcting that will be what gets us out.

Anonymous said...

Wow the person's argument above has the power of a tacky christian-rock album. No joke either, all shame and integrity is left out there...o well different strokes for different folks whose minds operate in the dim caverns of divine absolutism.

"Gays cannot achieve that same level of affirmation, because marriage historically is about biological unity."

Biological unity in what sense Dr. Douglas?

If you're trying to trace the origins of biological unity between primordial male and female human beings - which seems to be your approach - to dig far back into obscure history, then it would be reasonable to say that not all biological unions were perfect.

Based on common sense, it is reasonable to think that our predecessors had at best very loose unions, since the only need was to procreate for survival. And a basis for this argument, among many, is the limited intelligence that our species had as it was developing over time.

Also with time, structures to derive sexual pleasure developed, as an incentive to procreate.

What you lean on in your reasoning is what comes next, the emotional attachment of the first children, after being conceived by their "original primordial" parents. If you would like to trace it that far back.

Emotional attachments came after and was one of many dynamic reasons for the human family unit.
So having a basis for faith as the biological union is faulty, for one of many reasons. It can be the case that religiously-indoctrinated, highly partisan America has faith ingrained and bred in its psyche as the basis of family union, etc., from its euro-centric traditions and/or male-dominant traditions inclusive to the Natives of the continent for 200+ years. Male dominance which came from the dichotomy of roles of our species, and which diverged at a certain point for our success on the earth.

So as you can see, trying to pin the origin of something so grandiose as the "institution historically founded in the human pairing for procreation (your second paragraph)" is needlessly complex, uncertain, and beyond the scope of modern understanding.

An intelligent person would appreciate the complexities of human's history and of mankind's dynamic and extremely variable relations to its own species and the planet.

Faith is a highly psychological phenomenon, a lot of other human phenomena factor into it, but a divine entity does not. That does not mean that it's importance should be downplayed.

Yet faith is a mechanism which makes a person feel good via pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters triggered by memories and responses to conditioning, etc. It's a very abstract notion, that can be explained by the abstract processes of thought, memory, and cognition.

So one's psyche has a lot to do with one's convictions on sets of seemingly endless paradigms.

Nerves and neurotransmitters are the structures which create pleasure physiologically, and in turn, in a psychological way. So whatever pleasant thoughts you relish in from barring other human beings from having something that can't physically hurt you, (we're all sure) but only psychologically (the ego perhaps?) then by all means continue.

We don't want to take your ability to produce the sadist neurotransmitters, which make you feel contented with self-righteousness, by restricting their right to be equal.

No one can really stop you, only watch a man with an education like yours make harmful propaganda. I still have respect for your achievements, so I hope you don't try too hard to shoot me down with vitriol or act with indifference.

Whatever barriers to thinking critically about this issue may be vexing you, it may be best to take a step back and think reasonably about why you hold certain dogmas on the subject. What is trying to be accomplished with prop. 8 is to preserve the 'ideal' union derived from male-dominated society, after the formation of the dominant dichotomy, which was the physically superior, and by exploitation the mentally superior male gender. Institutions, such as faith and religion, were used as tools by crafty males of the dominant gender to indoctrinate and have a vice grip on the title for supremacy.

Why deceive your own intelligence and senses with psychologically fulfilling - yet insubstantial when not genuine - faith, when it is obvious that the ideal union did not exist with our more than likely sexually "wanton" primordial predecessors.

So why not be more practical about people who would like to be reasonably equal to me or you and let go of some of that convoluted primordial history that is completely unstable to use as a warrant for your argument in this thread.

justaguy said...

"But really, when did men become able to procreate, that is make babies?"

Even Novak argues that the ability to reproduce is not essential for marriage - that people who cannot reproduce can and should be allowed to marry.

And again, nothing in US law dictates that you have to be willing and able to reproduce in order to be married.


"That's the fact of the matter, and you argue an athiestic attack on religion even if you claim to be a believer."

Where have I argued an atheistic attack on religion? Is arguing that certain religious views shouldn't be enforced on other people through law atheistic? I don't really care what other people believe. When they bring their beliefs into the public sphere and argue that they should be the basis for law it is perfectly legitimate to disagree.

K V Fitzpatrick said...

Just a guy,

You're wasting your time. Your argument is based on logic. Theirs is based on faith. Confronting them with logic, and creating cognitive dissonance, will only cause them to cling more tightly to faith.

Don't worry about it, though. They're in the minority and will go the way of Jim Crow.