by Ryan Shinkel
Here I argue that marriage can only in principle consist in a relationship with sexual complementarity, and that prudent public policy should not let the state fundamentally alter an institution originating in generational renewal to one of mere state contracts of companionship.
Many contemporaries believe marriage is only a romantic relationship between two people involving romance, domestic life, and caregiving. As Andrew Sullivan says, marriage is now “primarily a way in which two adults affirm their emotional commitment to one another.” However, others have a conjugal view of marriage to be a comprehensive union of two people. While a friendship is a union of two mind and two wills, marriage extends the union to include a bodily union, sealed in coitus and inherently oriented to familial life due to the sexual complementarity that only makes such a union possible. From this institution’s purpose are derived its norms: Marriage then must be exclusive (“forsaking all others”) and permanent (“until death do us part”) to be comprehensive in time and persons. However, this view requires marriage can only in principle be the committed union of a man and a woman.
This view of marriage as a conjugal union oriented to coordinating the familial life arising from the two biological parents has been affirmed as a three thousand year anthropological universal from Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, to Kant. They saw marriage as the union of a man and a woman rather than the highest form of companionship, hundreds and thousands of years before the concept of gay identity arose. That should make individuals pause when the issue of what marriage is, is seen through the lenses of current political fashions.
Also, a problem exists for the companionship view: the arguments for same-sex marriage easily apply to arguments for polyamorous unions to be recognized as civil marriages. Most desire to keep civil marriage at two people. But if sexual complementarity is no longer necessary, no principled reason exists to say marriage contracts cannot be extended to consenting adults whose union extends beyond two. Should not free consenting adults be allowed to call their relationships “marriages” by the state? Likewise, feelings come and go just as friendships come and go. But if marriage is nothing more than an affirmation of emotional commitment, why must it be permanent for adults to say together? The number nor the norms of marriage can be justified beyond mere individual desire given the companionship view.
Now the question becomes why the state is in the marriage business. Why are these relationships regulated when, say, friendships are not? James Q. Wilson writes, “Marriage is a socially arranged solution for the problem of getting people to stay together and care for children that the mere desire for children, and the sex that makes children possible, does not solve.” That was the case until the 60s no-fault divorce revolution began enshrining the companionship view by separating marital union from childrearing. This first redefinition of marriage damaged this “socially arranged solution.” Divorce was traditionally sued for abuse, adultery, or abandonment. Prior to no-fault divorce, about 95% of children were born with married biological parents. Now, out-of-wedlock births are nationally over forty percent. When the law instantiated the companionship view, new incentives were given that weakened the social scripts informing people what marriage is and how to pursue it – coinciding with massive state welfare and criminal systems. This fallout concurring with the first redefinition should hesitate those who wish to change civil marriage even further.
Interestingly, this fallout has also allowed social scientists to study many family arrangements, arising to a trans-generational consensus that married biological parents are the most optimal form for raising children. Sociologist Brad Wilcox summarizes, “The best psychological, sociological, and biological research to date now suggests that—on average—men and women bring different gifts to the parenting enterprise, that children benefit from having parents with distinct parenting styles, and that family breakdown poses a serious threat to children and to the societies in which they live.” If children are to thrive, they in general and for the most part require specific conditions of a mom and a dad. Conjugal marriage exists as the most optimal social network for children to be raised, and the state enshrines marriage to recognize it as an autonomous institution for the raising of children (as Wilson notes above).
Marriages don’t always produce children, but the children resulting from sex are either the care of civil society or the state. Thomas Sowell notes, the “preservation of the family as an autonomous decision-making unit is incompatible with the third party decision making” of social planners. The government enshrining conjugal marriage as an autonomous institution gives incentive to parents to stay together to raise their children without state intervention for fallouts from social disintegration. Civil marriage as conjugal marriage limits government and should be supported by fiscal conservatives.
This piece has been edited since its publication in our print edition
Also, read an opposing viewpoint on why fiscal conservatives should support marriage equality, by Hunter Swogger.