06 June 2012

The Case for Gay Marriage (2 of 3)

by Frank Turk

So last week I asked for a secular definition of marriage which actually helped us understand what the advocates of Gay Marriage are looking for.  It was an honest question because I had in my back pocket this essay by Richard Waghorn, which is a weird twin cousin of this essay by the ineffable Sam Schulman.

But we did happen to come up with, I think, the best possible secular definition of marriage via twitter.  It's found at TheFreeDictionary.com, and it goes like this:


socially sanctioned union that reproduces the family. In all societies the choice of partners is generally guided by rules of exogamy (the obligation to marry outside a group); some societies also have rules of endogamy (the obligation to marry within a group). These rules may be prescriptive or, as in the case of the incest taboo, proscriptive; they generally apply to kinship groups such as clan or lineage; residential groups; and social groups such as the ethnic group, caste, or class.

Marriage is usually heterosexual and entails exclusive rights and duties of sexual performance, but there are instructive exceptions. For example, Nayar women of India would ritually marry men of a superior caste, have numerous lovers, and bear legitimate children. Among the Dahomey of West Africa, one woman could marry another; the first woman would be the legal "father" of the children (by other men) of the second. These examples highlight the functions of marriage to reproduce both a domestic division of labor and social relationships between different groups. Such functions are served even by the more common type of marriage, the union of one or more men with one or more women.

In most societies men and women are valued for their different roles in the household economy. Marriage therefore often occasions other economic exchanges. If a woman's labor is highly valued, a man may be required to offer valuable goods (bride-price) or his own labor (bride-service) to his wife's family. If a man's labor is more highly valued, the bride's family may offer goods (dowry) to the husband or his family.

Marriage as a Societal Bond

In many societies marriage links not just nuclear families but larger social formations as well. Some endogamous societies are divided into different exogamous groups (such as clans or lineages): Men form alliances through the exchange of women, and the social organization regulates these alliances through marriage rules. In some cases, two men from different groups exchange sisters for brides. Other instances involve an adult man marrying the young or infant daughter of another man; sexual relations would be deferred for many years, but the two men will have formed a strong bond. Marriages are often arranged by the families through the services of a matchmaker or go-between, and commence with a ritual celebration, or wedding. Some cultures practice trial marriage; the couple lives together before deciding whether they should marry. Society generally prescribes where newlywed couples should live: In patrilocal cultures, they live with or near the husband's family; in matrilocal ones, with or near the wife's family. Under neolocal residence, the couple establishes their own household.

Although marriage tends to be regarded in many places as a permanent tie, divorce is allowed in most modern societies. The causes of divorce vary, but adultery, desertion, infertility, failure to provide the necessities of life, mistreatment, and incompatibility are the most common. Civil unions are now permitted in Western countries, but for nearly a thousand years marriage in the Western world was a religious contract. The Christian church undertook its supervision in the 9th cent., when newlywed couples instituted the practice of coming to the church door to have their union blessed by the priest. Eventually the church regulated marriage through canon law. In contemporary N Europe marriage has lost some of importance, especially as social legislation has emphasized assuring equal financial benefits and legal standing to children born to unwed parents.

Forms of Marriage

Monogamy (the union of one wife to one husband) is the prevalent form almost everywhere. Polygyny (or polygamy; having several wives at one time), however, has been a prerogative in many societies (see harem). It is commonly found where the value of women's labor is high and may be practiced as a way of acquiring allies: A man may cement his bonds with several other men by marrying their sisters or daughters. Polyandry (having several husbands at one time) is rare, having occurred infrequently in Tibetan society, among the Marquesas of Polynesia, and among certain hill tribes in India. People who enjoy only a marginal subsistence may practice polyandry as a way of limiting births. It is also practiced where brothers must work together to sustain one household; they share one wife. The custom of marrying a widow to her late husband's brother is known as levirate marriage and was common among the ancient Hebrews. In sororate marriages a widower marries his deceased (or barren) wife's sister. The levirate and the sororate occur in societies where marriage is seen to create an alliance between groups; the deceased spouse's group has a duty to provide a new spouse to the widow or widower, thereby preserving the alliance. In recent years many gay-rights groups have sought official recognition of same-sex couples that would be comparable to marriage.

And here's my point in bringing that up: I want you to ponder this definition deeply, and think about it as if it was the only definition of marriage you had ever known.  Think about it as if this was the definition behind the law of the land, and as if it was the reason people actually got married in the first place.

Now fire up your imagination for a second.  Imagine you are at dinner with some other person, and you've been thinking about this for a long time.  As the waiter leaves with your order of eats for the evening, you clench up a little, and then screw your courage to the sticking place.  You take a deep breath and you begin, "What I really want is to avoid incest, and embrace endogamy.  I want some rights and duties regarding sexual intercourse and property, and to establish a nominal division of labor.  I want a visible household economy.  And you seem like exactly the right person to do that with, at least for now.  Will you marry me?"

Is there anyone who would really say that, or really want that?

Consider that, and I'll register part 3 next week to tie this all together.


Bill said...

Wow, what a sterling business proposal that’s devoid of romance, emotional gravitas, and love. Instead of saying marry, you could elaborate. Maybe something like this:
“Will you form a temporary or permanent bond with me that may or may not benefit both of us, and one that we can nullify any day we want for any reason we want?”

FX Turk said...

Exactly. That's exactly it.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Well you know, at least that proposition has clarity. In the good old days when two young people met they all had the same definition of marriage in mind more or less, they didn't have to compare notes on what marriage was or what the expectations were. Now, none of that is true.

So Frank, these days the proposal you wrote here actually is highly practical and if used might lead to less of an expectations gap and therefore fewer divorces. Even among "church folk," I suspect.

FX Turk said...

Before this thread gets too full with dissenters, two warning labels from me:

1. A week ago I asked explicitly for anyone who could provide the secular definition of marriage which included the same-sex marriage paradigm. This is the (only) one I got -- and it's one more than I expected to get. If you are a dissenter to the content of this definition and you have a better one, don't rail against the one I received: provide me with the better version you think is more suited to this discussion. To be as clear as possible, I don't want "your" definition of marriage: I want a proper definition of marriage from some secular source -- an advocacy group, a philosopher or sociologist, someone more impressive than the ipse dixit of drive-by posters.

2. The usual rules for posting apply, but I have one more for this week: you can't say "this definition is faulty" unless you have an alternative to provide. I think it is transparently-plain that this definition of marriage stinks - that is actually the point of this post. But it is also not my definition of marriage -- mine in found in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, if you're interested. But for you to complain that this secular view is insufficient or otherwise incorrect, you must provide an alternative.

Posts which ignore these warning labels will be deleted without any warning or recourse.

FX Turk said...

Nash: indeed. That's the scary part.

James Scott Bell said...

I was struck, Frank, how this definition eschewed "love" as any part of the basis for marriage. It just seems odd it wasn't in there somewhere, as it is, e.g., here.

Isn't one of the arguments for gay marriage that they can only express sexual love for their own sex, therefore they should be afforded the same rights as heterosexuals?

If that is so, how can one realistically avoid the "slippery slope" Schulman referred to? If I can love two women equally, why deny me the right to marry them both?

SolaMommy said...

I like where this is going. Looking forward to next week.

FX Turk said...



Eric said...

Is it telling that your sterile business/marriage proposal description could just as easily end with "Will you cohabitate with me" instead of "Will you marry me"?

And if that is the case, can't homosexuals (or any other arrangement) get/receive all of those benefits currently outside of marriage?

The marriage definition is severely lacking in the area of covenant committment, which is the essence and core of marriage, both in the practical and spiritual senses.

FX Turk said...


I am really just trying to find out what it is they think they want. Because if we discovered that, I think 95% of all differences would go away -- even if the 5% was culture-war worthy. And if that was the case, I think the 98% of agreement would help us find a resolution to the 5% culture-war worthy issues.

Bill said...

Frank, not sure if I’m off topic but you say “I am really just trying to find out what it is they think they want… I think the 98% of agreement would help us find a resolution to the 5% culture-war worthy issues.” I’m not completely sure of what they (pro-gay marriage folks) want but I do know what they’ve done, and quite successfully, they’ve taken a page out of the LDS play book. Make up something and call it by a name that others will recognize, it’s called equivocation. See, when the smiling preacher says he likes Mitt and that Mitt talks about Jesus all the time and that He is his savior I wanna puke. You may as well say a ham sandwich is your savior because their Jesus and the Jesus of Scripture ain’t the same. Likewise, the aforementioned cohabitation is the best you get from my mind; I don’t even like civil union terminology, what exactly is united in that union? In the end, many might assert this is nothing but a key cog in the wholesale acceptance of the lifestyle using terms we recognize and saying “see, we’re just like you.” This is beyond tolerance; it is acceptance and approval also. Oh well, delete at will.

FX Turk said...


This is exactly my point, except without the puke. The truth is that they get by with this glib use of the word "marriage," and they want nothing like that.

Nash Equilibrium said...

What do "they" want? I may be in the minority here, but I tend to think the demand for gay marriage is not really driven by a desire to be married, as much as it is by a desire to be respected, be considered normal, be treated normally, and so on.

So if the world gets to the point that it generally accepts this arrangement as marriage, it will then be "on to the next area" for homosexuals, and the next area, ad infinitum until they have convinced themselves that the world does not consider their lifestyle to be odd, evil, or undesireable.

Even though it may be "kind" to remove all social stigmas for this or any other undesireable lifestyle, it's not a good idea IMO. Stigmas make people think twice before joining into something. So unless one buys into the idea that people are born gay (and I don't), removing the stigmas associated with homosexuality, including whether what they are engaging in is "marriage" (aka, a state-endorsed family unit), is something that a lot of people will probably conclude is going too far.

FX Turk said...

I wonder if we should start to destigmatize Charlie Sheen. Think of the social revolution that would create.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Cogent point. Based on the behavior of his relatives, I might be easily convinced that Charlie was born that way.

Five Solas said...

That mock proposal at the end is how I imagine Amy Farrah Fowler will pop the question to Dr. Sheldon Cooper.

Eric said...


I agree, and the point I was trying to make was that if this definition properly explains what they want, then cohabitating with or without the equivalent of a prenuptual agreement should actually meet that objective. Which leads me to agree that what is really desired is deep in their soul - justification. We all desire justification somehow. The Christian ultimately finds that justification in Christ, yet we still struggle to justify ourselves either through viweing ourselves as good or excusing our sin. When we do the latter, I think we fall into the same trap that the unrepentant homosexuals are in: deep down, they are looking for justification of their sin. They are surpressing the truth and their conscience that tells them that their attraction/behavior is not as is designed and desired by God. And in their desire to feel at peace, they advocate for acceptance of their sin. Would that they could all know the peace that comes from true justification in Christ.

Linda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda said...

What do they want?

I don't think it's really about marriage because people of the same sex are already living together and doing what they want outside of legalizing same sex marriage. I think it's really about someone giving up their rights where someone wins and someone looses.

There is nothing that stops homosexuals from making lifelong commitments to each other. Gays already are allowed to make the same commitment. In fact, it’s done all the time. They already have the liberty to do what they want with their own lives. A marriage license, however, goes a step further than providing liberty. It doesn’t give liberty, it gives society's approval of that union, which homosexuals don't presently have. Homosexual marriage is not about what homosexuals are being forced by others not to do, but what society is being forced to do by homosexuals: We are being forced to approve of their lifestyle. That's why they want to get married which is another issue entirely.

Aaron said...

We don't have to speculate about what they want. The Bible gives us the answer.

Aaron Snell said...


I had no idea you had a recording device pointed at me the night I proposed. Repent of you plagiarism.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Heterosexual couples had the right to marry and cohabitate, but fought for society's approval of cohabitation without marriage. Homosexual couples have had the right to cohabitate and are fighting for society's approval for them to marry.

That's how messed up our society has become now that we are free from the "bonds" of Christianity.

Luke Wolford said...

I have another, shorter, marriage definition from my college sociology textbook.

"Marriage: a socially approved union of two or more people in which each is expected to fulfill specific economic, sexual, and caregiving obligations and responsibilities"

Claire M. Renzetti and Daniel J. Curran, Living Sociology (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1998), 416.

Nash Equilibrium said...

That is a great definition only because of its brevity, but I exclaim "gosh, there has just GOT to be more to marriage than that."

What about a case where one person can't fulfill those duties due to disability? Does that mean the marriage is over? Holding strictly to that short definition would mean "yes it is over" instead of "till death do us part" (and yes I recognize that latter quote isn't in the Bible but it is based on a Biblical view of marriage).

donsands said...

Marriage is a great privilege for me. My wife is still with me after 39 years and 4 months.
I am blessed.

She actually had to cut off my wedding ring the other day when I was stung by a wasp, and my hand swelled up like a ballon.

So now I get a new wedding ring. Same wife, and same marriage, just a new ring.

Good post Cent. You have too deep of a wisdom for my pea brain, but keep the truth rollin' bro.

Bill said...

Luke: Very telling definition, thanks for sharing. My first thought was “two or more” kinda defeats the notion polygamy is a bad counter argument. But, a minute later I thought, how long before single folk rise up and say “gimme my tax break, gimme my recognition, two or more is arbitrary.” That could be supported with: “I love my dog, my car, or my computer (in the case of Apple fan boys that isn’t so far off). “ Additionally, who in society approves marriage according to that definition? By way of the ballot box it seems every time a definition of marriage is put up for vote, one man and one woman wins the day, every day. Yet, in our society, “socially approved” often is decided by who yells the loudest and throws around the Alinksy-like epithets (homophobe) the best. Most damning, the black-robed demi-gods, often unelected and unaccountable, get to ultimately mandate what is socially approved. Lord help us.

Nash Equilibrium said...

"in Israel there was no king; each man did what was right in his own eyes..."

David A. Carlson said...

i would think the wikipedia definition is a fairy decent place to start as a "secular" definition

David A. Carlson said...

a social union or legal contract between people called spouses that creates kinship

FX Turk said...

It turns out I like Luke's definition better still. I'll be bookmarking it.

Linda said...

Congratulations donsands and I'm sorry she had to cut off your wedding band. That musta been a bit sad with the meaning behind the ring and all. But well your finger is more important

donsands said...

Thank you for the thoughts Linda. I didn't want to cut it, but Patti insisted.
She's quite bright and wise, and I'm about as dull as they come. And yet, our Savior does work with all His beloved.

have a great weekend, and especially Lord's Day.

Skarlet said...

The hypothetical proposal at the end of this blog reminded me of the movie Fiddler on the Roof, when the second-eldest daughter was being proposed to:

Girl: Is this a political question?

Boy: Well, yes.
Yes, everything's political.
Like everything else,
the relationship between a man and a woman has a socioeconomic base.
Marriage must be founded on mutual beliefs. A common attitude and philosophy towards society.

Girl: And affection?

Boy: Well, yes, of course.
That is also necessary.
Such a relationship can have positive social values. When two people face the world with unity and solidarity...

Girl: And affection?

Boy: Yes, that is an important element!
At any rate, I personally am in favour of such a socioeconomic relationship.

Girl: I think you are asking me to marry you.

Who knows if it would work in real life. Worked in the movie.

Mike Westfall said...

Luke's definition includes the phrase, "socially approved."

Same sex couples already have what's in the rest of the definition.

It's the "socially approved" part that is the holy grail. The rest (which they already have) is probably dispensable, or at least malleable.

Peter said...

It is unclear to me why you need a definition of marriage. I am also unclear whether you are looking for a legal, sociological, or poetical definition.

(On a related note, I am not sure how Ephesians provides a "definition" of marriage. It seems to me that Ephesians presupposes the meaning of the word when it talks about husbands and wives. Ephesians then merely talks about how one is to behave in a marriage. If one doesn't behave as described, is it no longer a marriage?)

Cannot homosexuals just say they want the same "rights and privileges" that the insitution of marriage currently provides to heterosexual couples?

Finally, I found this helpful in thinking about the meaning of the institution (from a secular perspective):


FX Turk said...

Peter --

Thanks for stopping by.

The answer to your question is "no." I will explain why plainly on Wednesday, 20 June 2012, in the final post in this series.

Peter said...

Well, from a purely practical point of view, it is hard to see how the answer to the question is "no," seeing as how homosexuals do, in fact, assert that they want the same rights and privileges that the institution of marriage currently provides to heterosexual couples.

But I can wait till tomorrow.

And back to the definition thing--it seems to me that the answer to your request for a definition encompassing same-sex marriage is just to say "homosexuals will use whatever definition of marriage you like, or whatever definition you use, but leave out the part that states it has to be a man and a woman, and replace it with two people" [assuming the definition is based on egalitarianism, and not complementarianism].