Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dealing with a few secular arguments against same-sex marriage (part 3a, of however many parts it takes)

This is part 3a of this series, with the "a" because I'm going to have to deal with this paper in multiple parts. It's a paper written for the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. In fact, here's the suggested citation they give at the download page:
Girgis, Sherif, George, Robert and Anderson, Ryan T., What is Marriage?. Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 245-287, Winter 2010. Available at SSRN:
It looks so official! *ahem* Let's get to the arguments, shall we?

A central question for the authors is "what is marriage?" It's a good question. They argue that based on the definition, and what follows from it, is that marriage is, and can only be, between one man, and one woman. So let's look at their definition.
As many people acknowledge, marriage involves: first, a comprehensive union of spouses; second, a special link to children; and third, norms of permanence, monogamy, and exclusivity.14 All three elements point to the conjugal understanding of marriage. (pg 252)
This then is their view of traditional, or what they call "conjugal," marriage, as opposed to "revisionist" marriage, which is
Marriage is the union of two people (whether of the same sex or of opposite sexes) who commit to romantically loving and caring for each other and to sharing the burdens and benefits of domestic life. It is essentially a union of hearts and minds, enhanced by whatever forms of sexual intimacy both partners find agreeable.(p246)
I think you know which view I'm most in support of, yes? Well, let's examine their definition in more detail.

As regards point one, "comprehensive union of spouses," they say
Marriage is distinguished from every other form of friendship inasmuch as it is comprehensive. It involves a sharing of lives and resources, and a union of minds and wills—hence, among other things, the requirement of consent for forming a marriage. But on the conjugal view, it also includes organic bodily union.(p253)
"Organic bodily union," if it's not clear, refers to sex. Specifically, penis-in-vagina-intercourse sex. This is necessary, they say,
. . . because our bodies are truly aspects of us as persons, any union of two people that did not involve organic bodily union would not be comprehensive—it would leave out an important part of each person’s being. Because persons are body‐mind composites, a bodily union extends the relationship of two friends along an entirely new dimension of their being as persons. If two people want to unite in the comprehensive way proper to marriage, they must (among other things) unite organically—that is, in the bodily dimension of their being.(p253)
 But why straight sex? You guessed it: babies.
But what is it about sexual intercourse that makes it uniquely capable of creating bodily union? People’s bodies can touch and interact in all sorts of ways, so why does only sexual union make bodies in any significant sense “one flesh”? Our organs—our heart and stomach, for example—are parts of one body because they are coordinated, along with other parts, for a common biological purpose of the whole: our biological life. It follows that for two individuals to unite organically, and thus bodily, their bodies must be coordinated for some biological purpose of the whole.
That sort of union is impossible in relation to functions such as digestion and circulation, for which the human individual is by nature sufficient. But individual adults are naturally incomplete with respect to one biological function: sexual reproduction. In coitus, but not in other forms of sexual contact, a man and a woman’s bodies coordinate by way of their sexual organs for the common biological purpose of reproduction. They perform the first step of the complex reproductive process. Thus, their bodies become, in a strong sense, one—they are biologically united, and do not merely rub together—in coitus (and only in coitus), similarly to the way in which one’s heart, lungs, and other organs form a unity: by coordinating for the biological good of the whole. In this case, the whole is made up of the man and woman as a couple, and the biological good of that whole is their reproduction. . . . bodily union involves mutual coordination toward a bodily good—which is realized only through coitus. And this union occurs even when conception, the bodily good toward which sexual intercourse as a biological function is oriented, does not occur. In other words, organic bodily unity is achieved when a man and woman coordinate to perform an act of the kind that causes conception. This act is traditionally called the act of generation or the generative act;15 if (and only if) it is a free and loving expression of the spouses’ permanent and exclusive commitment, then it is also a marital act. 
Because interpersonal unions are valuable in themselves, and not merely as means to other ends, a husband and wife’s loving bodily union in coitus and the special kind of relationship to which it is integral are valuable whether or not conception results and even when conception is not sought. But two men or two women cannot achieve organic bodily union since there is no bodily good or function toward which their bodies can coordinate, reproduction being the only candidate.16 This is a clear sense in which their union cannot be marital, if marital means comprehensive and comprehensive means, among other things, bodily.(p254-255)
To recap, marriage has to involve sex, that sex must be of the type that would be used to reproduce, because bodily union, which is necessary for a "comprehensive union," has to have some good that it aims toward, and the only available good to consider is reproduction. But interpersonal unions are still valuable in themselves!

Well, here's a problem, or several. Sex has multiple goods available to it, and reproduction is not the only one available. Among these goods are intimacy, shared pleasure, bonding, stress relief, and other possible benefits. Every one of these, on their own, would be a good worth aiming toward. Taken together, I'd say they are far and above being equal to reproduction as a good toward "which their bodies can coordinate." I don't really need to remind people that the brain and the body are intertwined and interwoven, and that what affects one affects the other, do I? Placebo effect, anyone? Sex can be completely valid as a means to those ends, and never mind that it's just fun.

Furthermore, if you have no intention of reproducing at the time you're having sex, or perhaps are not even capable of reproducing, then why should the mere doing of an act which could, at another time, lead to reproduction, matter as a means of "comprehensive union"? Believe it or not, not every heterosexual or bisexual person finds penis-in-vagina intercourse to be the most meaningful or intimate sex act. For example, I've met several people who consider oral sex to far more intimate than vaginal intercourse, and in fact have a sort of "meh" emotional reaction to vaginal intercourse.

In other words, I am forced to wonder just how boring and how limited the sex life of the authors must be, for it seems clear to me that sex in many (perhaps all) of it's forms, can lead to a positive good that has nothing to do with reproduction, that can therefore be a part of a "comprehensive bodily union," and is therefore completely "marital" -- when the couple is married.

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