On more than one occasion, an advocate of same-sex marriage has asked how I can tell other people that their marriages are not real. My response has been that that the street runs two ways: his promotion of same-sex marriage tells me that my marriage is not real. Every time, my conversation partner has been truly and sincerely mystified by my claim. How on earth can his claiming his marriage take anything away from mine?
It’s hard to explain briefly. It’s hard to explain even at length, because by the time we are having this conversation we have hugely different background assumptions at work and we hear very different things when we hear the word “marriage”. Nonetheless, in recent posts I have tried to sketch out at least some of the background for my claim:
1. Only if there is such a thing as a human nature can masculinity and femininity be an expression of something deeper than mechanical structures. (I have also meditated here on one way our imagination can hinder us from seeing that human nature is real.)
2. Only if masculinity and femininity are real can marriage be a body-and-spirit, organic union of persons.
3. Only if marriage is a one-flesh, organic union of persons can there be such a thing a natural (as opposed to conventional) marriage.
To someone who has really grasped what I was saying in those previous posts, I can explain why claims to same-sex marriage do in fact take something away from traditional marriages. What follows is sheer fiction, a little parable I just made up to illustrate what I’m thinking.
Once there was a man named Victor who had three boys and raised them as a loving father. Victor was wealthy and generous and became a benefactor and mentor to a lot of other young men, to such a degree that he became famous for his altruism. He reached old age and passed away, leaving a great legacy behind him, a happy family and a host of grateful friends.
So legendary was Victor that it became a mark of honor for a young man to have been associated with such him. People made a big deal out of having had him as a mentor, calling themselves “sons of Victor.” Victor’s natural children began referring to themselves as the “natural sons of Victor,” and saying that others were not “real sons of Victor.”
The others became upset: they did not like any appearance of one-ups-manship. So they sued Victor’s natural children, saying that the three boys were taking away their right to sonship. Eventually a court declared that everyone who had been helped by Victor was just as much his “son” as anyone else, and that these people had every right to that title and whatever it implied. The whole country was moved by these proceedings, and soon it was considered a hateful and intolerant thing to claim that some people’s sonship was “real” and others’ not.
And they all lived litigiously ever after. The end.
In my little story, some people’s claim to be children of Victor took something away from others’. The three natural children were of course denying real “sonship” to others: they claimed natural sonship and argued that everyone else only had “sonship” by stretching the word to include a nice but artificial arrangement. The others could have objected, “We’re just trying to claim our own, not taking anything away from anyone else. How does our claiming our sonship take anything away from yours?”
But when the others prevailed, the implication was that Victor’s original three boys were only his “sons” in the sense that anyone else could be. Their natural and biological relationship was made equivalent to an artificial and conventional one. In the end, Victor’s three natural children were told that their sonship was less than what it had really been.
That’s the point about same-sex marriage. The body-and-spirit union of man and woman is a natural thing, and everything else called “marriage”—whether it be two men, two women, two men and a woman, or whatever—is an artificial arrangement. When we insist that both are equally “marriage,” then we mean that there are no natural marriages, only artificial things based on our preferences.
[Some people who agree with me in principle may object that the “sons of Victor” story is not quite on target, because honorary sonship is “not natural” while same-sex marriage is “unnatural”. I understand, but every analogy limps.]