A philosophical reflection on what's wrong with the concept of same-sex marriage.
I have been an active debater on blogs in which the topic of same-sex “marriage” is discussed and contested. Recently I received a comment that might benefit from a reply that is sent far and wide, beyond the one blog. The issue raised is common and the answer clarifies in a philosophical sense why same-sex “marriage” should never be defended. Good-hearted people with no philosophical training are being taken in by the rhetoric that homosexuals have a “right” to marriage. The intent of this essay is to show unambiguously that not only is this untrue but also the granting of that supposed right will logically lead to harm to children and to social chaos.
Here is the comment from the advocate for same-sex “marriage”:
“I’d like to see you be more precise in your language. You use words like essence, purpose, and endpoint as if they meant the same thing. The purpose of marriage is to create a new, separate family that ends loneliness and provides a helpmate. Most of these new families produce children, but marriage doesn’t exist solely to create children.”
Now to my open letter to all who have an interest in the subject of same-sex “marriage”.
The essence of something tells us what it is. A children's ball for play has an essence because of the substance of which it is made, its shape, and its intended purpose. A ball like this is made of a substance that allows it to be bounced. It is round. And the intent of making the ball is play. The ball has an endpoint or purpose, that of enjoyment, play or fun. So, essence (what a thing is) differs from, but is connected to, its purpose or its function. If a person says that a square block of wood is a ball (what it is or it's essence) this just will not do because a square block of wood cannot achieve the purpose for a child that a true ball can. To give a child a square block of wood and then to tell that child it is a ball and to create the expectation that the child should now play with it in a way that he or she does with a true ball is to invite confusion. If we persisted in insisting that the wooden square was a round ball, this will bring frustration and unhappiness to the child.
Now to our discussion of same-sex “marriage”. The essence of marriage (what it is) has always and without exception been this: man and woman in a loving, committed relationship. The endpoint or purpose of marriage has always and without exception been this: mutual loving support of each other and -- and -- the creation and support of children. Just as a particular children's play-ball can have defects in structure, so too can any given marriage. These defects for particular play-balls or marriages do not change the fact of what the ball or the marriage are in their essence. If a particular man and woman choose not to have children, they are not availing themselves of the full purpose of marriage. The parent who puts the ball on a shelf and refuses to let the child play with the ball is not fulfilling for the child the full purpose of the ball. In either of these particular cases, the essence of marriage and the essence of the play-ball are not altered by particular uses or purposes that are idiosyncratic to these particular circumstances. The particular does not alter the universal essence of a thing.
You are asking society to change the essence of marriage, what it is at its core.
So what? you may be asking.
This. As you change the essence of marriage, you invariably change its purpose because essence and purpose are closely connected. You inevitably remove from the purpose of marriage this: the creation and support of children. Note carefully that you have done precisely that in your comment.
You then are left only with this as the purpose of marriage: mutual loving support of those entering into marriage.
How does the new purpose (it is new because part of the traditional purpose of marriage is deliberately eliminated) affect the essence of marriage (what it is at its core)?
Here is the punchline, so please read very carefully: If the purpose of marriage is only mutual loving support, it follows clearly and unambiguously that the essence of marriage can and must include polygamy, polyandry, and man-boy "love". Why? Because each of these social structures fits within the definition of your purpose for marriage with no contradictions whatsoever. By defining the purpose of marriage as you have, you have changed its essence and allowed for some very strange social structures, such as man-boy "love", of which you probably do not approve, but must logically accept.
What if you then say that you will alter the essence again and restrict the mutual love to only two adult people? You cannot do that logically.
Let us first discuss the issue of “two” and then turn to the issue of “adults”. Once you have reduced the purpose of marriage to the mutual loving support of those entering into marriage, "two" becomes what philosophers call an "accident" of a thing, something not necessary to the essence. It is like insisting that a ball always be red. Redness is an accident of the ball, not part of its essence because a blue or yellow ball still retains all of the essence of what a ball is. Similarly, 19 men and 5 women who come together willingly in mutual loving support completely fulfill your made-up essence and your made-up endpoint: what a marriage is and its purpose.
Now let us turn to the issue of “adults”. If you claim that any adults (man-man or woman-woman) have a right to marriage -- and you must accept any combination of adults by your own definition of marriage as we have seen in the above paragraph -- there is nothing to stop society from extending that “right” to consenting adolescents and children. After all, what right does anyone have to block the “wants” of children and adolescents who choose as their “right”, the “right to marry”? It is arbitrary to block their wants-as-rights if the wants of two men or two women or 19 men and 5 women are not blocked by society. You would be depriving them, based on your own words, of creating “a new, separate family that ends loneliness and provides a helpmate.” A 10-year-old fits this definition of your own making.
You might then say this: Well, the limitation of two persons must be arbitrary for heterosexual marriage also. No, it is not. Recall a vital purpose of marriage: to create and nurture children. Notwithstanding the methods of today’s reproductive technology, ultimately only one man and one woman can create a child. Research shows that the child is nurtured best with the mother and the father. The union of two is part of the essence of true marriage.
You might then say this: Well, the idea of only adults must be arbitrary for heterosexual marriages, too. No, it is not. Recall a vital purpose of marriage: to nurture the children. Only adults can do that because part of the essence of “adult” is maturity -- greater maturity than children or adolescents have. Please recall that if particular adults lack maturity, this defect does not take away from the universal meaning of the word “adult”. Only one man and one woman can both create and nurture children in a reliable way. “Adults and adults alone” is part of the essence of true marriage.
Whoever was confused about the “rights” of two men to marry or two women to marry, I ask: Are you still confused? If you are not, then what is the logical next step to protecting the essence of marriage and the clear purpose of nurturing and protecting children in that context? As you can see, and this is the logic of it, not my opinion only of it, the alternative is to invite social chaos. The alternative is a failure to protect children, as marriage has traditionally had as one of it’s purposes.
Richard Fitzgibbons is the director of Comprehensive Counseling Services in West Conshohocken, PA. He has practiced psychiatry for 34 years with a specialty in the treatment of excessive anger. He co-authored Helping Clients Forgive: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, 2000, for American Psychological Association Books.