While I liked Rick’s comments on the Mirror of Justice site, I was a little confused by Rob Vischer’s recent post. He comments on a Boston Globe article on recent pushes by academics to have the law recognize friendships:
The article does not focus on the SSM debate, but this issue does underscore, in my view, the cost of excluding an entire segment of the population from the institution of marriage. Gays and lesbians understandably will seek state support through non-marital relationships, which takes us closer to a world where individuals simply choose the category of relationship through which to receive state support, and the state is neutral as to the form of, and committments embodied in, those relationships. It is difficult to imagine marriage maintaining its privileged status (as I believe it should) twenty years from now if a significant portion of the population is ineligible.
There is no doubt some truth to this. But it seems to me that the logic runs in the exact opposite direction. By embracing same sex relationships as marriage, you undercut any rational basis for limiting marriage to two people or viewing marriage as an inherently sexual relationship. If we reject the idea that marriage is founded on a two-in-one-flesh union between sexually complementary spouses—which is what we would do if we encourage the state to legally recognize same sex “marriage”—then why shouldn’t the state recognize other “marriages” that venture slightly further away from this norm—”marriages” with more than two people, “marriages” that don’t entail sex, “marriages” that amount to little more than being roommates. If this is the preference of the autonomous adults—free and equal before the law—on how to arrange their living arrangements, what reason will the state be able to offer as to why their friendship-living-arrangement isn’t as worthy of recognition as Adam and Steve’s “marriage.” I argued something along these lines in a First Things daily article a little over a year ago. Referring to UK civil union laws and the plight of the Burden sisters, I wrote:
Moreover, the government’s policy on civil partnerships is equally misguided. The state has long recognized the exclusive, permanent, and sexual union of a man and woman in marriage, and thus has treated married individuals as a single entity—a couple—and the fruit of their sexual union as part of that single entity—a family. But, in the wake of modernity’s sexual revolution, elected officials believed they had to recognize formally same-sex sexual arrangements. The solution they devised was civil partnerships: recognized domestic relationships between adults of the same sex.
The problem with this, however, was that it dictated that these relationships be sexual in nature. Thus, a middle-aged woman taking care of her elderly mother, or, as in this case, two elderly sisters living domestically—but not sexually—with each other do not qualify. This is lunacy. And all because the real push for civil partnerships was to create gay “marriage” without having to call it marriage. The legislature made a profound and dangerous error when it assumed that marriage is something the state created and thus something the state can refashion at will. If, on the contrary, marriage objectively exists as a given, and if marriage exists precisely because of its nature as a sexual and potentially procreative relationship, then the creation of any other recognized sexual relationship is certain to spell disaster. Witness the plight of the elderly sisters in England. They are denied rights that they would otherwise have solely because they are not in a sexual relationship with each other.
If the government deems it necessary to recognize other adult relationships besides marriage, then it cannot discriminate against competing relationships on the basis of sexual activity. For in venturing beyond marriage—with its contours based precisely on complementary sexual union—the state has no available reasons for citing sexual activity as the defining attribute of other adult relationships. In other words, civil domestic partnerships must be open to all adult domestic partners whether or not they are (or are willing to say they are) sexual partners.