While I’m willing to agree with Michael Barone that at least some of the heat in the culture wars has been turned down a bit (but see this post for a qualification), a lot of interesting things have been said recently about marriage, some of which I noted here.
In the first place, I want to call everyone’s attention to my friend Matt Franck’s nice summary of the exchanges generated by this important article. As he notes, these are serious and civil exchanges that ultimately focus on the question concerning the nature of marriage, rather than simply on name-calling.
At the core of the dispute is whether marriage requires at least the possibility of procreation. For Robert George and his co-authors, it does. For their critics, marriage might well be a significantly more malleable social construct. If they’re right, then we would, I think, have a hard time limiting the definition of marriage on any ground other than arbitrary fiat: marriage would be whatever the majority wants to make it. Or do the critics of George and his co-authors wish to invoke other natural or ontological categories to limit the capacity of the majority to assert whatever it wishes? (I suspect they do: social constructs made by majorities–rather than, say, judges–probably wouldn’t at the moment serve the interests of those who favor same-sex marriage.) They would, of course, have to justify why their particular natural or ontological categories deserve legal recognition and protection, and not those invoked by George and his co-authors.
In the second place, I want to commend to everyone my friend Patrick Deneen’s provocative reflection on what he with some justification regards as lower motives for monogamy and fidelity among our bourgeois and intellectual elite. It’s not about love or children, he argues, but about “picket fenced greed” in adhering to a relationship that has obvious economic benefits. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but, then, I’m also not altogether above permitting lower motives to help support higher motives and buttress an essential institution.
But I do think that the less marriage has to do with children, the greater is the salience of the lower motives and the easier it is to think of marriage as just another kind of contractual arrangement among two (and why not more?) individuals.
Finally, I would be remiss not to note my friend Jonah Goldberg’s contribution to the discussion. He’s probably right that the bourgeoisification of the gay rights movement is an improvement over its much more countercultural predecessors, but I’m perhaps more worried than he is about the implications of the Buegerlichkeit inherent in the embrace of same-sex marriage. Goldberg’s HoBos may not be too different from David Brooks’s (and Deneen’s) BoBos, as both may favor long-term stable relationships for non-procreative reasons (reasons more selfish than not). Both, however, pose something of a threat to an understanding of a union that is higher than those who make it.