Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

The thing about gay marriage, Sam Schulman says in the Weekly Standard , is not that it’s wrong, but that it just won’t work. Most people who object to it, he says, aren’t caught up with religious objections about what the Bible says or sexual acts being “open to life”:

The obstacle to wanting gay marriage is instead how we use and depend on marriage itself—and how little marriage, understood completely, affects or is relevant to gay people in love. Gay marriage is not so much wrong as unnecessary. But if it comes about, it will not be gay marriage that causes the harm I fear, as what will succeed its inevitable failure.

Gay marriage entails the same “cozy virtues” as traditional marriage, Schulman continues, but it replicates the modern invention of romantic marriage while neglecting the larger kinship system of which marriage is a part.

The role that marriage plays in kinship encompasses far more than arranging a happy home in which two hearts may beat as one—in fact marriage is actually pretty indifferent to that particular aim. Nor has marriage historically concerned itself with compelling the particular male and female who have created a child to live together and care for that child. It is not the “right to marry” that creates an enduring relationship between heterosexual lovers or a stable home for a child, but the more far-reaching kinship system that assigns every one of the vast array of marriage rules a set of duties and obligations to enforce. These duties and obligations impinge even on romantic marriage, and not always to its advantage. The obligations of kinship imposed on traditional marriage have nothing to do with the romantic ideals expressed in gay marriage.

Note that slip from romantic marriage to gay marriage, a slip that undermines the whole article. For what Schulman doesn’t recognize is that he is arguing not against gay marriage per se, but against the majority of marriages in America today.

The kinship system Schulman identifies is already in tatters. He gives four effects of that system: a concern for female chastity, rules determining whom one may not marry, the opportunity for licit sexual intercourse, and an initiation rite that ends childhood.

But that is not how young men and women work today. They can marry anyone they want regardless of race or religion. They can extend their childhoods as long as they please. And as long as they love a consenting person (or people), they can have guilt-free sex or live together as they please. “Without social disapproval of unmarried sex,” Schulman asks, “what kind of madman would seek marriage?”

Precisely, reply many young people today. Marriage undone, disintegration of family, children becoming sexual beings—these aren’t hypothetical results of allowing gay marriage; they’re an accurate description of the state of life in many places today. You can argue that gay marriage is a product and advancement of the same mindset that caused these problems, but you can’t argue that it will bring these problems into existence.

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles