Tuesday 13 January 2013
Is sex a lasting treasure, or just a moment’s pleasure?
A slight change to Carole King’s lyrics gets right to the point of her song and also of Conjugal Union. What Marriage Is and Why it Matters by Patrick Lee and Robert P. George.
The sexual revolution was a surrender of marriage to hedonism. This capitulation was justified by pronouncing marriage a failed institution, a repressive rapist regime, a worn-out construct that no longer fit modern reality. In its place, free love, shacking up, and open marriage, much more thrilling, more fulfilling. Murphy Brown required no redundant male parental unit to help raise her child. Swift and easy divorce spares us acknowledgment of our faults. Many Boomers boast of this transformation of the family, our liberation of ourselves and future generations from those shackles upon our happiness. We uncoupled sex from marriage. Marriage now is what we choose to call it, lasting as long as we feel satisfied in it or until we get a better offer.
But many others rue the social and political changes our generation wrought, changes whose damages we now must try to undo. Resources are needed for this. To understand the real nature and the good of marriage, to defend marriage from downward definition, to find principled, clear, and convincing reasons for the restoration of marriage, and to return meaning to sex, this book is indispensable.
Definition is the core problem. Expanding on What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, Lee and George argue that marriage is a unique relationship: the comprehensive, exclusive, permanent, biologically sexual, social, emotional, and spiritual union of one man and one woman oriented toward procreation. Marriage cannot be defined in any other way. Other kinds of relationships share certain features with marriage (common residence, caring for children, mutual affection, sexual intercourse, etc.), but this does not qualify them as marriages. To extend the term to other relationships destroys its whole meaning.
The authors’ argument against including other associations such as same-sex partnerships and polyamorous arrangements in the term “marriage” is strictly logical and ethical. They acknowledge their personal religiosity but allow it no place in this presentation. They do not criticize same-sex preferences per se, but rationally show why homosexual sex acts cannot be naturally complete as necessary for marriage; only male-female sexual intercourse can be so. This is so because male-female sexual congress, as Lee and George repeat, is biologically oriented to the joint creation of new life and the rearing of children. This inescapable fact is the essence of the meaning of marriage. Opponents will attempt as an analogy that many man-woman couples cannot beget children but are still married. But this is to confuse what marriage does in particular cases with what marriage is in principle and in nature.
The authors demolish the legal arguments for considering same-sex and other kinds of relationships as marriages. They articulate how the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment have been wrongly interpreted by justices in same-sex “marriage” challenges and they show how there is no way for judges to avoid making arbitrary and unfair decisions when they attempt to broaden the definition of marriage.
Lee and George restrict themselves, properly, to narrow legal reasoning. I would have liked to see a refutation of the underlying assumption in most cases: that same-sex preference is equivalent to being of African descent and that to forbid “marriage equality” (a euphemism) is to deny a civil right. The “born this way” premise, that one’s sexual preferences are as congenital and unchangeable as one’s racial characteristics, is a foundation of sand. We will find no homosexual gene nor will a Laplander ever come out as a Nigerian. Comparison to the Loving v. Virginia case, which challenged anti-miscegenation laws, also fails the test of simple logic. Assume that same-sex preference is, like race, genetically determined. To be analogous to Loving, a same-sex attracted person would have to be denied and then claim legal right to marry a heterosexual person. This is of course absurd.
We have experimented with sex and marriage. We have tried to detach the meaning of one from the meaning of the other. This is no cause for self-congratulation. We have confused ourselves and are now passing that confusion on to our posterity. Conjugal Union helps us — forces us — to admit the experiment’s failure and to do all we can to repair the damage it has caused.