The Editors of National Review Online make some lucid and unanswerable arguments in the Same Sex Marriage debate.
Marriage exists, in other words, to solve a problem that arises from sex between men and women but not from sex between partners of the same gender: what to do about its generativity. It has always been the union of a man and a woman (even in polygamous marriages in which a spouse has a marriage with each of two or more persons of the opposite sex) for the same reason that there are two sexes: It takes one of each type in our species to perform the act that produces children. That does not mean that marriage is worthwhile only insofar as it yields children. (The law has never taken that view.) But the institution is oriented toward child-rearing. (The law has taken exactly that view.) What a healthy marriage culture does is encourage adults to arrange their lives so that as many children as possible are raised and nurtured by their biological parents in a common household.
That is also what a sound law of marriage does. Although it is still a radical position without much purchase in public opinion, one increasingly hears the opinion that government should get out of the marriage business: Let individuals make whatever contracts they want, and receive the blessing of whatever church agrees to give it, but confine the governmentâ€™s role to enforcing contracts. This policy is not so much unwise as it is impossible. The government cannot simply declare itself uninterested in the welfare of children. Nor can it leave it to prearranged contract to determine who will have responsibility for raising children. (Itâ€™s not as though people can be expected to work out potential custody arrangements every time they have sex; and any such contracts would look disturbingly like provisions for ownership of a commodity.)
When a marriage involving children breaks down, or a marriage culture weakens, government has to get more involved, not less. Courts may well end up deciding on which days of the month each parent will see a child. We have already gone some distance in separating marriage and state, in a sense: The law no longer ties rights and responsibilities over children to marriage, does little to support a marriage culture, and in some ways subsidizes non-marriage. In consequence government must involve itself more directly in caring for children than it did under the old marriage regime â€” with worse results. …
[Another argument made by Same Sex Marriage supporters] is that it is unfair to same-sex couples to tie marriage to procreation, as the traditional conception of marriage does. Harm, if any, to the feelings of same-sex couples is unintentional: Marriage, and its tie to procreation, did not arise as a way of slighting them. (In the tradition we are defending, the conviction that marriage is the union of a man and a woman is logically prior to any judgment about the morality of homosexual relationships.) …
Same-sex marriage would introduce a new, less justifiable distinction into the law. This new version of marriage would exclude pairs of people who qualify for it in every way except for their lack of a sexual relationship. Elderly brothers who take care of each other; two friends who share a house and bills and even help raise a child after one loses a spouse: Why shouldnâ€™t their relationships, too, be recognized by the government? The traditional conception of marriage holds that however valuable those relationships may be, the fact that they are not oriented toward procreation makes them non-marital. (Note that this is true even if those relationships involve caring for children: We do not treat a grandmother and widowed daughter raising a child together as married because their relationship is not part of an institution oriented toward procreation.) On what possible basis can the revisionistsâ€™ conception of marriage justify discriminating against couples simply because they do not have sex?
How, for that matter, can it justify discriminating against groups of more than two involved in overlapping sexual relationships? The argument that same-sex marriage cannot be justified without also, in principle, justifying polygamy and polyamory infuriates many advocates of the former. There is, however, no good answer to the charge; and the arguments and especially the rhetoric of same-sex marriage proponents clearly apply with equal force to polygamy and polyamory. How does it affect your marriage if two women decide to wed? goes the question from same-sex marriage advocates; you donâ€™t have to enter a same-sex union yourself. They might just as accurately be told that they would still be free to have two-person marriages if other people wed in groups.
We cannot say with any confidence that legal recognition of same-sex marriage would cause infidelity or illegitimacy to increase; we can say that it would make the countervailing norms, and the public policy of marriage itself, incoherent. The symbolic message of inclusion for same-sex couples â€” in an institution that makes no sense for them â€” would be coupled with another message: that marriage is about the desires of adults rather than the interests of children.
It may be that the conventional wisdom is correct, and legal recognition of same-sex marriage really is our inevitable future. Perhaps it will even become an unquestioned policy and all who resisted it will be universally seen as bigots. We doubt it, but cannot exclude the possibility. If our understanding of marriage changes in this way, so much the worse for the future.
My own opinion is that a few years ago, before the nationwide program of judicial usurpations and legal end runs by local executives forcibly imposed Same Sex Marriage in a number of jurisdictions in flagrant defiance of the will of the voters and the law, the majority of Americans were inclined to support some sort of civil union arrangement intended to extend the legal and practical benefits of joint tenancy in real estate, survivorship, and custodianship to gay couples.
But the Gay Political Movement was not satisfied with practical accomodation. It was determined on a goal of coercively enforced equality, on a new American regime in which homosexual liaisons would be publicly and officially recognized and celebrated, in which everyone was obliged to recognize their validity and equal status, in which the power of the state would be enlisted to erase any and all social distinction between marriage and perversity. The groups responsible for managing the campaign shrank from no private arrangement with a judicial authority, no tortured interpretation of an 18th century constitution, no arbitrary ruling by a progressive mayor in order to steamroller over the rest of America and get their way. Inevitably, that kind of behavior has consequences, and a civil union compromise simply does not have the same kind of support it used to have.
The reality is that homosexuals can conduct any ceremonies they desire, declare themselves married, and live together without interference right now. They can be recognized as a couple by their friends. They just don’t receive public recognition of their private relationship and the rest of society is not obliged to participate. And that is exactly how same sex marriage should work.