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Truth Through Combat

A Conservative Argument in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage

The debate over marriage is more complex than seems at first glance. There is no simple civil rights argument to be made just as there is no simple argument to be made about the purpose of marriage. These are the typical argument forms in this debate:

For:

Argument One

  1. If people love each other, they should be allowed to get married.
  2. Gays and lesbians are just as capable of being in love as heterosexuals.
  3. Therefore gays and lesbians should be allowed to get married.

If this argument is to be accepted, then incestuous and group marriages must be allowed. But, most proponents of gay marriage do not want to allow incestuous and group marriages and want to distance themselves sharply from those who would propose the legalization of such marriages.

Argument Two:

  1. Prohibiting gays and lesbians from marrying is a violation of rights.
  2. It is wrong to violate rights.
  3. Therefore it is wrong to prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying.

The argument is vague as written. Which rights are being violated? If there is a “right to marry” then once again those who propose this argument will need to distinguish between same-sex marriages and other controversial unions (i.e., incest and group). If the proponents argue that the right in question is the right to be happy, then the argument will be woefully vague (anything could be related to happiness, thus leading the argument to the conclusion that sadists should have the right to whip or murder whomever they wish).

Against:

Argument One: 

  1. The purpose of marriage is natural procreation.
  2. Gays and lesbians are incapable of natural procreation.
  3. Gay and lesbian marriage is therefore incapable of fulfilling the purpose of marriage
  4. Therefore same-sex marriage should be banned.

It is difficult to see how the first premise can be sustained. The idea that marriage has a “purpose” relies on the idea that such a purpose would be determined by something other than human behavior and human thought. In other words, the purpose would have to come from nature or from a higher being. But how can we know what such purpose is? Even if one accepts the existence of such a higher being, wouldn’t it be a tired and trite human hubris that would claim to know the mind of such a being sufficiently to understand the natural purpose of marriage?

Furthermore, why stop at natural procreation? Why not allow artificial or adoptive procreation? And, finally: some heterosexual couples do not have children, and some in fact cannot have children. It would seem inconsistent to ban homosexuals from practicing what heterosexuals can practice.

Argument Two:

  1. Tradition has served society well, and one should not change the tradition rashly.
  2. Legalization of gay marriage at this time would constitute a rash change in tradition.
  3. Therefore gay marriage should not be legalized at this time.

Of course, the argument suffers from the vagueness of “at this time.” Even the staunchest proponent of tradition will have to admit that tradition in itself is not evidence of correctness. Slavery was once traditional. It is mostly gone from the earth. It is therefore now not traditional. Which tradition is/was correct?

So, what is the conservative argument in favor of same-sex marriage? If there is no possibility of establishing a bias in favor of tradition, and no possibility of showing that such marriages violate the natural purpose of marriage, how can a conservative approach permit such marriages?

What both sets of arguments have in common is their assumption that government has a legitimate role to play in sanctioning marriage. The natural conservative challenge is to ask why this should be the case. Why is government involved in legitimizing some marriages and not others? For the same sorts of reasons that government ought not to involve itself in economic and contractual arrangements that are truly free the conservative can reject the regulation and sanctioning of marriage. Consider this argument:

  1. Government should not be involved in the regulation or sanction of voluntary contracts.
  2. Marriage is a voluntary contract.
  3. Government should not be involved in the regulation or sanction of marriage.

The reasoning is simple, straightforward, concise, and conservative: conceive of marriage as an economic arrangement, allow people to consecrate it through whatever religious institutions they prefer, and then get out of the way. There’s no reason on this model for government to get involved with turning marriage into a special or unique relationship. No special tax breaks. No tax penalties. No special rights of inheritance or intestate succession. No special rights to adopt. No regulation whatsoever.

But wait, you might ask: some of those things are good things. We want marriage to generate some such rights.

The simple and conservative answer is: fine, then write it into your contract.

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