February 24th, 2011
[This post is part of a series analyzing Robert George’s widely-read article, “What is Marriage“, which appeared on pages 245-286 of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. You can view all posts in the series here.]
Pages 255-259: In which George pretends to talk about children but really just repeats his thoughts on sex organs.
This is the most frustrating part of George’s article for me. Trying to rebut it is like trying to rip apart air: there’s nothing to grab on to.
Marriage and children
In this section, George links children to marriage. This ought to be straight-forward, but…no. Once again, he starts badly:
Most people accept that marriage is also deeply — indeed, in an important sense, uniquely —oriented to having and rearing children. That is, it is the kind of relationship that by its nature is oriented to, and enriched by, the bearing and rearing of children. But how can this be true, and what does it tell us about the structure of marriage?
Problem: Why does George care about what “most people accept”? He believes marriage is not simply whatever most people decide it is. That’s a key point in his article. He’s made it clear that if the day comes when “most people accept” same-sex marriages as “real” marriages, that won’t change his opinion one bit.
Now, personally, I do think it’s important to look at what most people think of marriage, because marriage is a human invention designed to meet a human need. To learn about that need, we have to look at real people.
However, I don’t put stock in referenda, opinion polls, and the public’s mood at any one moment. I’m not much interested in most people’s view of the abstract institution. I want to know what they say about their own marriages. Why did you marry? Why do you stay in your marriage? If you left, why did you leave? Investigate that for many people across cultures and time, and we’ll discover more about the nature of marriage.
But George doesn’t accept this empirical approach, so I wish he would stop with his “many people acknowledge” and “most people accept.” Since he’s declared these things don’t matter, I have to wonder if he invokes them as a way of getting support for statements he hasn’t proven.
Also, we’ve got another undefined term: What does he mean that marriage is deeply “oriented” to bearing and raising children? Especially since his article admits that having and rearing children is not enough to make a marriage, and that childless marriages can still be “real.” Clearly, this “orientation” is not a universal feature of marriage.
Children and the revisionist/common view
I think it’s clearer and more useful to say marriage is well-suited to bearing and rearing children — it creates a better environment for nurturing kids.
Why? I’ll base my answer on George’s description of the revisionist/common view of marriage he so opposes: two people have committed to romantically loving and caring for each other, to sharing the burdens and benefits of domestic life, to uniting their hearts and minds.
When two people come together like this, they improve the odds of creating the sort of stable, loving, attentive home in which (experience tells us) children thrive. Most people do want this loving union for its own sake. And most people want children. This wonderful synchronicity means that any useful body of marital law will foster the development of children — even if some couples never procreate or take advantage of those provisions.
So it’s perfectly natural from the revisionist/common view that marriage is well-suited to raising kids. But remember this: Marriage is well-suited to child-rearing because of that bond, that commitment, between two adults. Take it away, and you lose the link between marriage and children. In other words: the adult commitment is essential to marriage; the orientation to children is not.
That’s why George’s conjugal/procreative view of marriage is a subset of — not a competitor to — the revisionist/common view.
Consummation, PIV, and marriage
George offers this strange paragraph:
If there is some conceptual connection between children and marriage, therefore, we can expect a correlative connection between children and the way that marriages are sealed. That connection is obvious if the conjugal view of marriage is correct. Marriage is a comprehensive union of two sexually complementary persons who seal (consummate or complete) their relationship by the generative act — by the kind of activity that is by its nature fulfilled by the conception of a child. So marriage itself is oriented to and fulfilled by the bearing, rearing, and education of children. The procreative-type act distinctively seals or completes a procreative?type union.
You can be forgiven if this seems garbled to you. Apparently George is very hung up on the fact that traditionally marriage has been consummated by PIV (penis-in-vagina sex). He wants us to read enormous significance into that. But the paragraph is strange because its purpose isn’t clear. Is he trying to show that traditional rules of consummation mean procreation is an essential part of marriage? If so, he fails.
If you are at the Louvre Museum, then you are in France.
To get the converse of that sentence, just switch around the if and then parts like this:
If you are in France, then you are at the Louvre Museum.
Clearly, the converse of a true sentence may not turn out to be true. Why is that significant? Because George’s first sentence basically says:
If marriage requires an orientation to children, then consummation will be focused on procreation,
But, it does not follow that the converse is true. In other words, logic doesn’t permit him to turn it around and claim:
If consummation is focused on children, then marriage requires an orientation to children.
It’s this last statement that George wants to establish. But that’s the converse of his first sentence, so even if you accept that first sentence, he still hasn’t proven anything about the nature of marriage.
“Some conceptual connection”? That could mean anything. After all, marriage has some conceptual connection to divorce, but that doesn’t mean a marriage requires a divorce in order to be a “real” marriage. Still, if George wants merely wants to establish “some conceptual connection” between marriage and kids, I’ll grant him that, though for the reasons I talked about above.
That connection [between marriage and children] is obvious if the conjugal view of marriage is correct.
He’s just saying the conjugal view explains the connection between marriage and children. But that doesn’t make the conjugal view true — not unless the conjugal view provides the only explanation. We’ve already seen, though, that the revisionist view easily explains “some conceptual connection” as well.
George does this a lot in his essay — he talks about the explanatory power of his view. But unless he shows that the revisionist/common view can’t explain what he sees, then he’s just wasting his time.
Frankly, that last point’s a bit shaky because I don’t know what George means when he says something “fulfills” marriage. Usually we think of the people in a marriage as being fulfilled by marriage — what does it mean to say marriage itself is fulfilled by procreation? Actually, George gives an answer:
That is, made even richer as the kind of reality it is.
That’s his idea of clarification. Unfortunately, it’s quite circular: George is trying to establish the nature of marriage by using a preconceived notion of what kind of “reality” marriage is. It amounts to: Marriage is oriented to children, because children make marriage richer, because marriage is oriented to children.
It’s not really about the children for George.
After a few paragraphs on infertile couples, George offers this key sentence:
Same-sex partnerships, whatever their moral status, cannot be marriages because they lack any essential orientation to children: They cannot be sealed by the generative act.
Um — what? George makes a sudden leap using two assumptions he hasn’t justified.
Wow. We started with George’s vague claim that most people accept that marriage has an orientation and a conceptual connection to children, and suddenly we find him claiming this “orientation” is “essential” to a real marriage. How did we get there?
Actually, George’s answer to that is disheartening and doesn’t even involve kids: A marriage requires comprehensive union, which includes organic bodily union, which means PIV.
How about that second assumption: Why can’t same-sex partnerships have any essential orientation to children? George says — again — it’s because we can’t have PIV. But George seems to have forgotten he offered a different criteria for orientation to children: the idea that the marriage is of the sort of relationship that is enriched by children.
Why isn’t this true of same-sexers? Why, for instance, do children enrich an infertile couple who adopts but not a same-sex couple who does the same thing? The only difference George points out and cares about — the only difference he ever seems to care about — is that infertile opposite-sexers can have PIV. Which he still calls a “generative act” even though for them it’s, well, not.
At this point, my reaction is:
Aaargh! This whole section is just a rehash of the stuff he wrote before on organic bodily union! All this talk of children enriching a marriage is just more code for PIV, even when PIV can’t make kids.
Oh, that’s so frustrating. And this is all I can handle today. I’ve skipped two topics: George’s explanation of why infertile couples can still have real marriages, George’s discussion of married, biological, opposite-sexers as the parenting ideal. He’s comes back to this later in more depth, so I’ll address these topics when they come back up.
And trust me, the stuff on infertile couples will be fun to break down.
Next: Marital norms, polygamy, and incest
In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.
When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.
In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.
On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.
Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!
And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.
Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.
Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.
Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.
The FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.