February 28th, 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.]
Page 259: In which George accidentally argues it’s okay for the government only to recognize the marriages of dead people (yes! yes, he does!).
Robert George, having “proven” that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman, and that it has an essential orientation to children, now turns his attention for some reason to what he calls “marital norms”:
Finally, unions that are consummated by the generative act [*], and that are thus oriented to having and rearing children, can make better sense of the other norms that shape marriage as we have known it.
George makes three mistakes he’s made before.
The conjugal view of marriage explains the norms that have arisen around the conjugal view of marriage, which suggests the conjugal view is correct. Why? Because it explains the norms…
And so on, around and around, with no starting point. One might as well argue that segregationist ideas were able to explain the norms of segregation, which suggests that segregationist ideas were correct. Why? Because they explain the norms, etc.
Think of it this way: if marital norms continue changing to include two adults of any gender, will George revise his theory to include them? If so, then he’ll have to adopt the revisionist view he detests. If not, then marital norms are irrelevant to his discussion.
What are those “norms”?
Of course, those of us who are more empirical do care about these norms, so let’s take a look. George talks about two: permanence and exclusivity.
And we’re in trouble already. Western culture grew out of two traditions: the Judeo-Christian and the Greco-Roman. Both have allowed divorce. The Old Testament is full of guidelines for ending a marriage, and while Jesus strenuously opposed divorce, that hasn’t kept Protestant culture from permitting it.
As for exclusivity — throughout western history that expectation has applied mainly to women. Men could have multiple wives, concubines, and literal sex slaves.
George’s norms depend on the time and place you’re looking at. You can believe they have value and still recognize that George hasn’t grounded them in principled reasoning.
For if bodily union is essential to marriage, we can understand why marriage is incomplete and can be dissolved if not consummated, and why it should be, like the union of organs into one healthy whole, total and lasting for the life of the parts (“till death do us part”). That is, the comprehensiveness of the union across the dimensions of each spouse’s being calls for a temporal comprehensiveness, too: through time (hence permanence) and at each time (hence exclusivity).
First, toss out the first half of that first sentence. Marriage cannot always be dissolved if not consummated. From the American Bar Association:
Most states consider a couple to be married when the ceremony ends. Lack of subsequent sexual relations does not automatically affect the validity of the marriage, although in some states non-consummation could be a basis for having the marriage annulled.
Some states. What about the others? Looks like George is picking and choosing his norms.
Now to the rest of George’s paragraph: a comprehensive union requires comprehensiveness across time.
Does it? We can’t know and George can’t prove it. First, because he never proved that a “real” marriage must be a “comprehensive union.” He just said that most people acknowledge it to be so. But, as we’ve established (over and over), what most people acknowledge is irrelevant in George’s logic.
Second, even if you accept the notion of comprehensiveness (as I’m inclined to), George never defined the term clearly enough to draw logical conclusions. He has said that comprehensive doesn’t have to mean all-encompassing, so that takes “permanence” off the table, even by George’s own reasoning.
No one’s married until someone dies!
Now this next bit is a favorite of mine. Let’s see where George’s premises can take us:
The state is justified in recognizing only the unions of dead people as marriages.
Because, after all, until then, the state can’t be sure they are “real.”
I love that. I have to admit it. It tickles me and I find it delicious. To escape this, George has to abandon one of his beliefs. I have no idea which one, but I can’t wait.
By the way, I have to wonder what George thinks of a couple with children who continues living together, but not comprehensively. That is, they stop having sex, or lose their emotionally intimacy, or separate their finances as much as they can, or simply barely speak to one another.
If their union is no longer comprehensive, are they still really married? And if “real” marriage requires permanent, continual comprehensiveness (“through time” and “at each time,” in George’s words) is the government justified in saying they were never really married?
Also, George (as a Catholic natural philosopher) is devoting his life to creating a reason-based justification for Catholic doctrine. But here’s a conflict. If two Catholics are married by a priest and have sex, the Church sees them as permanently married (with few exceptions). How does that fit with George’s requirement for permanent, continual comprehensiveness? It seems to say a man and wife could just shake hands and part ways, and thus no longer be “really” married.
I can only wonder.
I know I promised you polygamy and incest, but that would make this entry awful long and I’m already late with it. It’s coming, though.
Next time: Polygamy, incest, and the failure of George’s definition of marriage.
* We’ve been through George’s abuse of this term many times. Check here if you don’t recall.
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.