The Logic of Marriage

I’ve heard that my letter below was published in today’s Opelika-Auburn News; I haven’t seen a copy yet so I don’t know whether they cut anything.

To the Editor:

The arguments one hears nowadays against treating gays like human beings all seem to be recycled from the arguments 150 years ago against treating women like human beings.

In the 19th century, a married woman had no legal right to control her own property, to have access to her own children, or to resist being raped by her husband. Those who fought against this legalized oppression of women were accused of seeking the abolition of marriage.

defend marriage and the flag!

The male supremacists’ argument was that the subordination of the wife to the husband had so long characterized marriage that it should be considered part of the very definition of marriage, so that no relationship between legal equals could count as a marriage.

If we were to apply that standard nowadays, we would have to say that there are no married couples in the United States today. If we’re not willing to say that, then we must admit that marriage’s history does not define its boundaries.

Just as the 19th-century male supremacists rejected same-rights marriage as contradictory, so today’s hetero-supremacists reject same-sex marriage as “impossible,” as Bruce Murray does in his letter [Sunday]. But if we reject the former argument, we must reject the latter for the same reason.

The anti-marriage-equality act (calling it the defense-of-marriage act is the equivalent of calling the old prohibition on women’s and blacks’ right to vote the defense-of-voting act) is trivially unconstitutional; there’s no way that granting special rights to heterosexuals and denying them to homosexuals can be considered “equal protection of the laws.”

More importantly (since justice is always more important than legality), the anti-marriage-equality act is a sin against human equality, and an oath to enforce it would be just as illegitimate as an oath to commit any other crime.

Roderick T. Long

For previous posts on the definition of marriage, see “Who Defends Marriage?” and “The Form of Sound Words.”

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9 Responses to The Logic of Marriage

  1. dennis March 3, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    Letters like that might prompt an angry University of Alabama fan to poison you with herbicide. But I concur. The definition of marriage has changed countless times since the beginning of the Christian era.

  2. Justus March 6, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    “If we were to apply that standard nowadays, we would have to say that there are no married couples in the United States today.”

    I would actually agree that there are no married couples in the United States today. At least, not any legally married ones. A marriage contract is no longer a contract; with today’s no-fault divorces and family courts that heavily favor women for custody, there’s nothing left of what Christians often call “the sanctity of marriage”. As I see it, if the Christians didn’t want marriage to be soiled by government, then they shouldn’t have ever supported government having anything to do with it.

    Personally, I see marriage and families as necessarily hierarchical, with a marriage contract designed to outline the responsibilities of each party involved. Marriage, I do believe, is perhaps different for straight couples than for gay couples, but only in that marriage should specifically outline provisions for having children together. When a gay couple adopts children, or receives them through some other contractual means, the situation surrounding those children will be outlined in that particular document, rather than in the marriage document.

    I see no reason why marriage should entitle a couple to any special treatment, nor do I believe that childless couples of any orientation are actually married. That’s really a subtle difference, and I’m fine with accepting a union of personal assets and property to stand for marriage.

  3. Justus March 6, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    Hopefully, I remember to come back to this site to catch up on comments this time. Otherwise, Tennyson is gonna scold me again, haha.

  4. Terry Hulsey March 8, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    If children were removed from consideration when defining marriage, then, yes, you can define it as whimsically as you like.
    However, marriage defines legal obligations less for the sake of the married couple than for their children. For this reason alone the marriage contract remains important regardless of the randiness of the couple and the serial polygamy of the public at large. The impermanence of the married union is irrelevant to the argument, except possibly to tar its defenders as hypocritical, since any children of the union endure.
    Similarly, to propose a separate legal document for children adopted by homosexuals, as Justus attempts (above), is contradictory for those who want a “non-traditional” definition of marriage. This attempt to excise children from the definition leaves marriage meaning… what? — A flatus vocis whose sole purpose is to anoint promiscuity with the dying fumes of respectability connoted by marriage.

  5. Petar March 8, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    As a moral nihilst, this argument fails to convince me.

  6. Michael Wiebe March 8, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    As a moral nihilst, this argument fails to convince me.

    A reductio ad absurdum of moral nihilism, if there ever was one.

    Anyway, Roderick, you’ve got to check this out: Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

    • Roderick March 8, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

      Roderick, you’ve got to check this out: Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

      Actually I’m going to be part of it.

  7. Justus March 8, 2011 at 1:44 pm #


    I think you misunderstood what I meant. I actually agree with you completely. I was trying to point out that the entire purpose of marriage was to organize a contract to bear children. Personally, I believe it should return to that purpose, and exist alongside civil unions that relate more to a person and their partner.

    I’m not really sure what you meant in your last paragraph. I think a separate legal document for gay adoptions would be much more reasonable than trying to force every varying idea of relationships and child rearing into a one-size-fits-all box like marriage. Adoption is already a separate process from birthing a new life, so why not call a spade a spade?

    Ultimate breakdown of contractual agreements:
    Civil union – between people who choose to share their assets, regardless of sexual orientation (or number, for that matter)
    Marriage – for procreation
    Adoption – for adoption

    I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

  8. Terry Hulsey March 9, 2011 at 12:36 am #

    I see. That seems reasonable.

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