Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Why Marriage?

The Bearing Blog linked to a guest blogging series by Maggie Gallagher on Volokh Conspiracy presenting a rationale for opposing same sex marriage. By nature of the format, the discussion itself was kind of spotty, but one brief section struck me as putting things rather well.

Marriage is a universal human institution because every society needs to regulate the procreative consequences of male-female sexual attraction. (Marriage regulates people who aren’t married by the way, e.g. by making it clear when a baby is going to be born "out of wedlock". . . This turns out to be quite substantively important for women, who often confuse things like cohabitation with a man’s willingness to be married to them. Marriage as a public category also lets single, as well as married people know when they are committing an act of adultery. Without clear boundaries it could be pretty hard to tell sometimes!)

So marriage as a legal status is one of the ways we get young men and women to do any one of the hard things necessary to make sure they postpone babies until they are married. Marriage is a way of wrestling with the fact that, men and women attracted to the opposite sex can just make a baby, with no intention or forethought, under the grip of a pretty powerful passion to boot: One drink too many and 9 months later, boom there’s a baby. Mom (if she doesn’t abort) is bound to be somewhere around. Dad isn’t necessarily anywhere nearby.
This struck me as an interesting way of putting things, and probably a good explanation as to why virtually every culture has had some form of marriage -- an institution to recognize and regulate male/female sexual relationships and define which children in society are legitimate and who is responsible for taking care of them -- while very few cultures have had any sort of formal, institutional way of recognizing same sex relationships.

While love and sexual fulfillment might be found in either setting by a given person, only a 'straight' relationship can create new human lives. As such, society has much more stake in 'straight', potentially child-bearing relationships than it does in any other kind of relationship, however loving. Love is a jolly good thing, and it's generally considered that the world could use more of it, but generally society doesn't officially recognize who is in love. It does, however, need to recognize who is responsible for raising a given child.

This is not to say that when a couple get married the main thought on their minds is, "Who will be responsible for raising out children." Far from it. But that is arguably society's main stake in the marriage business.

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