Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Marriage Controversy

With CA Proposition 8 in the news again (having been found unconstitutional), I thought I'd post some of my thoughts about the marriage debate. I'm leery, however, of making quick comments of the kind suitable for a blog; they're too easily misconstrued. The only thing I'm willing to say in this format is that it is shocking to me how ill-informed so many people are about this topic. (Take that as you will.)

So, here's a link to the essay version of a talk I gave a couple of months ago titled "Liberal and Conservative Views of Marriage."* It's long. It's boring. It's mostly unoriginal. There are no pictures. Nevertheless, if I may say so, I think that it's a pretty dang good overview of the issue. The shockingly ill-informed person may read it and still be ill-informed. But he or she will not be shockingly ill-informed, and I think that counts as real progress.

Comments are welcome; please keep things civil, and if it is your conviction that someone would have to be stupid to be a marriage liberal or stupid to be a marriage conservative, please save yourself the trouble and refrain from commenting. I'd be especially glad to hear from anyone who thinks that I've misrepresented either position, or who thinks that I've overlooked an important point. I promise to read and consider all comments. I do not promise to respond.

*Update 26 March 2013: A slightly revised version of this talk has been published in the Summer 2013 issue of Think. The citation is as follows --
 Matthew Carey Jordan (2013). LIBERAL AND CONSERVATIVE VIEWS OF MARRIAGE. Think, 12, pp 33-56. doi:10.1017/S1477175613000067.


Bones said...

I need permission to read your long, boring article. I'm dying to read it, it's so boring. The fact that I need to ask to read it only heightens my desire to read your unoriginal drivel, and not to turn away and continue living the good life.

Matt Jordan said...

How can I say no to that?

Let me know if there's still a problem.

Matthew Gore said...


I think that you were correct to dwell on the question of what "marriage" is, but you seem to have entirely skipped the equally fundamental question, "Why should a government give married couples special rights in the first place?" This is not a ceremonial status, after all. I don't think the matter can be resolved without first addressing that point; and you my be surprised at which side of the fence I come down on here.

- J. M. Gore

Matt Jordan said...

Thanks for the comment, Matt. The discussion of children on pages 15-17 is intended to address that issue, but reading through it again, it's not very clear and you're right that I didn't tackle it in the head-on way it deserves. If I ever get around to revising the essay, I'll (plan to) say more about it.

Matthew Gore said...

For what it's worth, I really meant "does", not "should" in my question.

I took the section (pp. 15-17)as prescriptive: from the conservative viewpoint, the government ought to promote marriage based on its utility in producing well adjusted children/citizens.

I think that there may be an actual (descriptive) fact of the matter, though. What grounds does the government provide to justify its preferential treatment of married couples?

If it is strictly procreative, it would be useful to make that explicit in the debate. Americans, I think, tend to have strong feelings about government interference in matters of reproduction.

Gary said...

I'm not trying to be a jerk, but near the end of the paper, you write "comprise" when I think you mean "compromise." Also, re: your desire to avoid the discussion of whether homosexual activity is immoral seems to run contrary to a major strand of natural law thinking on this issue. E.g., doesn't Finnis argue that SSM should not be legal because nonmarital sex (his term) is immoral (contrary to the common good)? I'm thinking of his "Marriage: A Basic and Exigent Good" from the Monist a few years back. Also, for the current debate, do you think it's profitable to elaborate on the meaning and moral significance of "orientation"?

Nick said...

Regarding possible agreement #3: While I see this as a reasonable option, I do not quite understand the reason that warrants reserving the *term* "marriage" for the unique act of interest to the conservative view. Since we live in a pluralistic society, then insofar as we value inclusivity, what is the reason against allowing "civil unions" to be called marriages and leaving calling marriage as understood by conservatives by a different name (perhaps, "religious unions"). If the importance of these religious unions really is as valuable as conservatives claim it to be, then one would expect that, over time, the current prestige attaching to things called marriages would transfer to the same things called by another name.