Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Review of "What Is Marriage?"

Shawn Murphy, at MercatorNet, has reviewed the book "What is Marriage?" The book discusses what separates heterosexual marriage from homosexual (or any other type) of marriage, and why heterosexual marriage deserves to be protected to the exclusion of other types. 

Murphy writes:
 The authors start by contrasting, with precision, the “conjugal” and the “revisionist” views of marriage. The conjugal view presupposes an exclusive union between a man and a woman that is bodily and mental and distinguishes itself by its comprehensiveness, while, revisionists claim that marriage is just two (no more, for the moment) people committing to romantically love and care for each other for as long as they see fit.
Girgis and his co-authors steer clear of discussing the moral implications of homosexuality itself to avoid giving critics a pretext for accusing them of denigrating same-sex-attracted people, or making assumptions about their feelings and motives. Instead they argue that the revisionist view (which informs both homosexual and some heterosexual relationships alike) lacks sexual complementarity and comprehensiveness and is therefore vulnerable to internal contradictions and ambiguities.
“[Revisionists] will not see [marriage] as essentially comprehensive, or thus (among other things) as ordered to procreation and family life—but as essentially an emotional union. For reasons to be explained, they will therefore tend not to understand or respect the objective norms of permanence or sexual exclusivity that shape it. Nor, in the end, will they see why the terms of marriage should not depend altogether on the will of the parties, be they two or ten in number, as the terms of friendships and contracts do.”
What is original in their argument is their explanation of why conjugal sex is a worthy human ideal. Arguably, homosexual relationships have many of the same contours that heterosexual relationships do. The authors agree but emphasise that it’s the differences that matter. Sex between a man and a woman differs fundamentally to sex between members of the same sex.
The authors contend that
“[i]n coitus, and there alone, a man and a woman’s bodies participate by virtue of their sexual complementarity in a coordination that has the biological purpose of reproduction—a function that neither can perform alone. Their coordinated action is, biologically, the first step (the behavioral part) of the reproductive process. By engaging in it, they are united, and do not merely touch, much as one’s heart, lungs, and other organs are united: by coordinating toward a biological good of the whole that they form together.”
With this as an anchor, they tackle other common arguments which are used to subvert conventional marriage. They contend, for example, that understanding marriage as a merely emotional union threatens marital norms such as permanence and exclusivity:
“But why should these be limited to two people? Indeed, how could they be, if we form emotional connections with various loved ones- parents, siblings, close friends – and by various activities? Romantic emotional unions do have a different quality from others and are clearly important for marriage, but emotional hues are hardly enough to mark the difference in kind between marriage and ordinary forms of friendship.”
To the common objection that, if marriage is about making babies, then infertile heterosexual marriages are not true marriages, the authors respond that conjugal acts have a meaning in themselves, not just because they produce babies.
“Here the whole is the couple; the single biological good, their reproduction. But bodily coordination is possible even when its end is not realized; so for a couple, bodily union occurs in coitus even when conception does not. It is the coordination toward a single end that makes the union; achieving the end would deepen the union but is not necessary for it.”
They illustrate this thought in typical American fashion by way of a baseball analogy:
“Infertile couples and winless baseball teams both meet the basic requirements for participating in the practice (conjugal union; practicing and playing the game) and retain their basic orientation to the fulfilment of that practice (bearing and rearing children; winning games), even if that fulfilment is never reached.”
The authors comment on the fallacious argument that equates traditional marriage laws to laws banning interracial marriage, and point out that the current debate is not about who gets to marry but what marriage is really about.
 Read the whole thing.

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