Grow or die (in defense of marriage?)


At a meeting with my investment club earlier this week (we are in the beginning stages and drafting our charter), I pointed out that if we didn't have a method for adding new members, eventually our group would die. Anything that is closed off to growth dies. It's called entropy.

Add that to the recent events in New York and it seems timely to write this post that I've been thinking about for a month or three now.

One of the reasons I often hear for keeping same-sex marriage extralegal (if you will), is that to allow same-sex couples to wed would damage "the sanctity of marriage."

The longer I live with this idea, the more difficultly I have accepting it.

Consider the following:

a) We as a society already don't treat marriage with much sanctity. Almost half of American marriages end in divorce. No matter the breakdown between legitimate divorces and lazy divorces, no matter who's at fault and who's a victim, the sheer number of divorces suggests we don't view marriage as terribly sacred.

b) Marriages are not only ending in divorce, but they're getting less common period. Fewer people are getting married. And they're getting married later.

So straight people aren't exactly doing the sanctity argument proud. So really the only question is how would letting them gays git hitched make things any worse?

The argument I used to hear all the time (and which I suspect is still in a lot of people's minds) is that gay people are in it for the sex and are incapable of settling down with one partner for long. Even assuming that's true, let's just remember the hetero track record (see above) before we start throwing stones. But (the argument continues) they don't take marriage "seriously"! Well, why should they? What's their motivation to take it "seriously"?

As it ends up, those arguments are problematic anyway as it's pretty clear gay people want to get married. They want to make the same till-death commitment that differing-sex couples want to make. So what would happen if they were allowed to? Here's one possibility:

Now we're about to get to the data that's the true impetus of this post in the first place.

Ultimately, I think what is meant by the word "sanctity" in the phrase "sanctity of marriage" is "seriousness" --- "seriousness of marriage". People want marriage to be treated as a serious thing. A big deal. And I completely agree with that desire. I have it myself. But I fear that limiting marriage to differing-sex couples is having the opposite effect.

Now keep in mind that all the evidence I'm about to present is anecdotal; nothing scientific at all with what I'm about to say.

At the high school I teach at, marriage has lost its seriousness among the student body. Now, granted, they're still kids and marriage is not something they're apt to be thinking about seriously anyway. And the casualness and ubiquity of declaring others one's husband or wife just struck me as an amusing piece of campus culture. But then I started picking up other undercurrents that make me think there's something rather important going on.

I should say that while among part of the Little Hill student body there is still some rabid homophobia, generally, the students here have left that behind. All sexualities are created equal (more-or-less). The idea that some people can marry who they want and others can't is patently absurd to them. Laughably hilarious. Like the way they chortle unbelieving at whites-only drinking fountains or how Athenians looked down on Corinthians. These biases are so far from their own understanding that they can't take them seriously. (I'm not joking. I observed a US History class once and when a photo like this went up, all the students, white and black and other, openly scoffed it and doubted its veracity, even though they were studying the Civil Right Movement; on the one hand, yay! progress!; on the other hand, srsly?)

Anyway, here's the thing. Because marriage as currently constituted makes about sense to these kids as not allowing a Corinthian to date your daughter, they just can't take marriage seriously. In other words, restricting marriage to those of differing sex is lessening the seriousness of marriage for the upcoming generation.

In other words, it is lessening the sanctity of marriage.

And here's the thing. If marriage is so all-fired important (and it is), then shouldn't we want its sanctity to grow? Shouldn't we want as many people to buy in to this society-bedrocking institution as possible? And isn't something that makes people dismiss marriage as a silly anachronism counterproductive?

Because I fear that will ultimately be the primary legacy of a long, drawn-out war against same-sex marriage.

Less marriage and less respect for marriage.

So if we want to preserve the sanctity of marriage, we need to fight this entropy. And what better way to do that than to get as many serious, committed people married as possible?

Either way of course we'll have unintended consequences. But the one's I'm seeing now are worrying.

What think ye?


  1. I think this is a valid point; I still know a number of people who seem to think that if we don't allow gay people to get married (or to be somehow 'legitimate') that they'll just go away or stop being gay. That view seems to be fading as more people realize that (duh) it's not a choice, but there is still a large segment of the population that seems to think that we can legislate away 'problems'.

    I also think that a negative focus on an issue is never good. If we are always worring about what is bad for marriage or what marriage is not, then we are not talking about what good marriage is or why it is important. Does that make sense? The only message that seems to be getting out there is that marriage is for opposite-sex couples, but I feel that there isn't enough focus on why it is good to get married, why more people should get married, or how/why people should stay married.

  2. Good point.

    During prop 8, one of my kids was in class with twins who had two moms. This couple had been committed to each other longer than earl and I had been married. They were raising 3 kids together, same as us. Living in the same town, using the same school, as I said. They were arguably more stable and adult than us, being more than a decade older, both practicing pediatricians, and probably homeowners.

    It is laughable, honestly a joke, to insist a family is not married when they have every marking of it but the paperwork. Especially because that paperwork is denied to them, so they have done everything they can do given that limitation.

  3. @FoxyJ I'm surprised to hear you say that being gay is "(duh) not a choice". I don't think this is an obvious point at all. Western discussions of human sexuality are unfortunately deterministic and binary: you're either gay or straight, and this was determined before birth in your genes.

    I don't agree. There is a lot of evidence that sexuality is not so rigid and not so binary. Kinsey famously described a 7 point spectrum. There are countless men who now describe themselves as gay who fathered children along the way. Although there is a strong biological component to homosexuality, biological determinism is a terrible means of describing human behavior, with all its complexity.

    It's funny - in most situations, biological determinism arguments describing human behavior are offensive and crude. For example, it makes me angry when books like The Bell Curve claim that people of African descent are genetically disposed to perform poorly on IQ tests, rather than explaining IQ test disparity via cultural, historical, or socioeconomic reasons. Likewise, to argue that men are different from women, giving men and women unique and biologically predetermined traits, is a quick way to be flamed and despised in most educated circles. So, why is it that we so unquestioningly accept the binary predetermined narrative of homosexuality, despite so much evidence to the contrary?

    From my point of view, given that sexual behavior, like other human behaviors, can be strongly influenced by the culture we are found in, it's in our interest as a society to encourage sexual behavior that propagates our society into the future. To view sex as not merely an expression of love between two people, but also as the means by which we sustain life. From this perspective, restricting marriage to heterosexual relationships serves an important function: it normalizes and promotes the continuation of our society. Demography is destiny.

    @Theric: The argument that gay marriage should be illegal to preserve the "sanctity" of marriage is silly, I agree (for all the reasons you did such a good job of pointing out). But I think that's a strawman.

    Also, do you really want to define normal accepted human behavior as that which Little Hill high school students approve of? I would guess your students think that it's useless and silly to disapprove of pornography (since everyone watches it anyway), and that they find it frankly bizarre that some people would seriously believe in chastity before marriage (as if such a thing were remotely realistic.)

  4. .

    Boy. The day I surrender the future to what people think when they're 17 is the day I surrender any right to this planet whatsoever.

    I'm mostly observing a trend and wondering where it will take us. How do we control consequences in an uncontrolable environment?

  5. Well, you know my opinion is to abolish state involvement in any marriage and make it a matter of civil law.

    Lawyers get to hammer out prenuptial agreements and divorce settlements, why not NUPTIAL agreements?

    When everybody's signed on the dotted line, put their names on some registry somewhere, and gotten their legal affairs in order, they can then go be ecclesiastically validated.

    Or not.

  6. (I think I'm far enough removed from Prop 8 at the moment that I can remain civil...)

    Recession Cone, that's an interesting point about biological determinism. Of course FoxyJ can speak for herself, but I don't think her point was about sexual behavior, but sexual attraction. She wasn't saying being born Black makes you perform poorly on tests, just that being born Black makes you Black. Similarly, if you are gay, you are gay, regardless of what choices you make regarding sexual behavior. Even if you choose not to call yourself gay, that doesn't change the fact that you are attracted to people of the same gender--you may not be gay by your own definition of the word, but you still are according to a definition shared by many.

    I agree that sexual orientation is not necessarily a binary thing--there are numerous sexual identities besides gay and straight. Most LGBTIQ activists would also agree with you on this one. I'm not so sure I agree with you on the lack of rigidity, though. I'm aware that people often identify themselves in different ways at different points in their lives--I know I certainly have--but in most accounts it's more a case of finding a label and a corresponding lifestyle that accurately reflect a constant underlying truth, not a case of changing truth. I think FoxyJ's point is that forcing people to change their outward behavior (or trying to force them, through legislation) won't change that underlying truth of who they are. My sexual behavior, for example, has exclusively been heterosexual for the past ten years (and it was nonexistent before that), and my underlying identity is as gay as it ever was.

    And because this comment is already turning into a post, I'll respond to your argument about promoting the continuation of our society: This would only be a valid argument if, like, more than 90% of the population were secretly gay. The world is overpopulated as is, and there are more than enough people who are naturally inclined to form heterosexual relationships that there is no need to create legislation hoping to influence gay people to marry heterosexually. (Which goes back to FoxyJ's point that the legislation will not achieve this goal anyway.) (Also, same-sex couples do procreate and raise families. Apart from those who adopt, there are those who procreate through artificial insemination, surrogacy, or other similar methods. Which goes back to Theric's argument--if marriage is so awesome and wonderful and important to society, then it's equally important that these families have the benefit of married parents, too.)

  7. Proponents of gay marriage use a variety of arguments, but they seem to be motivated by the sense that it's not fair that some people don't have the option of marrying the consenting adult that they love. They feel discriminated against.

    Opponents of gay marriage use a variety of arguments, but they seem to be motivated by the idea that it's beneficial to society to keep certain relationships between consenting adults stigmatized by refusing them the label "married". They think such discrimination is useful.

    cchrissyy's point about couples already being essentially married and raising children is a good one, but how "laughable" it seems depends on your definition of marriage. An example: a man is intimate with a women and provides for her and her children throughout her life. However, he's royalty and already has a wife and legitimate heirs. It might seem "laughable" that he's not married to the woman he loves, but the definition of marriage here is very concerned with property and status, and not so much with care or love.

    There are people who strongly believe that the government shouldn't discriminate against gay couples regarding legal benefits, taxes, etc., but want the term "marriage" to be legally reserved for heterosexual couples. This is based on the assumption that society should be actively discouraging homosexual behavior (for society's own well-being), and so the social stigma against such behavior should be preserved in an official way.

    Imma go ahead and recommend Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold. Her stuff is all suffused with the consequences of artificial incubation devices existing such that women don't have to carry children. Fair warning: you may encounter some space opera.

  8. I hesitate to post because I do not want to argue, merely post my perspective. If you do not share my religious beliefs, you'll obviously disagree and that's is fine. I don't mind. If you do share my religious beliefs, you may or may not agree, and that's fine too.

    The problem I see with your argument is that you're trying to justify it through the reasoning and actions of the world and what is currently socially acceptable. "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways saith the Lord." I think the argument for the sanctity of marriage is valid, not because the world views marriage as something that is sacred, but because God does.

    In June's Ensign there's an article called "Defending the family in a troubled world" that I find pertinent to the discussion. It actually gave me some insights into this topic that I've never before considered. "We understand that the family is an eternal institution ordained by God from before the foundation of the world, with the potential to continue on forever beyond this mortal sphere." One thing I get from this is that sure, the vast majority of marriages here on earth are not for eternity and are "till death", but they have the POTENTIAL to be an eternal unit through vicarious temple ordinances. As I see it (and I admit that I am not a holder of all knowledge infinite and eternal, merely a seeker, so I may be wrong), gay marriages (and any partners gay or straight who are not married) do not have the same potential to be perpetuated beyond the grave as an eternal family unit.

    "Happy, loving families, though imperfect and falling short of the ideal, are the closest thing we have on earth to a small-scale model of eternity, a tiny seed of unimaginable glory to come."

    Also, he goes on to say, "The family is intended by God as the great entryway into mortal life. It is central tot the salvation of the human race, the perpetuation of civilization, and the birth and rearing of each new generation." So I think RC's comment on promoting the continuation of society to be a valid one.

    I don't know. Those are just a few thoughts I had after reading this. Take them as you will.

  9. Celia,

    I think you bring up a good point that I have often thought over the last few years. If the main reason why we oppose gay marriage is because we feel that God opposes it, then that should be our reason for opposing it. Period. I feel like people keep trying to come up with other reasons or explanations, and it's usually easy to find some way to argue against them or to find reaons why they are wrong. So far the only reason why I've found to opppose gay marriage is because God said that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, because that kind of family is sacred. I think that the only reason why anyone should oppose gay marriage is because they have prayed and felt for themselves that this is their answer. The problem is that there isn't really much space left in our public discourse for "God told me it's wrong", and because it doesn't seem to make sense and we want things to make sense. God doesn't always make sense in the way we want Him to.

  10. There's also a very interesting portion of the the article dedicated to "the shifting definition of tolerance". I just don't want to quote the entire article. It's a good read imo.

  11. "As I see it (and I admit that I am not a holder of all knowledge infinite and eternal, merely a seeker, so I may be wrong), gay marriages (and any partners gay or straight who are not married) do not have the same potential to be perpetuated beyond the grave as an eternal family unit."

    I understand what you're saying here, Celia, but I don't understand how this line of logic justifies denying same-sex couples the right to marry. Is the idea that not allowing them to marry homosexually will influence them to marry heterosexually instead, thus creating relationships that have the potential to be perpetuated beyond the grave? I honestly don't see that as a realistic result. In the first place, denying marriage rights does not stop gay and lesbian people from forming committed relationships and having families; it just makes it that much harder for their families to succeed (and therefore take part in the "small-scale model of eternity" you refer to). In the second place, in the majority of cases mixed-orientation marriages don't last long enough for death to part them, so the chances of those relationships being perpetuated beyond the grave are pretty slim. In the meantime, a lot of needless pain and suffering is generated.

    As for FoxyJ's point, I also have some level of respect for the act of honestly claiming religious belief as one's true reason for opposing same-sex marriage. I disagree, however, that there's not much space left for religion in public discourse. Religion is all over public discourse, thanks to people like George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Sean Hannity. I would argue that religion has no place in public discourse, at least not in discussions of public policy. God told you not to be gay? Great, I have no problem with that. But why the hell would God tell you what I should do? (Speaking to the general "you," not the personal "you.") I am all for people saying, even publicly if they want to, "I choose not to marry someone of my own gender because I believe God told me it's wrong," but when it then becomes "I choose to vote for and campaign for legislation that restricts other people's right to marry people of the same gender because I believe God told me it's wrong," then you're skating on very thin ice. A lot of horrible things have been done because God said so, from the Crusades to a hundred years of institutionalized racism in the LDS church, to suicide bombings. I, personally, don't want to live in a world where actions that hurt others need no more justification than "God said so."

  12. I might offer that this notion isn't an end, but a means to an end. I believe the ultimate fear here isn't that gay people are getting married, or destroying the sanctity of marriage, but that as this movement becomes popular, it serves to undermine traditional religious values.

    This encompases two related issues. The first is, given the popularity and political nature of gay marriage, will churches eventually be forced into providing gay marriage services, despite their beliefs, on the grounds of non-discrimiation?

    The second issue, is that even if it doesn't get this far, will a church that stands against gay marriage end up being unpopular and minimized based on their beliefs? Will people cease to listen to the message because they stand against it on this issue?

    How popular do you think a church would be today if it excluded black people? Would you listen to their message? A hundred years ago, many would say "Yes." Now most would say "No." I'm not saying racial deiscrimiation is right, because it's not.. there is no "sin" involved in race. But to a great many churches, homosexuality is breaking God's law.

    Popular cultural belief can be changed over time, and that can be devastating to a religeon that believes God is unchanging and eternal. And I think that is the root issue.

  13. .

    A couple thoughts:

    The first is, given the popularity and political nature of gay marriage, will churches eventually be forced into providing gay marriage services, despite their beliefs, on the grounds of non-discrimiation?

    I don't consider this very likely, but who knows?

    The second issue, is that even if it doesn't get this far, will a church that stands against gay marriage end up being unpopular and minimized based on their beliefs? Will people cease to listen to the message because they stand against it on this issue?

    I think this is already happening so, yes, I agree, and that's pretty much exactly my point.

    Popular cultural belief can be changed over time, and that can be devastating to a religeon that believes God is unchanging and eternal. And I think that is the root issue.

    This is a point I reflect on frequently. For while we consider God unchanging an eternal, our understanding of him certainly is not. To go back to the race issue you cited, Bruce R McConkie said none of us would live to see blacks get the priesthood. And this is the very point of course that shook the Pharisees. So just while we should not deign to change God ourselves, neither should we assume that we yet understand God all that well. The our-ways-are-not-your-ways thing goes not just toward those outside the faith but toward those inside as well. May we not ever presume too much in either direction.

  14. .

    Incidentally, from the other side of the issue, this is compelling. (The gay-marriage part is the second half, but it will make more sense if you read the seemingly unrelated first part first.)

    Also, maybe our modern fetish with marrying for love is the real problem. Maybe it was moving down that road in the first place that steered us wrong.

  15. Interesting dialogue. I wish I could zoom out on life for a while, fast forward time and see what kind of revelation the Lord has in store for this matter. I am utterly stumped by it all, tend to fall toward the belief that there are some things that just might be wrong because God tells us not to but that don't make sense to us. I've read the materials that Celia points to and they make absolute sense to me, and if it is something that we are going to have to stand up against someday, it makes sense to me.

    On the other hand, our culture has done an excellent job of desensitizing us all to the matter, making a moral "absolute" to look like utter absurdity. I will admit that I have watched this very carefully and though it is not my choice or opinion, I find the arguments FOR same gender marriage to be compelling also. Like cchrissyy, I know families who have made an alternative lifestyle work and it does feel absurd to take a moral stand against something that on the outside appears to be so functional, and for all intents and purposes IS likely highly functional.

    I feel like I need to sit it all out for a little while and wait to see how it plays out before I really know where I stand beyond my just trying to do the right thing.

    I kind of hope nobody comments on this post because it wasn't written with the intention of being dissected... :)

  16. .

    FWIW, Tristan, I'm in the same place as you, perhaps with different weightings is all.