As someone who taught critical thinking at university level to both students and teachers, I find few issues more lacking in critical thought than the debate over marriage. As a strong supporter of the traditional view of marriage, it is no surprise that I would find the arguments of those who support nontraditional forms of marriage lacking, but I frequently find the arguments of supporters lacking as well.
The reasons for this are many. One, of course, is the generally low level of critical thinking found in society in general. Despite the claims of academicians, people are not taught to think in most schools. Rather than thinking for themselves, they are taught to accept what academics say, either directly, or in the modern equivalent of the Papal Bull, the scientific study.
Another big source of confusion is the overlapping concerns of the state and religion. For many the institution of marriage is primarily a religious commitment, done in a church, with vows taken before God. Yet it is also licensed and controlled by the state.
Finally, there is the fact that marriage has been so universally accepted and so ingrained into our society and culture that most have just taken it for granted. It is just what people do; with little thought as to why.
All of this combined leads to a great deal of confusion. So over the next few post I will try to clear up some of this confusion, and to outline some reasons why I support the traditional view of marriage and as a result oppose non-traditional forms such as same-sex marriage and polygamy. This formulation is not accidental. In many respects, it is not so much that I oppose same-sex marriage and polygamy; rather it is that I support the traditional view of marriage, marriage between one man and one woman.
So first, I will attempt to clear up some of the misconceptions that surround this issue. Then I will attempt to outline a case supporting the traditional view of marriage, finally I will attempt to answer some of the more common arguments used to support non-traditional forms of marriage.
The first thing that I want to clear up is the confusion caused by the overlapping of government and religion on this issue. There is little question that both are involved in marriage and have been for quite some time. Within the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, marriage has always had religious overtones. Despite the claims of a few, marriage is between a man and woman, the model being the established with the first couple: Adam and Eve. (Genesis 2:18-25)
For the most part, government’s role in marriage has been at best secondary and at times non-existent. Why should there be otherwise? Marriage was maintained by the church; enforced by the standards of the community as a whole. When communities were small and closely knit, where everyone knew everyone else, there was little role for government to play.
This began to change in the 18th century, one notable example being the Marriage Act of 1753 in England, which was a huge movement of the government into area of marriage. The industrial Revolutions brought about not only great improvements in the standard of living, but also great disruptions in the culture. While the exact causes are disputed, illegitimacy skyrocketed. There was also a growing awareness of the period of childhood as a time in which children learn and are prepared to become adults.
Few would question that governments have a legitimate interest in preserving their existence, and part of this is the development of the next generation of citizens. This is the justification for the existence of public schools. Likewise, government has an interest in ensuring that children are raised in the best environment and this is the main justification for government entering into the realm of marriage.
Remove this interest and you remove the main reason for government regulating marriage at all. The other major issue would be property rights, but if viewed as an issue of property, there is little to marriage, at least from a government perspective, than any other contract and thus little reason for government involvement. In fact as far as property, government marriage laws are already inadequate as is demonstrated by the increasing use of pre-nuptial agreements.
Despite the key role of religion, the current debate over marriage is not a religious debate. Frankly, from a religion point of view, there are religious groups that do permit polygamy and same-sex marriage, and such marriage can be, have been, and are being done. There is, and should be, nothing illegal about this. What these marriages do not have is the sanction, and recognition of the government.
As such, what is really at issue here is state sanctioned of marriage, not the religious definition of marriage. Since this is an act of government, it is by definition a public act and not just a matter between those involved in the marriage. To request the sanction of the government is by definition to make it a public issue, and not just a private matter.
So, even though there is a strong religion component to marriage, in the remaining parts I will restrict my arguments to what is really in dispute, the government role in marriage. Because of this, I will not post the remaining parts of this discussion on my religious blog. Those who are reading this on consider.org will need to go to my general blog (www.hushbeck.com/blog ) to read the remaining posts.