Debating same-sex marriage
John Corvino and Maggie Gallagher
Oxford University Press, 294 pages, £10.99,
Star Rating : 3
This book, published in the US, has a simple format. John Corvino (gay professor of philosophy) argues the case for same-sex marriage (SSM) for 90 pages; then Maggie Gallagher (Catholic co-founder in the US of ‘The National Organisation for Marriage’) argues the case against SSM for 90 pages.
Then each is given 27 pages to reply to the other. The format is simple, but the content is not! This is complex and difficult reading, with argument and counter-argument. The effort required, however, is worthwhile.
It is especially instructive to follow John Corvino as he presents his case with skill and acumen, though his intricate philosophising sometimes left me somewhat bemused.
Maggie Gallagher begins her case by accepting that the prospect of achieving agreement on SSM is remote, but hoping that it might be possible to ‘achieve disagreement’ — for each side to understand the other’s argument and why they disagree.
Corvino begins by saying that a wedding is just as important for gays as for straights because two people in love are committing to building their life together. Giving marriage to gays is recognising their relationship as equal to those in historic marriage, so if gays are excluded from marriage there is inequality.
Marriage for gays is the final stage of recognition of the morality of homosexual conduct: it will normalise homosexuality. Civil partnership lacks the social significance of marriage, so is inferior to marriage. Gays should be able to marry, because marriage fortifies love, provides rights and responsibilities, and provides reliable care-givers who benefit society.
Corvino does not believe it necessary to define marriage, because marriage can embrace a variety of relationships, but, if pressed, he says marriage is ‘a lasting union based on love’. A conjugal definition (sexual union of man and woman) cannot be right, because there are marriages where conjugal relations do not take place. In those cases there will be no children, so procreation cannot be a fundamental component of marriage.
Corvino asserts that two gays are a family (though the dictionary definition is parents and children and/or other blood relations). Where gays do have children (by adoption), those children do just as well as those raised by natural parents.
Maggie Gallagher argues that marriage is the sexual union of a husband and a wife because that is the only union that can make new life and connect those children in love to their co-creators, their mother and father.
Marital unions are necessary for society, and therefore regulated by law, in a way that other relationships are not. There is the need for responsible procreation, ensuring so far as possible that children brought into this world are brought up in the best environment by a loving mother and father.
This has been the case throughout history, so marriage has not evolved through time from one thing into another. Marriage is a basic human reality which cannot be redefined to include other relationships without losing its meaning. If marriage is redefined, its meaning will change for everyone.
After ‘marriage equality’, marriage cannot be about procreation and child-bearing because that is not possible in a gay relationship. As one gay writer has said, ‘Marriage will change from being a means for bringing up children to a way in which two people affirm their emotional commitment’.
Marital norms will be lost. Gay men often do not expect sexual fidelity and sex becomes optional if procreation is no longer a fundamental part of marriage. Gallagher asks: Why have laws of consanguinity? Why should two sisters not be able to marry? Why, if marriage is merely an emotional commitment, cannot three or even more people affirm this and claim the right to marry?
Finally, if marriage is redefined, historic concepts of marriage will be stigmatised and repressed. People who see marriage as between one man and one woman will be labelled as bigots and marginalised.
Many may feel that the book’s ‘debate’ format is inherently unsatisfying because there is no resolution of the impasse between two diametrically opposed views, but it is still well worth reading, if only to gauge the arguments of either side.