Gay Marriage: Our Agreements Solve Our Disagreement


March 26, 2013 by mattfradd

Our Agreements Solve Our Disagreement

Our Agreements Solve Our Disagreement

I want to thank Trent Horn for writing this blog post. It may be the best pithy defense of marriage I’ve read. Enjoy and share!

Instead of spewing insults and getting into heated arguments, I’d like to propose a better solution to the debate over same-sex marriage. Let’s start from positions both sides of the debate agree on. Then let’s see whose particular view of marriage best explains this agreement.

There appear to be two different views of marriage that drive the same-sex marriage debate. The conjugal view defines marriage as “the lifelong union of man and woman ordered toward their good and the good of the children they create.” The other view might be called the relational view,which holds that marriage is a lifelong relationship between two people who have romantic feelings for one another.

If defenders of the conjugal view, like me, are wrong, then I hope our critics can correct us so that we will no longer be ignorant. I also hope defenders of the relational view will be open to the same kind of correction.

The only way we can settle the same-sex marriage debate is to find out which view of marriage is correct. If the relational view is correct, then it is certainly unjust not to allow people of the same sex to marry. That is because, under this view, biological sex is not an essential part of the definition of marriage. However, if the conjugal view is true, then two people of the same sex simply can’t get married any more than a circle can have more than one side. A same-sex union simply would not be marriage.

Critics on both sides of the argument seem to agree that marriage involves at least these three elements:

  1. A union involving two people
  2. A lifelong union
  3. A sexual union

I contend that the conjugal view explains these three aspects of marriage, while the relational view merely assumes they are true for no good reason. Since the conjugal view has more explanatory power, it should be the legal view of what marriage is and why only two people of different sexes should be allowed to marry.

Two to Tango

If marriage is strictly a relational agreement between adults, then why not have more than two people? Same-sex marriage advocates might argue that polygamy, or a man having more than one wife, is inherently abusive and exploitive of women, and that is why marriage should be restricted to two people. But this reply is weak on several grounds. First, it would not show polyandry, or one woman married to several men, orself-marriage (marrying oneself) is wrong, since the opportunity for exploitation in these unions would be very low. It also wouldn’t show why group marriage, or marriages involving two husbands and two wives, should be forbidden. That relationship would not be exploitive, since there would be an equal balance of power in the number and sexes of the people involved.

The conjugal view makes sense of limiting marriage to two people because that is all that is needed to create children. This relationship is also best for the children who are created, since they are legally connected only to adults who are biologically related to them, who statistically are the adults least likely to abuse them.

Till Death Do Us Part

We make fun of marriages that only last for 72 days, but why? Most of our relationships in life are not lifelong. We part ways with landlords, teachers, employers, boyfriends/girlfriends, attorneys, barbers, and lots of other people. If marriage is strictly relational, then why not have many marriages that last five or ten years? These marriages could be renewed if they are going well or be allowed to expire if they are not.

Most people think this attitude flies in the face of what marriage is, but the relational view can’t explain why we should force people to be in a relationship they don’t want to be in anymore. However, the conjugal view makes perfect sense of this requirement.

The reason marriage is lifelong is that children should have parents who are in a stable union with one another through most of their lives. This includes the children’s adult lives, because a lifelong union creates a stable family structure for grandchildren. We’ve seen the impact divorce and fatherless children have had on society, so removing the requirement of lifelong familial unions is not a good idea for progress in society.

Let’s Talk About Sex

To borrow an example from Robert George, imagine a couple who get married and you find out the husband, Frank, is having sex with his secretary. You tell his wife, Jan, who says that’s acceptable because Frank and Jan only promise to be faithful tennis partners. If either one plays tennis with another person, that would be an example of infidelity. A sex romp with a secretary or the pool boy is no big deal.

That kind of “marriage” (or an open marriage) would seem crazy, wouldn’t it? But if marriage is just a relational agreement, then why couldn’t we have marriages like this? What about sisters who love each other platonically and want to spend their lives together without having sex? Why is their loving relationship any less valuable, and less deserving of marriage, than two other women who love each other but also happen to enjoy stimulating each other sexually?

Once again, the conjugal view explains why sex is a part of marriage. It bonds spouses together and creates the children who serve as concrete signs of the spouses’ love for one another. Same-sex couples can have children only if other conjugal unions fail through divorce, death, surrogacy, or Frankenstein-esque science experiments.

The conjugal view of marriage should be preserved in law because it explains why we limit marriage to a lifelong sexual union of two people. If same-sex marriage becomes legal nationwide, this will cause society to endorse the relational view. If the relational view is endorsed, there is no reason marriage should remain a lifelong sexual union between two people. Redefining marriage would create an unstable society and rob children of their right to a mother and father.

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also enjoy Gay, Catholic, & Feeling Fine

To learn more about Trent Horn, click here!

32 thoughts on “Gay Marriage: Our Agreements Solve Our Disagreement

  1. What will you say to people who bring up elderly couples who marry, far past the time of their lives when children are possible?

  2. […] Instead of spewing insults and getting into heated arguments, I’d like to propose a better Go to the Source: Matt Fradd   […]

  3. Andrew Buck says:

    Theoretically, though, a circle does have two sides: the outside and the inside. 🙂 But this is a very well-constructed and clear argument.

  4. Dirga Ong says:

    The conjugal view means that disabled, impotent and infertile couples are prohibited from marriage, not just homosexual. Similar case with people born asexual. Vatican’s statement on this is that if it was known before the marriage, then the marriage is not valid, except for infertility. The world is becoming overpopulated, why do you want to keep on old ‘definition’ of marriage that it is to procreate?

    • mattfradd says:

      Dirga, thanks for commenting. You’re confusing infertility with permanent impotence. It is not the case that an infertile couple (aware of their infertility) may not marry. See this article for clarification

      • Dirga Ong says:

        The infertility clause is also bound by the marriage by deceit clause.
        If one party knew before the marriage that he/she is infertile and the other party was not made aware, then the marriage can be said to be invalid.

        The link you have given quoted:
        “Sterility neither prohibits nor invalidates marriage” (No. 1084.3).
        but the full law is actually:
        §3. Sterility neither prohibits nor nullifies marriage, without prejudice to the prescript of ⇒ can. 1098.
        and can. 1098 states
        A person contracts invalidly who enters into a marriage deceived by malice, perpetrated to obtain consent, concerning some quality of the other partner which by its very nature can gravely disturb the partnership of conjugal life.

        Thus why I included the phrase “except for infertility”

        Doesn’t change the fact that people with permanent impotence or disability from birth are not allowed to marry by your definition.
        This has happened in Italy in 2008 where the bishop refused to marry a couple because of disability of the groom.


      • Andrew says:

        The fact the world is overpopulated is debatable in itself. Putting that aside, I think it safe to assume people will continue to procreate regardless. Marriage as set forth by the conjugal definition is set to support and defend the children

  5. M. says:

    Your argument relies heavily on the slippery slope fallacy; you discuss what gay marriage legislation and culture could lead to rather than the law itself. As for having children, what if a couple marries and chooses not to have a child? Or can’t? What if a child grows up with an adoptive father or divorced parents? You indicate that these things are more toxic than, for instance, a marriage riddled with discord, as long as it means avoiding divorce. If a couple adopt are they not those children’s parents? That dispels the conjugal argument, unless these heterosexual spouses are expelled as well.

  6. Monica says:

    “The conjugal view of marriage should be preserved in law because.. (insert catholic/christian values here)”. I’m straight and I’m Catholic, but I also live in Canada, an incredibly religiously diverse country. I’d have to be an idiot to assume that every citizen of my country believes in the same religious values as I do, and I’d have to be pretty arrogant to feel like I should or that I could force my own religious beliefs and values on to them. I can’t understand why anyone should think that their own personal religion should have any place whatsoever in deciding the laws that govern every citizen of their country. Furthermore, I’m not God and I will never be perfect, so I will never have any rite to judge anyone else, even if they are two same-sex people that want to marry.

    And seriously? “If the relational view is endorsed, there is no reason marriage should remain a lifelong sexual union between two people. Redefining marriage would create an unstable society and rob children of their right to a mother and father.” You do realize that 1 in every 2 marriages (between only men and women) in the united states end in divorce. How can you be so ignorant as to think that marriages of opposite sexes are currently “lifelong” unions? And yeah, with all these divorces, kids are being robbed of a mother and a father, or they’re being bounced back and forth between the two, which, speaking from my own experience, is not much better.

    A marriage in a church doesn’t mean any of the same thing as a marriage according to the law. A legal marriage gives people legal rites (like sharing health insurance, for example. Health insurance, that in the United States, determines whether a person will receive the treatment they need to live, or not). A religious marriage is a promise with God. The two don’t even compare, and pretending that they are, or that they should be equivalent, is just ignorant. Yes, I’m not going to marry someone of the same sex, because it doesn’t follow my own personal beliefs, but I’m never going to force those beliefs on to someone that doesn’t share them, and on to someone that has no plans whatsoever to marry in a Church, and that simply wants to obtain the legal rites that come with marriage.

    Not everyone is Catholic, stop pretending that they are.

    • Simon says:

      The Catholic Church, and indeed Jesus, both teach that you should love your neighbour. Not ignore them.
      Bad things happen when good men do nothing.

    • “Not everyone is Catholic, stop pretending that they are.”

      Nothing in the post proposes religious reasoning.

      There are plenty of “Atheists” that are against same sex marriage.

      Brendon O’Neil writes several articles on the reasons why it is a bad idea. He is a staunch atheist.

      Australia’s current prime minister, “Julia Gillard” an atheist, is against same sex marriage.

      Their are tons of non religious people against “Same Sex Marriage”

      Don’t fall into the trap of believing that only “religious” people are again “Same Sex Marriage”. There are many well defined logical arguments why people are against it. On the flip side there are reasons why they should be allowed.

      In regards to rights, most people agree that everyone, regardless of relationship status should have equal rights. However, they don’t all agree marriage is the best way to achieve that goal.

      Not all homosexuals want to get married in regards to “Equal Rights”, while that is important to some, it’s not the only reason. You only have to read their various stories to see why they do. Some see it simply as a commitment to their partner, others seek it for “Validity” and so on. There reasoning’s are valid.

      People against the concept of same sex marriage don’t all disagree on the concept for the same reasons. Brendon O’Neil clearly has his own views on why he believes same sex marriage is a bad idea. I.E. the loss of the terms “Mother, Father, Husband, Wife” being used and such like. Schools will not be able to refer to a child’s parent by the words “Mum & Dad” they’ll have to use the parents first name or “Guardian” etc. The reasoning’s of the people against it are often valid as well.

      It’s not as simple as “Equal Rights” it’s about changing a defined structure that goes way beyond a person simply saying “I Do.”

      Read some of Brendon O’Neil arguments against it, or other atheists, to see logistical arguments on why it’s a bad idea.

      At the end of the day it is important we seek to achieve everyone has equal rights as individuals. Which should be irrelevant of relationship status. I’m sure were smart enough to be able to achieve that goal without having to put everyone under the same banner, which is clearly discriminatory against singles, defacto, widows and so on.

      But we do have to be careful about not stripping away the rights people already have, i.e. the right to be called Mum, the right to be called Dad and so on. While you may argue that will not happen, it already has started to happen. Does it really matter? well that is another debate.


      • M. says:

        By saying that language will be affected by same-sex marriage is quite a weak argument, as language evolves throughout history anyway, and has done so to recognize changes in social dynamic. Claiming that people will no longer be called “Mom” or “Dad” is silly; it may be that people will have to take that monumental step (sarcasm) of saying “Oh, I mean your Dads/Moms” and just adapt to having different family structures in terms of language. Furthermore, you argue that these relationship terms might be lost, which would be a travesty, but relationship status is unimportant to individual equality and that is why gay marriage is not important. This does not make logical sense, and isn’t very egalitarian.

        The state should be secular, the home/private institutions can be the base of religious or subjective ideas on what is morally right and wrong. Places like Canada and the US have a duty to be equal to everyone; if people would prefer to live in a country where religious doctrine rules should move to a country that embraces that political structure. By making gay marriage legal, it does not invalidate heterosexual marriage, nor does it force religious institutions to conduct same-sex marriage (courthouses and religious groups can do so on individual basis). Ergo, it is appears extremely selfish of people who do not agree with same-sex marriage to block it.

      • Oh, there not my arguments, their logical arguments presented by people like Brendon O’Neil, the Prime Minister of Australia and so on. I was presenting the wider picture on why people are against it. It’s not all about “Religion” which is evident by “Athiests” being opposed to the idea. I don’t like how if someone opposes “Same Sex Marriage” you get back comments like “Not everyone is Catholic stop pretending they are.” When clearly a proportion of the secular society are against “Same Sex Marriage”, and on the other side, some “religious” people are actually for “Same Sex Marriage”. Making it about “religion” belittles the debate from both perspectives.

        Read the news report to see that losing terms like “Mother & Father” is already happening.

        There are also Homosexuals against “Same Sex Marriage” for different reasons (this is just one of them).

        Brendon’s article against same sex marriage.

        As Brendon says (Athiest) in link above.

        Spiked absolutely supports the right of people to live their lives as they see fit, within or without ‘respectable’ institutions such as marriage and the family, and free from any state interference. But the gay-marriage campaign has nothing to do with liberty and equality. Rather this is a cynical campaign of opportunistic moral grandstanding on the part of the cultural elite, which will end with gays being fobbed off with a pretty meaningless form of ‘marriage’ and married couples simultaneously finding the ancient institution they have signed up to being further drained of meaning. Just say ‘I don’t’ to gay marriage.

        There are plenty of counter arguments to same sex marriage. Brendon O’Neil mentions quite a few, and none have anything to do with God.

        Google secular reasons against same sex marriage.

        Again if it is just about equal rights, I’m sure society can come up with a better way to provide that to make it equal for everyone, without, as Brendon points out, “fobbing them off with a pretty meaningless form of ‘marriage’ title.”

        Whether the arguments are valid or not is what should be debated without accusations that people in opposition to it, is because they believe in “God” or are “Bigots”.

        I’m not an apologist for any of the arguments on either side of the fence, so if you have an argument with them, take it up with the sources of those debates. I’m just highlighting the debate isn’t all about “God”, being “Catholic”, or of any particular religion. People from all corners of society are actively debating reasons for and against same sex marriage for a variety of reasons.

      • M. says:

        Brendon’s argument revolves around gays not sacrificing enough or being that badly treated as reasons not to have sufficiently garnered a gay marriage debate. He follows this up by crediting elite corporations with conspiring to bolster public opinion. I’m sure there are people who feel good about supporting gay marriage, or do it for ulterior motives, but that doesn’t discount a movement’s core beliefs. Occupy Wallstreet sent mixed messages about consumerism and capitalism, but the idea that there is mass inequality of wealth and power is not therefore untrue.

        Gay people do not get the same benefits as married couples in America (no health benefits or tax breaks for their unions) and this is why it is an important political issue. People wonder why civil unions are not enough, the previously stated being one reason. When someone says, why can’t you call it something else, well why can’t ethnic minorities use a different water fountain? They’re still getting their water aren’t they? That would be how I look at it, I realize others disagree which is your right.

        As for France replacing “Maman et Pere” with “Parent”, they also legislated against the burqa. You don’t have to copy everything France does. Besides, again just me personally, I wouldn’t care if I was listed under parent in a document, as long as my kid still called me “Mom”. I live in a country where gay marriage is legal. It has not resulted in the aforementioned changes. I suppose that may be why I find it so normal, that I find it odd the UK hasn’t also made it legal.

    • JR says:

      “I’d have to be pretty arrogant to feel like I should or that I could force my own [….] beliefs and values on to them.”

      EVERY law is the imposition of someone’s beliefs and values on a society. I guess every government [a body of inndividuals] that has set laws [imposed morals and standards of behavior] on a community since the dawn of time have been arrogant. So if defining marriage only between a man and a woman is imposing heterosexual morality on homosexuals, wouldn’t allowing homosexual marriage be imposing homosexual morality on heterosexuals?

      If people don’t stand up and defend their beliefs, what the point of believing in them to begin with?

  7. Emanuel Vargas says:

    Polygyny is the practice of a man having many concubines/spouses. Not polygamy. This piece, though well constructed, takes a leap by assuming that same-sex marriages are not infinite. Also, humans are versatile creatures. It doesn’t matter with whom we are raised. Some of us were raised by our grandparents because our parents had to work. That doesn’t make us a threat to society. Another assumption, (not logical at all), was that if we let same sex marriages take place, groups of people will want to marry. This doesn’t show a direct correlation. The argument will show up that should one of the members of the marriage be in a dire health condition, who decides what happens with the spouses treatment?
    Better try next time. These are humans we are talking about. Let then be happy before it’s too late. You forget science is advancing exponentially. Human may be as well redefined.

  8. Loretta Brown says:

    You assume there are only two views of marriage, conjugal (to procreate) and relational (for company). I would like to propose a more realistically definition of marriage which sees your two views as only outcomes of the original.

    Contractual. Marriage has historically been just that, a contract between two parties; generally men. Where one man offers his property, livestock, land, influence and oh yeah, his daughter in exchange for peace, protection, territory, social position or just one less mouth to feed. The other man gets all the property offered plus a woman in the bargain who, while adding to the cost of his household, can be used as a cook, housekeeper, beast of burden, and possibly a brood mare to add children (preferably male, and technically, possessions of the man) to his work force and/or dynasty. Over time, pomp, pageantry and some type of religious sanction was added to the marriage contract to make it appear more celebratory and less mercenary. Plenty of third world countries still believe in and use the marriage contract as historically defined.

    Here in the US we may not define marriage in that sense but the marriage contract is still a legally binding agreement which boils down to property and the ownership thereof. Two people agree to combine their existing possessions and share any future assets or acquisitions, including children. Why do you think people have prenuptial agreements, deciding property division before a marriage. Why do you think lawyers keep busy determining property ownership and child custody during a divorce?

    Both your conjugal=children and relational=company views of marriage are only byproducts of the actual marriage=property contract. In that sense, any two people, regardless of gender can and should be allowed to marry and be held accountable for legal property division in case of divorce.

    • “In that sense, any two people, regardless of gender can and should be allowed to marry and be held accountable for legal property division in case of divorce.”

      So you would support a brother and sister getting married, a father and daughter, a mother and son ?

      If not, why not?

      • Loretta Brown says:

        “So you would support a brother and sister getting married, a father and daughter, a mother and son ? if not, why?”

        Before I answer, let me ask you a question. If the current definition of marriage is a union between one man and one woman, then why do you suppose the pairings you suggested are currently illegal even though they would fall into that one man – one woman category? I’ll explain it for you.

        Marriages between siblings and parent-child are well documented throughout history. It was a way for ancient rulers to keep the crown and the royal treasury “in the family”. (There’s that marriage=property contract concept again).

        Over time, people realized that one of the consequences of these marriages was the possibility of severely abnormal children, And eventually, the science of genetics confirmed what folks already knew, that this was a very bad idea and society created laws banning the practice.

        If your next argument is: “But what if they decide never to have biological children, what then?” There are certain guarantees they would have to provide to society before we could open up this debate. But, if every possible issue was resolved, then I guess I would have to support the idea. Does it seem creepy or weird? Sure it does, but only because our social norms make it so.

  9. Bryce says:

    If the conjugal view is to be preserved in law…why are people not creating a giant fuss about divorce? I think that is a much greater infringement on the sanctity of marriage than two people of the same sex joining in matrimony. Divorce could (can) also “create an unstable society and rob children of their right to a mother and father.”

  10. askthebigot says:

    Ya gotta love Robert George. I quote him here as well:

    Thanks for the great posts!

  11. abxc94 says:

    I honestly have to say that this illustrates almost the exact opposite of how I view marriage. Let’s go section by section.

    1 (Two to Tango). I think polygamy (and polyandry) between consenting adults should be fully legal. So yes, why not have more than two people if every party in the marriage wants to?

    2 (Till Death Do Us Part). Why should marriages HAVE to last a lifetime? I would argue that it is better to be with one loving parent than with 2 parents who hate each other and are always fighting. Forcing married couples to stay together when they don’t want to would cause the latter to happen. Also, I don’t think it is fair to force anyone to be with anyone else they don’t like, that is a form of slavery, and whether or not they have children, it is wrong. So do you think that divorce should be illegal? (If you do, I think this argument then gains a bit more credence.)

    3 (Let’s Talk About Sex). Why does sex need to be involved? Why should it be any business of the government to know if a couple is having sex? The reason we don’t allow sisters to get married is because there would be no way to know they aren’t having sex (and they could be outside of marriage anyway), and I am pretty sure the government does not want to get into the business of even potentially legitimizing incest. If there was a practical way to ensure a marriage between sisters wasn’t resulting in sex, then there would be no reason sisters would not be able to get married.

    I know some of these views seem a little bit extreme, but I fully believe everything I have just wrote, and I will defend it whole-heartedly.

    Point being, I am a die-hard relational marriage person, but I disagree with all three main points that Trent Horn states that both sides agree upon. Now, I may be a bit radical in my views, however, I am willing to bet that most people who view marriage as relational would agree that sex does not NEED to be involved, but that it usually is, and if they are married, probably is for them. I think the flaw with all of these is that, even though those points show how marriage was supposed to be, it has changed so much that it is no longer that way, and we should update our view of marriage to catch up with the reality of it.

  12. […] Public Discourse Supreme Court Warned of Harm Over Marriage Redefinition – Carl Bunderson Same-Sex ‘Marriage’: Our Agreements Solve Our Disagreement – Matt Fradd In the Footsteps of the March for Life – John Burger, Catholic World […]

  13. romancechick says:

    “The conjugal view makes sense of limiting marriage to two people because that is all that is needed to create children. This relationship is also best for the children who are created, since they are legally connected only to adults who are biologically related to them, who statistically are the adults least likely to abuse them.”

    I am an adoptive mom and while I agree with most of your arguments, and indeed, I believe marriage is one man-one woman, I take issue with this statement. How do you respond to the idea that families can be made by people not biologically related, whether through adoption or through blended families?

  14. […] An explanation of the two views of marriage currently being debated in the Supreme Court:  Gay Marriage: Our Agreements Solve our Disagreements […]

  15. Daniel says:

    This article’s dripping with fear and totally devoid of love. Trent Horn should pause his training for the long-winded argument Olympics and go hear some gay couples tell their story. Don’t be afraid to open your heart. Love is way stronger than fear.

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