United in Matrimony CON: Marriage is too vital an institution to tinker with all will.

June 02, 1996|By William Bennett

THERE ARE AT LEAST two key issues that divide proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage.

The first is whether legally recognizing same-sex unions would strengthen or weaken the institution.

The second has to do with the basic understanding of marriage itself.

The advocates of same-sex marriage say that they seek to strengthen and celebrate marriage. That may be what some intend.

But I am certain that it will not be the reality.

Consider: The legal union of same-sex couples would shatter the conventional definition of marriage, change the rules which govern behavior, endorse practices which are completely antithetical to the tenets of all of the world's major religions, send conflicting signals about marriage and sexuality, particularly to the young, and obscure marriage's enormously consequential function -- procreation and child-rearing.

Broadening the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions would stretch it almost beyond recognition -- and new attempts to expand the definition still further would surely follow.

On what principled ground can Andrew Sullivan exclude others who most desperately want what he wants: legal recognition and social acceptance?

Why on earth would Sullivan exclude from marriage a bisexual who wants to marry two other people? After all, exclusion would be a denial of that person's sexuality. The same holds true of a father and daughter who want to marry. Or two sisters.

Or men who want (consensual) polygamous arrangements. Sullivan may think some of these arrangements are unwise. But having employed sexual relativism in his own defense, he has effectively lost the capacity to draw any lines and make moral distinctions.

Forsaking all others is an essential component of marriage. Obviously it is not always honored in practice. But it is the ideal to which we rightly aspire, and in most marriages the ideal is in fact the norm.

Many advocates of same-sex marriage simply do not share this ideal; promiscuity among homosexual males is well known.

Sullivan himself has written that gay male relationships are served by the "openness of the contract" and that homosexuals should resist allowing their "varied and complicated lives" to be flattened into a "single, moralistic model."

But that "single, moralistic model" has served society exceedingly well. The burden of proof ought to be on those who propose untested arrangements for our most important institution.

A second key difference I have with Sullivan goes to the very heart of marriage itself. I believe that marriage is not an arbitrary construct which can be redefined simply by those who lay claim to it.

It is an honorable estate, instituted of God and built on moral, religious, sexual and human realities. Marriage is based on a natural teleology, on the different, complementary nature of men and women -- and how they refine, support, encourage and complete one another.

It is the institution through which we propagate, nurture, educate and sustain our species.

That we have to engage in this debate at all is an indication of how steep our moral slide has been.

Worse, those who defend the traditional understanding of marriage are routinely referred to (though not to my knowledge by Sullivan) as "homophobes," "gay-bashers," "intolerant" and "bigoted." Can one defend an honorable, 4,000-year-old tradition and not be called these names?

This is a large, tolerant, diverse country. In America people are free to do as they wish, within broad parameters. It is also a country in sore need of shoring up some of its most crucial institutions: marriage and the family, schools, neighborhoods, communities.

But marriage and family are the greatest of these. That is why they are elevated and revered. We should keep them so.

William Bennett, editor of "The Book of Virtues," is a codirector of Empower America. This article was distributed by New York Times Special Features, 1996 Newsweek.

The debaters

In favor: Andrew Sullivan is a senior editor of The New Republic and the author of "Virtually Normal: A Argument about Homosexuality."

Against: William Bennett, editor of "The Book of Virtues," is a co-director of Empower America.

(These articles were distrubuted by New York Times Special Features, 1996 Newsweek.)

Pub Date: 6/02/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.