Thursday, 10 May 2012

Same sex marriage

One often hears/reads reductio ad ridiculum/slippery slope responses to proposals to legalize same-sex marriage. These arguments take the form of "if we allow same sex marriage, the next thing you know, people will be marrying their dogs or inanimate objects and the like" or "why stop at couples, if we're going to open the door to same sex marriage, why not let triads or quartets or even larger groups marry". This argument contends that unless we enforce the "male-female pairing" nature of marriage, we render the notion of marriage baseless and untenably vague.

It's worth spelling out explicitly why or whether such concerns are ill founded because they doggedly persist. Marriage doesn't have to be either a committed male-female pairing or a meaningless notion that can be applied to any sort of n-ary relation. The essential basis of marriage, I'd contend, is that it be an agreement to enter into an intimate lifelong relationship and that the agreement be freely made. Such relationships are recognized by the state in order to provide and support a framework of stability within which the participants might then contribute to society. As such, it's fairly clear why same sex marriage doesn't open the door to "man on dog" marriage. Dogs lack the wherewithal to enter into anything like a contractual situation as they lack the capacity to give their assent to a lifelong commitment. 

But what of n-ary relationships, where n>2? I think it's fairly clear that it is possible for people to freely enter into a commitment to maintain such a relationship. There we'd need to consider the "framework of stability" consideration. If as a matter of empirical fact, people can and do enter into three way relationships that flourish and provide a stable environment from within which the participants can raise children and participate in society, then perhaps that is a good argument for recognizing triadic marriages. If, however, such relationships tend to devolve quickly and/or cause extraordinary difficulty when it comes to determining child custody and support and such things, then recognizing such relationships as marriages might be imprudent. But the point is that there are principles, the very traditional principles that motivated the institution of marriage in the first place, not arbitrary physiological features that we can use when considering who should participate in marriage.

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