For All the Right Reasons
Family North Carolina MagazineJanuary/February
Our first issue of this magazine focused on the marriage issue and how North Carolina has, so far, turned its back on marriage. We wrote about the lack of a marriage amendment in the state. While we explored the possibility of a marriage amendment and whether the state should have a marriage amendment, we did not address, on the level of reason, why traditional marriage matters.
Let’s recap the proposed text of the Marriage Amendment as introduced in the 2006 session of the General Assembly:
Marriage is the union of one man and one woman at one time. This is the only marriage that shall be recognized as valid in this State. The uniting of two persons of the same sex or the uniting of more than two persons of any sex in a marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, or other similar relationship within or outside of this State shall not be valid or recognized in this State...
Generally speaking, this marriage amendment, as with all proposed marriage amendments across the U.S., has been crafted to limit the definition of marriage to one man, one woman. We should keep in mind that no amendment bans homosexuals from marrying someone of the opposite sex. Homosexuals are allowed to marry, and many have. The purpose of the amendment is that nobody, homosexual or not, may marry someone of the same-sex. Therefore, what the marriage amendment does is set aside marriage for the union of opposite sexes (male/female). This may sound like too technical a point, but we must be clear: the marriage amendment only forbids same-sex marriage; it is not an attack on sexual orientation, especially on those who consider themselves gay, bisexual, transgendered, etc.
Why the Amendment?
This is not the first time we have debated marriage in the United States. The issue came up in the 1800s as a religious freedom issue. Let’s consider the 1856 Republican Party Platform, which transcended mere party rhetoric and provides some direction as to what marriage should look like. We quote from it extensively for context. According to the platform:
Resolved: That the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence, and embodied in the Federal Constitution are essential to the preservation of our Republican institutions...
Resolved: That, with our Republican fathers, we hold it to be a self-evident truth, that all men are endowed with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that the primary object and ulterior design of our Federal Government were to secure these rights to all persons under its exclusive jurisdiction...
Resolved: That the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign powers over the Territories of the United States for their government; and that in the exercise of this power, it is both the right and the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarismPolygamy, and Slavery.
The first thing to note is that, somehow, polygamy undermines republican institutions. It is perhaps easy to understand why slavery was barbaric for it deprived some human beings of their liberty. The Declaration certainly speaks to that issue; slavery strikes at the heart of republicanism and representative government because it is contrary to our natural equality. But what is the objection to polygamy? To some, there seems to be no harm, because the adults in the relationship are consenting members. Therefore, some allege there is no immediately apparent harm to others.
However, what the platform above recognizes is that marriage needed protection because a free society cannot survive without strong marriages. Marriage is essential to consensual government. Consider the U.S. Supreme Court polygamy case Reynolds v. United States (1878) in which the majority stated:
Marriage, while from its very nature a sacred obligation, is nevertheless, in most civilized nations, a civil contract, and usually regulated by law. Upon it society may be said to be built, and out of its fruits spring social relations and social obligations and duties, with which government is necessarily required to deal. In fact, according as monogamous or polygamous marriages are allowed, do we find the principles on which the government of the people, to a greater or less extent, rests. [P]olygamy leads to the patriarchal principle, and which, when applied to large communities, fetters the people in stationary despotism, while that principle cannot long exist in connection with monogamy…An exceptional colony of polygamists under an exceptional leadership may sometimes exist for a time without appearing to disturb the social condition of the people who surround it; but there cannot be a doubt that, unless restricted by some form of constitution, it is within the legitimate scope of the power of every civil government to determine whether polygamy or monogamy shall be the law of social life under its dominion.
The court concluded that traditional marriage deserved support for the “evil consequences” that would flow from plural marriages. Some of those evil consequences are that polygamy is an institution that traditionally has supported oligarchic and tyrannical societies. Polygamy appeals to the acquisitive nature of men. Perhaps this is why the Declaration is the ground for political morality: polygamy undermines the equality of man for it nourishes the baser nature of men. Because nature produces men and women in roughly equal numbers, if some men may have many wives, the logical conclusion is that other men may have none! This encourages war amongst men for the affections of what remains. In addition, it places women in a condition of servitude. The woman becomes a fractional wife rather than an equal partner with her husband in the organization of their household. She is one wife and one mother among many rather than the one and the only.[iv] <#_edn4> The political lesson noticed by Reynolds is that there is a connection between the health of the polis (or the body politic) and marriage.
If same-sex marriage is affirmed, then polygamy will be back. We only have to note the supporters of Beyond Marriage, who have stated that same-sex is but one arrangement of many. Indeed, they are quite honest that they want recognition for a wide range of relationships regardless of sex, kinship or conjugal status. They actually support “committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner.” The goal of Beyond Marriage is supported not by some fringe interests or figures.
Nature and Marriage
We could defend the notion of one man-one woman on the level of revelation (Biblical morality so to speak), but can we also on the level of reason? Marriage is defensible not only from revelation, but from reason. It is reasonable to protect marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Thomas Jefferson wrote an amendment to the Virginia criminal code that classed rape, polygamy, and incest as similar offenses. He certainly would not have agreed to same-sex marriage. In Jefferson’s view, the human being is equal in his rights, and these rights come from his nature. “Nature” which comes from the Latin word meaning “to grow” denotes both the essence of a thing and its manner of coming to be.
Nature is the ground of our political morality. It is from nature that we find our rights; it is also from nature that we discover the way we ought to live. Nature is a non-arbitrary moral standard. Nature, then, prescribes certain means and certain ends; or there are proper means with which to pursue proper ends. And it is the dominion of reason to figure out what that is, for the proper function of a man consists in some activity of the soul in conformity of a rational principle. This is what distinguishes us from the beasts.
If it is true that everything has an end, then human beings no less than oak trees have a certain teleology. Everything has an end, or is moving to some goal. If human beings have a nature, that nature is unchangeable, for nature is constant. This means that humans have an end the same way that the end of an acorn is the oak tree. As we shall see, marriage is but one institution that helps humans toward a certain end.
Politics, or the citythe polisis integral in the development of the human being and the attainment of the good life. Aristotle noted that man’s highest end was achievable, among other ways, through marriage. Marriage contributes to our overall happiness. The highest good attainable is that by some action. The highest good is happiness and the achievement of that is through the practice of moral virtue.
Perhaps St. Thomas Aquinas has more fully explained this. Aquinas contended that marriage is chiefly directed to the common good in respect of its principal end, which is the good of the offspring; although in respect of its secondary end it is directed to the good of the contracting party, in so far as it is by its very nature a remedy for concupiscence. Hence marriage laws consider what is expedient for all rather than what may be suitable for one.[x] <#_edn10>
Aquinas notes, through Aristotle, that marriage is for the good of the offspring, and it is for their good to be raised reasonably and have a reasonable education. This in turn is good for man, and for the good of humans who need to be developed into full human beings. For example, the enlightenment that our appetitive nature should be moderated, that our passions should come under the control of our reasonthis is what children ought to learn from their parents.
The most philosophical and learned of Supreme Court Justices, Joseph Story, seems to agree with Aquinas. He published an essay on “Natural Law” in 1836:
Marriage is an institution, which may properly be deemed to arise from the law of nature. It promotes the private comfort of both parties... It tends to the procreation of the greatest number of healthy citizens, and to their proper maintenance and education. It secures the peace of society, by cutting off a great source of contention... It promotes the cause of sound morals, by cultivating domestic affections and virtues. It distributes the whole of society into families, and creates a permanent union of interests, and a mutual guardianship of the same. It binds children together by indissoluble ties, and adds new securities to the good order of society, by connecting the happiness of the whole family with the good behaviour of all. It furnishes additional motives for honest industry and economy in private life, and for a deeper love of the country of our birth. It has, in short, a deep foundation in all our best interests, feelings, sentiments, and even sensual propensities; and in whatever country it has been introduced, it has always been adhered to with an unfailing and increasing attachment.
At the moment, Story addresses the pragmatic, or self-interested, reasons for keeping marriage limited to opposite sex partners. He next elevates the consideration of marriage to the level of the human soul:
Polygamy, on the other hand, seems utterly repugnant to the law of nature. It necessarily weakens, and in most cases, destroys the principal benefits and good influences resulting from marriage. It generates contests and jealousies among wives; divides the affections of parents; introduces and perpetuates a voluptuous caprice. It has a tendency to dissolve the vigor of the intellectual faculties, and to produce languor and indolence. It stimulates the sensual appetites to an undue extent, and thus impairs the strength and healthiness of the physical functions. It debases the female sex. It retards, rather than advances, a healthy and numerous population. It weakens the motives to female chastity and to exclusive devotion to one husband. If marriage be an institution derived from the law of nature, then, whatever has a natural tendency to discourage it, or to destroy its value, is by the same law prohibited. Hence we may deduce the criminality of fornication, incest, adultery, seduction, and other lewdness; although there are many independent grounds, on which such criminality may be rested.
The unnatural coupling makes the human soul suffer in the individuals who are living antithetically from the law nature. Those things that have the tendency to undermine the end of human beings ought not be condoned by public policy.
Recently, a publication of the Witherspoon Institute argued that marriage reflects the complementary sexes. This is true not only on a biological/sexual level, but also on a natural perspective level. For example, women bring something to a relationship that men cannot. As we noted earlier, marriage moderates men and women from their baser passions and other sentiments. Women make men more responsible and men moderate the softer sentiments women have (such as the over-protection of their children). Both bring something to the other that same-sex relationships cannot. In the course of marriage, men and women help each other develop their souls for the better; they become better beings together than apart. In terms of men, marriage uplifts them to something higher than mere animals. We must admit that men are different from women, especially in terms of sexual morality. As Aquinas stated above, marriage moderates men’s sexual desires. Marriage then elevates us and constrains our desires, aiming to a higher moral end. This is how marriage serves the common good and promotes free society.
The great Maimonides noted that social pressures constitute a real challenge to societal norms: “it is natural to be influenced in sentiments and conduct, by one’s neighbors and associates, and observe the customs of one’s fellow citizens.” People often wonder what the government’s imprimatur has to do with heterosexual marriages. The answer is that, especially for the children, it influences others whether they want that influence or not. If the public endorses same-sex marriage, the government will be saying that there is no relationship that is “better” than others. This will cause children to question not only their orientation, but their identity. How is that good for the soul?
Erik Root, Ph.D, is the editor of Family North Carolina. This essay was adapted from a talk given by the author at the John Locke Foundation on a Marriage Amendment in North Carolina.
 John Eastman, “The 20th Century’s Twin Relics of Barbarism,” published in two major daily papers in 2000, available here: http://www.claremont.org/projects/jurisprudence/000626eastman.html [accessed November 17, 2006]
 Please see their webstie at http://beyondmarriage.org/ [accessed November 7, 2006]
 Aristotle, Physics, II.1.192b32-3
 See Aristotle, Ethics, Bk 1 ch 7.
 Ethics, 1097a20-25.
 Q 67 of his supplement to ST. Reply to Objection 4
 Ibid., In Q42.
 “Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles,” The Witherspoon Institute (June 2006).
 Quoted in Berel Dov Lerner, “Maimonides on Free Will at the Societal Level,” Interpretation 32 (Spring 2005) : 115.
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