Are Marriage Advocates "Asking the Wrong Question"? An Opinion and a Response


Last month, we told our readers about a symposium being hosted by The Intercollegiate Review entitled "Sex and the Polis: Perspectives on Marriage, Family, and Sexual Ethics."

QuestionsLast week's entry by Chris Damian, "Defining Marriage Isn't Defending Marriage," caught our attention for obvious reasons.

In his piece, Damian asserts,

Conservatives aren’t losing to the culture on marriage because they’re wrong. They’re losing because they’re answering the wrong question, because they’ve failed to grasp what the issue actually is.

His article goes on to grapple with a horse-and-cart problem addressing the understanding of marriage alongside the more general understanding and role of friendship and community. The phenomena implicated are difficult, to be sure, and there can be much legitimate dispute about which is the cart and which the horse and which, therefore, should come before. But unfortunately, the ultimate effect of Damian's article seems to be that the cart topples upon the horse and both are a bit the worse for wear.

For example, Damian alleges:

The rise of 'gay marriage' does not come primarily from a crisis in the understanding of what marriage is. It comes from a crisis in the understanding and practice of love, commitment, and community.

Wedding Rings

But some might respond that one of the important roles of the triadic family of husband, wife, and children is that it is the essential 'school' for any culture in how to practice love, commitment, and community.

Fortunately, the work of responding to Mr. Damian's article has been undertaken by Michael Bradley at Ethika Politika.

Bradley lays out his thesis that "[Mr. Damian's] Chris’s narrative of how  the marriage culture has reached its present point is mistaken, chiefly because he misunderstands the same 'proponents of traditional marriage' whose view he critiques in his piece, or at least, he understands that view to be narrower than it actually is."

He goes on to elucidate:

[I]n defining marriage, one recognizes and calls attention to distinctions between marital relationships and non-marital ones, including the sorts of non-marital friendships the cultural reinforcement of which Chris advocates. It is the burying of just such relational distinctions—which Chris laments later in his piece—that is constitutive of and in turn spurs the revisionist view of marriage.

This leads Bradley to get to what seems to be the chief error in Damian's reasoning: a conflation of two fundamentally different kinds of relationship. Marriage, Bradley explains, "is different in kind and not degree from non-romantic friendships."

The entire exchange is worth reading, and we commend both these authors for their admirable interest and evident acumen. You can read Damian's piece here, and then Bradley's response.

Copyright 2013