That was the week that was

      1. Status vs. Conduct
      2. Pro Tip for Aspiring Social Scientists
      3. If marriage were only about celebrating love
      4. Doin’ what comes Naturally
      5. Begging the question
      6. Seeing the other guy’s point
      7. Bonus track

It has been quite an interesting week for someone who is supposedly on Spring Break but worked 2 – 1/2 days, spent another day as medical escort for outpatient surgery, and paid as much attention as he could bear to 2 days of Supreme Court arguments over the fundamental social institution of marriage, in which he has taken almost obsessive interest (because, while many share his conclusions in favor of traditional marriage, few share his approach, which he of course thinks supremely sound).

That someone would be Tipsy.


On of the disheartening things about the SCOTUS arguments was the alignment of Ted Olson, formerly a conservative icon of sorts. He famously (on infamously, as the case may be) teamed up with liberal icon David Boies to push the case against California’s Proposition 8.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked a him a question about polygamy, to the effect that if he was right and “marriage is a fundamental right” could any state restrictions ever exist. In other words, does declaring gay marriage a civil right, pave the way to legalization of, say, polygamy? (That Justice Sotomayor should ask such a question made Tipsy’s little heart soar.) Olson responded:

You’ve said in the cases decided by this Court that the polygamy issue, multiple marriages raises questions about exploitation, abuse, patriarchy, issues with respect to taxes, inheritance, child custody, it is an entirely different thing. And if you — if a State prohibits polygamy, it’s prohibiting conduct. If it prohibits gay and lesbian citizens from getting married, it is prohibiting their exercise of a right based upon their status. It’s selecting them as a class, as you described in the Romer case and as you described in the Lawrence case and in other cases, you’re picking out a group of individuals to deny them the freedom that you’ve said is fundamental, important and vital in this society, and it has status and stature, as you pointed out in the VMI case.

Ted Olson, I make bold to say, knows it’s not that simple. Marriage is a status no less than gender (which probably is more salient than sexual orientation since 41 states won’t let any man, gay or straight, marry another man). When Indiana courts grant a dissolution of marriage, they order that the parties are each “restored to the status of unmarried persons.” Other states probably do something similar. Our Lafayette, Indiana Human Relations Order covers discrimination based on “marital status” among other things.


  1. Eve can marry Adam because of her status as a woman.
  2. Fred couldn’t marry Adam because of Fred’s status as a man, but Ted Olson persuaded the court that Fred was being denied a fundamental right based on his status, so the court held that the right to marry couldn’t be denied on the basis of status.
  3. Why should Robyn, a/k/a Mrs. George, be forbidden to marry Adam because of her “status as a married person”?


As for Ted Olson’s “exploitation, abuse, patriarchy, issues with respect to taxes, inheritance, child custody and the like,” I offer a Pro Tip for aspiring young social scientists:

  1. Select a “random” sample of polygamists, say, in Utah.
  2. Ask them how their kids are doing.
  3. Publish your myth-busting conclusion that there’s no measurable difference in outcome for the children raised in polygamous settings.

You’ll be published not only in obscure social science journals today for your “myth-breaking seminal study,” but you’ll appear in federal court case footnotes in about ten years, give or take. Jonathan Turley will see to that.

You are welcome.

Polygamy is an interesting case, by the way. It functions in at least two ways in the marriage debate:

  1. Same-sex marriage proponents cite it (and other examples) to debunk the existence of anything that can meaningfully be called “traditional marriage.”
  2. Same-sex marriage opponents cite it as the monster at the bottom of the slippery slope.

I think both uses are bogus.

The argument of SSM proponents is bogus because polygamy is multiple simultaneous marriages, not one big teeming, steamy Orgy. And in polygamy, a man takes multiple wives, no husbands.

The argument of SSM opponents is bogus because same-sex “marriage” misunderstands marriage far more profoundly than polygamy does precisely because only SSM denies sexual complementarity – the least common denominator of every marriage custom known to human history until the last few microseconds. (There’s a joke that Fundamentalists are opposed to fornication because it might lead to dancing. I’m just sayin’.)

Anyway, Justice Sotomayor was asking a question about a slippery slope, and Ted Olson tap danced around it because hoi polloi find polygamy, for the time being, abhorrent in a way they’ve been propagandized not to view gay marriage.


If marriage were only about celebrating love we should be handing out trophies, or declaring more holidays like Valentine’s Day, not binding people with exclusivity, fidelity, and indissolubility …

Bingo! A man after my own heart.

… Indeed, those who think of marriage as only about love tend to argue against these duties, since they are regretted when feelings change.
Doubt it? Look up the contributions to the conversation by Judith Stacey and Dan Savage, say, as described in “Monogamy, Exclusivity, and Permanence,” a recent article on Ricochet. They want nothing to do with the usual trinity of marital duties. Why would they? If marriage is about love and love is about anything, what would constitute a rational limit on such a feeling? Someone at court should be asking that question too.

(Joshua Schulz, Summa Contra Dowd)


An old friend, a contemporary I knew in high school, boasted on Facebook that he “proudly supported Marriage Equality.” I challenged him that the meaning of marriage is antecedent to the question of whether “equality” is a relevant category for same-sex couples (okay, I called his view “dumbed-down,” too.) He responded that I was not open minded and that marriage was a “union between two people who love each other so much as to be willing to commit themselves to their relationship for life.” I rejoined that such a love is little more than an intense friendship and doesn’t merit government involvement. Then he opened up again:

Okay, [Tipsy]. I’m going to crawl out of the box for a minute and say that there are some animal species that, for some reason, do mate for life. Most of those that do have no government and no theology. I don’t think homo sapiens is one of them.

When you look at divorce rates and the rate of extramarital affairs, not to mention some societies that promote polygamy, it’s pretty hard to argue that humans were designed to be monogamous. To be sure, there are cases of purely monogamous marriages, but I think they are few and far between.

Marriage, in my humble opinion, is an institution created by religion. As such, the government should not even be involved in any way. The Federal Government, as I’m sure you are aware, really has no power to regulate marriage. That is all done on the state level. They just like to encourage it using tax breaks. Why, I don’t know. Oh, wait. Maybe it’s because both church and state can collect fees for it. Sorry. I do get a little cynical sometimes.

So anyway, are you saying marriage is more than intense friendship? If so, I would have to disagree. I don’t think you can have a successful marriage without an intense friendship, no matter what else you have. But then, I’m divorced, so what do I know? I wish humans were naturally monogamous. That’s what I thought I was getting into when I got married.

So, with that in mind, why not let same sex couples get married? I can’t think of a moral argument against it. But then, there’s that problem of having to provide health care and so on for same sex spouses. Once again, money rears it’s ugly head.

(Paragraph breaks added) I don’t claim this is a paradigmatic defense of same-sex “marriage.” It seems to me more like sour grapes about marriage. But for what it’s worth, here’s my response:

You have summarized the case for same-sex marriage but it seems muddled to me.

When you deny that we’re monogamous, you make a case for polygamy, or for no marriage at all, and no case at all for same-sex “marriage” (in any monogamous sense).

When you say that government should not be involved in any way, you undermine the case for having the government license any marriage, so how can you “proudly support marriage equality,” a term of art that means government recognition? I trust you know that any gay or lesbian couple can get “married” religiously at most any Unitarian Universalist Church or Metropolitan Community Church, and at many or most United Church of Christ parishes. There is no law against that; just no governmental recognition of it.

As for whether we’re naturally monogamous or not, I suggest that it is Natural for Humans, of all species, to regulate, or at least to attempt to regulate, their passions, including the passion of a virile man to copulate with a nubile woman. For humans, the affectation, the unnatural thing, is to say “I have urges, and therefore I should act upon them.” The very existence of institutions like marriage requires explanation, and the most natural explanation in my mind is that “we know better” that to give our urges free rein, however much those urges feel an urgent need to romp.

Yes, I’m saying marriage is more than intense friendship. In fact, I would say that one can have a real, and successful, marriage without intense friendship. On balance, I’m glad for our modern romantic marriage model (I think), but arranged marriages were real. They presumed sexual complementarity, intending (among the upper crust especially) to procreate more little Lords and Ladies to carry on the family name and control the estate. The Lord of the Manor may have enjoyed dalliances with the parlor maid, but that didn’t mean he wanted to marry her as his “soul mate.” Arranged marriages sometimes blossomed into friendship, but that was accident, not essence.

Does my friend’s argument let slip a hostility to marriage that SSM supporters usually keep under wraps? Does it matter if they do? Do these sorts of arguments support SSM, or do they support Joshua Schulz’s view?


Several of my Orthodox friends have linked within the last few days to Civil Unions by Another Name: An Eastern Orthodox Defense of Gay Marriage, at the Huffington Post. I’ve heard the author speak, and he makes some good points.

I nevertheless judge the overall piece misleading and subversive of good citizenship by Orthodox Christians.

The author, David J. Dunn, tips his hand repeatedly that he’s a partisan, not just a neutral observer. For instance:

  1. the fight for equal rights for same sex couples” (attributed to others)
  2. “enlisting the state to protect ‘the sanctity of marriage‘ is a mistake”
  3. California’s infamous Proposition 8″
  4. fall prey to the so-called Constantinian temptation
  5. “they have vested the state with the power to sanctify

(Emphasis added) There certainly is a lot of “conservative Christian” blather, some of it about “the sanctity of marriage,” and it’s an easy target. If there are Orthodox Christians who echo it, Dr. Dunn has done them a service by calling them on it.

But there is a case against same-sex marriage that is not sectarian, does not enlist the state to protect the “sanctity” of marriage and does not fall prey to the Constantinian temptation. Dr. Dunn, essentially, has picked some low-hanging fruit and declared the vineyard fully harvested. “Move along now, you vagrants. No grapes here anymore.”

I’ve blogged about the better view various ways at various times. I won’t even try to link any of my own efforts except to point to item 3, above, which tacitly makes a small government case for not issuing licenses for love that implicates no state interests. For the rest, consult Robert P. George et al for what I consider the best (if not briefest) case yet, here and in preliminary and briefer form here.

If SSM does not promote authentic human thriving, or if it mucks up even the state’s version of the institution of marriage, Orthodox Christians – and everyone else who sees that point – should oppose it. Constantine’s got nothing to do with that.


You no doubt have seen some of the line drawing that can be seen two ways: one a 3/4 rear view of a beautiful Victorian woman, hair pinned up and bedecked elegantly, the other an old peasant woman in a more frontal view. I suspect that you instinctively see one of the two before the other: I see the young woman.

On marriage, I must stop and concentrate in order to see the case for SSM. My natural perception is to the contrary. I’ve done it, though, and do it fairly regularly to try to be fair. I also try to do the Golden Rule test, and the “what if it was my kid?” test.

Not to sound too self-congratulatory, but I wish more people on the other side on both sides would do that. And I recoil from the demonizing tone of arguments when they don’t.


Daniel McCarthy at the American Conservative blog asks “Who Defines Marriage?” He makes some interesting historic claims, but ends rather too sanguine about how swell’n’tolerant’n’things the future will be for Christian believers even if SSM wins the day through the “equality” mantra.

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

2 thoughts on “That was the week that was

  1. “If SSM does not promote authentic human thriving, or if it mucks up even the state’s version of the institution of marriage, Orthodox Christians – and everyone else who sees that point – should oppose it.”

    What constitutes authentic human thriving? Do you believe authentic human thriving is possible for people outside the church? And do you have evidence that same sex marriage does NOT promote authentic human thriving (for people outside the church)? I’d go so far as to say that a good number of heterosexual marriages do not promote authentic human thriving, but we don’t legislate against them.

    “…if it mucks up even the state’s version of the institution of marriage” — perhaps it’s time to muck things up a little. You say you’ve looked at it from both sides, and you’ve thought about if it were your child who were gay. Those are exactly my reasons for coming to my conclusions. I have friends and family who are gay. They are good, moral, intelligent people. They have partners that they love. And they cannot marry them, or have any of the rights of spouses, because (I believe) we, as a nation, have gotten used to the government relying on Judeo-Christian values — good values! But why in the world should we require them of the nation?

    1. Beginning at the end, little in life distresses me more than feeling obliged to join this battle, knowing that some family and friends will mistakenly think I despise them, or wish them ill. That’s not true. To them I say, “There’s nothing wrong with you beyond your own particular mix of temptations and besetting sins, and I have a set of those that makes me the chief of sinners.”

      But I do feel obligated, on this singular “culture war” issue, to join the battle, because I lived through the sexual revolution, because I remember what once was and could be again (no, it was not idyllic), and because I know that 30 years ago, even utterly secular law schools taught things about the state’s interest in marriage that would be called hate speech today (it wasn’t).

      Further, I detest the transvaluation of values, whereby someone who was a pillar of the community 30 or fewer years ago is now a pariah because he hasn’t adopted an insistent fad of the day. I’ve always been aware that somebody needs to preserve unpopular truths for the day when sanity returns and people are ready to hear them again. And for some curmudgeonly or masochistic reason, I’ve always been willing to be that somebody rather than a mere bearer of bonhomie.

      In several ways, your questions and position evoke the seminal question “what is marriage?” That’s why I cite Girgis, George and Anderson, even in their free PDF download (which was a preview of their book in essence). I have heard no satisfactory definition from the pro-SSM side that is coherent and that will stand against such folk as the polyamorists when they in turn posture as victims crying out for marriage equality. And I put the burden on them, the innovators, to come up with one.

      Defining human thriving may be as difficult as defining “beauty.” One thing that constitutes human thriving, if nothing else, is life in reality, relatively free of delusion. If marriage is what all recorded human history thinks it is (i.e., an institution requiring sexual complementarity as a least common denominator), then it is impossible to “extend” it to couples who may love each other very much, may have a more sublime friendship than I have ever known, but are not complementary sexually. Whatever is good about the relationship is not the good of marriage. We do nobody any favors pretending it is.

      Note that I was not saying anything about whether people outside the Church should be compelled to adopt its norms. But since you bring up the question, if what the Church teaches is true about the human person, how can fully authentic human thriving be possible outside the Church? I feel as if my entry into Orthodoxy was the start of my own becoming fully and authentically human. I assume you agree at least with the former whether or not you’ve thought in the latter terms. But that doesn’t mean that we sit silent while those outside the Church make demands that will, as we may variously see it, inflict serious damage on public life – in this case, on the state’s institution of marriage (quite apart from it’s effects on religious freedom and pedagogy).

      As for proof that SSM does or does not promote human thriving (apart from what I may think the political implications of the Church’s anthropological truth may be), I deny the burden of proof falls on those who defend the uniform historic belief – Christian, pagan, and all other varieties of belief, including the belief of societies where sodomy wasn’t stigmatized. They judged that the institution of marriage was important for the community and its members to thrive.

      You really should read at least the shorter article by Girgis, George and Anderson. You may not be persuaded, but if you’re not, you’ll at least be one of the few why tried to understand the other side’s best case.

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