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More on Traditional Marriage: Classic Francis Beckwith

When the mayor of San Francisco was passing out marriage licenses for gay couples in defiance of state law in 2004, philosopher Francis Beckwith suggested a better way to handle it than the legal remedy which was sought:

I believe, however, that given present circumstances that the best strategy is to take the mayor at his word and employ “street theatre” in a provocative way in order to force the other side to defend their marital nihilism in all its glory. Here’s the plan: Have about 50 folks go to San Francisco city hall and request marriage licenses, but not for gay marriages, rather, for other sorts of “unions” that are also forbidden by the state: three bisexuals from two genders, one person who wants to marry himself (and have him accuse the mayor of “numberism,” the prejudice that marriage must include more than one person), two married couples who want a temporary “wife-swap lease,” a couple consisting of two brothers, two sisters, or a brother and a sister, an adult mother and son, and a man who wants to add a second wife and a first husband in order to have a “marital ensemble,” etc., etc. Let’s see if the mayor will give these people “marriage” licenses. If not, why not? If not, then the jig is up and the mayor actually has to explain the grounds on which he will not give licenses to these folks. But what could those grounds be? That it would break the law? That marriage has a nature, a purpose, that is not the result of social construction or state fiat? If so, then what is it and why? (source)

Beckwith goes on that article to state that marriage isn’t a social construction, but an institution with precise meaning and confers a specific benefit to society.

. . . [O]nce marriage is defined merely as a contract between consenting adults rather than as an institution grounded in our natures as men and women, recognized and honored by the wider community, then marriage simply does not exist. According to the mayor of San Francisco, marriage is not something we enter; it is something we create or undo by our willfulness. It is not part of the order and nature of things that we honor and preserve by subjecting ourselves to its moral grandeur; rather, it is like the colors of traffic signals, diplomatic immunity, or the dollar amount of parking fines, arbitrary rules created by governments in order to facilitate safe travel, economic transactions, international relations, state funding, and/or public peace.

Marriage is a covenantal institution recognizing that men and women need each other to survive and flourish.  We’re two sides of the same coin.  If men can marry men, and women can marry women, why not the other institutions that Beckwith suggests, above?  No, marriage has a meaning and a purpose grounded in something greater than just state law.  It is grounded in our own nature, which must have both genders present to see its fulfillment.  Which means that folks like myself who, according to detractors, “deny” gays the “right” to marry are not denying them anything–they never had this “right” in the first place.  You can’t deny a man something that isn’t his to begin with.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on June 28, 2011, in Apologetics, Marriage and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I support polygamy, polyandry, and group marriage. I expect that these things will be legalised in western countries within 50 years.

    A problem to avoid will be coercive/dominating marriages, as polygamous marriages can often be. I don’t know the best course of action in this case.

  2. Héhéhé…just like Boz, I support all those “bizarre” marriages (they’re only bizarre in our minds; when you think about it a little, there’s no reason for them to be taboo)…very interesting article…I even support even within family marriages (but natural procreation should remain illegal in those cases, I guess that’d be hard to work given science as it presently is, but I’m sure we’ll find a way in the future)…there isn’t really anything sacred about marriage; the benefits that come from it shouldn’t be denied to myriads of other folks because their inclinations don’t fit OTHER people’s preferences…

  3. apologeticsguy

    Great post. Marriage has given us something same-sex unions can’t: The next generation. From what I’ve seen, homosexual relationships are already tolerated pretty well. At least in CA, the Family Code gives domestic partners the same protections and benefits married couples have. Seems the debate’s not so much about equality as it is about shaping popular opinion. Question: Is tolerance enough? Does every American have to agree with my lifestyle choice? Yours? Interested in your opinion, Cory.

    -Mikel
    Apologetics Guy

    • No, Mikel, I don’t think that every American has to agree with every other American’s lifestyle choice. That’s not tolerance. Jesus, for example, flat out tells us Christians that people are not only not going to agree with our lifestyle choices, but we should expect persecution for it.

      Tolerance is summed up in Romans 12:18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” I don’t have to agree with anything that you do, but as much as it depends on me, I shouldn’t make undue waves about it.

      As I’ve told my detractors, I have gay friends and I attended a lesbian wedding. It will be a sad day for me when Elton John retires. So I’m not a homophobe–I’m not afraid of gay people. I don’t hate them, either. As I’ve discussed here, I think that homosexuality gets treated by the church as some sort of super-sin; “Stay away from those disgusting homosexuals, you don’t want to catch it!” The reality is that homosexuality is a sin like any other.

      The difference is that homosexuality isn’t a self-evident sin. It takes some foundational theology to understand why it’s a sin, and that 101-level and even the 210-level stuff that you have to grasp first before realizing the sin of homosexuality isn’t going to come from an academic debate. It really isn’t going to come over Twitter, either. It has many facets, one of which (the scriptural) I discuss here.

      I’m not saying we shouldn’t speak out or try to educate people. But I don’t think it’s going to work by the masses. “Homophobia” has been co-opted to mean “opposition to gay marriage,” but the public still thinks of it as “fear of homosexuals.” The gay rights activists have co-opted the language of the civil rights movements of the 60s and earlier women’s lib movements. The opposition has the emotional appeal all locked up, and we’re cast as bigots for standing in their way.

      So our remaining option is more effective: one-on-one education. We welcome gay people into our churches with open arms, then teach them why we think homosexuality is a sin. If they’ve had the foundational theology, they will understand. If they reject it and leave our churches, then we leave God to deal with that fallout. We will have done our part, it will be the up to the Holy Spirit to convict and clean them.

      I end where I began, with tolerance. Tolerance is not accepting everyone’s viewpoint as valid. Our postmodern society adopts a relative truth idea, teaching that if you have an opinion it’s valid to be heard and true for you. Truth, however, is objective, and not everyone’s opinions should be weighed as heavily as others. So, while I advocate living peaceably alongside those with aberrant lifestyles, I’m not saying we should just surrender and agree with their lifestyle. Tolerance, like homophobia, has been co-opted–it now means non-judgmental agreement with everyone’s opinion. Ironically, the only opinion not valued in this system is those of us who try to inject the simple common sense that there is an objective truth and not everyone’s opinion can be correct or even should be equally weighed. That’s the New Bigotry.

      • apologeticsguy

        Indeed. Tolerance is being respectful of people that you disagree with. In other words, you don’t tolerate people who have the same beliefs you do—you agree with them! I don’t know how simply disagreeing with someone’s ideas or lifestyle became “evil” in our culture. I get that a lot of people don’t agree with my Christian lifestyle. But I’m free to live this way in the USA. What I don’t have the right to do is use the power of the state to compel non-Christians to agree with my views or lifestyle choice in the name of diversity and inclusion. Why should anyone else?

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