Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Gay Marriage and Levels of Abstraction

February 05th, 2014 by G.

two men arguing

Pat: Gay marriage is a mistake because marriage is about children. Two men or two women can’t have children together accidentally or on purpose.

Mike: So if you’re infertile, you can’t get married?

A lot of time gets wasted in arguments that are really about what the proper unit of analysis is, without any of the participants quite realizing that is what their argument is about.

Let’s take gay marriage, for example. Defenders of the traditional definition of marriage believe that marriage is fundamentally tied to procreation. Proponents of gay marriage pooh-pooh the suggestion. The defenders, they point out, do not try to prevent old or infertile couples from getting married, nor do they try to prevent couples who have decided not to have children from getting married.

The defenders reply that heterosexual couples that are trying not to have children can still accidentally have them, as can in rare cases old people, and that infertile couples also sometimes have children (the phenomenon of a couple trying various fertility treatments and finally giving up on having children in frustration, and then conceiving a child without meaning to, is common enough). Besides, the defenders add, even infertile or old heterosexual couples serve as a model to other heterosexual couples who can have children.

Then the debate descends into unknowable speculation about the extent to which gay couples can also serve as a model for heterosexual couples who care capable of having children.

But what they are really arguing about is the proper unit of analysis. What they are really arguing about is the proper level of abstraction.

The question arises, in deciding on public marriage policy, are we evaluating classes of relationships (gay, heterosexual) are we evaluating specific relationships (Pat and Mike, who even if heterosexual may still be infertile) or are we evaluating specific relationship acts (Pat and Mike in the parlor on Tuesday, which may be an infertile conjugal act for all sorts of reasons, even if Pat and Mike are capable of having children).

Without a very articulated reason why, the defenders are suggesting that the class is what should be evaluated. Without a very articulated reason why, the proponents are saying that the specific relationships are the proper unit of analysis.

Proponents aren’t very consistent, though. They see the purpose of marriage as being recognizing a committed, loving relationship. They argue that the state should recognize gay marriage because gay couples, as a class, are capable of a committed, loving relationship. But they don’t argue that couples who don’t appear to be sufficiently in love or who have a history of failed relationships should be barred from marriage. But far more married couples turn out not to have had a committed, loving relationship then turn out to have been infertile.

Comments (19)
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February 05th, 2014 10:23:25

February 5, 2014

There is also a blatant lie in the proponents’ argument upon which you focus.

With rare exception, there is no such thing as “committed loving relationship” among male homosexuals. It’s less rare among lesbians, but still more rare among lesbians than among heterosexuals.

What has recently started to be noticed in the media is that among homosexuals, men and women, who do marry, many (perhaps most) have open marriages. IE, sex with others is still allowed upon conditions that are pre-agreed-upon, such as “being out of town.” “Committed loving relationship”? Yeah, right.


Male homosexuality is, almost, by definition equivalent to hyper-promiscuity. Prior to the AIDS epidemic, the CDC reported that the average (average, mind you) lifetime number of sex partners among male homosexuals was 2,000. Long-time high-profile Rock stars and professional sports players are the only heterosexuals who come even close to that.

What is it since the AIDS crisis? Estimates are that it’s rising back to pre-AIDS levels.

Homosexual men make up between 2 and 3.5 percent of the male population. And so far only a tiny fraction of them, even those residing in states where it is legal, have gotten married. (Some cross state boundaries in order to get married.) In other words, homosexual men who want to marry men are a very small minority of a very small minority.

Where are all those “committed loving relationships” among gay men in states where SSM is legal? They’re not showing up to get marriage licenses. And for those who do, it’s not much of a marriage in terms of what we normally think of as marriage.

Bruce Charlton
February 5, 2014

@G – Very interesting argument, and one I haven’t seen before.

These debates are daft, though but – both sides know what they want, but struggle to frame the discussion properly.

Then people get captured by the inevitably incomplete and distorted terms and rules – and stubbornly refuse to recognize they have ended-up with a reductio ad absurdum.

Roman Catholics have done this in relation to sex – (arguably) painting themselves into a corner where a married couple can only have sexual relations without sin only on those few occasions when they are trying to conceive and able to conceive – all other possibilities have been left out of the premises.

Adam G.
February 5, 2014

*These debates are daft, though but – both sides know what they want, but struggle to frame the discussion properly.*

Well put.

*Then people get captured by the inevitably incomplete and distorted terms and rules – and stubbornly refuse to recognize they have ended-up with a reductio ad absurdum.*

Yes, argument creep is a real phenomenon. No one is smart enough to avoid either being inconsistent or talking themselves into absurdities.

*Roman Catholics have done this in relation to sex – (arguably) painting themselves into a corner where a married couple can only have sexual relations without sin only on those few occasions when they are trying to conceive and able to conceive – all other possibilities have been left out of the premises.*

I believe the Roman Catholic position is that it is OK to have sex without being able to conceive if you are infertile or if you are at an infertile point in your cycle. Also that its OK to have sex and to try to avoid conception if you are practicing coitus interruptus or, again, the rhythm method. My view is that these are unprincipled exceptions to their general argument, though actual Catholics disagree with me.

February 5, 2014

My impression is that the Catholic view is that there must always be at least a slight possibility of conception, in case God wills for you to conceive. In other words, using imperfect means of contraception is a way of being open to God’s will being different from your will.

I prefer more direct means of ascertaining God’s will, which reflects the different religious framework I operate in.

Adam G.
February 5, 2014

That’s a lay apologetic, Lord Vader, but not the actual doctrine, since it would allow for artificial contraceptives.

February 5, 2014

Speaking of Catholic rules of morality, I found this article both interesting and distressing.

“German bishops tell Vatican: Catholics reject sex rules”

“(Reuters) – Germany’s Catholic bishops, responding to a worldwide Vatican survey, said on Monday that many Church teachings on sexual morality were either unknown to the faithful there or rejected as unrealistic and heartless.

They said the survey, drawn up for a synod on possible reforms in October, showed most German Catholics disputed Church bans on birth control and premarital or gay sex and criticized rules barring the divorced from remarriage in church.
The results will not be news to many Catholics, especially in affluent Western countries, but the blunt official admission of this wide gap between policy and practice is uncommon and bound to raise pressure on Pope Francis to introduce reforms.”

February 5, 2014

Bookslinger – I would not necessarily make too much of discrepencies in partner count or stability of relationships.

I suspect most sexually-active heterosexual men would gladly have equal partner counts, if they could.
I also suspect we will see more and more quasi-stable gay relationships emphasized and along with dysfunctional heterosexual relationships.

What does have me most worried, is the undercurrent of redefining the family. We (as Civilization) have gone from not keeping the commandments, to even losing the correct ideal. The Poly-Amory people think they are following in the footsteps of the Gays, and no one in favor of Gay Marriage has any good arguments why not to extend marriage to Polyamorists. Polygamists are pushing as well.

We are losing the correct idea of the Family as an ideal. There are going to be fewer and fewer holding to that, until it is only the true believers who hold to it. And they will be considered backwards and strange.

I have never before really understood the scripture about being a stranger on Earth before. But I feel very out of place in modern society now.

February 6, 2014

Zen, the purpose of pointing out the promiscuity difference between umarried homosexual men and unmarried heterosexual men, and the promiscuity difference between married homosexuals and married heterosexuals, is to point out that a main foundation plank of the SSM movement (“committed loving relationships”) is a big lie.

And if SSM is not about “committed loving relationships”, then what is the ulterior motive? What is it that they’re not saying?

One of the things is that SSM is a wedge issue to “open marriages”, and redefining the meaning of marriage for _all_. This was admitted by one of the homosexual activists and made headlines, but wasn’t picked up by the major media.

One of the big secrets that activist pointed out was that many or even most gay marriages are not monogamous, just like most non-married gay relationships where the partners live together. They have understandings, such as having hook-ups when one or the other is out of town.

Ok, so why do they want to get married when they really aren’t in a monogamous relationship anyway? (Granted, there is a small minority of gay partners who are comitted/monogamous. But they are the exception.)

February 6, 2014

There’s another big obvious meta-discussion about the issue that has been avoided. It’s been either absent or dismissed in the media.

And that is dynamic analysis versus static analysis. The pro gay marriage side has only been involved in static analysis. Only the opponents have even attempted to ask “Where is this going?”

But neither side has publicly said anything about how SSM will (or is now) affecting the upcoming generation. How does socially acceptable homosexuality influence young people who are in the midst of developing their sexuality?

Why haven’t the talking heads on TV brought on any psychologists who are experts at childhood development?

How is this going to affect children who have yet to, or are in the process of, forming their own sexual identity, and finding their place in the world as male or female, discovering what it is to be a man or a woman?

I’ve made note of it in comments on several blogs, but I’ve mostly failed in communicating the idea. People on both sides seem to only be able to talk about how this affects them and their children *now*.

Anyone over 30 should know first hand how societal attitudes change, but they seem to ignore it. Anyone over 40 should know how societal attitudes have been changing for the worse in this country. And if you’re over 50 and not scared to death about the direction this country has been going, then you haven’t been paying attention.

February 6, 2014

It’s not Catholic teaching that you may only have sex when you are trying and able to conceive. If that were true then Natural Family Planning (NFP) would be forbidden. Coitus interruptus, by the way, is forbidden.

NFP is not, because (as we have discussed) nothing that people do in the course of practicing NFP violates or interferes with the natural functions of the sexual and reproductive organs. There is nothing unnatural or sinful about having intercourse during an infertile period, nor is there anything unnatural or sinful about not having intercourse during a fertile period. Whereas using a condom or a birth control pill is always unnatural, i.e. it interferes with the natural functions of the sexual and reproductive organs.

I agree with Adam that people miss each other as to the proper unit of analysis.

I think the proper unit of analysis is on the level of nature. The reason male/female couples may marry and same-sex couples may not, morally speaking, is because male/female couples *by nature* are capable of procreating, even if in individual circumstances they cannot or do not. It is for this reason that marriage, like sex itself, *by nature* is male/female.

Adam G.
February 6, 2014

thanks for putting us some knowledge on coitus interruptus.

February 6, 2014


Thanks for your correction. Your explanation makes more sense than the “pop Catholicism” explanation I picked up somewhere along the line. And it suggests that even if NFP is made very nearly foolproof, it will still be acceptable to Catholics. I find that comforting, in an odd way.

Your explanation of why marriage is what marriage is, seems to echo Robert P. George, whose writings I admire.

February 6, 2014


A slight clarification: NFP is acceptable for Catholics in that sense that in and of itself, it’s not immoral. However it is against Catholic teaching to get married with the *intention* (NB) of avoiding children for life, whether by using NFP or otherwise.

February 7, 2014

Bookslinger – I doubt we will see much change in the immediate future, besides hatred for our position.

But regarding the marginal changes that it will bring, that is what worries me the most. We had a post on this a little while back, that you posted. http://www.jrganymede.com/2013/02/26/learning-from-history/

Scott W. Clark
February 8, 2014

The changing culture is bad enough but I think the potential legal responses to our position could be pretty severe. I could see a state like Cal. for instance passing legislation making it a crime to discrimate on the basis of sexual orientation. And with states’ addiction to criminal forfeiture laws being what they are adding that kind of provision in to it. So what would happen if the Church refused to marry a same sex couple in a temple there? Prosecution of those involved and forfeiture?
Under the current climate this isn’t so farfetched.

February 8, 2014

A homosexual couple in Britain is already suing the Church of England to marry them.

This in spite of a law protecting churches from being forced to perform gay marriage if they don’t want to.

February 10, 2014


Yes, I understand that Catholicism condemns marriage by fertile couples with no intent to have children. To some extent, so does Mormonism. The legitimate use of birth control, in the opinion of this asthmatic-villain-Mormon-American, is to chose the timing of children and to limit their number to what can be reasonably supported, not to avoid them entirely.

Zen, Scott, Books,

It is all but inevitable that England, and many other countries, will eventually refuse to recognize Mormon temple marriages, while remaining blissfully oblivious to the irony involved.

It seems possible, though not yet likely, that Mormon missionaries, full-time and otherwise, will risk arraignment for fraud for preaching beliefs the English courts judge to be demonstrably untrue: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/08/brtain-puts-mormonism-on-trial.html

[…] There is a pretty insightful look at one of the commonly confused aspects of arguing about gay marriage over at Junior Ganymede. […]

February 13, 2014

In fact, LDS temple marriages have never been recognised in the UK. Mormons have to have a public ceremony outside of the temple first, before qualifying for sealing in the temple.

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