Saturday, February 15, 2014

Marriage, procreation and the triumph of rhetoric and rationalisation over evidence

Arguments against same sex marriage (such as here and here) typically get marriage and procreation the wrong way round.  It is not that marriage is supported because it produces children -- the only common defining feature of marriage across cultures is that it connects kin groups, it creates in-laws. It is that a public commitment which binds two people together and connects their kin groups makes marriage a good institution for raising children. The characteristics of marriage make it good for child-raising, it is not that child-raising determines the characteristics of marriage. Which is why we don't ban infertile males or post-menopausal females from marrying. The characteristics of marriage give it value even without any prospect of children.

Nor is the reason for regulating marriage procreation: that will happen regardless of what the state does. Having the state regulate marriage reduces transaction costs -- that is why, for example, the landholding warlords of medieval Europe pressured the Latin Church to get into the business of marriage regulation; so there were common rules about what counted as a marriage and who was a legitimate heir. It is just so much more convenient if there is a standard, commonly recognised, marriage contract. For use of property, for standing for access, for inheritance, for ability to speak for another … Canon law taking over regulation of marriage did not stop procreation outside marriage, it just regulated the standing of such children. 

The "marriage is for, and matters for, procreation" arguments are classic examples of letting conclusions set the ambit of premises. Rationalisations of bigotry are rife which this rhetorical technique since they are based on letting a theory of the human, or of the social, or both, set the ambit of evidence, set the ambit of what aspirations and experiences count. (And yes, denying folk equal protection of the law is bigotry.) Bigotry is always a moral claim, it is always a claim about who has what standing in the moral community, including who is outside of it and to what degree; it is also always based on an impoverished epistemology which denies inconvenient human experience and aspirations status or standing.

So, one looks at the human experience of marriage and infers from that. One does not start with a theory of marriage and declare which experience counts.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

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