An Argument for State-Sponsored Heterogamy

Posted on December 6, 2011 by


While I don’t agree with the underlying assumption of this scholarly paper…that the State’s involvement in marriage is a net positive, ceteris paribus…I do think that the article presents a pretty powerful case for heterogamy and against homogamy (and the inevitable variants of whatever-ogamy that will assuredly follow legally enshrined homogamy).

A brief summary of the paper is as follows: the authors define, compare, and contrast heterogamy and homogamy, then challenge the revisionists’ case for homogamy (i.e., civil unions don’t hurt anyone, that mothers and fathers are interchangeable, that homogamy doesn’t threaten anyone’s civil liberties, religious freedom, or freedom of speech), while disputing the assertions of homogamy activists that there is effectively no difference between homogamous couples and infertile heterogamous couples.  The article finishes by deflating some conservative arguments for homogamy (as odd as that sounds, apparently there are some, namely, homosexuals getting married will strengthen marriage and encourage more moral behavior from homosexual couples).

A key point in the article is the distinction it makes between what they content are “real” marriages, i.e., conjugal ones and counterfeit marriages, i.e., revisionist. Briefly, the article defines “conjugal marriage” in such a way as to reinforce the sexual and generative aspect of the bond, while contrasting that definition against what they call “revisionist marriage”, a concept which pivots around the emotional and financial aspects of the marriage relationship to the exclusion of the bodily union or procreative aspects.

Paraphrasing the authors, conjugal marriage is an organic joining of bodies and minds, a comprehensive union such that the male and the female components join to form a composite reproductive unit. Homosexuals may pair bond, but they can never reproduce without outside assistance. In addition, the conjugal marriage union has a natural, structural link to children that the revisionist marriage does not. It is oriented in such a way as to produce children, even if no children are conceived, and by its very nature fosters and environment that yields superior outcomes over and above other family configurations. The authors contrast the qualities of the conjugal union with that of the revisionist one, an propositional institution centered around emotional fulfillment and not structured toward procreation. Furthermore, the homogamous-revisionist marriage model, based on emotional fulfillment, results in empirically inferior social and individual outcomes. Indeed, the authors specifically highlight the fact that homogamous unions are biologically and socially incomplete, they systematically lack the sexual complementarity that conjugal unions have; the authors imply that it is this complementarity that results in superior outcomes for children. The authors further contend that conjugal marriages also differ from revisionist ones in that they provide “stable and harmonious conditions [for children] that sociology and common sense agree are undermined by divorce…and by infidelity”. Therefore, according to the authors, the State has a compelling interest in enshrining traditional male-female marriage in law…for it yields the best outcomes for society, objectively.

One aspect of the authors’ argument for traditional heterogamous marriage that I found interesting was their exposition of emotional fulfillment as a key component of revisionist marriage. For it is in this recent, “romantic” ideal of emotional fulfillment that I think much heterogamous marital discontent is located. For certain, the ideal of emotional fulfillment isn’t limited in modern times to revisionist marriages, no, quite a few heterogamous marriages also start here (and, unfortunately, end here too). The authors, in pivoting their distinction between traditional man-woman marriage and homogamy around emotional fulfillment, therefore missed this key point–that the Romantic ideal of marriage as first and foremost about emotional fulfillment has fully penetrated modern American society. Indeed, this appears to me to be a symptom of the complete and full and extreme victory of individualist equalitarian secular humanism…that the fundamental building block of society is no longer husband-wife complementarity but the all-men-are-equal individual. Now of course I am not claiming that happiness in a marriage isn’t important or even desirable. My issue  is with making emotional happiness the litmus test for getting and staying married…and my point is that the modern fixation on happiness to the exclusion of other values has had terrible consequences for our children, our culture, and our freedoms.

I also thought this quote of the authors was interesting:

…the more effectively the law teaches the truth about marriage, the more likely people are to enter into marriage and abide by its norms. And the more people form marriages and respect marital norms, the more likely it is that children will be reared by their wedded biological parents. Death and tragedy make the gap impossible to close completely, but a healthier marriage culture would make it shrink. Thus, enshrining the moral truth of marriage in law is crucial for securing the great social benefits served by real marriage.

Unfortunately, the law today often acts to undermine the moral truth about enduring heterogamous marriage and teaches several falsehoods about marriage and optimal family outcomes for children, for example, that  marriage starts and ends with the State (marriage licenses, divorce lawsuits, clergy signing the State’s marriage documents after marrying a couple in a religious ceremony, Justice-of-the-Piece marriages), that marriage is disposable (no-fault divorce), that inconvenience of any kind is grounds for divorce (no-fault again, also loosely defined “emotional abuse” as a valid pretext for divorce), that fathers are disposable and replaceable by government (welfare, chalimony), that single parenthood is a valid family configuration on equal or even higher footing as the two-parent heterogamous family and deserving of State support and subsidy (welfare, EITC, WIC), and that there are no effective differences between heterogamous and homogamous parents, at least as far as foster parents and the adopting of children is concerned. The law also, technically, teaches that mothers and fathers are equivalent and interchangeable (another fib), however, the law as implemented by agents of the State and Officers of the Court definitively declares that mothers are far superior to fathers as parents (near universal mother custody, adoption laws which routinely disregard the rights of fathers).

But back to the quote “…the more likely people are to enter into marriage and abide by its norms”. This quote sums up for me the issue with the decline of marriage in our society…that a goodly portion of the whole edifice of law has been set against the marriage institution, to the point that a good many women and men don’t see the point in monogamous, heterogamous, permanent marriage or fear its reputation as a gateway to servitude.

And another way the law perverts the truth about marriage is through how the State leverages marriage as a trigger for the delivery of public and private goods. Marriage makes a couple or individuals eligible for a whole host of goods, such as survivorship benefits, taxation, and housing (for military members), to name a few. It was the State, in attempting to cement marriage as the institution around which society would be legally organized, just as these authors propose, that opened the door for its perversion. I’d wager that a lot of wind in the sails of the homogamy lobby would be taken away, were marriage no longer used in this manner. Because marriage law, if used as proposed by the authors of this article, through the act of preferring one sort of coupling over another, will most certainly be used to discriminate between certain family configurations, and because the law would consequently always be used to confer some benefit upon heterogamous married couples over and above that of singletons or homogamous pairings, is why I’m on record as desiring that the State get out of the marriage business entirely. No more licenses, no more using marriage as the criteria that decides if John Doe’s partner gets survivor benefits when he dies. Marriage becomes the province of the Church, synagogue, or mosque.

This opinion appears to put me at odds with the article’s authors:

Although some libertarians propose to “privatize” marriage, treating marriages the way we treat baptisms and bar mitzvahs, supporters of limited government should recognize that marriage privatization would be a catastrophe for limited government. In the absence of a flourishing marriage culture, families often fail to form, or to achieve and maintain stability. As absentee fathers and out‐of‐wedlock births become common, a train of social pathologies follows. Naturally, the demand for governmental policing and social services grows.

Contrary to the article’s authors, I think it is because of government intrusion into marriage and family policy that we have these things. Perhaps it is a chicken-and-egg thing, but I think it is because the State has intruded into marriage, and that the State, through government social policy, effectively obscures the truth about marriage, that we have so many excuses for more big government. The State, through its interventions, creates the conditions that justify more intervention.

Thus I find the authors’ argument in favor of State-enforced heterogamous marriage to be persuasive in the respect that traditional conjugal marriage model is superior to so-called revisionist marriage.  The contention that State sponsorship is healthy in the long run, less so.

Posted in: Relationships