The National Review cover story, “The Case for Marriage,” draws an argument against same-sex marriage solely founded on the idea that marriage is for sexual relations, and that sexual intercourse between men and women makes babies.
It is true that marriage is, in part, an emotional union, and it is also true that spouses often take care of each other and thereby reduce the caregiving burden on other people. But neither of these truths is the fundamental reason for marriage. The reason marriage exists is that the sexual intercourse of men and women regularly produces children. If it did not produce children, neither society nor the government would have much reason, let alone a valid reason, to regulate people’s emotional unions. (The government does not regulate non-marital friendships, no matter how intense they are.) If mutual caregiving were the purpose of marriage, there would be no reason to exclude adult incestuous unions from marriage. What the institution and policy of marriage aims to regulate is sex, not love or commitment. These days, marriage regulates sex (to the extent it does regulate it) in a wholly non-coercive manner, sex outside of marriage no longer being a crime.
Same-sex marriage would introduce a new, less justifiable distinction into the law. This new version of marriage would exclude pairs of people who qualify for it in every way except for their lack of a sexual relationship. Elderly brothers who take care of each other; two friends who share a house and bills and even help raise a child after one loses a spouse: Why shouldn’t their relationships, too, be recognized by the government? The traditional conception of marriage holds that however valuable those relationships may be, the fact that they are not oriented toward procreation makes them non-marital. (Note that this is true even if those relationships involve caring for children: We do not treat a grandmother and widowed daughter raising a child together as married because their relationship is not part of an institution oriented toward procreation.)
Of course, forget the fact that same-sex couplings often produce and raise children in some facet (in vitro fertilization, adoption, surrogates, &c.), or that many male/female marriages produce no children whatsoever. Perhaps even more satisfying, and certainly more entertaing, Jonathan Rauch destroys the whole essay on its face:
The article is a mass of non sequiturs. It assumes that if marriage is “for” something—regulating procreative sex—then using it for anything else must be “against” marriage, which is like saying that if mouths are “for” eating, we mustn’t use them for talking or breathing. It claims (conjecturally) that marriage would not have arisen if not for the fact that men and women make babies, from which it concludes that society has no stake in childless marriages.
It argues that marriage, and a culture of marriage, are good and important, a point on which thoughtful gay-marriage advocates enthusiastically agree. But, of course, our whole argument is that including gays won’t stop marriage from doing the good things it now does, and will probably strengthen marriage and the marriage culture. Maybe we’re wrong. But the editorial doesn’t even bother to engage. It proceeds as if “gay marriage is bad” follows obviously from “straight marriage is good.”