The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage
I have discussed same-sex marriage as a political issue with a number of Distributists both Catholic and Othrodox Christian. In general, most are opposed to state recognition of same-sex marriage. Their arguments typically look back to Aristotle's "Politics" for the foundation of society in the procreative family, and then argue that the goal of the state is to nourish the family. Here's the general logic.
In "Politics," Aristotle posits three layers to society. First you have the individual, and individuals of the opposite sex come together in that fundamental union necessary for our continuation as a species, and in so doing, establish households including children, sometimes extended family members, (and, in Aristotle's day, slaves). The household is the fundamental unit of the culture, society, and economy. They produce and consume goods, engage in business, and come together to form the polis, or city-state. Because the household is the fundamental unit of culture, creating and passing culture on to the next generation, it is an irreplaceable institution on which the rest of society depends. The question is how to nourish the institution of the household in this way, and since same-sex couples cannot fill the same cultural role, they should not be granted the same social benefits.
For what it's worth I agree with this basic framing of the question. Raising children is, fundamentally, an act of instilling the culture into the next generation and hence society still rests solidly on the basic cultural autonomy of the procreative household. I thus have some sympathy with this argument. It is further worth noting that Distributism itself tends to see the household as the basic economic unit of society, and looks to emphasize that role as well, with family owned businesses and the like, so these concerns all dovetail very quickly to a policy recommendation against recognizing same-sex marriage, and it is an argument I am basically sympathetic towards.
The Distributist Case for Same Sex MarraigeAt the same time I end up disagreeing with the conclusion, that recognition of same-sex marriage is hazardous to distributism, even while I agree that the individualistic "I want X too" argument is fundamentally corrosive to society even while both sides of our political spectrum play that card often (perhaps most notably on the "right"). The goal of any government in Distributism is to nourish and support smaller social institutions and that does mean families in their procreative and enculturing roles. Unlike some (particularly on the "left") I do not want to see us become a society like Sparta, where the role of teaching children what is right and wrong is taken over by the public school system in what is essentially an anti-family agenda. At the same time I think the arguments against same-sex marriage by many Distributists lack an important point.
Subsidiarity cannot exist, and cannot be viable, if there is not trust that the lower levels of society will make things work and, ideally, organically grow and prosper. Moreover all knowledge is local, and national or statewide policies which disempower communities and families generally hamper rather than help society grapple with the key issues of our day. For this reason I think it is extremely important for the state to remain neutral in significant culture war issues and allow the lower social institutions to work things out themselves.
I make exception for antidiscrimination laws based on race (and to a lesser extent gender), but only because they help undo the damage caused by state policies of segregation and making decisions that should have been left up to the family (in terms of gender discrimination, such as bans on women practicing law which were common up until the late 19th and early 20th centuries) and community. The policies of the past are the responsibilities of the present. However I am greatly sceptical of the need to extend antidiscrimination law beyond those areas where states enforced discrimination in commerce and the workplace previously. Mere de facto discrimination (denying security clearances to one group because of concerns that their membership might be used to extort secrets from them, for example) is not enough.
Subsidiarity then implies a right to make mistakes. This right, which must necessarily exist at all levels of society, is often forgotten, but it is also through making mistakes and looking around, comparing with others, that we learn and can do better.
Additionally the matter at hand is complicated. Many same-sex couples get together with kids of their own, absent adoptions or artificial insemination, and are in the process of raising and enculturing their children as well, and so it is not quite the case that the entire basis for marriage in this role is only found by straight couples. We may quibble as to what family models are best for the children but if we are to expect the state to respect and enable people to raise their children with values as they see fit, then the complexities of this issue are beyond the ability of the state to resolve.
Therefore I don't think that individuals, religious organizations, or businesses should be required to recognize same-sex marriage, but I think the state must, in the spirit of ensuring the sort of social dialog which is enables society to organically resolve the problem. Communities know their members and can make decisions about what to recognize. Empowering communities by state recognition of the marriages is thus a good thing.
For those who are on either side of the issue, I think it is important to note two things:
- We need to rethink how the economy nourishes the family. Right now things are very bad. A future post will address this.
- Any large-scale social change will only happen as a cultural change. Discussion and dialog is the only way to make that cultural change happen.