Whenever I make my case against same-sex marriage to a same-sex marriage proponent, invariably they will raise a particular objection to my argument.  The objection is so common that I want to devote a lengthy blog post to rebutting it.  But before I do, let me briefly summarize my argument against same-sex marriage:

The primary reason human governments across time and cultures have chosen to regulate, privilege, and encourage one particular kind of human relationship over all others is because they have a vested interest in what that kind of relationship can produce: socialized children to perpetuate society.  Apart from that, there is no reason for the government to meddle itself in personal, sexual relationships. They are not interested in promoting friendships or romantic love; they are interested in social self-preservation. They are interested in producing a new generation of responsible, socialized citizens to replace the existing generation. Optimal socialization involves both natural parents, so the state is interested in keeping the natural parents together as well. That is why marriage comes with legal responsibilities, and until recently, was difficult to dissolve.

What I have written thus far is not an argument, but a history lesson: Governments regulate and privilege heterosexual unions because heterosexuals procreate.  My argument simply incorporates this historical fact as a premise.  I argue that if the only reason government regulates private sexual relationships is because of the children such relationships produce, then why should government involve itself with the regulation of same-sex relationships?  Same-sex relationships do not produce the thing that necessitates government involvement in the case of heterosexual unions.  While there is a practical need to regulate heterosexual relationships, there is no practical need to regulate same-sex relationships anymore than there is a practical need to regulate friendships.  Friendships and same-sex relationships may be good, but because those kinds of relationships do not serve the same function in society that heterosexual relationships serve, society need not—and indeed should not—treat them the same as they do heterosexual unions. Same-sex relationships have nothing to do with the purpose for which civil marriage is enacted; therefore, homosexual relationships are not entitled to the benefits of marriage.

Against this argument the same-sex proponent will object, “If the reason civil marriage exists is because of children, and if same-sex couples should be prohibited from marrying on the basis that they do not produce children, then shouldn’t opposite-sex couples who cannot or will not have children be prohibited from marrying as well?”  This is a legitimate objection, and it deserves a thoughtful response:

While the government may issue marriage licenses to couples, they are not privileging the relationships of any particular individual(s); rather, they are privileging a particular kind of relationship; a relationship that they know from both experience and biology is capable of delivering on the State’s interest for regulating personal relationships: children.  Will there be some couples within that group who cannot or choose not to produce children, and thus fail to fulfill the purpose for which the State agreed to regulate their relationship?  Yes.  Why, then, does the State issue marriage licenses to those couples?

The reasons are quite practical in nature.  It would simply be too invasive, time-consuming, and infeasible on a practical level for the government to pre-screen every heterosexual couple applying for a marriage license to determine their ability/willingness to procreate.  It would require medical testing, as well as a legal oath to procreate after being granted a marriage license.  What would the State do is the medical test was inaccurate, or if a couple fails to produce a child within a certain period of time?  Would they force them to divorce?  It is much simpler to regulate a specific kind of relationship than it is to regulate each relationship in particular.  Such an approach means a small percentage of marriages will not produce children, but the State knows that on par, privileging this particular kind of relationship will result in the production of an optimal number of socialized children.

One might respond, “If the State is willing to license couples to marry, even though they may not be able/willing to have children, then it is unfair to deny same-sex couples the right to marry on the basis that they are unable to have children.  Both kinds of relationships are childless.  If one can be privileged by the State—though childless—why can’t the other?  After all, the number of same-sex couples wishing to wed is roughly similar to the number of childless heterosexual married couples.  If the number of childless married couples is so insignificant that it does not concern the State, why should a comparable number of childless same-sex couples concern the State?  Besides, allowing same-sex couples to marry will do nothing to change the number of opposite-sex couples who marry and produce children, so allowing same-sex couples to marry will do nothing to interfere with the State’s interest.”

My response is three-pronged.  First, we have to remember why the State is in the marriage business: children.  In the case of opposite-sex couples, the State knows children are both a possible and likely result of the union.  In the case of same-sex couples, however, they know for certain that no children will result from the union.  If the purpose for regulating personal relationships is the creation and rearing of children, and yet no children can be produced by a specific kind of relationship, why should the State involve itself in regulating that kind of relationship?  As an analogy, consider a fisherman who lets down his net into the ocean.  He knows some fish will escape his net, and yet he still casts his net because he knows it will still result in a great catch of fish nonetheless.  But what if the fisherman’s net has a gaping hole at the bottom.  Would it make sense for him to cast that net?  No, because he knows it is not capable of catching any fish.  And so it is with marriage.  Regulating the relationships of opposite-sex couples does not guarantee that every couple they license will produce children, but they cast the net wide because they know that regulating that particular kind of relationship will still yield an optimal number of children.  Regulating the relationship of same-sex couples, however, will not yield any children whatsoever.  If the fisherman would not cast forth such a net, why should the State?

Secondly, marriage is designed to be a burden.  The State burdens a couple with legal and social obligations in exchange for certain privileges such as tax breaks and social approval.  Why do this?  Because they have an interest in keeping a couple together.  Why might they be interested in keeping a couple together?  Is it because they believe in enduring love?  No, it is for the sake of children!  They are interested in the optimal socialization of children, and they have deemed that the best way for kids to be socialized is to be reared by the individuals who created them.  Marriage obligations exist to help keep parents tied to their children (which is why up until recently, divorces were difficult to obtain).[1] What would the purpose be, then, to regulate the relationships of same-sex couples?  If they do not produce children, there is no reason for the State to shackle them with legal and social obligations, nor to provide them with special privileges.  This brings me to my third and final point.

The benefits of marriage are not the State’s way of “rewarding” couples for their love or commitment to one another.  The benefits that accompany marriage are provided to encourage the couple to stay together so that they will produce and rear children together.  If marriage benefits are provided for the sake of children, and same-sex couples cannot produce children, why should they be entitled to those benefits?  It makes no sense to provide benefits to a group of individuals to encourage them to do X, when we know in advance that they are incapable of doing X.  In fact, to do so would be unfair.  To say same-sex couples are entitled to benefits of marriage even though they cannot deliver on the purpose for which those benefits are provided is like saying a healthy person is entitled to disability benefits just because they happen to want them.  While same-sex couples may want the benefits of marriage, that in itself does not mean they ought to be given those benefits.  Benefits must be deserved.  Same-sex couples do not deserve the benefits of marriage — not because homosexuals as individuals are inferior to heterosexuals as individuals — but because same-sex relationships cannot deliver on the purpose for which those benefits are provided.

If you are interested, see my article “I Now Pronounce You Husband and Husband: An Argument Against Same-Sex Marriage” for a more detailed argument against same-sex marriage, and my response to additional objections.

[1]Many men and/or women have been “persuaded” to stay together because the legal consequences for divorce would be too great for them.  A divorce may mean hefty alimony and child support payments, and the loss of one’s ability to be with their children to the extent they desire.