So I’ve got marriage equality on my mind. Or—making some assumptions—on my brain. Assume two parts of my brain—“Righty” and “Lefty”—can think and talk. (The names map—poorly—cerebral hemispheres, not the political spectrum.) Neither reflects the views of the mentioned authors, or pretends to be up to speed on the literatures concerning marriage equality. Listen and see if you can help each think better.
Righty: I believe in marriage equality.
Lefty: Me too, but it depends what you mean by it.
R: Well let’s pretend I’m a straight woman and you’re a gay man…
R: …and let’s pretend we live somewhere that says marriage is only between one man and one woman…
R: Then I think marriage equality means that people like you should be allowed to marry, just as people like me are.
L: But we already can.
R: No you can’t. Not here and now. Remember what we're pretending.
L: I do. If I want to marry, I just have to find a woman who agrees to marry me.
R: Wait, that is not what I mean. You can’t marry someone like you—someone who is attracted to a person of the same sex.
L: Sure I can. I just have to find a woman who agrees to marry me and is attracted to a person of the same sex. Elton and Ellen can marry each other just as equally as Kanye and Kim can.
R: But that is still not what I mean. Neither Elton nor Ellen can marry someone of the same sex.
L: So? Neither can Kanye or Kim.
R: But that’s different. They don’t want to marry someone of the same sex.
R: So marriage equality means that individuals can marry each other whenever they want to.
L: If marriage equality meant that, you would be fine with polygamy and many other kinds of ‘marriages’. But you aren’t. So it doesn’t.
R: Ah, that’s a common move. Some are fine with some of those things, but let’s pretend I’m not.
R: I guess my view is this…Marriage means two unrelated legal adults in a consensual, exclusive, life-long—or at least long-term—romantic commitment. Marriage equality means individuals of the same sex can get married to each other, just as individuals of the opposite sex can get married to each other. What’s your view?
L: Marriage, among other things, is an inherently bisexual institution. Marriage equality, among other things, means individuals should have equal opportunity to enter this institution.
R: Um, “bisexual”?
L: Two-sexed. Compare: a bicameral legislature has two chambers; a biracial couple represents two races. And so on.
R: But the word “bisexual” already has another standard meaning when applied to individuals.
L: Fine. Pick other prefixes. Instead of labeling the sexual composition of institutions “bi-” and “uni-” we could label them “hetero-” and “homo-” when the sex of their members is different or the same.
L: But that makes inherently homosexual institutions out of the Boy Scouts of America and the Gay Men’s Chorus.
R: True. But not because it’s the Gay Men’s Chorus, but because it’s the Gay Men’s Chorus. Inherently homosexual institutions would be so labeled not because their individual members are homosexual, but because their individual members are of the same sex.
R: Again, the word “homosexual” already has another standard meaning when applied to individuals.
L: Fine. I’m willing to use labels like “same-sex” and “different-sex” to make the point. My view is that marriage is an inherently different-sex institution. One or both individuals within it can be bisexual, homosexual, heterosexual, pan-sexual, or whatever. Individuals have equal opportunity to enter this institution.
R: Why is marriage inherently different-sex? What makes anything inherently anything?
L: I doubt I can answer the general question. But perhaps one answer to the specific question is this: there are such things as inherently different-sex institutions; and marriage is one.
R: Show me there are such things as inherently different-sex institutions.
L: Imagine a father took his young girls out for individual ice cream outings, and called these “daddy-daughter dates.”
R: Ah, I see. A daddy-daughter date is an inherently different-sex institution?
L: Yes. And even though it wasn’t contrived to be that way just by naming it with capitalized words like “An Inherently Different-sex Institution.”
R: But there’s nothing remotely sexual about this different-sex institution.
L: Right. Just as there’s nothing remotely sexual about the same-sex institution of the Boy Scouts.
R: Are you sure the daddy-daughter date is inherently different-sex?
L: Yes. When the father’s young boy reached the age for ice cream outings, they could not go on a daddy-daughter date together. They invented a similar institution and they called it a “father-son adventure” instead. Which, of course, was inherently same-sex—but not out of animus towards the daughters.
R: Could they call it a “daddy-son date” instead?
L: Indeed, they could call it anything at all.
L: The words we slap on these institutions do not make them different-sex or same-sex institutions any more than words like “five” and “six” make natural numbers odd or even.
R: Could they make a more general and gender-neutral institution and call it a “parent-child outing”?
L: Of course! But daddy-daughter dates, mother-son banquets, brother-sister breakfasts, and a thousand other imaginable institutions are inherently different-sex. And father-son adventures, mother-daughter empowerment trips, sister-sister flame grill barbecues, and a thousand other such institutions are inherently same-sex.
R: Let’s say I agree so far. You still haven’t shown that marriage is an inherently different-sex institution.
(This is the first of a two-part post.)
Department of Philosophy