L: I suppose you won’t accept the claim that the genesis of marriage is relevantly similar to the genesis of the daddy-daughter date?
R: Doesn’t that claim commit you to controversial views in theology or human evolutionary biology?
L: All it requires is that, just as one or more persons invented daddy-daughter dates as an inherently different-sex institution, whoever invented marriage did so as an inherently different-sex institution.
R: But how do you know that whoever invented marriage did not intend it to be a more general and gender-neutral institution, like the “parent-child outing” I mentioned?
L: Human history? I think we had a consensus—about marriage being a different-sex institution—that was, if not unanimous, at least so ancient and widespread that even cultures most celebratory of homoerotic desire did not question that marriage was a different-sex institution, even when their most creative thinkers were willing to abolish or change that institution in countless other respects (as in Plato’s Republic). The cracks in this consensus are a recent local flash in the pan.
L: We can’t infer from what was historical to what is right.
R: Agreed, but your question was about what was intended by whoever invented marriage.
R: But—here is a related worry—I think that perhaps we are in a different boat on this matter than we were even just a few years ago.
L: How so?
R: To ask whether marriage is an inherently different-sex institution these days is like asking whether Utah should refused admittance to the United States. That ship has already sailed, right? Some places have already decided that marriage is not an inherently different-sex institution.
L: Well, consider this: what do you think a son would say if his father told him they were going on a daddy-daughter date together today? And if the father said this after an uncountably long phase of going on daddy-daughter dates and father-son adventures, and after the other families in the community had noticed these institutions and adopted them as well? What would the son say to his father’s announcement?
R: I suppose the boy would laugh. Then he would attempt to correct his dad: “you mean we’re going on a father-son adventure, right, dad?”
L: What if dad replied “I know we used to go on those. We still can if we want to. But I overheard a few of the neighbors last night took their boys on daddy-daughter dates for the first time. I figured that if they can do it, so can we.”
R: Ah, I see. The boy would say “the neighbors are confused. They can’t take sons on a daddy-daughter date just like they can’t take moms on a father-son adventure. They can say what they want, but you and I need not be confused.”
L: I would not put it quite that way about marriage. But the gist of the son’s response seems correct in his case. The father is viewing a decision whose coherence is dubious to begin with as if it’s a coherent and exemplary feat.
R: I’m not persuaded by that last response. But I’ve felt there is something unfair about comparing marriage to daddy-daughter dates, and I think I just realized what.
R: The complex title “daddy-daughter date” has a grammar that presents its different sexes fairly explicitly. But the lone word “marriage” doesn’t. It’s too bad for you that whoever invented marriage didn’t use a complex title like “man-and-wife marriage” or “male-and-female marriage.”
L: And it’s too bad for us all that the makers of dictionaries didn’t arrange the entries alphabetically by their definitions so we could look up the words.
R: You would not read much into the fact that the word “marriage” isn’t grammatically more complex?
L: I already said that the inventors of the daddy-daughter date could have called it anything at all. Stuff’s what it is and isn’t other stuff—for reasons that are not completely at the mercy of our labels.
R: But it still seems relevant here…
L: There’s another way of looking at the last two points. Do you think professional baseball is baseball?
L: Is professional soccer soccer?
R: Of course. And the same with pro basketball, pro golf…
L: And professional wrestling?
R: Hmmm….No…Professional wrestling isn’t wrestling.
L: Why not?
R: It's fake. Those guys in the ring aren’t competing. They’re acting. Sure, they’re big and strong and could whip me in a real wrestling match. Some of them may even have been (or be!) real wrestlers. But what they’re doing in that ring, with the strutting and boasting and jumping and slamming—that’s not real wrestling.
L: But it’s called “wrestling”. Indeed, “professional” wrestling. Doesn’t a professional usually mean something like the best example?
R: I suppose so. But the only “professionals” in those rings are professional actors.
L: But don’t some people who watch professional wrestling think it’s real?
R: Some do; but of course that is no proof that it is real.
L: But you see my point, right?
R: That same-sex marriage is marriage about as much as professional wrestling is wrestling?
L: I didn’t say that. You can’t always take a title at face value. And you can’t always tell where the title applies just by looking at some grammar in the title itself.
R: But if that is your point, it undercuts your argument, right? Doesn’t professional wrestling just show that words—like “wrestling”—can historically expand from a narrower meaning to a wider meaning? Why not with “marriage”?
L: Professional wrestling does show that words can expand their usage in different ways. But sometimes words—here “wrestling” and “professional”—are used to make stuff seem like what it’s not. Some things might be thought and talked about as “marriages”—by a person, group, church, or state—without really being marriages.
R: You may be unsurprised, but I am unconvinced…