Counterpoint: Institution of marriage needs protection
Recently, our neighbors at the University of Pittsburgh made the news when the administration of that school decided to offer benefits to same-sex partners of employees. This had been an issue for some time, especially among those who see themselves as furthering the cause of gay rights. Related to this is the decisive issue of gay marriage, or at least the consideration of ?civil unions? for same-sex couples. While allowing same-sex partner benefits at Pitt is a somewhat separate question, it is not that difficult to construct a case in opposition to this general movement.
Before anyone can eloquently oppose the concept of gay marriage, one should look at what marriage has been for historically, and what it should be for objectively. While marriage has been entwined with religion for much of its history as an institution in the West, we still can isolate the ?purposes? of such an institution. Why is marriage necessary? Marriage is needed to form a caring, supportive environment in which children can be born and raised, and form a familial arrangement so issues of legitimacy and inheritance can be made clear. Most who have read this piece up to this point would probably wonder why I have not used the terms ?love? or ?companionship? yet. These ideals are equally as important, and are implied. Why go through the bother of raising a child for eighteen years if you did not love your spouse? How would that be providing the ?caring, supportive environment? I referred to earlier? How would that even set an example of a family to others or to the children involved in such a relationship? Yes, love is essential.
However, love is not the only purpose of a marriage, and here is where the case against gay ?marriage? can be made. I do not doubt that there are loving, devoted gay couples in the world today ? many more loving towards each other than some married couples are. This is only half the picture, though. Homosexual sex practices, regardless of what one thinks of them morally, are essentially non-procreative. Try as they may, there is no chance of a gay or lesbian couple conceiving a child through their own sexual activities. In fact, this distinction to natural law theorists is what makes homosexual activity immoral.
Now, it should be easy to see why it is folly to admit couples into an institution if they have no ability or desire to perform half of what that institution demands. Granted, there are many straight couples who marry and have no desire for children. These priorities could always change, depending on their situations in life. Also, there are already couples who simply cannot conceive a child. One could look at these couples, and see that a factor beyond their control is ?blocking? them from having natural children. On the other hand, many homosexuals, most prominently Governor McGreevey of New Jersey and Bishop Robinson of the Episcopal Church, have, at one point in their lives, naturally fathered children.
Some might point to technology, and show that homosexual couples should be admitted to marriage, by these standards, if they can conceive a child through other means. This is still inadmissible, as technologies such as in?vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood are fraught with ethical dilemmas all their own. What of the rights of the surrogate mother, or of her duties to the child she carries for someone else? What of the obligations of a sperm donor toward the child he might not know he has fathered? Others might point to adoption as a solution to this difficulty, and this suggestion does indeed have merit. Due to a fairly homogeneous familial structure in a homosexual partnership (two men or two women), a child would be deprived of her chance at having both a mother and a father. While this situation is not ideal, it certainly is better for the child than having her be passed between foster parents or left un-adopted.
Currently, our civil conception of marriage does not do much to recognize the natural law. It seems more concerned with Social Security benefits, legal rights, and tax breaks than with parenting, procreation, or companionship. This distorted perspective has made it very easy for some to make the claim that gay partnerships need to be admitted to the definition of marriage. Certainly, there is an element of fairness that needs to be fulfilled. However, if we ally our civil concept of marriage to the natural law, it becomes very clear that homosexual unions, whose very essence is non-procreative, should not be admitted to the institution of marriage. If this proves to be unpopular, then a compromise position would be to remove the civil conception of marriage entirely, and let the churches and civic groups decide who should marry whom. Perhaps in the discourse this generates, a compromise could be reached. At the very least, this system prevents either side from imposing its will on the other.
Coming full circle, the University of Pittsburgh, as a semi-private institution, can extend partnership benefits to whomever it pleases. It should not even necessarily follow, though, that they should lose any state funding, at least for academic programs. However, I hope to have shown how permitting same-sex marriage in civil society as a whole would even further pervert an institution whose purposes have already been warped by public policy.