Austin Ruse and Robert P. George Get Bogged Down in Anti-SSM Arguments (Again)

Austin Ruse

Austin Ruse

Austin Ruse, writing for Crisis Magazine, explains why the U.S. Supreme Court should uphold both the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8:

In a Harvard Law Review article, … [Robert] George, [Ryan] Anderson, and [Sherif] Girgis answer the question “what is marriage?” They describe two competing views; one they call “conjugal”, and the other “revisionist.” Allowing for the revisionist view “can cause corresponding social harms. It weakens the rational foundation (and hence social practice) of stabilizing marital norms on which social order depends: norms such as permanence, exclusivity, monogamy.”

George and his colleagues argue that marriage can only be “conjugal”, that is, a “comprehensive union joining spouses in body as well as in mind, it is begun by commitment and sealed by sexual intercourse. So completed in the acts by which new life is made, it is especially apt for and deepened by procreation and calls for that broad sharing uniquely fit for family life.” Such a comprehensive view of marriage is still available to sterile couples but not for homosexuals.

So here’s what Mr. Ruse would have us believe: Opposite-sex marriage (OSM), in its current incarnation in many parts of the world, is conjugal, not revisionist. And same-sex marriage (SSM), wherever it is practiced, is revisionist and not conjugal. Let’s unpack that a bit.

Here’s Merriam-Webster’s definition of “conjugal:” of or relating to the married state or to married persons and their relations. From Latin conjungere, to join, unite in marriage.

Robert P. George

Robert P. George

Ironically, it appears that Mr. George and his associates would like us to buy a revisionist definition of “conjugal,” one that appropriates the term for opposite-sex couples while denying it to same-sex ones. Do we have to remind Mr. George and Mr. Ruse that marriage between homosexual couples is a fait accompli in about a dozen countries and in as many U.S. states? In those jurisdictions, the definition of “marriage” has expanded, and with it the definition of “conjugal.” The horses are out of the barn. The gin has already gone into the tonic. Canada, France, the U.K., Argentina, Spain, and the Netherlands, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Washington State are highly unlikely to reverse course on this issue.

And since when is the term “revision” so negatively loaded? Editors “revise” documents with the aim of improving them, not compromising them. George claims that the revisionist view “weakens the rational foundation of stabilizing marital norms on which social order depends: norms such as permanence, exclusivity, monogamy.” Weakens? Why not “strengthens?” Do we detect a bias here? What is his basis for claiming that same-sex unions are not just as “permanent, exclusive, and monogamous” as opposite-sex ones? With divorce rates at around 50% in the U.S., heterosexuals have not set the bar very high. And what if SSMs proved to be more permanent, exclusive, and monogamous than OSMs? Would either Mr. Ruse or Mr. George renounce OSM as an institution?

But even assuming that the word has purely negative connotations, is anyone trying to “revise” or downgrade the meaning of Mr. Ruse’s marriage or Mr. George’s? An even more pertinent question is whether the marriage template that they consider normative is not itself also a revision of earlier ones. And a quick scan of the history of marriage tells us that it is. That history is so well-known by now that it doesn’t bear repeating here.

If Messrs Ruse and George are trying to lay a sturdy foundation for their argument, bubble-wrap and jello are not good choices for a material. But let’s go on.

Assuming that SSM is indeed revisionist and that revisionism is “bad” in a world resistant to change of any kind, is it fair to describe the “revisionist” understanding of marriage as “essentially an emotional union, accompanied by any consensual activity?” Reducing all the variety and richness of marriage to a single one of its elements is a gratuitous insult to same-sex married couples the world over. And the characterization is patently false, all the more so because it appends the phrase, “accompanied by any consensual activity.” “Any??” Is George suggesting that “revisionist” ideas of marriage allow ANY consensual activity whatsoever? This is the old slippery-slope scare coded into the phrase with a single three-letter word. But the U.S. Supreme Court is deliberating on SSM, not on incestuous marriage or polyandry or marriage with one’s most cherished farm animal. Hopefully, the Supremes will recognize this for the red herring that it is.

George’s panegyric to marriage (the second paragraph I cited above) would describe an SSM very well except for the part about “making new life,” which is pivotal to the Catholic concept. However, he stops short of asserting that marriage should be unavailable to those who cannot or choose not to procreate, though the Church itself requires that there be some “openness” to the possibility of procreation. George’s slight but significant pull-back from Catholic teaching on this point may be a sign of realism on his part: he knows that any argument based explicitly and overtly on Catholic doctrine will be shot down in the SCOTUS. The problem for his modified position (i.e., allowing for the possibility of non-procreative marriage) may open the door to non-procreative marriage between homosexuals, at least from the Court’s point of view. Only by keeping procreation in the equation can George argue against SSM, but in doing so, he limits his audience to fellow conservative Catholics. In other words, he is in a no-win situation.

Ruse acts as though he hasn’t understood what George just said, for he adds: “Such a comprehensive view of marriage is still available to sterile couples but not for homosexuals.” Or maybe he thought he needed to firm it up a bit. George’s reasoning doesn’t justify such a conclusion, and Ruse doesn’t explain what he means. SCOTUS would certainly want to know. Pro-SSM attorneys could drive a semi into such a gaping hole in the argument.

The rest of Ruse’s article is plagued by the same sorts of circular reasoning, red herrings, false premises, semantic slights of hand, and non sequiturs. If either Mr. Ruse or Mr. George imagines they have something to contribute to the defense of DOMA or Proposition 8, would somebody kindly inform them that they’re nowhere ready for prime time. If the SCOTUS judges are half as astute as Judge Roy Walker (whose court overturned Proposition 8), gays and lesbians have nothing to fear.

Finally, I cannot resist calling out Mr. Ruse’s operatic hyperbole at the very end of his article: “[SCOTUS] could declare  homosexual marriage the law of the land. … This would signal the end of any kind of marriage culture in the United States.” Here the beautiful but beleaguered heroine jumps off the castle wall / dies in the arms of her protector (the Church?) / swallows the poison / impales herself upon a sword / is impaled upon a sword by a gang of rampaging homosexuals hell bent on destroying not only the traditional family but Civilization As We Know It. Following the heroine’s death, opposite-sex marriage is outlawed and only homosexuals may marry. Children may only be raised by same-sex parents, who instruct them about the joys of gay sex night and day. Oh weh! What have we come to?

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