“Why should the state get involved at all in what basically amounts to the legal regulation of tenderness?” Marriage and the Presidency
If society decides that gender integration and procreation are unimportant in marriage and family, then marriage is reduced to “the legal regulation of tenderness." In which case, why exclude two sisters? Or a grandfather and grandson?
Dropping sexual complementarity from the definition of marriage brings ammunition to the argument that number and age are also no longer relevant to the institution of marriage.
Years ago, 300 prominent scholars and activists signed a statement arguing that we should recognize polyamorous and multiple-household sexual relationships. These activists agree that making sexual complementarity optional would make all its other norms arbitrary — and therefore unjust to leave intact. We only disagree on whether this top-to-bottom dismantling of the institution of marriage would be a good or a bad thing.
The president has now created a platform for this very discussion; and it is a discussion we look forward to having. For as Obama himself implied, this is not a dispute featuring “bigots” on one side, any more than it has “perverts” on the other. It is a debate of reasonable people of goodwill who disagree about the nature of the most basic unit of society. In saying that he supports letting states decide the definition of marriage for themselves, Obama indicated that this issue shouldn’t be settled by judicial fiat. On this, we agree. Our national conversation shouldn’t be brought to an undemocratically abrupt end. But as it continues, advocates on all sides must contend with, and answer, the central question in this debate, without which we can’t know the what or the why of legal recognition, much less what justice demands: What is marriage?