Marriage Math & Grammar: On Equality & Rights

Wedding Rings U White BackgroundMarriage revisionists show up at demonstrations with large signs with an equal symbol on them because they argue they are being denied equality under the law. A simple equation, however, is the wrong math. If you’re going to use math, then set theory is the analogy for marriage. As a former math teacher, excuse me while I geek out for a few minutes!

If you start with the two distinct and defined sets, one of men and the other of women, it’s obvious from our very bodies that the union of one man and one woman is a unique physical, emotional and spiritual union vastly different from any combining of two members of the same set. (There is a reason these two distinct sets have been known as opposites!). The union of two members of these two different sets can also form subsets known as children—something that’s impossible for any members of the same set to accomplish.

This union of two members from each opposite set, and any little subsets that come along is a set classification called a family. Change the name or title, you can’t change the defining characteristics (see Shakespeare and his rose that smells as sweet no matter what it is labeled!). Families, forever and anon, have been the building blocks of society. They are our first and most influential community, and their influence extends beyond the personal to affect society. Children are always the future of society—it’s in the best interest of society that children flourish, and so it’s in the best interest of society that families flourish. (See the post Happy Valentine’s Day! I’ll be returning to this in the future.).

On the matter of rights, in The Abolition of Man-and-Woman: On Marriage, Grammar, and Legal Strategy, Michael W. Hannon had some interesting observations on “May I?” v. “Can I?” Emphasis added.

Olson and Boies view so-called “gay marriage” as the civil rights issue of our time, because they believe that same-sex couples are being treated as an inferior class of persons by the bigoted majority of our nation’s citizens.

But beneath all of that rhetoric, the arguments undergirding their discrimination claims rest on faulty reasoning. And to get at where they have gone awry, we need a quick refresher course in first grade grammar. Specifically, we need to recall the crucial distinction between “Can I?” and “May I?”

By way of illustration, think back to the embarrassing and obnoxious response your teacher used to give when a student would ask, “Can I go to the bathroom?” “I don’t know,” she would say, “Can you?” The child’s mistake lay in confusing “Can I?”—an interrogative dealing with possibility—with “May I?”—which pertains rather to permissibility.

Olson, Boies, and their allies have systematically confused a debate about metaphysical possibility with one about political permissibility. They are arguing that our government ought to let same-sex couples marry, and they are convinced that their opponents are arguing over the same point, just on the other side of the issue.

But that is a gross mischaracterization of the disagreement. For our position is not that the government should refuse to let such couples marry, but rather that the government is utterly impotent with regard to this question. Our response to same-sex couples desirous of marriage is not “You may not,” but rather, “You cannot.” We do not seek to bar anyone from marriage; we just believe marriage is a union that is necessarily and by its very nature heterosexual. Maybe we are right, or maybe Olson and Boies are. But regardless, the question to be settled in this debate is not whether to bring a latent potency into actuality, but whether there is in fact any potency present in the first place.

Marriage: 1 man 1 woman = 1 marriage

This isn’t a matter of equality or rights. This is a matter of defining characteristics of what marriage is, as Sherif Girgis, Robert George, and Ryan T. Anderson ask and answer in their article “What Is Marriage?” in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, and last fall in their book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense.

Diamond Border

Related post: Playing the Race Card On Marriage

At Public Discourse of the Witherspoon Institute:
Francis J. Beckwith, Interracial Marriage and Same-Sex Marriage, May 21, 2012
David Schaengold, Same-Sex Marriage and Formal Discrimination, June 25, 2010
Matthew J. Franck, Is Sex Just Like Race?, July 8, 2011
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