I thought the following exchange in the comments here was unusual enough to pull out and stick in a post of its own. Go there if you want to read the equally interesting arguments that led up to and away from this.
Steve Nicoloso, a conservative Catholic who's a regular commenter at Ales Rarus, wrote:
Annie, if I didn't know better (and I do), I'd think you were simply nibbling around the edges of my argument (the only truly conservative one presented) mostly by means of the scoff fallacy. Perhaps the conservative argument is beneath contempt. Well then, show me the error of my ways.
But this bit is quite telling: [quoting me]
Homosexuals are a small minority, so whether or not they fulfill their racial and cultural obligation to breed is not going to make or break Western civilization. Narcissism and self-indulgence are much larger issues than sexual orientation.
Narcissism and self-indulgence are the exact issues I'm talking about, and indulgence of gays in the perceived "right" to marry is bound to the hip of this very problem...
Why does marriage, i.e., that state of covenant (more or less), found in every society in every place and time in human history, wherein a man and woman promise (more or less) to stay true (more or less) to each other and take care of each other (more or less) come what may, exist? Why should such an institution or tradition exist? At risk of simplification: Young men tend to be extremely horny and will tend to derive sexual pleasure by any means available to them. Young women are beautiful and are most often the object of such desires. Immediate problem. The young women often will get pregnant and bear offspring in this natural state of affairs. But human children are born extremely immature (in order that their big skulls filled by big brains not kill their mothers) and take many years to raise properly. Moreover human children require, or at least benefit greatly from, the tender care and firm attention from two parents. And the real problem is that men are still horny and those women who bear their children get older and stretched out and become less immediately attractive than their younger counterparts. And left to their own devices (as has sadly become the case in a majority of African American families), men will not stay put, stay true to "their woman" and the children she bears him. So societies (in every place and at every time) have responded to this natural problem with a natural solution: Marriage, not as a private contract between two consenting individuals, but as a public promise made by a man and woman as much to the community as to each other, to stifle their natural impulses (e.g., to sleep with the next good looking creature that comes along) for the good of the community, i.e., the careful (and always self-sacrificial) raising of children. And in exchange for this public commitment, the man and wife get the added bonus of society's blessing on their having sex with each other.
All cultures everywhere and at every time have recognized these facts and instituted them in their traditions. The Catholic Church is no different. We use a particular religious language to describe these facts, but little changes. Does anyone really think that Gautama or Ghandi or Lao Tze or Muhammad (peace be upon him) or Moses or Plato or any tribal witch doctor would have substantial disagreement with Jesus over the nature of marriage?
Now modern westerners (like us), fat from the wealth and leisure gained by generations of our ancestors raping and pillaging everyone and every thing they could, are far removed from the exigencies of building and protecting a self-sustaining society. And so it is that we have grown soft in disciplining our own in matters of contraception and divorce and extracurricular trists. And the smarter among us have even invented theories as to why this state of affairs (NPI) should not merely be the case, but is rather a positive good: "You can't legislate morality"; "Keep your laws off my body"; "What consenting adults do behind closed doors is nobody else's business". To all of which I say: You're missing the point entirely. Even accepting all of those theories to be in fact true (which I don't for one minute), none of them has anything to do with marriage. Because marriage has little or nothing to do with private indulgence or actualization of individuals, and everything to do with the needs of the community (or society) to ensure the birth, health, and proper raising of children. Period.
Men have always and everywhere kept concubines and visited prostitutes. Women have always and everywhere sought to contracept. And failing this, men have often left children to die from exposure. Men have throughout history sought and even preferred the sexual company of younger men. In short, men and women have always sought self-indulgence. And always and everywhere (til now) society, as best it could, tried to stop such behavior because such behaviors were against its interests. Nothing. has. changed... EXCEPT that today our fat, lazy, perpetually adolescent society has (especially over the last 40 years) stopped. saying. "no".
So I am here to say, "no", in place of a society that has forgotten how. Anyone who suggests that society pays a much bigger toll for no-fault divorce than gay sex or gay marriage is exactly right. So I am here to say "no" to no-fault divorce too. Anyone who suggests that society pays a bigger toll for out-of-wedlock childbirth than it will for "gay marriage" is exactly right. I am here to say "no" to the sleeping around that causes it, and if necessary to put a shotgun behind the head of the offending young man and force him to the altar.
Narcissism and self-indulgence are precisely the issues, Amba. Thank you!
To which Funky Dung wrote: Wow, Steve. You rock. :)
Steve Nicoloso: I can't find any fault at all with your account of why marriage is good and necessary. Well, I might disagree a bit with this part:
Marriage has little or nothing to do with private indulgence or actualization of individuals, and everything to do with the needs of the community (or society) to ensure the birth, health, and proper raising of children. Period.
Marriage, when it is not agonizingly dysfunctional, has benefits for individuals too, although benefits that are not immediately obvious to horny, healthy, greedy young individuals. But let them get into their 50s, and the ones who've blown their chance at a lifetime partnership -- and I'm talking about the men who were always looking for the even juicier woman right around the corner, even more than the women who fell in love with bastards or focused on their careers -- will be filled with nearly irrevocable regret. It is only older people ("stretched out and old," or bald and beer-bellied as it may be) who really grasp that the world does not revolve around them and that the real unit of life, the real living organism, is the family. So along with the worship of pleasure, we have to decry the allied worship of youth and beauty and the scorning of wisdom (because it comes with wrinkles! ugh!).
I could also disagree with this:
men and women have always sought self-indulgence.
No. Women freely seeking self-indulgence, without being killed for it, is a new phenomenon. Women who "sought to contracept" in earlier times were mostly trying to fend off total exhaustion and debilitation.
But I think it should be obvious to anyone who studies history and anthropology (like you) that not EVERYONE in a society has to conform to the norm of marriage and children. It's enough that a large majority do (how large that majority has to be for societal viability is an interesting question). Not everyone is cut out for that pattern, and all successful societies have provided roles for those who do not, from monk and nun to professional soldier and prostitute (even honored prostitute, hetaira or geisha) and berdache. (Could this be one reason why rigid Islamic societies are not successful?) A society is sustained by the meat-and-potatoes of its family-making footsoldiers, but is often driven forward by the creativity of its nonconformists. No, I am not saying that only oddballs are creative, but creative disruption is often oddballs' telos -- they're wild cards, like genetic mutations -- and providing roles for them assures that that purpose will contribute something unique to society rather than destroy it.
Homosexual individuals who are not cut out for normative family life have always also either quietly formed same-sex partnerships, or led a secret life on the side. As this sad comment demonstrates, these individuals would cause much less pain and disruption if they never had to force themselves to go through the motions of heterosexual life. All they are asking (I'm not talking about gay radicals here) is for society to end its hypocrisy and recognize and accept what is going to happen anyway. Providing an acknowledged and honored form of couplehood for these people (all right, don't call it "marriage," give it a unique name, or two unique names -- fratrimony and sororimony ain't bad) is in the interests of society's stability.
What really works against "a large enough majority for societal viability" committing themselves to family life is the glorification of straight sexual adventure, from Hugh Hefner to "Sex in the City," which is women's really forlorn attempt to play along. Gays aren't going to contribute anyway, unless they are forced to at painful cost (see above). I was there for the '60s and what I saw was that a lot of us who coulda, woulda, shoulda been upstanding family folks fancied ourselves for far too long as bohemians, artists, nonconformists. Younger and younger adolescents today still find it de rigueur to go through a spell of Rimbaudian self-destruction (which often does permanent damage) as their rite of passage. In my opinion, the single greatest value of traditional religion and mores is that it gives the average heterosexual male a positive motivation to commit himself (more or less) to his family. That is what it's FOR, and the issue of homosexuality is irrelevant -- a complete and mystifying red herring.
To which Tom Strong wrote: Wow, amba. YOU rock.
This is not the end of the story, by any means. Steve continues with his contention that fecundity and the self-sacrifice it requires is a sine qua non for winning the war on terror, and asks,
[P]ut a society filled with a critical mass of infantilized, masturbatory, junk food, porn, and entertainment-addicted whiners against another built almost solely out of adversity hardened citizens of unquestioned (and unquestionable!) loyalty, who do you put your money on?