Improving on the Conservative Argument in Defense of Marriage, Part 2

Romantic Love As Integration of Reason and Emotion

Even more important than the legal reason I explained in Part 1 of this essay, there is a cognitive and romantic reason why the concept of marriage must refer only to a union of man and woman. And there is a way in which Ryan T. Anderson, in his book Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, makes a concession to the political Left even more egregious than the social-engineering concession I identified in Part 1.

In Truth Overruled, Anderson writes (p. 17),

The law cannot be neutral between the consent-based and conjugal views of marriage. It will enshrine one view or the other. It will either teach that marriage is about consenting adult love of whatever size or shape the adults choose, or it will teach that marriage is a comprehensive union of sexually complementary spouses who live by the norms of monogamy, exclusivity, and permanency, so that children can be raised by their mom and dad. There is no third option.

There is indeed a third option: the right one. A true romantic relationship is monogamous and exclusive; and once the romantic partners realize that the depth of the relationship reaches a certain threshold, then the partners realize that the relationship must be permanent. At that time, the man and woman are ready to marry and, if they choose, to have children.

The causal chain is as follows: first, the man and woman in love are ready to make their romance permanent, enshrined by marriage; then, as an effect, they are also ready to be good parents if they choose to have children. This causal chain is recognized by our culture’s traditional marriage vows, which speak of lifelong honor and devotion between husband and wife but make no mention of children. Fidelity to the woman he loves is what leads a rational man to take the vow of marriage, not the other way around. A man who needs children or his marriage vows in order to remain loyal to his wife is unfit to be a father or husband. Marriage vows are a wonderful conceptualization of the depth of love and devotion between husband and wife, but they are not some kind of mental shackle binding a couple together against their consent.

But Anderson attempts to reverse cause and effect. He implies that the commitment to have children is what causes a couple to become monogamous, exclusive, and permanent. As if accepting the premises of a free-love hippie of the 1960s, Anderson implies further that without having children, a romantic couple has no reason to be monogamous, exclusive, or permanent. Anderson writes (pp. 15–16),

If marriage is simply about consenting adult romance and caregiving, why should it be permanent? Emotions come and go; love waxes and wanes. Why would such a bond require a pledge of permanency? Might not someone find that the romance and caregiving of marriage are enhanced by a temporary commitment, in which no one is under a life sentence?

In fact, if marriage is simply about consenting adult romance and caregiving, why should it be a sexually exclusive union? Sure, some people might prefer to sleep only with their spouse, but others might think that agreeing to have extramarital sexual outlets would actually enhance their marriage. Why impose the expectation of sexual fidelity?

Lastly, if marriage is simply about consenting adult romance and caregiving, why can’t three, four, or more people form a marriage? There is nothing about intense emotional unions that limits them to two and only two people. Threesomes and foursomes can form an intense emotional, romantic, caregiving relationship as easily as a couple. Nothing in principle requires monogamy.

How could Anderson hold such a position about romance? He holds this position because he has implicitly accepted the modern Leftist premise that emotions—including the emotions of romantic love—are independent of thought, and that therefore “love is blind” and fickle, haphazard, indiscriminate, promiscuous.

In her novel Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand gives these words to one of her heroes:

The men who think that wealth comes from material resources and has no intellectual root or meaning, are the men who think—for the same reason—that sex is a physical capacity which functions independently of one’s mind, choice or code of values. They think that your body creates a desire and makes a choice for you—just about in some such way as if iron ore transformed itself into railroad rails of its own volition. Love is blind, they say; sex is impervious to reason and mocks the power of all philosophers. But, in fact, a man’s sexual choice is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions. Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life. Show me the woman he sleeps with and I will tell you his valuation of himself. … He will always be attracted to the woman who reflects his deepest vision of himself, the woman whose surrender permits him to experience—or to fake—a sense of self-esteem. The man who is proudly certain of his own value, will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer—because only the possession of a heroine will give him the sense of an achievement … .

Love is our response to our highest values—and can be nothing else.

A virtuous man’s love for a virtuous woman does not “come and go” any more than does a patriot’s love for America—unless the man or woman changes in basic character, personality, or knowledge. Moreover, no second best romantic partner can substitute for the best, but is instead a betrayal of the highest values of the man and woman. The notion that, for a virtuous man and woman, sexual outlets outside their romance would actually enhance their romance is an obscenity.

As we know, many people—including most people in the LGBT movement—believe that romantic love and sex are just inexplicable bodily urges and functions apart from any spiritual values, apart from values pertaining to moral character and personality. These people are usually the same ones who believe that building a successful business is about fulfilling a lust for money. Anderson has—unwittingly, no doubt—implicitly accepted this emotionalist premise.

Conversely, some homosexual couples are indeed monogamous, exclusive, and permanent. That such couples are rarer among homosexuals is not relevant to the issue of the meaning of marriage. A statistical argument would grant another premise to the political Left, which seeks the welfare of the largest collective or majority instead of seeking to protect the rights of every individual.

A true romantic partner is a constant primary spiritual companion, even when the partners are apart. Of course, with multiple partners, there could be no such constancy. It is ironic that some Christians believe that true religion requires loyalty to only one God, but do not understand that romance requires loyalty to only one romantic partner.

Anderson writes (p. 48),

Marriage would work much better, [Dan] Savage [the coiner of the word ‘“monogamish”] says, if spouses could focus their marriage on their romantic caregiving relationship while being free to fulfill sexual needs outside of it. If marriage is really just about deep romantic feeling and personal fulfillment, it’s hard to fault his logic.

According to Ayn Rand, romantic love and sexual desire are two aspects of an integrated whole, each aspect emanating from the highest evaluation of a sole romantic partner. According to Anderson, it is personally fulfilling for a man to have romance with one woman but sexual relations with another—and perhaps children with a third! Here are some questions for Anderson: Which of these three women—the romantic fulfiller, the sexual fulfiller, or the child-bearer—should the man marry? And how would you like to marry a woman who can “fulfill” her “sexual needs” only from other men, but who renounces her “personal fulfillment” of “sexual needs” in order to marry you for the sake of future children?

More broadly, which of these two conceptions of romantic love—Ayn Rand’s or the conception that Anderson has implicitly accepted—is the one that is wholesome, rational, life-affirming, and—by the way—beneficial to children?

Anderson claims to be against divorce, and in favor of uniting mind and body (through marriage), but his argument divorces mind from body in romance. In effect, he argues that only the commitment to procreation in marriage adds the mind to otherwise mindless romance. And even then, marriage and romance for Anderson are counterbalancing, conflicting forces, not a harmonious integration. For Anderson, the commitment to marriage is what keeps promiscuous romantic love and sexual urges from being acted upon. Anderson considers marriage a “life sentence” that subdues and subordinates romance for the sake of a higher good. Given such a cynical—and predominant—conception of traditional marriage, it is understandable that confused young minds could be drawn to homosexuality as the alternative.

What then is the correct alternative to Anderson’s argument for marriage as a concept that applies only to the union of a man and woman? As I have written elsewhere,

Sex is important. I am using the word ‘sex’ in its primary meaning: “either the male or female division of the species.” (Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition.) To a married man, it is important that his spouse is a woman, not a man. That is, it is important that his spouse is a wife. To a homosexual man, it is important that the person he has sexual relations with is a man, not a woman. To people in the LGBT movement, it is important to distinguish male homosexuals (denoted by the ‘G’ for ‘Gay’) from female homosexuals (denoted by the ‘L’ for Lesbian). To ‘transgenders’, sex is so important that many of them are willing to amputate their genitals—to be replaced by artificial, non-feeling parts—in order to ‘transition’ to the other sex, the sex they would rather be.

Sex is so important that we have the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’, not merely ‘person’; ‘husband’ and ‘wife’, not merely ‘spouse’; ‘bride’ and ‘groom’, not merely ‘newlywed’. We even have the words ‘mother’ and ‘father’, not merely ‘parent’; ‘son’ and ‘daughter’, not merely ‘offspring’; ‘brother’ and ‘sister’, not merely ‘sibling’. For the same reason—only more so—that we need these other sex-specific words, we need a word for the most exalted bond specifically between a man and a woman. That word is ‘marriage’.

Let there be a word for a bond between two men. Let there be another word for a bond between two women. Let there be a term—‘civil union’—for all such bonds. But we must never lose the word for the most crucial kind of bond between a man and a woman. Sex is important.

In a heterosexual relationship, unlike a homosexual one, there is a difference in sex between the two partners, and this difference is fundamental. The romantic concepts of a heterosexual are awash in the recognition and celebration of the difference between man and woman, between masculinity and femininity. To a heterosexual, a husband is not merely one of the two partners in a loving relationship; a husband is a masculine man united with a feminine woman. This union between husband and wife is marriage.

An entity’s nature encompasses all of the entity’s characteristics, which are causally connected and form a whole. The complementarity of man and woman is pervasive, transcending the complementarity in procreation. For example, that a woman’s body is organized to gestate and bear children means that a woman’s body is not nearly as organized as a man’s—on every level of organization from the subcellular level to the level of the whole organism—for exerting physical power on the external world. For that kind of physical work, a woman is organized to depend on—yes, depend on—a man.

For me, masculine sexuality is an expression of my power and efficacy. My power is under the direction of my reasoning mind that knows what to do to command nature and thrive. For a romantic partner, I seek someone who is organized physically to receive my power and thrive on it, within the safe environment I have created for her, and who will judge my efficacy. I seek a mind equal in stature to my own, who expects me to lead, not merely so that she may follow, but so that she may judge, and so that she may offer her beauty to me alone as the expression of her judgment.

According to my own personal conception of marriage, the husband has the responsibility—and joy—to provide physical safety for his wife, to take the lead in urgent actions dealing with survival, to be the primary source of physical power as a complement to his wife’s beauty, to take the lead romantically, and to be in charge sexually. That is, it is the husband’s responsibility and joy to be masculine, and to enjoy the femininity of his wife.

Consistent with my ideas on masculinity, femininity, romantic love, and marriage are my attractions. I find a virtuous woman sexually appealing, and I am violently repulsed by the thought of sexual relations with a man.

My conceptions of masculinity and femininity are not merely a matter of personal preference; they are objective, based on factual, physical differences between men and women. Other heterosexual men and women may differ with me on details of masculinity, femininity, romantic love, and marriage while remaining consistent with the physical difference between men and women; there is room for personal preference within objectivity. But for all of us, the difference between man and woman—as we perceive, conceive, and respond emotionally to this difference—is crucial to our romantic relationship. As the saying goes, “Vive la différence!”

The government’s new, impoverished, sexless notion of marriage may suffice for a homosexual, for whom there is no difference in sex between himself and his partner. But the new notion, by de-emphasizing what is fundamental, destroys the concepts of husband, wife, and marriage for heterosexuals. The government has—by decree—neutered and homogenized the most romantic concepts for heterosexuals in the English language. And that is the fundamental reason why government-sanctioned homosexual marriage is so terribly wrong.

Two men have a right to say that they are married. And I have a right to say that they are not. I have a right to use, in my own mind and in my communication and trade with others, the concept of marriage exclusively for unions between man and woman. Moreover, this sex-specific conception of marriage is the more rational one, the one more conducive to clear cognition and romantic fulfillment. Government is wrong to use the force of law to undercut and pervert this rational romantic concept.

Anderson presumably does understand, at least implicitly, that the fundamental complementarity of man and woman goes far beyond the complementarity in procreation. Otherwise, he would not argue at length—as he does cogently, and as I will address in the third part of this essay—that a child needs both a mother and a father. By the same complementarity, a man needs a wife and a woman needs a husband.

Anderson’s heart undoubtedly is in the right place. Anderson sees glorious, loving marriages—presumably exemplified by the fifty-year marriage of his parents, to whom he dedicates his book—and knows that these marriages are in a different universe from the sordid, mindless sexuality promoted by much of modern culture. But it is marriage, not mindless sexuality, that contains romance.

To try to save marriage while accepting the modern perversion of romance is to pit marriage against romance. Instead, to save the concept of marriage, one must save the concept of romance as an integration of reason and emotion.

(Next week, I will post the third and final part of this essay.)