Pomo Marriage

Consultations have been launched, first in Scotland and now in England and Wales, to consider whether the definition of marriage should be changed to include same-sex partnerships. Some opponents have argued, on various grounds, that marriage shouldn’t be redefined. Commendable as this response may seem to most Christians, it concedes far too much, for it misleadingly implies that marriage is the sort of thing that could in principle be redefined. (If you don’t see this point, just reflect on the difference between “You shouldn’t drive faster than the speed limit” and “You shouldn’t drive faster than the speed of light”.)

To grant that marriage could be redefined is to capitulate to a postmodernist anti-realism according to which all social structures and institutions are mere human conventions and there is really no such thing as human nature, understood in traditional metaphysical terms. We must insist that marriage is not something that can be defined and redefined as we see fit. Marriage is a divine institution, not a human social construction like chess or money that we invented for our own purposes. There wasn’t a point in time at which humans ‘defined’ marriage in the way that, say, a foot was once defined as 12 inches. Marriage was bestowed upon us, not created by us.

If the traditional view of marriage is correct then the idea that we could redefine marriage to include same-sex partnerships is on a par with the idea that we could redefine elephants to include hippopotamuses. Only the most deluded postmodernist would say that elephants were defined by humans. (Don’t make the mistake here of confusing elephants with the English word ‘elephant’. Words don’t have trunks and tusks.) But of course, we humans didn’t define humans any more than we defined elephants. To think otherwise would be to put the cart before… well, the cart. And if marriage is grounded in the very nature of human beings, as the traditional view maintains, then we humans didn’t define marriage any more than we defined ourselves. Nor are we in any position whatsoever to redefine marriage. It simply can’t be done — and Christians, along with other traditionalists, should be quick to point out the presumption and absurdity of claims to the contrary.

The very fact that these consultations have been launched in the first place, never mind their final outcomes, reveals just how deeply Western culture has sunk into the mire of postmodernism.

6 thoughts on “Pomo Marriage”

  1. Prof. Anderson,

    I’m not sure I understand your points. To my knowledge, advocates of gay marriage in the United States want most to change at least three things: First, they want two people of the same sex to be able to enter into the same or a sufficiently similar sort of *legal* partnership as what marriage legally entails. Second, they want that partnership to carry the label “marriage,” both in legal contexts and also in natural language. Third, they want people to recognize that there exist social partnerships between these legally “married” gay couples which are—socially—on par with the (supposed) social partnerships between married straight couples.

    The message I get from you—and please correct me if I have misunderstood, as I suspect I have—is that “marriage” refers to a divine institution ordained by God, and the *linguistic* matter of redefining the term “marriage,” whether in legal contexts or in natural language, can never change the fact that God has ordained a quite different sort of institution. Assuming that God exists and has indeed ordained marriage as a divine institution, then this would be quite correct. Redefining terms in the languages we use won’t change what God has done. But then none of the three goals I mentioned above—which strike me as those which gay marriage advocates would find most important—appear to me affected by this criticism.

    Then again, maybe gay marriage advocates are more confused than I currently believe, and really *do* think that redefining words will change what God has ordained. Or maybe my second fever of this year (who gets two fevers in a year? what rotten luck !) has left *me* confused as to what you’re trying to say in your post. ; )


    1. Ben,

      Your suspicion that you might have misunderstood James Anderson’s points is correct. You mentioned people of the same sex entering into legal partnerships, a desire to see such partnerships labeled “marriage,” and public recognition of these partnerships as socially equivalent to heterosexual partnerships. But none of these topics are mentioned in the post at all. Rather, the post is about the impossibility of the redefinition of marriage in principle and the postmodern presuppositions of its denial.

      You also wrote of the aforementioned issues within the context of the United States, but the United States and its respective political problems are not mentioned in the post at all. Rather, the post is about consultations in Scotland, England, and Wales.

      Hope you feel better soon!

  2. Ben,

    Why think that it assumes any such thing? Rather it assumes that the law recognizes pre-existing natural institutions that pre-exist the state. Hence the state does not define them, but merely recognizes them. There is no pre-existing natural homosexual marriage. The simple test for a difference is, what produces offspring baring any natural impediment? Guess which one doesn’t?

  3. Perry Robinson,

    It seems to me that there are indeed gay couples who mimic married heterosexual couples in the way they relate to each other. The state can recognize this phenomenon by bestowing upon gay couples the option to enter into “marriage” as a legal union.

    Chris Bolt,

    As mentioned, I am quite suspicious that I’ve misunderstood Prof. Anderson, but if so it wouldn’t be in any of the ways you seem to think I have. I’m content to wait for him to clarify, if he happens to feel like doing so.


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