Apr 16, 2014 fbook icon twitter icon rss icon
Politics

Rick Santorum's Anti-Gay Marriage Explanation Lame at Best

By Dale Carpenter

Conor Friedersdorf has a pretty good take-down of Rick Santorum’s reasons for opposing same-sex marriage.  Friedersdorf evidently supports same-sex marriage for culturally conservative reasons (praising marriage and its value to families, wanting to preserve it).  Santorum’s argument against same-sex marriage, on the other hand, is little more than an assertion of authority and definition.  Santorum writes:

A husband is a man who commits to a woman, to her and any children she may give him. He commits to his wife without any reservations, to share with her all his worldly goods and to exclude all others from this intimate communion of life. From this vow of marriage comes a wonderful and unique good: any children their union creates will have a mom and a dad united in love, in one family.

Friedersdorf responds by pointing out the wide gap between these assertions about marriage and the actual practice and legal requirements of marriage:

That’s a vision of sacramental marriage, but it ain’t civil marriage in these United States. In civil marriage, prenuptial agreements are permitted, so the man hardly shares all his worldly goods, and plenty of people marry with reservations, and without violating the law when they do so. People write their own vows too. Sometimes they say them in Vulcan! Sometimes they don’t include sexual fidelity, and if they cheat or sleep around with or sans permission they are hardly compelled to divorce. The state keeps on viewing them as being married. Alternatively, it’ll permit them to divorce and marry other people, even if they have kids. So much for “one united family.”

He then notes that Santorum’s one consequential argument — about the importance of marriage to families raising children — actually supports legal protection for same-sex marriage.

“That’s the special work of marriage in law — to connect things that otherwise fray and fragment: love, life, money, moms, and dads,” Santorum says. Interestingly, gay people are sometimes moms and dads, and the ones who want to marry typically seek material and emotional security — just like straight people, they’re trying to prevent love and money from fraying.

The understanding asserted in the writings of natural-law theorists and in Catholic doctrine, upon which Santorum draws, is that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life, and that sex is proper only for the purpose of procreation within that union.  Yet none of this — except for the opposite-sex part — is actually embodied in law and little more of it is reflected in the teachings of other mainline churches.  But that’s the one part, fencing off a tiny part of the population, that must be preserved in the kinds of constitutional amendments Santorum and others back. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the population can divorce and remarry at will, practice contraception, and swing from the chandeliers with or without a marriage license.

Friedersdorf is correct that Santorum’s opposition to same-sex marriage is conclusory and weak. But I would add that, of all the candidates running for president this year, Santorum is the only one on either side of the partisan divide who can coherently articulate some reason to oppose same-sex marriage.  The other Republican candidates, at best, simply mouth the definition. President Obama — he of the “God is in the mix” rationale — is incapable of publicly stating a reason for opposing same-sex marriage that fits within his broader world-view, explains his earlier support, or coheres with his administration’s position that the man-woman definition in federal law is unconstitutional. 

Santorum, all alone, can at least explain to us why he opposes gay marriage. This year, he’s as sophisticated (even if sophistic) as we’re likely to get. 


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