Religion & Public Life With Mark Silk

Religion & Public Life With Mark Silk

Prof. George conjugates with coitus

While I’ve been on break, I’ve had a chance to read Robby George’s latest
against same-sex marriage, this one written with a couple of younger
colleagues in the current issue of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public
. It’s a notably Platonic exercise.

The authors believe that there is a Platonic form of marriage that is independent
of any social or legal circumstances, consisting of the union of one man and
one woman, sexually exclusive and long-lasting if not eternal. This is a species of
natural law myth-making, less entertaining but scarcely more plausible than the tale of primordially conjoined male-male, female-female, and male-female creatures that Plato puts into Aristophanes’ mouth in the Symposium.
That famous myth imagines a world of heterosexuals, gay men, and lesbians, each
seeking its original other half.


George & Co. see Nature as authenticating only heterosexual unions. They
ground this belief in body parts and functions: Because only one man and woman
can engage in coitus at one time, and coitus is the only (natural) way of
producing offspring to continue the human race, then “real marriage”
can only consist in a male-female duo. Any other marital arrangement is not the
real thing.

But why should the number of coital partners at one time be determinative? Gorillas
and ibexes can no more copulate with more than one partner at a time than humans
can. Does that make their family units (one alpha male, several female
partners) unnatural? If science is to be taken seriously, then the relevant
natural law has to be sociobiological: what’s natural is whatever arrangement
maximizes the individual’s opportunity to pass on his (or her) genetic


Among humans, this would seem to open the door to polygyny.
Why should a man have to wait more than nine months to sire another child,
especially if he can provide that child with all that is necessary to get on in
the world? The readiness of human societies to organize themselves polygynously
suggests that human nature is not averse to the sociobiological

No doubt, the patriarch Jacob would be distressed
to learn
that George & Co. do not regard his relationship with his beloved
Rachel as a
real marriage. Likewise the many Mormons who trace their ancestry to
forbears. This is not to claim that polygamy is necessarily a good
thing, only that
there is something bizarre about imagining that one can, by intellectual
fiat, rule it out of the history of legitimate marital relations.


make their rules according to their own evolving values–based on
custom, religious teaching, calculations of social utility, individual
claims, and the politics involved in sorting out all of the above.
Whatever merits the Georgian “conjugal view” of marriage may possess,
nothing qualifies it as a timeless truth.

Comments read comments(3)
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Father Kev Kevin, SJ

posted January 11, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Silk objects to Prof. George’s arguments. On what grounds? Silk denies that there is something objective called “marriage,” calling George’s arguments a kind of Platonic myth-making. What is Silk’s argument to back up that claim? There is none; there is simply name-calling. Silk’s post is untouched by philosophy or argument. I look forward to Prof. George’s response.

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Jack B

posted January 12, 2011 at 10:29 am

“Reductio ad absurdum” is an ancient and honorable tool of philosophy, argument, and beyond, especially useful when tenuous premises are all that have been offered to support a predetermined conclusion. It need not be complex or arcane to be effective, as Silk’s example shows.

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Grumpy Old Person

posted January 27, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Daddy ‘Kev’,
Mr. Silk is simply disagreeing that there is only one objective thing called marriage. Clearly polygamous/polygynous marriages do exist, tho perhaps not in your realm. He is also disagreeing that coitus (not-too-cleverly disguised procreation) is the ‘timeless truth’/raison d’etre of marriage. We somehow allow non-procreative heterosexuals to marry. We also seem to tolerate non-exclusive heterosexual marriages.
So you disagree. Meh.

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