There Is No Such Thing As “Traditional Marriage”

Marriage has always been an evolving institution.

Andrew Sullivan links to an interesting article by Stephanie Coontz that makes clear the extent to which the “institution of marriage” has evolved over the course of human history, and in the process fairly decimates the idea that there really is any such thing as “traditional marriage”:

For millennia, marriage was about property and power rather than mutual attraction. It was a way of forging political alliances, sealing business deals, and expanding the family labor force. For many people, marriage was an unavoidable duty. For others, it was a privilege, not a right. Servants, slaves, and paupers were often forbidden to wed, and even among the rich, families sometimes sent a younger child to a nunnery or monastery rather than allow them to marry and break up the family’s landholding.

The redefinition of traditional marriage began about 250 years ago, when Westerners began to allow young people to choose their partners on the basis of love rather than having their marriages arranged to suit the interests of their parents. Then, just 100 years ago, courts and public opinion began to extend that right even to marriages that parents and society disapproved.

In the 1940s and 1950s, many states repealed laws that prevented particular classes of people—including those with tuberculosis and “the feeble-minded”—from marrying. In 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for states to prohibit interracial marriage. In 1987 it upheld the right of prison inmates to marry.

The path to same-sex marriage was further opened up when heterosexual couples began to push back against state control over their sexual and reproductive lives. Until the 1950s, some states forbade married couples from using assisted reproduction to have children, ruling that artificial insemination was tantamount to adultery and any resultant child was illegitimate. Conversely, until the Supreme Court ruled in 1965 that couples had a right to sexual privacy, many states refused to allow the sale of birth control to married couples who wanted to prevent or limit their childbearing.


But the most important cultural change that has increased support for same-sex marriage is the equality revolution within heterosexual marriage.

For most of history, the subordination of wives to husbands was enforced by law and custom. As late as the 1960s, American legal codes assigned differing marital rights and obligations by gender. The husband was legally responsible for supporting the family financially, but he also got to decide what constituted an adequate level of support, how to dispose of family property, and where the family would live. The wife was legally responsible for providing services in and around the home, but she had no comparable rights to such services.

That is why a husband could sue for loss of consortium if his spouse was killed or incapacitated, but a wife in the same situation could not. And because sex was one of the services expected of a wife, she could not charge her husband with rape.

Between the 1970s and 1990s, however, most Americans came to view marriage as a relationship between two individuals who were free to organize their partnership on the basis of personal inclination rather than preassigned gender roles. Legal codes were rewritten to be gender neutral, and men’s and women’s activities both at home and work began to converge.

Today, the majority of American children grow up in homes where their parents share breadwinning, housework, and child care. Some couples even decide to reverse traditional gender roles, with the woman becoming the primary breadwinner or the man becoming a stay-at-home dad.

This isn’t the first time that Coontz has written on this topic. Back in 2007, in The New York Times she noted that the very idea of marriage being a legal institution at all is a relatively recent one:

For most of Western history, they didn’t, because marriage was a private contract between two families. The parents’ agreement to the match, not the approval of church or state, was what confirmed its validity.

For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.

In 1215, the church decreed that a “licit” marriage must take place in church. But people who married illictly had the same rights and obligations as a couple married in church: their children were legitimate; the wife had the same inheritance rights; the couple was subject to the same prohibitions against divorce.

Not until the 16th century did European states begin to require that marriages be performed under legal auspices. In part, this was an attempt to prevent unions between young adults whose parents opposed their match.

The American colonies officially required marriages to be registered, but until the mid-19th century, state supreme courts routinely ruled that public cohabitation was sufficient evidence of a valid marriage. By the later part of that century, however, the United States began to nullify common-law marriages and exert more control over who was allowed to marry.

By the 1920s, 38 states prohibited whites from marrying blacks, “mulattos,” Japanese, Chinese, Indians, “Mongolians,” “Malays” or Filipinos. Twelve states would not issue a marriage license if one partner was a drunk, an addict or a “mental defect.” Eighteen states set barriers to remarriage after divorce.

In other words, to a great extent, the entire purpose of government getting involved in deciding what a “valid” marriage was for the purpose of preventing unacceptable unions. Some of those laws are based on the ages old incest taboo, obviously, but those types of marriages were already barred by the laws of every Church in Christendom. What was became new was the entire idea that there were other classes of people who shouldn’t be permitted to marry, either because they were deemed “defective,” or because one of the parties to the potential marriage was the wrong race. The licenses were a means of controlling the population, which is in fact the reason behind so many of the things that the state steps in to “regulate.”

The debate over same-sex marriage usually begins with someone on the right claiming that they oppose the idea of two men or two women being married because they wish to defend “traditional marriage.” What becomes clear after a short while, though, is that their idea of “traditional marriage” is roughly equivalent to what we saw on such 1950’s era television shows as Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver. Either by choice or pure ignorance, they seem to be unaware of the real history of the institution of marriage, which has been evolving from the very beginning in the manner that Coontz describes in her article. In the beginning, women had almost no rights once they became married and were considered property of their husbands. Indeed, the colloquialism “rule of thumb,” refers to a medieval rule that said that a man could hit his wife with anything that wasn’t bigger than the width of his thumb.1 Children didn’t fare much better in those days. Today, though, such treatment of a married woman is viewed, rightly, as a crime in the Western world, and societies where it is still permitted are, also rightly, viewed as barbaric. Would the advocates of “traditional marriage” want to return to that tradition? Of course they wouldn’t, which means that they too have to acknowledge that what marriage is has changed over time and that today, it is largely defined by what the people in the relationship want out of it, and typically that means a relationship where men and women are equal partners.

As Coontz points out, it is this evolution in the concept of marriage that has led to the point where same-sex marriage has become more and more acceptable. With the government now the primary determiner of when someone is “married,” the idea that it is an institution primarily guided by religious principles no longer holds force with many people. Traditional gender roles have changed significantly, so the idea of the working man and stay-at-home woman is no longer the only possible relationship people can have. Even more importantly, the relationship between child-rearing and marriage has been severed to a great degree both by the rise in out-of-wedlock births and the number of couples who either choose not to have children at all, or choose to have them later in life and thus have to rely upon assisted reproduction techn0logy. It’s not that far a leap now from the idea of marriage between a man and a woman to the idea of a marriage between two women or two men.

Indeed it’s not entirely clear that “marriage” has always meant just a marriage between one man and one woman. In his new book Sex And Punishment, Eric Berkowitz notes that there was a time when two men could go through a ceremony, performed in a Catholic Church before God no less, that sounds an awful lot like a wedding:

In the period up to roughly the thirteenth century, male bonding ceremonies were performed in churches all over the Mediterranean. These unions were sanctified by priests with many of the same prayers and rituals used to join men and women in marriage. The ceremonies stressed love and personal commitment over procreation, but surely not everyone was fooled. Couples who joined themselves in such rituals most likely had sex as much (or as little) as their heterosexual counterparts. In any event, the close association of male bonding ceremonies with forbidden sex eventually became too much to overlook as ever more severe sodomy laws were put into place.

Such same-sex unions—sometimes called “spiritual brotherhoods”—forged irrevocable bonds between the men involved. Often they involved missionaries about to set off on foreign voyages, but lay male couples also entered into them. Other than the gender of the participants, it was difficult to distinguish the ceremonies from typical marriages. Twelfth-century liturgies for same-sex unions, for example, involved the pair joining their right hands at the altar, the recital of marriage prayers, and a ceremonial kiss.

So maybe same-sex unions are nearly as “untraditional” as their opponents think they are.

1 As noted in the comments, this may not be true. Nonetheless it is beyond dispute that women’s rights in marriage were fairly limited well into the 20th Century.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Gender Issues, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Hey Norm says:

    “…1950′s era television shows…”

    “Ward, you were pretty hard on the Beaver last night.”

    It’s just small government Republicans pursuing big government solutions to non-existent problems. Again. There’s nothing new under the sun.

  2. Kylopod says:

    Indeed, the colloquialism “rule of thumb,” refers to a medieval rule that said that a man could hit his wife with anything that wasn’t bigger than the width of his thumb.

    This is an urban legend that was debunked years ago:

    You really should know better.

  3. @Kylopod:

    I’ve made a note about this in the post.

  4. Catfish says:

    This is why the government doesn’t need to be in this business. Let the churches and religious organizations have this one. Most of the courts seem to feel that if a couple have been together a certain amount of time, then property ownership is usually shared. Maybe there should be some sort of agreements made in writing before any commitment (marriage or living together) is made that would spell out property issues and other. Some people go into a relationship with property and a lot of money, but wind up having to split it 50/50 even after just a short period of time; a sort of “prenup” would be wise.
    As far as other issues, such as health insurance and benefits for a “partner”; this is quickly becoming irrelevant as many states and cities are eliminating these benefits for their employees (I found private health carriers to be much cheaper than the state spouse/family plan that was offered to me. Now I have to pay for my own as even that staple of benefits is becoming a thing of the past). When it comes to “tradition”, many couples still want a church wedding where the church is a sort of “prop” but they don’t return. Some churches now actually will rent their facilities for these weddings as a way of getting some income.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Catfish: As someone noted on Twitter the other day, the state has been involved in marriage for quite some time and, suddenly, people are calling for it to stop so that we don’t have to give gays their rights. I question the timing.

  6. PogueMahone says:

    Tradition is the wrong concept when applied to SSM and other civil liberties.

    What some today think of today as being “tradition” should be viewed as “values.”

    We value a loving family; we value live and let live; we value do unto others…

    Tradition is for ritual; values are for living.
    Values are adaptable… tradition – not so much.

    Here in the US, our values have seemingly finally adapted (and not a moment too soon). The GOP better get on board, or shove off.


    (btw, good post)

  7. PD Shaw says:

    I rather think the upshot of the Reformation (both Catholic and Protestant) is that the people wanted their marriage blessed and made sacred. Protestants initially opposed what they saw as the Church’s intrusion into personal life without adequate textual support. But they gave in when they realized that the flock wanted that intrusion, they wanted to be made closer to the divine.

    And I believe a number of, though not all, same-sex couples want that same feeling of being part of something greater than their own individual desires.

    And then there are civil libertarians who don’t believe in the sacred, and can’t believe anything greater than themselves. These groups are temporary allies and long-term enemies.

  8. labman57 says:

    Sure there is. “Traditional marriage“, based on accepted norms within the Christian conservative community:

    Man marries woman. Man cheats on wife and/or man beats wife. Wife divorces husband. Man “speaks with God“. All is forgiven.

  9. @labman57:

    You left out “Man has affair with woman. Makes tearful speech. Man has affair with other man.”

  10. John D'Geek says:

    @James Joyner: The “timing” is not coincidental to the issue since, without gay marriage, the issue would not have proper framing.

    The Hypocrisy of the State has become evident to many of us. No bigamous marriages — but you can have all the “permanent live in girlfriends” you want for as long as you want. You can get married to a 15-year-old … but then having sex with your spouse is “immoral”*.

    What is the legal and social purpose of marriage? Is there even one? Other than “tradition” or “scoring political points”, that is? Only in the last few decades could those questions be asked; now that Gay Marriage is all but a done deal, the question is critical to ask (before it, too, becomes irrelevant).

    Not that it matters, I suppose. The history of the US is not replete with well considered, rational solutions (aka “wise solutions”) to serious problems.

    * the charge is “corrupting the values of a minor”. If it’s really a problem, then don’t let them get married. Is that really so hard?

  11. Robert says:

    Nice historic and geographic cherrypicking at the beggining. Stopped reading there.
    Anyway, I recommend you Thomas Sowell’s article on “Gay Marriage ‘Rights'”, leftie.

  12. Ron Beasley says:


    Nice historic and geographic cherrypicking at the beggining. Stopped reading there.

    Have you read anything at all, and that includes the bible.

  13. Septimius says:

    Even if we accept Berkowitz’s thesis at face value (apparently it’s based on some pretty shoddy scholarship), all you are really proving is that marriage is not a “right.” It is an evolving institution that must conform to the whims of society. Even if there was some kind of “same-sex union” ceremony conducted in some parts of eastern Europe up until the middle ages, it wasn’t a marriage or else they would have called it “marriage.” It sounds a lot more like what we could consider a civil union.

  14. anjin-san says:

    I thought a traditional marriage was the union between a rich 65 year old Republican man, and a 30 year old blonde woman with a boob job, a lip job, and frequent flier miles at the botox clinic…

  15. al-Ameda says:


    I thought a traditional marriage was the union between a rich 65 year old Republican man, and a 30 year old blonde woman with a boob job, a lip job, and frequent flier miles at the botox clinic…

    That seems to be traditional among men of a certain demographic, however I must criticize you for including Botox Clinic Treatments under the rubric of “traditional.” Please, as botox was probably invented in the 1980s I think it’s stretch to say that botox treatments are traditional (at least, not yet).

  16. MichaelB says:

    This seems like a silly argument.* Of course, over the sweep of human history marriage has changed. So has darn near everything else. I don’t think ‘traditional’ means ‘never ever changed’.

    *You do occasionally hear opponents of marriage equality argue that it’s always been the same. That is far sillier. Nonetheless, they’re wrong because marriage equality is a good idea, not because the way society views marriage has evolved over time and they didn’t even notice.

  17. michael reynolds says:

    When people say “traditional” what they mean is “mine.” Mere facts will not affect those folks.

  18. Tsar Nicholas says:


    You both left out the most important factor: A willingness to sign a prenup.

  19. Septimius says:

    @michael reynolds: When people say “traditional” what they actually mean is no society in history has ever recognized, sanctioned, or accepted same-sex relationships in the same way that they have recognized relationships between the sexes.

  20. Moosebreath says:

    “Marriage has always been an evolving institution.”

    And, as Groucho Marx said, “Who wants to live in an institution?”

  21. al-Ameda says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    You both left out the most important factor: A willingness to sign a prenup.

    I apologize, how could I overlook that. When guys trade down to marry that 22 year old, what could more important than a pre-nup?

  22. David M says:

    @Septimius: So? There’s plenty about the current marriage laws that would have been unthinkable to people several hundred years ago. Why are all those changes OK, but not this? Anyway, the world is much different now than they it was back then, why do we care if same-sex marriages weren’t recognized by societies are nothing like ours?

    I think laws allowing same-sex marriage are a much smaller change than ending arranged marriages, no-fault divorce, allowing married women to own property and outlawing domestic violence and marital rape. Every one of those had a huge impact on society and marriage, but allowing same-sex marriage has no impact on already married couples.

  23. An Interested Party says:

    At one time, slavery was traditional…at one time, Jim Crow laws were traditional…at one time, Apartheid was traditional, and on and on and on…simply being traditional doesn’t make anything proper or right…of course, evolving ideas about society (like acceptance of SSM) is also traditional…

  24. LC says:

    FYI. Coontz’s book, Marriage, a History, is still in print and available as an e-book.

    Remembrance from ancient anthropology course : young girls marry trees which are then cut down and floated away – so all marriages are second marriages and girls can never become widows.

    Probably don’t have all the details right anymore, but marrying a tree tends to stick in the mind.

  25. MichaelW says:

    One of the dumber things you’ve written. Even a cursory glance at the actual history of marriage would disabuse you of your ill-informed notions. Marriage is about family, and more specifically children. Whether the state recognizes it or not is immaterial. By the same token, pretending that every union is the same is deleterious to the very building block of any functional society. If states put it to a vote, and SSM gets a plebiscite, then so be it. But banging the moral drum over and over again is not only tedious, but dismissive of what good people truly believe, it’s divisive in a way that will not help gays.

    Seriously, this is really stupid propaganda you’re pushing.

  26. I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone wants to stand in the way of a loving union between 2 adults.The people who do not agree with equal rights are living in the wrong country. If they want religion to dictate their lives they should look to those countries which dictate their whole lives. Where husbands are allowed to beat and even kill their families for honor. I wish to live in a society where we can live together happily with our differences. We may not always agree but we can mind our own business. Let God decide, he is the one that made us all different.

  27. MichaelW says:

    @Barb: If you want God to sort it out, then let them get married in a church. In fact nothing is stopping them from doing so. There’s even a church that’s willing to do so In one portion of the American Episcopal Church. Have at it. The remainder is whether a state should be required to recognize such marriages for purposes of benefitting the state. There being no real benefit to doing so, then states should be left to decide for themselves.

  28. jukeboxgrad says:

    the idea that there really is any such thing as “traditional marriage”

    I think a discussion about this isn’t complete without mentioning this:

    But when Mitt Romney says that “marriage has been defined the same way for literally thousands of years by virtually every civilization in history”, he’s excluding his own faith, his grandfather, and his family history to make the argument against gay marriage…especially when Joseph Smith had only invented the religion Mormonism a mere 182 years ago in 1830…when marriage for them was defined as between a man and a wife and a wife and wife and another wife (usually very young and perky wives, teenagers usually. Others call this pedophilia.)

  29. Jib says:

    I love the fact that gay marriage is the unintended consequence of maintaining the private health care system. Up until the AIDs crisis, gays were ambivalent to out right hostile to the idea of marriage (see the history of Andrew Sullivan’s writing for the back story, there once was a true radical gay agenda, the Gay Liberation movement, they wanted nothing to do with marriage or military service or any of the institutions of bourgeois capitalism). But with the AIDs crisis, health care became a matter of life and death for a large number of gays too sick to continue working. So their partners raised hell to get them included on their health plans.

    Inheritance, property, etc, can all be handled with wills and legal docs but health care was only provided to employees and their spouses.

    Today gay marriage is about more than health benefits but the initial push that got everything started and got everybody at least thinking about the idea, which lead to acceptance 20 years later, was because of a side effect of private health insurance. Makes you wonder, if Hilarycare had passed and everyone in the 90’s had health insurance, would gay marriage be such a big deal today?

  30. Dazedandconfused says:

    A remarkable case. I suspect gay marriage will be legal, likely to happen in a way that resembles that case. The courts will do it, not the politicians.

  31. Ron Beasley says:

    The 1950s “traditional marriage” died with no fault divorce.

  32. mantis says:


    Whether the state recognizes it or not is immaterial.


  33. anjin-san says:

    @ MichaelW

    Marriage is about my definition of family, and more specifically children.


  34. MichaelW says:

    @mantis: Well, what can one say to such pithy nothingness? Either make a point or bother someone else. Your self-satisfaction is boring.

  35. Ron Beasley says:



    Whether the state recognizes it or not is immaterial.


    Exactly, it is anything but immaterial. It seriously impacts lives. It impacts life and death decisions, pensions and SSN, property and the list goes on even when there are religions/churches willing to accept SSM.
    The Old Testament was a collection of rules for a tribal society constantly at war where procreation had to be encouraged to replenish population loses. The same reason they had multiple wives – men got killed a lot and there was a shortage of them. It might have made sense for the Europeans to allow polygamy after WWI. The pork thing in the Bible may have made sense then – Trichinosis, but the clothes made of multiple thing fabrics puzzles me a bit. The shell fish ban may have had something to do with red tides – we have temporary bans on the Pacific coast. But that was all 2,000 years ago. The problem now is over population so it would make sense to encourage non procreative activity.

  36. mantis says:


    Either make a point or bother someone else.

    I shall do neither!

  37. Janis Gore says:

    @Ron Beasley: The cloth probably had to do with unsanctioned trade. Political.

  38. MichaelW says:

    @Ron Beasley: no it doesn’t. All of those things are easily handled by contract. Better arguments, please.

  39. MichaelW says:

    @mantis: shocker.

  40. @Dazedandconfused:

    I think that you are largely correct. And, if you go back and look at polling on the issue of interracial marriage both before the Loving decision and in the years immediately after, the fact is that a sizable majority of Americans still disapproved of marriages between mixed race couples.

    Indeed, in the neighborhood I grew up in there was a mixed race couple. I honestly never thought anything of it, and it really wasn’t until I was older that I learned that there were some families in the neighborhood who didn’t like the fact that this couple, and their son, had moved in. Considering the fact that I was in High School by that time and that that their son was one of my friends, I never quite understood that.

  41. Ron Beasley says:

    @MichaelW: In our society marriage is the contract and if there was a way around that I would agree with you but there’s not.. It would me necessary to re-write many laws and regulations. The only real solution is to allow civil marriage to all and leave it up to the religious folks to accept it or not.

  42. David M says:


    Marriage is about family, and more specifically children.

    People who cannot and do not have children to get married, and people who are not married certainly can have children, so I’m not sure where your point came from. Also, you’re kind of missing the point pretty badly, as being able to get married, have a family and children is pretty much the point of same-sex marriage, same as anyone else.

  43. MichaelW says:

    @Beasley: You’re flailing. Contractual rights are not at issue. Whether they are recognized by the state, in the interests of the whole polity, is the question. SSM offers no obvious (or stated) benefits to the polity, so why it would be incumbent upon them to recognize such a union is not apparent. If you want to make such an argument, then do so. Otherwise you have no argument.

  44. Janis Gore says:

    I beg to differ, Michael W. I have the benefits of marriage even though I was married by a city judge and had no interest in bearing children. My stepsons’ mother married a childless man. They have the benefits of marriage without bearing children.

    Marriage, as I see it, is a contract between two people who willing to put their forces together to the same ends. That’s what marriage is now, like it or not.

    And I did not interfere with their marriage. My husband had been divorced for 8 years when we married.

  45. Ron Beasley says:

    @Janis Gore: Interesting! I hadn’t thought of that.

  46. MichaelW says:

    @David M: There are exceptions to every rule. This is why I’m such a big fan of the common law. However, statutes are blunt instruments and can only effectively address the broad issues. Just because there are childless couples does not logically mean that SSM is necessary, mandated, or beneficial. Gay couples should not be prevented from marrying, and states should not be prevented from recognizing such unions. But in no way does that mean that SSM is beyond all reproach or that states should be forced to recognize them.

    Pretending, as Doug does in this post, that there is no such thing as “traditional marriage” (I.e. one between one man and one woman), not only undermines the cause you want to serve, it obfuscates the argument. Should gays be accepted as normal, functioning, beneficent members of society? Of course! Does that mean that their couplings xshould be treated the same way as those which will undoubtedly produce the future stewards of this nation? I remain unconvinced.

  47. MichaelW says:

    @Janis: hundreds of years of law disagree with you. The legal recognition is about children, whether you have taken advantage of it or not.

  48. Ron Beasley says:

    @Janis Gore: Well said Janis. I married a woman with two children, 6 and 10 when we married. I was functional father even though they called me Ron not dad. Were we a traditional family? They both turned out pretty well and there were no more children.

  49. Janis Gore says:

    @Ron Beasley: I have no basis for that inference. It makes sense, though. It’s an erudite group around here. Maybe someone can come forward with more information.

  50. Janis Gore says:

    @MichaelW: The legal recognition is about inheritance, not about children per se.

  51. MichaelW says:

    @Janis: wrong. Inheritance is actually also about children under hundreds of years of law.

  52. David M says:

    @MichaelW: It’s odd to care so much about how marriages benefit everyone else, and not care about the two individuals in the marriage. Kind of seems like we ought to be concerned with their rights and how it benefits them. Anyways, you’re getting close to advocating that people who want to get married need prove how their marriage will benefit the state.

  53. Console says:


    Governments still have to recognize contracts. In your case, marriages would be held to the same standards as a normal contract, but those legal standards would still exist and would still define how marriages work and how they don’t work.

    Plus, that’s only one side of the equation. Will my insurers recognize my marriage contract? Will the military recognize my contract and provide me with family housing? Will my contract mean my “wife” doesn’t have to testify against me in court, or would that have to be in writing? I can go on and on.

    It’s always funny to me how simple people think life is. No, you can’t just say “contract” and expect everything to magically work itself out.

  54. PogueMahone says:


    Oh, joy. A self-described “neo-libertarian” who has the state’s interest over the individual’s is here.

    Even a cursory glance at the actual history of marriage would disabuse you of your ill-informed notions.

    Prove it. Why don’t you enlighten us, Mr. Wade. Or, oh how did you put it… “make a point or bother somebody else.”

    Marriage is about family, and more specifically children.

    Umm, Same sex couples can have children and therefore a family, dontcha know. You’ve heard of adoption, surrogates, in vitro?

    By the same token, pretending that every union is the same is deleterious to the very building block of any functional society.

    Oh, that’s right. You believe that your marriage means more than other marriages. You believe that your marriage to your wife is not deleterious to the very building blocks of any functional society. Others, not so much. Right?
    How, btw, do unions that don’t produce children become deleterious to society? And be specific, please. Because my wife and I, who don’t have any children, would love to know how we’re destroying the “very building blocks” of society.

    If you’re going to call the author’s piece as “one of the dumber things you’ve written,’ then shouldn’t you trouble yourself with providing some factual evidence to refute the author’s thesis?
    IOW, make a point or go bother someone else.

  55. MichaelW says:

    *sigh* I see that my personal troll, Pogue, has followed me here. Apologies. For those interested in the legal backbone behind marriage being about procreation, see here ( It’s just a start. There’s much more for those willing to enlighten themselves.

  56. Ron Beasley says:

    @Janis Gore: Janis – a really good hypothesis that deserves some further research.. It made no sense to me but you came up with a sensible idea. Bravo!! It may be wrong but it’s still an idea which is more than I had.

  57. MichaelW says:

    @Pogue: you know the deal. Read what I actually wrote and argue with that. Any suppositions you make are your own. Someday (maybe?) you’ll get with the program. Until then you can Pogue mahone 😉

  58. PogueMahone says:

    @MichaelW: *sigh* I see that my personal troll, Pogue, has followed me here.

    Heh. “personal troll” … “followed me.” If you’ll scroll up in the thread, you’ll see that I made a comment before you did. So how could I have “followed” you, genius?

  59. Console says:


    You can procreate without marriage…

    What they mean to say is that marriage is a way to procreate within the acceptable moral confines of a judeo-christian society.

  60. MichaelW says:

    @David M: when discussing the state’s interest in marriage (which is the only thing at issue here), the individuals don’t actually matter. That is, so long as the individuals aren’t forced into anything, nor prevented from doing anything, then their concerns are not at issue. The only question here is whether the state should be forced to recognize SSM. If so, why? To answer that question, you must necessarily know what benefit such unions are o the state. If there are none, then there is no reason for the state to recognize them.

  61. PogueMahone says:

    @MichaelW: Read what I actually wrote and argue with that.

    How could I? You don’t make an argument.

  62. anjin-san says:

    The only question here is whether the state should be forced to recognize SSM. If so, why?

    Guess you missed that whole “equal protection under the law” thing…

  63. Console says:


    Well, that’s where the 14th amendment comes into play. Equal protection places onus on the State to explain why it feels the need to discriminate against a class of individuals.

    One of the great things about living in America.

  64. David M says:

    @MichaelW: OK, I agree, marriage and procreation are important to society. That doesn’t mean or prove anything, as same-sex couples already have children, the question here is whether to allow those couples with children to get married. Why shouldn’t same-sex couples with children be able to get married when opposite sex couples without children can?

  65. anjin-san says:

    *sigh* I see that my personal troll, Pogue

    Ah. Jenos has company in the “I have a vastly inflated opinion of my own importance” club.

  66. Janis Gore says:

    @MichaelW: That’s a purely utilitarian concept. Now, which children do you want to limit?

  67. MichaelW says:

    @Console: for the most part, you’re stating the obvious. It has nothing to do with the actual argument. The rest of it is pointless. Contracts must be recognized (yes, no one is stating differently). People have kids outside of marriage (who’s arguing otherwise?). What exactly is your point?

  68. PogueMahone says:

    @MichaelW: The only question here is whether the state should be forced to recognize SSM. If so, why? To answer that question, you must necessarily know what benefit such unions are o the state. If there are none, then there is no reason for the state to recognize them.

    So everything that the state must recognize must be beneficial to the state, regardless of what the individual desires.

    The new libertarians, ladies and gentlemen.

  69. MichaelW says:

    @anjin: guess you forgot how that Amwndment actually works (hint: gays aren’t prevented from getting married).

  70. Console says:


    My point regarding contracts is that they aren’t between 2 people and society, they are only between those two people. Why should my insurer recognize my domestic partner as my wife simply because I signed a contract with her? Why should the military provide housing for my partner based on a contract between me and my partner?

    As far as the children thing goes, the long version of the argument is that making marriage about procreation makes marriage a rather useless endeavor. If the government wants children, then it should promote sex, not marriage. The full story is that marriage promotes lots of things and almost every single one of those things applies to a same-sex marriage. Monogamy has value, stability has value, the legal protections have value, etc. etc. All the things that serve to make a heterosexual family unit strong does the same for a same-sex union

  71. Console says:


    guess you forgot how that Amwndment actually works (hint: gays aren’t prevented from getting married).

    That’s what the state of virginia said about blacks and whites to the supreme court during Loving v. Virginia. I can tell you how that argument turned out if you want.

  72. MichaelW says:

    @david m: cart before horse, for one thing, and missing the point for another. Whether a couple has children isn’t germane. If they are capable (i.e. physiologically), is the only real question. Will (has?) science already surpassed this issue? Perhaps. I know a very happy gay couple with two semi-biological children (born of one of the women) who put the issue to test. But, again, why should a state be forced to recognize such unions if it sees no obvious benefit? Keeping in mind that laws are sledgehammers not scalpels, limiting legal ramifications to the common instances usually works best. In this case, it may serve to maintain a fundamental building block of society (or, at least what’s left after hetero couples have destroyed most of it with easy-peasy divorce). To the contrary, recognizing SSM at the state level doesn’t offer any apparent benefits. So why the imperative?

  73. MichaelW says:

    @Console: and I could school you in what that case was actually about, but then we’re not really having a conversation are we?

  74. MichaelW says:

    @Janis: well, I’m against abortion, so none. Which children do you want to limit?

  75. Console says:


    Would you prefer me bring up Lawrence V. Texas? Or is your argument to that one “but Texas still allowed gay people to have sex… just not with each other”

  76. Janis Gore says:


  77. MarkedMan says:

    @Janis Gore: Janis, I’m curious if you know any more about the ‘unscanctioned trade’? I’ve wondered for years how that got into the Torah…

  78. Janis Gore says:

    Not at all. It’s an idea, Recall to me the verse or verses?

    Just banking the thought on tribal affiliations, that’s all. If I recall the verses speak of wool interspersed with linen, which would be an Egptian product. It could be a metaphor. Or it could be a warning.

  79. Scott O. says:


    No benefit to the state? Are you serious? You could apply that standard to any law you oppose. Women’s suffrage, no benefit to the state, just more expense. Saying SSM shouldn’t be legal is saying gay people aren’t normal people. It gives bigots an excuse to discriminate. I don’t believe people choose to be gay since I didn’t choose to be straight. I also don’t think homosexuality is a mental illness. I consider them to be normal people.

  80. MarkedMan says:

    Wow. MichaelW that is quite a statement. ‘If something doesn’t benefit the State then the State has no obligation to recognize it.’ I’m living in Communist f-cking China at the moment and even this government has moved beyond such repressive views of its role.. I’m always glad I was born in the US and am a citizen but never so glad as when I remember that in my country the State exists for the benefits of the citizens, not the other way around.

  81. David M says:


    Whether a couple has children isn’t germane. If they are capable (i.e. physiologically), is the only real question.

    Your reasons keep changing, at first it was marriage was for procreation, now the state cares about the potential to procreate. These are not close to the same things, and while the procreation argument isn’t very convincing, the second is just a fancy way of saying no gays allowed because they are icky.

  82. G.A. says:

    I can’t take watching liberals brain wash themselves as they rewrite history anymore….

  83. jukeboxgrad says:

    If you can’t take it, why are you here? I can only conclude that someone is standing there, holding a gun to your head, forcing you to read all this. Would you like me to dial 911 for you?

  84. Jenos Idanian says:

    Totally off-topic, Doug, but there have been some interesting developments in the Trayvon Martin case: we now have medical reports on both from the night of the shooting.

    Zimmerman: Two black eyes, fractured nose, two lacerations to the back of his head, minor back injury.

    Martin: broken skin on his knuckles, gunshot wound to the chest.

    Time for a new update?

  85. rodney dill says:

    @Hey Norm:

    “Ward, you were pretty hard on the Beaver last night.”

    …but what does rough sex have to do with marriage?

  86. Catfish says:

    @Jib: Many governments and other employers are reducing or eliminating these kind of benefits. In some cases, they will give the employees more pay to offset this and let them find their own insurance out in the market. That is what I would prefer: I can do better in the market than with my employer’s plan, which I am now having to pay some of the cost. With that method, it doesn’t matter if I am married or who to.

  87. Jenos,

    As I said months ago. I don’t believe it is appropriate for this case to be tried in the court of public opinion. The only appropriate entities to judge the weight and meaning are the evidence are the judge and/or the jury. So, I’m really not going to participate in the media’s continued Perry Mason game.

  88. sam says:


    But, again, why should a state be forced to recognize such unions if it sees no obvious benefit?

    You realize, or maybe not, that that principle subordinates individuals and their choices to the (transient) interests of the state. Suppose we universalize that:

    A state is under no obligation to affirm or protect the choices of its citizens if such choices fail to further the interests of the state.

    That is diametrically opposed to this nation’s founding principles. Note that the Bill of Rights, and subsequent amendments, esp. the 13th, 14th, and 15th, were designed to thwart the kind of thinking reflected in your principle. Consider the First Amendment. A free press, for instance, is not there to further in the interests of the state (=government du jour). Or, alternatively, and perhaps more to the point, consider slavery. It certainly can be argued that slavery furthered the interests on the states in which it existed, or rather, those states believed that slavery furthered their interests. (And, by the way, this belief is all your principle requires). Therefore, on your grounds, those states would be justified in rejecting abolition on the grounds that it was decidedly not to the benefit of those states. For why, on your principle, should the state be forced to recognize the liberty interest of anyone at all if that interest was deemed by that state not benefit it, but positively harm it? On your principle, Loving vs. Virginia would have been decided, if at all, very differently.

  89. PogueMahone says:

    …semi-biological children…

    Wow. I had no idea that someone could be classified as “semi-biological.”
    You truly are a word magician, Michael. Because the prose you pull out of your ass is just amazing.

  90. george says:


    So a hetrosexual couple who can’t have children (medical reasons, or just too old) can’t be married either?

    I’m one of those who think encouraging marriage among gays would be a conservative point of view.

  91. Franklin says:

    @Jenos Idanian: If I instigate a fight with you and you beat the crap out of me, whose fault is it? The fact is, we already knew Zimmerman had injuries, just not the extent. We still don’t know who instigated the fight, other than Zimmerman was chasing the kid around town with a gun.

  92. Franklin says:

    Also, stay on topic.

  93. al-Ameda says:


    I can’t take watching liberals brain wash themselves as they rewrite history anymore….

    Then go back to watching Mitt Romney order drapes for the Car Elevator in his La Jolla home..

  94. Rob in CT says:

    Even if we accept Berkowitz’s thesis at face value (apparently it’s based on some pretty shoddy scholarship), all you are really proving is that marriage is not a “right.” It is an evolving institution that must conform to the whims of society.

    That’s how things become recognized rights in societies. People argue about them, and then make laws. Duh.

    Once upon a time, some people had the right to own others (and those others were deprived of their right to liberty and the fruits of their labor). Our forebears had a debate over that, which got a bit heated at times. And things changed. A whole class of people’s rights were, eventually, recognized (and the rights of others to own them or otherwise treat them like garbage was removed). Were no rights involved, simply because opinions changed? Please.

  95. @MichaelW: It seems nothing anyone with sense may say will change your mind, but will you at least give one reason why it is any of your business that these people who wish to marry need to wait for others to decide their rights.

  96. Janis Gore says:

    Hmm. The verse regarding mixed fibers is Le 19:19. In the KJV it reads “neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.” In the NAB (1983) it reads “… do not put on a garment woven with two different kinds of thread.”


  97. Tsar Nicholas says:

    @Rob in CT: I don’t know that that’s the best analogy. The rights to which you just made reference ultimately were recognized, yes, but only in the aftermath of by far the deadliest war in U.S. history.

    Besides, if rights properly are conferred by debate and legislation that means, ipso facto, both that rights and especially incipient rights properly can be taken away by debate and legislation. Isn’t that what California and so many other states have done in connection with plebiscite-based legislation on this issue?

    In any case, the more I think about this whole debate the more I come to the conclusion that the gay and lesbian community is setting itself up to fall victim to the laws of unintended consequences. In 30 years I suspect a significant plurality of that community, perhaps even a distinct majority, will consider this entire endeavor to have been a precipitous mistake.

  98. Janis Gore says:

    Like the rest of us, on bad days?

  99. Barry says:

    @MichaelW: “Janis: hundreds of years of law disagree with you. ”

    As has been pointed time and time again, ‘hundreds of years of law’ covers slavery, wives being under the total legal, physical and financial control of their husbands, and the introduction of the Gregorian calendar to the English-speaking world.

  100. Ben Wolf says:

    Wait, this MichaelW individual actually claims to be a libertarian? That’s the equivalent of a slave trader claiming to be an abolitionist.

  101. Rob in CT says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Are you making some sort of “natural rights” argument? I’ve always found that bizarre. The rights you have in a given society are those that have been fought for & won. You may believe you deserve more – and I might agree! – but you don’t have ’em until you win ’em.

    This seems pretty obvious to me.

    As for the suggestion that Teh Gays will deeply regret this whole marriage thing in 30 years, I have no idea why they would. Did people confidently predict that the little ladies would regret getting the vote? I bet they did…

  102. Janis Gore says:

    I think it comes down to ugly recliners. “Real men” like them and gay men think think they’re , well, “ugly.”

  103. Janis Gore says:

    One can recline perfectly well in a bergere.

  104. sam says:

    @Rob in CT:

    As for the suggestion that Teh Gays will deeply regret this whole marriage thing in 30 years, I have no idea why they would.

    Well, in the incisive words of Jack McCoy, “Hell, let ’em marry and be miserable like the rest of us.”

  105. sam says:

    And yes, my wife is not here at the moment….

  106. Janis Gore says:

    I’ve another, Sam. “When they have a divorce or two, they’ll get over it:”

  107. PogueMahone says:

    @Janis Gore:
    Bergere!? No, no. That will never do.

    Now we’re talkin’… Complete with massage and cup-holder. 😉


  108. Janis Gore says:

    @PogueMahone: What I’m really ticked off about in mass furniture is thigh lenghth in sofas and chairs. I can handle a 12 ounce package of coffee.