If you want to silence someone in today’s society become offended and demand an apology. The tactic works by changing the discussion from one where an idea is engaged to one where the one with the idea is shamed into silence.

Dr. Ben Carson is learning that truth rather quickly. Let us take his comments on so-called gay marriage as a prime example.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality — it doesn’t matter what they are, they don’t get to change the definition.”

Did Dr. Carson say that all these types of action are the same? He did not. The only similarity he established is that they are all alternative arrangements to the traditional understanding of sex and marriage. That is essentially true. If marriage is understood in any other way than the traditional, each alternative understanding offers a different basis to constitute marriage. Secondly, if what marriage is can be changed, as the institution is not inherently heterosexual, it becomes a social construct and any other understanding supported by various pressure groups may be equally valid. Dr. Carson says that is not the case. That is what he said and that is correct.

Dr. Carson’s way of looking at the problem opens the door for rational debate on whether or not marriage is what he says. Those attacking Dr. Carson, however, believe that there is no need for a debate on the issue of what constitutes marriage. They see the problem as strictly political, one of exclusionary policies infringing on people’s rights. Bypassing the essential question facilitates the use of power to meet their goals. We must resist the tactic of focusing exclusively on politics, because that cheapens the discussion.

What is exactly the traditional way of looking at marriage? It is quite simple. Marriage is that unique kind of friendship characterized by an organic, biological unity between sexually complementary beings; an actual unity that creates a single reproductive principle. You see, human beings are complete principles when they actualize other human goods such as digestion, locomotion, respiration, vision, audition and the like. But when it comes to reproduction, we are only half of a complete being. It is the unity of spouses that unites them organically as one what constitutes a marriage.

What about romantic love? Is romantic love what makes two people fit for marriage? No. Why not? First, romantic love is based on the emotions and emotions are very fleeting things that remain outside of the control of our reason. You cannot base a relationship with another on what is outside of your control. That is simply lying to the other. What are you promising? To care as long as you feel?

Caring? You see, there are other kinds of friendship that no one believes marry people to each other and are based on caring deeply for others. All of us have multiple acquaintances, some friends, and a few intimate friends. The closer the relationship is, the less number of people we can relate to because intimacy requires a degree of effort and time that we cannot offer to the many. I can have friends with whom I share thoughts, time, emotional attachments, commitments, caring thoughts, a household, and even common goals for the future and still I am not married to them. Caring is so important but it is not the basis for marriage.  These activities, attitudes, and decisions do not offer unique characteristics that define a marriage, as they are common to the general concept of “intimate friends.” In other words, emotion cannot become the basis of marriage as it is fleeting and caring is an important and essential aspect of friendship in general, thus lacking any unique and constitutive feature.

Traditionally, we have distinguished only one kind of friendship that is so intimate that it allows only a pair, and that is heterosexual marriage. That relationship is so unique that it blends organically two beings into one in actualizing an important human good that is naturally possible only in that relationship: the good of reproduction. Organic, biological unity becomes the matrix distinguishing this relationship from any other.  That is what marriage is.

What some moderns tell us now is that we can call any other relationship marriage even when nothing particular and unique characterizes those relationships. It is as if I send you to the kitchen with a given task and something like the following ensues.

─“Bring me the coffee maker,” I say.

─“Here, take it.” You actually brought back a spatula and I look at you, amazed.

─ “No worries, we are now calling this a coffee maker” you retort.

─ “But this does not brew coffee,” I insist.

─ “Do not be so narrow minded, we can call the spatula whatever we decide to call it.”

The reality is that when we make marriage a social construct we are rationalizing our way into absurdity. When you go to the kitchen you can identify a coffee maker as the kind of thing that can actualize the brewing of a cup of coffee. You do not need to plug it first to see if it is a coffee maker to know what to bring to me, it is the kind of thing made for making coffee, even if, due to some defect, it might be unable at the moment (or permanently) to perform the task.  The same with marriage, it can be readily recognized as such only in heterosexual unions. What some do is to beg the question:

“People love someone, therefore they should be allowed to marry.”

For many people this seems sound when in effect is a logical error! If that were the case, I could marry my sister or my mother or my pet or multiple other persons. I love many people in my life, thus, love (however people choose to define it) is not a unique characteristic constitutive of marriage.

As marriage is intrinsically heterosexual, the state can call other relationships marriage with as much good reason as it were to pass a law saying that from now on all males are allowed to get pregnant. This is mere legal positivism where the existence and coherence of a law does not depend on any intrinsic reality behind the decree. If the law exist, then that is what is important, independently of any merits in the case or whether there is any moral, ethical, or even rational content to it.  That is exactly what we are seeing in our country today, we are told that there is a right to marry apart from the traditional understanding and we better simply get used to it. When one tries to discuss further, the discussion ends with appeals to the fact of the existence of such right. The attempt now  is to posit a law and close the case, as afterwards any attempt to change the law can be portrayed as an attempt to eliminate “rights.”