All of the talk about marriage hinges on this question; often, when we ask it simply and directly, the answer is halting, hesitant, and surprising. When we ask a question like this, we should try to approach it with genuine curiosity and a willingness to try to figure out the truth. Socrates, for one, was always asking questions in order to help others come to understanding. So let’s try approaching marriage with this form of philosophical questioning in mind.
Socrates: What is marriage?
Bob: It’s when you love someone and commit to live together and have a family.
Socrates: A man loves his mother, lives with her and is family with her: is that a marriage?Bob: No, no—marriage is when you love someone you’re not related to, and then you choose to become related.
Socrates: Like adopting a child?
Bob: No, not like adoption. The person you love is another adult.
Socrates: What do you mean by love?
Bob: A close, intimate relationship whereby you desire to unite with the other person completely; you share a home with that person; you want to have a family together.
Socrates: Oh, then you must mean a man and a woman.
Bob: No, I didn’t say that. A man and a man could do the same thing.
Bob: Two men or two women could love each other just like a man and a woman can. They can care for the other person before themselves, share deep communication, and adopt children together.
Socrates: Oh I thought you said that they unite “completely” and that they have a family “together.”
Bob: I did.
Socrates: But two men or two women cannot physically unite completely; it is impossible. Likewise, they cannot have children because they do not have the capacity.
Bob: Don’t be so crass. The two people can express their love sexually, that’s all I meant.
Socrates: But that’s not what you said. You said that married people unite completely. Now you’re saying that they only unite mostly—financially, socially. In which case, I’m not sure why that relationship should be considered special compared to other relationships. You can unite that way with many people; there’s no reason for friendship to be exclusive. Also, what about two sisters living together and taking care of a younger sibling with special needs? Are they married?
Bob: No, the point is that there are two adults in a sexual relationship who commit to live together and have a family together.
Socrates: Oh, so what’s crucial for marriage, you say, is that the two people are in a sexual relationship of some committed kind, though not a kind that necessarily brings about a union of their bodies. How do they have a family, by the way?
Bob: Often, one of the two people has children from another relationship.
Socrates: From a relationship with someone from the other sex…
Bob: Yes. Or the couple can adopt. Or they can go through the process of third-party reproduction.
Socrates: In which case, the child would not have a parent of one sex or the other.
Bob: All a child needs is two people who love them. It doesn’t matter what sex they are.
Socrates: But you would agree that every child has a biological mother and father, correct?Bob: Yes, I agree with that. That’s a simple fact.
Socrates: Are a father and a mother exactly the same? Are they interchangeable?Bob: Well…no, not exactly. They do seem to interact with children differently and there is more research out there now (http://www.paulraeburn.com/books/do-fathers-matter/) showing how important fathers are to the development of children.
Bob: Okay, I will think about this more. But I don’t think parenting qualities or skills is the issue. Let’s talk about that next time.