Michael Hanby on the “Brave New World” of same-sex marriage

Sometimes, other people are simply better at explaining the alleged “bigoted” philosophical opposition against same-sex marriage better than me. Published about a year ago, here are some highlights from Michael Hanby’s article at The Federalist, which should be read in its entirety, about the cultural assumptions that underlie the push for same-sex marriage.

The force with which an idea (same-sex marriage) has taken hold that is unprecedented in human history and unthinkable until yesterday, the speed at which it is sweeping aside customary norms, legal precedent, and the remnants of traditional morality is nothing short of breathtaking. That it should have achieved this feat thanks largely to sentiment, fashion, and the brute power of a ubiquitous global media, with so little real thought about its profound effect upon human self-understanding or its far-reaching practical implications, is more astonishing still. Though its power seems inexorable, we would do well nevertheless to exercise perhaps the last reserve of real freedom still available to us—the freedom to think about the true meaning of things—lest we be deceived about what this moment portends or caught unawares as it washes over us. For beneath the surface of this rising tide of ‘freedom and equality’ lies something very close to the brave new world of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian imagination.

Hanby is so very on the ball here. The meteoric rise of this “civil rights” issue is nothing short of remarkable, and the lack of vetting is indicative of the decline of Western civilization. For a society who once touted the use of reason in making law and public policy, to so readily abandon its application in the face a group of clever people asserting their agenda is merely the next step in “freedom,” “equality,” “civil rights” is disturbing of a nation that crafted something as ingenious, revolutionary and influential as the Bill of Rights.

To accept same-sex unions as ‘marriage’ is thus to commit officially to the proposition that there is no meaningful difference between a married man and woman conceiving a child naturally, two women conceiving a child with the aid of donor semen and IVF, or two men employing a surrogate to have a child together, though in the latter cases only one of the legally recognized parents can (presently) contribute to the child’s hereditary endowment and hope for a family resemblance. By recognizing same-sex ‘marriages’ the state also determines once and for all that ARTs (assisted reproductive technologies) are not merely a remedy for infertility but a normative form of reproduction equivalent to natural procreation, and indeed it has been suggested in some cases that ARTs are an improvement upon nature. Yet if this is true, it follows that no great weight attaches to natural motherhood and fatherhood and that being born to a father and mother is inessential to what it means to be human, or even to the meaning of childhood and family. These are not fundamentally ‘natural’ phenomena integral to human identity and social welfare but mere accidents of biology overlaid with social conventions that can be replaced by ‘functionally equivalent’ roles without loss.

Bingo! This paragraph encapsulates what we “bigots” vehemently oppose about same-sex marriage. It has nothing to do with what Adam and Steve or Mary and Eve do behind closed doors. It has everything to do with what it entails about the family in the eyes of culture and law. We just think it is highly foolish, as a society, to view and treat mothers and fathers as optional. That, social disaster probably will unfold from such a publicly accepted sentiment, i.e., more children growing up without either a mommy and daddy. There is a pretty substantial consensus of data that out of wedlock births correlate with poverty (here and here). And that’s not an insult to single parents — who most undoubtedly are doing the best they can for whatever reason they are raising a child alone — but an acknowledgement of what for millennia was obvious: A child’s life generally is invaluably enriched when he or she knows and lives with his or her biological parents and forever complicated, if not diminished, when one or both of those parents are taken away whether by divorce, death or even in more contemporary phenomena such as adoption and assisted reproductive technologies (surrogacy and in vitro fertilization). That’s what we are being unfairly dubbed as on the “wrong side of history” for. Plus, there’s always the fact we are even entertaining the idiocy of granting the state leeway to effectively determine and regulate what is family and how it’s created — although this, as Hanby also notes, is contradictory as the family existed and preceded the first state — sounds like the happy suicide of individual liberty.

Moving on, Handby continues to strike gold:

…worrisome is the fundamental anthropology—the philosophy of human nature—implicit in it (same-sex marriage and the practical policies to implement “equality)…And to declare that there is no difference between conceiving a child through procreation in a marriage and through the technology necessitated by same-sex unions is to say something definitive about what a child and the human being are, even if this goes unrecognized. Indeed it is all the more definitive the more it goes unrecognized.


To declare same-sex unions marriage and their technological ‘reproduction’ normative is essentially to reconceive the child not as a person but as an artifact. It is to deny that he is essentially the natural fruit of a love inscribed into his parents’ flesh; since love is now a mere emotion with no bearing on the meaning of the body, which has been relegated to the sub-personal realm of ‘mere biology.’ It is to deny that his being from his parents and having a lineage is deeply constitutive of his humanity or his personal identity; since the very notion of ‘lineage’ is confused by these new artificial combinations and since ‘mother’ and ‘father’ are merely names affixed to a social function which can be performed in creative new ways.  And it is to deny that he is his own being with inviolable dignity who cannot be manipulated or controlled; since it was a process of manipulation and control that brought him into being in the first place. The technological dominance of procreation asserts, contrary to the child’s true nature and to his parents’ unquestionable love for him, that a child is essentially a product of human making, an assemblage of parts outside of parts that are the parts of no real whole, whose meaning and purpose, as with all artifacts, reside not in itself but in the designs of its maker.

It’s this type of reasoning that leads people like Robert Oscar Lopez to conclude that surrogacy and other artificial reproductive industries is the new slave trade. That, the child, dehumanized, is commoditized to be bought and sold. The very fact that these practices have grown into multimillion dollar industries firmly suggests that this use of technology to trump biology is no longer the exception to the rule but is the rule. That Katy Perry, a pop culture icon and a role model to many, says she’ll make a child essentially because she wants one and can just demonstrates how children are thought of not as “created equal,” but as tacitly inhuman enough to be coaxed into the world due to the sufficient combination of whim and money. The recognition of same-sex marriage officially legitimizes it as normal and acceptable, and all of this, the playing God and playing parent, is simply abhorrent.

Of course, I expect the typical proponent of same-sex marriage to bristle and dismiss this insinuation as absurd and offensive, like they do with every principled “hey, wait a second” raised to halt their parade. Note, however, this taking offense doesn’t address the argument and deflects from what’s at issue: Should we redefine marriage, as a society, in such a way that makes familial biology irrelevant and enables the widespread creation and purchase of human beings as not only morally ok but good? If the same-sex marriage cause is so righteous, then its apologists should be able to utter a satisfying answer to this question that irks our liberalized American sensibilities without just resorting to red herring epithets of “bigot” about those who pose it.

Experience also tells me that there are proponents of same-sex marriage also will bring up the heterosexual couples, who for the reason of one of them being infertile, utilize surrogacy or IVF to have a kid. Why can’t two men and two women? In other words, I’m being marked as arbitrary.

Again, this criticism misunderstands several important details. The marriage debate, fundamentally, is the question about whether or not same-sex relationships are meaningfully different than opposite-sex relationships. Two classes, types, categories — or what have you — of relationships are subject to scrutiny here. I repeat: classes, types or categories. Therefore, misguided are the appeals to individual members or the parts of members within these classes, types or categories as having sway over the whole class, type or category. Whether or not some heterosexual couples choose to adopt or use artificial means to achieve pregnancy or if a person is impotent is irrelevant. Such reasoning is a fallacy of composition and subsequently a category error. For all intents and purposes, it’s like saying, because some apples in the barrel are orangish in color, then the whole barrel itself contains orange-colored apples, and due to these discolored apples, the company should ship all apples with oranges with the understanding they’re the same type of fruit. Likewise, the context of what’s being argued and proposed in Hanby’s article, my post here and mostly the issue at large is on the level of society and public policy making, not the realm of individual or relatively small groups of couples as exceptional cases. Referring to them misses the point whether or not we, as a society, ought to regularly utilize artificial reproductive technologies and make motherhood and fatherhood superfluous. Carve them into stone and institutionalize them.

Consequentially, as Hanby astutely points out in this “Brave New World” where people confuse apples with oranges:

Thus deprived of the desire or even the capacity to think about the true meaning of things, and unable to perceive the loss, people will not merely be susceptible to manipulation by sentimental platitudes and sophistic arguments—‘People shouldn’t be discriminated against based on who they are or who they love’—they will be eager for it.

The push for the same-sex marriage is not the cause of what Hanby describes but more likely a symptom. One of the crucial ways it became a political hot topic is because the sexual revolution has trivialized sex to the degree where the ability to procreate, the essence of marriage, has been so castrated from the form of human association to which it is unique, anything that can be construed under the nebulous notion of love rings of wedding bells. Same-sex unions naturally fit the bill. Logically speaking, so do polygamy, incest, pedophilia and bestiality, all of which further render successively marriage an even more meaningless and non-distinctive relationship. If the LGBT lobby is truly invested in civil rights and desires to be ineffectual on the traditional family and marriage, civil unions are the apt compromise.

That’s the “brave new world” we ought to live in,

Modus Pownens

P.S. As I have co-opted Handby’s incisive words, I urge you to read it in his intended context.


8 thoughts on “Michael Hanby on the “Brave New World” of same-sex marriage

  1. You already know my position on this, and on marriage in general, and, if I remember correctly, our difference of opinion is based on a much deeper foundation than the issue of same-sex marriage. So I’m not going to argue the point here again, but the whole discussion of procreation is an interesting one. To my thinking, I think we’ve gotten to a point of development where procreation no longer is for the of the survival of the species. Which would render the whole notion of having children as either a selfish one, or the unintended result of people having sex. I’m trying to think of whether the Bible has anything to say about the purpose of having children within a religious context and nothing is coming to me – and I don’t know if that’s because it’s not discussed or I just don’t remember…

    1. I agree to some extent that as a society we’ve entered into a “Brave New World” where as you say, “procreation no longer is for [sic] survival of the species.” Whether or not this is a good thing or is ineffectual is probably another area where you and I disagree. Procreation is always for the survival of the species, and viewing it as we’re stable, self-sustaining or too big to fail without acknowledging it as so in our courtships will most likely have repercussions.

      If you look at Western countries and I’m talking Europe, where the birth rate is low among the natives, you’ll find that the wave of Muslim immigrants’ birth rates as much higher. Estimates have Muslim becoming a sizable demographic over there sooner than later. I would take this as an example of where when we’ve taken Western, procreational-is-optional-view and stopped reproducing and procreating, it’s allowed for society to change. Same-sex marriage codifies this attitude. As a law influences culture, isn’t it possible marriage being redefined and carved into stone as inherently non-procreative going to ripple and permeate through society? I’m talking about increased out-of-wedlock births, more divorces, more children with multiple partners. If so, then I will think we will see lots of upheaval in society and bigger government in child-rearing and domestic life to sort of pick up the pieces in our lifetime. Just a private little bet between me and you.

      As for the Bible, I can’t think of a command in Leviticus mandating such a thing, but it’s definitely implied in other places. Verses about leaving your parents and “cleaving to your wife to become one flesh” and the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis about being “good” and “be fruitful and multiply” come to mind. It’s very complementary to the notion that when a man and a woman have coitus, they coordinate together to form a biological reproductive whole, i.e. “one flesh.”

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