Marriage and the Metaphysics of Bodily Union: Framing the Same-Sex Marriage Debate

Social Theory and Practice 39 (2):288-312 (2013)
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One current line of argument against the legalization of same-sex marriage, advocated primarily by the New Natural Lawyers, is that marriage is a pre-political institution that has, as an essential element, a bodily union requirement. They argue that same-sex couples cannot realize bodily union in their sexual activities and thus cannot meet the structural requirements of marriage. Accordingly, they argue that the same-sex marriage debate must be framed as a debate about what marriage is, and not, as it was in the anti-miscegenation precedents, about who can get married. I argue that their position, which promulgates a set of pernicious stereotypes about same-sex couples, is, first of all, internally inconsistent. According to their own metaphysical principles about bodily union, they provide no rational basis for the claim that same-sex couples cannot realize bodily union and thus that same-sex couples cannot be married. Second, I argue for a deflationary account of the significance of bodily union. While same-sex couples, like heterosexual couples, can realize bodily union, this sort of union has no moral significance and thus cannot be the factor that distinguishes marriages from other sorts of relationships. Finally, I suggest that they have no basis for their claims about the inferiority of same-sex relationships.



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Rebekah Johnson
University of California at Riverside

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