A Secular Argument for Traditional Marriage.
Foreword: This post has a very specific goal, and I hope my readers will accept it on those terms, rather than faulting it for being less than comprehensive (I do not address every side of the marriage debate). Blogs are not the place to be comprehensive. My purpose is to offer an argument for traditional marriage without appealing to the Bible. My reason for doing so is that I’ve heard claims recently that it cannot be done. I disagree (obviously). I do not mean to imply, by avoiding the Bible, that the book is irrelevant to the discussion. Rather, I’m trying to offer a challenge to those who reject the Bible outright, or to those who support a strong separation of church and state.
Disclaimer: This argument is somewhat long and complex, so I have put it in the form of an outline. I have not provided evidence for each individual proposition (again, this is a blog post, not a book), but I believe such evidence could be easily found. I would be happy to defend any point of the argument that you have doubts about. Simply leave a comment or message, and hopefully we can begin a conversation that leads to mutual understanding and learning, as should always be the goal in these sorts of debates.
Proposition 1: The desire for sex is a powerful motivator.
Proposition 2: Sexual desire powerfully shapes human behavior and beliefs.
Proposition 3: The desire for sexual titillation can motivate great good.
Proposition 4: The desire for sexual titillation can motivate great evil (Note: I realize that some are uncomfortable with terms like good and evil. Please bear with them, recognizing that a blog post affords little opportunity for one to define terms with the precision expected in a more academic setting.)
Thesis #1: Sexual norms and taboos play a big part in determining whether a person will seek sexual titillation through altruistic or deviant means. (I will attempt to demonstrate this later)
Proposition 5: If society, by its norms and taboos, necessitates certain behaviors prior to sex, most individuals will comply.
Proposition 6: If society allows sexual fulfillment to be obtained freely, without requiring any sort of positive behavior in return, that positive behavior will become less common.
Summary #1 (I realize this format could become mentally taxing, so I want to pause 100 words and put everything in plain English before I continue the argument): I am arguing that men and women will do what they need to do to find sexual fulfillment. Desire is powerful. It is raw energy. As such, it has motivated some of our greatest achievements, and also some of our most horrific atrocities. Think of all the industries that wouldn’t exist if we weren’t constantly trying to make ourselves attractive sexual partners (e.g. the beauty industry or the high-end car industry). The fact is, sex motivates behavior, but precisely which behaviors it motivates depends largely on the social norms that constrain it. If a society says that only people of a certain physique are sexually attractive, for example, that physique will become more common. Imagine a hypothetical example: Suppose an alternate world somehow imposed (and could enforce) a law requiring a man to donate $100 to a charity every time he had sex. In such a world, donations to charity would see a dramatic rise. Imagine another world where a man could only have sex after stealing $100 from a charity. Obviously, that world would run out of charities almost immediately. Sex powerfully motivates human behavior, and sexual norms determine what behaviors are being motivated.
Back to the argument:
Proposition 8: There is an economy of sex (by which I mean, “economic rules of supply, demand, and scarcity apply to human sexual behavior”).
Proposition 9: So, if sex is difficult to obtain, individuals will pay a higher price for it. This price may be monetary (e.g. prostitution or fancy dates), but it may also come in many other forms (e.g. willingness to buy products to boost one’s image, working out to become more attractive, learning to play guitar to impress a girl, offering commitment, etc.)
Proposition 10: If sex is easy to obtain, individuals will pay a lower price for it (They will be less willing to jump through hoops, because those hoops will be unnecessary).
Proposition 11: Thus, if sex is easy to obtain (if it is offered on every street corner), it becomes a much less powerful motivator for human behavior, because over-abundance turns any good into a commodity. Every economist knows that commodities create a flat market. Nobody values a thing that is easily obtained anywhere.
Summary #2: Everyone has multiple avenues by which to pursue sexual fulfillment and we all choose to follow certain avenues for fulfillment and not others. This decision (over which avenue to pursue) may depend on a variety of factors. An individual’s willingness to pay (WTP) for any given avenue of sexual fulfillment will depend largely on the availability of sexual fulfillment by other means. Allow me to illustrate this: Imagine a world where women outnumber men 10 to 1. In that world, women would bend over backwards to win a man’s attention, and men would generally take women for granted (this is basic supply and demand). Return now to our imaginary world from earlier–the one where a man must donate $100 to charity in order to have sex. Suppose that sex suddenly becomes much more widely available. The man can suddenly find sexual fulfillment through many alternative means (pornography could be a good example). As a result, fewer men would be willing to donate the $100 for sex. Charity money would dry up. The more widely available the sexual alternatives become, the fewer men would be willing to pay the old price. The price may drop to $60, $30, or $20 before men would return to their previous behavior patterns. My point is simply that the laws of supply and demand apply to sexual behavior. Of course, this may sound crass to some, who are not used to seeing the world through this lens. They will object that people have sex based on love, rather than based on supply and demand. I do not deny that love and sex go together, and I am not talking about prostitution when I refer to dollar figures. Rather, I am trying to establish what any economist would see as glaringly obvious: that people value something more highly if it is more difficult to obtain, and sex is not exempt. Economics has been used to describe a wide variety of human behaviors, and I’m not doing anything new by applying it to sex, though some are probably unfamiliar with the concept. Check out this article, from Christianity Today, where a sociologist does the same thing.
Now let us continue:
Proposition 12: Sexual norms have loosened in the last 50 years.
Proposition 13: Pornography has become much more widespread in the last 50 years.
Proposition 14: As a result of #12 and #13, sex has become much more widely available to the average individual.
Proposition 15: As a result of #14, the market price of sex has dropped. American’s are less willing to alter their behavior in order to obtain sex than they were in the past.
Proposition 16: Women are not able to demand as much in exchange for sex as they could in the past (again, I am not simply talking about prostitution here. Women can’t expect chivalry, commitment, fancy dates, or marriage to the degree that they once could), because men will overlook such women and turn to various alternatives.
Proposition 17: A woman cannot expect a man to commit his whole life to her before giving sex.
Proposition 18: Women cannot expect a man to provide for any children that result from sex, at least not to the degree that she could in the past (of course, I’m talking in broad terms about statistically demonstrable social trends. There are individual exceptions aplenty).
Proposition 19: Marriage has declined by about 30% in the last 50 years.
Thesis 2: This decline is related to the falling market value of sex. Individuals are no longer required to marry in order to find sexual fulfillment, so they have less incentive to marry, so they marry less frequently.
Summary #3: The prevalence of sex, both through pornography and through the loosening of sexual norms, has led to a decline in the willingness to pay for sex. Men no longer need to commit their whole lives to a woman (marriage) in order to sleep with her, and she can no longer demand that he do so (nor does she necessarily want to, which is, to a degree, a product of our loosening social norms). Men demand sex, and they are not willing to change their behavior very drastically in order to obtain it, because the market is saturated with sex. It has become a commodity. There is very little social stigma about obtaining sex through alternative means, so the whole market for sex has plummeted.
Proposition 21: Marriage is beneficial to society.
Proposition 22: Until recently, social norms required individuals to marry prior to having sex.
Proposition 23: Thus, most individuals in the past got married much younger, and they got married at much higher rates.
Proposition 24: Thus, in the past, children were much more likely to be born into a home with both parents present.
Fact 1: In the last 50 years, the percent of children living without a father has tripled from 11 to 33 percent.
Thesis 3: The increase in children living without fathers is largely a result of loosening sexual norms.
Proposition 25: On average, children raised with fathers in the home do better in almost every measurable or quantifiable way.
Proposition 26: Marriage is the first line of defense for children. Marriage is the basis of the family, and the family is the most effective institution for keeping children safe from the myriad of perils that abound in the world.
Proposition 27: No society has ever come up with a better institution for the raising of children than the family, founded on a good marriage.
Proposition 28: Historically, there is a strong correlation between loosening sexual norms and a breakdown of society. See J. D. Unwin, Sex and Culture, an anthropologist who studied 86 civilizations with regard to sexual norms.
Summary #4: The growing prevalence of sexual alternatives has led to a society in which marriage is unnecessary for the purpose of obtaining sex, and thus, marriage is on the decline. One of the primary benefits marriage brings to society is the raising of healthy children. Sexual norms elevate the market value of sex, increase the prevalence of marriage, and penalize men who have sex without first committing to raise any children that come from the union. Sexual norms, further, penalize husbands who abandon their families, penalize alternative expressions of sexuality, and as a result, increase the likelihood that a man will pursue sex in a way that benefits society.
Proposition 29: Single mothers have a difficult time supporting their children, especially when compared with mothers who have a dedicated husband’s help.
Proposition 30: Children raised by single mothers are much more likely to live below the poverty line.
Proposition 31: Strong sexual norms, therefore, in reducing the likelihood that children will be raised without fathers, also help reduce child poverty.
The home stretch:
Proposition 32: Society ought to regulate the sex market, removing cheap alternative forms of sexual fulfillment, so that individuals (especially men) must pursue sexual fulfillment in a way that benefits society (i.e. through marriage).
Proposition 33: Society ought to reduce the availability of pornography. Pornography not only harms children directly (the average age of exposure is at about 10 yrs. old), but it disincentivizes healthy marriages and devalues sex.
Proposition 34: Society ought to encourage healthy sexual norms and taboos, which require men to find sexual fulfillment in ways that benefit society. Thus, adultery, fornication, bestiality, prostitution, homosexuality, and divorce all should be discouraged.
Addressing Homosexuality in particular (please don’t read this until you have understood the preceding arguments):
Proposition 35: Social subsidization of homosexual relationships will, on average, pull men away from heterosexual marriages. Social taboos against homosexual relationships will, on average, push men towards heterosexual marriages (Historically, this has incontrovertibly been the case).
Fact 2: The average male homosexual partner earns about $75k a year in income, which is more than three times the average earned by single mothers.
Proposition 37: A world with stronger sexual norms would require men to marry in order to have sex. Thus, many of these single mothers would quickly find suitors, who would then help them raise their children. Fewer children would be fatherless, because men would have greater motivation to father their children.
Proposition 37: Homosexuality is a means of sexual titillation that offers no direct benefit to society. At its best, it is neutral, causing neither harm nor good. At its worst, it loosen sexual norms, increases the available alternatives to marital sex, and pulls men away from women, thus reducing the market price of sex, especially for women, which as I’ve shown, is bad for children.
Proposition 38: Beyond this, I have little interest in targeting homosexuality in particular. It is, according to this argument, harmful in the same way that other forms of sexual looseness are harmful. I would not be singling out homosexuality in the first place, except that it is the item on the list of sexually alternative practices which is currently being debated. I would be just as happy to have this same reasoning applied to any other item on that list. Pornography, for example, is something that perhaps all parties to the debate could agree we should reduce.
Concluding Summary: The predominant American view is that human sexuality is primarily for the benefit of the individual or couple. We think: As long as I’m not harming anyone else, what business is it of others to tell me how I find sexual fulfillment?
The problem with this highly individualistic view is that sexuality, and sexual norms, up until now, have been the glue that holds marriages, and thus society, together. Sex is not simply for personal fulfillment or personal expression. Sex leads to procreation, is affected by the laws of supply and demand, shapes beliefs, and carries heavy responsibilities. Sexual looseness has led to an increase in unwanted pregnancy (and thus abortions), an increase in STD’s, a reduction in marriage, an increase in divorce, and a dramatic increase in fatherlessness and single parent homes.
We may debate the finer points of how to construct a good society, but we should not uncritically assume that sexual liberation is unquestioningly good. One should not assume that sexual expression does not affect others. The current debate will have no little amount of gravity for future generations. Social evolution has favored societies with strong sexual norms; one should wonder why. Europe, which has become more sexually loose than America, has seen a breakdown in marriage that is a continuation of our own present course. European society has suffered greatly as a result, on a number of statistically demonstrable levels. We would be wise to check our own assumption that sexuality can exist simply as a means of personal fulfillment, rather than as an interconnected web that touches every part of society.
P.S. I apologize sincerely if anyone has found anything offensive here. I realize that this is a very sensitive subject. I do not dislike my SSA brothers and sisters in any way. I am speaking of behaviors, rather than people. I hope you have done your best to understand me as I mean to be understood, which is to say, I hope that you have not deliberately (or subconsciously) twisted my words or to read them in a light more negative than is required by the words themselves.