Zack Ford critiques Ryan T. Anderson:
Inherent in his definition of marriage is a concept Anderson refers to at times as the “comprehensive act,” his euphemism for when a man inserts his penis into a woman’s vagina and releases sperm to fertilize her egg…. Countless caveats are also required for Anderson to make this argument work. As for infertile couples, he claims, “It is the procreative nature of marriage” — whatever that means — “rather than the actual procreative results of individual marriages that explains government policy in this area.”
1.) The quotation Ford cites both changes the topic and belies the point he is trying to make. The “government policy” Anderson is speaking about is clearly the law, and just as we can’t write a law for each person in atomo, we can’t write laws for each married couple in atomo. We write laws based on the sort of thing that falls under the law, and all Anderson has to mean by “nature” in the quotation is “sort of thing”. Leaving aside the question whether marriage is in fact procreative, which Anderson is not trying to prove in the quotation, the statement he is making is as obvious as the claim that we don’t write one marriage law for Billy, another for Socrates, another for Sue, ad infinitum.
2.) Minimally, all “marriage is a procreative sort of thing” means is that we have a reasonable expectation of procreation following marriage, as most people do. That’s why the “first comes love, then comes marriage…etc.” kid’s rhyme makes sense in a way that that other kids rhymes don’t (“and the dish ran away with the spoon”). We might not expect kids to follow from the marriage of Frankie and Johnny, but Anderson wasn’t speaking about individual cases.
3.) Marriage is procreative because sex is. Ford would certainly balk at this claim, but his attempt to explain himself again belies his “whatever that means” dismissal of Anderson’s claim:
Anderson knows very little about sex, why anybody has it, how anybody has it, or just how deep, intimate, and meaningful it can be for any couple regardless of their chance of fertilizing an egg and regardless of their gender pairing.
And what if Frankie and Johnny have sex with neither of them finding it deep, intimate and meaningful? Whatever else you want to say about them, it would be ridiculous to take this as evidence against the claim that sex is a deep, intimate, and meaningful sort of thing.* But then why cite non-procreative sex as evidence against sex being a procreative sort of thing?
While the phrase “act of a procreative character” or some equivalent is crucial to most broadly traditional sexual ethics, no description of sex can avoid talking about it as “an act of _____ character”. Not every sex act ends in reproduction, or orgasm, or increased love or unity, but it would be nonsense to take these cases as showing that sex was, say, just as ordered to not having an orgasm as to having one.
4.) There are any number of ways to recognize that sex is procreative without conceding Anderson’s moral conclusions about homosexuality, birth control, gay marriage, etc. But Anderson’s arguments are actually simpler and more radical than Ford seems to recognize. Anderson, following George, is arguing that those incapable of acts of a procreative character can’t get married because they can’t have sex.** We can obviously speak of “gay sex” or “contraceptive sex” or “marital sex” but the adjective doesn’t have the same relation to the noun in all these cases. One can speak of a gas engine, a steam engine, and a half-finished engine, but this doesn’t give us three sorts of engines. Sometimes modifying a noun indicates or requires its absence.
5.) I’ll concede that there is a difference between biological and moral/ social questions, but trying to get this to do work in sexual ethics frequently sounds very strange. The social and biological dimensions of, say, eating are clearly different, but the full biological dimension is integral to the social considerations. One could spit out his whiskey after tasting it (as the guys at the distillery do) but you couldn’t share a drink in that way, or have dinner by following the analogous practice. Whatever the guy at the distillery is doing, it’s not drinking; and for analogous reasons whatever bulimics are doing isn’t eating. If you wanted to have a dinner party, you’re actually logically unable to invite bulimics, and there would be something ridiculous or cruel in doing so. Anderson’s arguments, which apply equally well to gay marriage or contraceptive marriage of forced marriage, are comparable to this.
*What I mean is that we take the sex itself as giving rise to the resulting intimacy, even if in some cases this doesn’t arise.
**Obviously, Ford would take this claim as beneath refutation or as the ultimate modus tollens. If this site had a following of even a modest size, I’d be swamped with troll comments and pictures with taglines like “Look! I’m not having sex!” For all that, small things in the beginning can grow large by the end – and if Anderson were to admit that the sorts of sex he critiques were divisions of a genus he’ll have to admit them as integral, whole, and morally proper species of a human act.