At MarriageDebate, Eve Tushnet writes that the same-sex marriage debate should be viewed as (or through the matrix of) a clash of worldviews on what marriage is for. I agree with that, but I don't agree with how she framed the two worldviews. She writes:
In the first, and older, worldview, societies across the globe and down through the millennia have regulated and honored marriages in order to deal with the fact that intercourse makes babies....In this worldview, the differences between the sexes do matter; in the family, they matter a lot, much more sharply than they matter in most other social contexts....This worldview knows that children learn what a man is for, and what he can be expected to do, from their fathers; daughters of unwed fathers have a much harder time learning that they can expect loyalty and commitment from the men they sleep with. They have a much harder time learning how much they can ask of men....In this worldview, marriage is honored in large part because it is a responsibility. The focus of the marriage is tripartite: father, mother, and children.
The newer--very new--worldview arose first among opposite-sex couples... In the new worldview, marriage is regulated and honored because society and government want to reward people for being in committed, loyal pair-bond sexual relationships...The new worldview is unisex...In the new worldview, marriage is conceived primarily as a right, not an honor based on society's need for people to do their duty. The content of this right is discerned, as far as I can tell, by taking what marriage already is and stripping it of any reference to sexual difference and much of the reference to and orientation around childrearing.
There are at least three distinctions here that Eve blurs into one. On the one hand she argues that the difference in worldviews has to do with the importance of gender. I agree with this for the most part, except that I'd say the second view holds not that the sex difference doesn't matter, but rather that it's up to the individual and not society to decide how it matters. Another distinction that Eve discusses is that the first worldview holds marriage as an honor and the second as a right. I'll leave it to Eve to describe her own worldview, but I believe SSM should be honored as well for the same need of people to do their duty. SSM is about responsibility as well. It just recognizes that you have the same responsibility to a spouse regardless of her gender. You have the same responsibility to a child regardless of how he was born. With regards to rights, the main shift in worldview I see is that whereas historically parents, family, and/or the town may have chosen one's spouse, in the new worldview the individual has a right to choose his own spouse.
One of the largest distinctions Eve draws between the two worldviews is that the first centers on children, and the latter centers on the couple. My strongest objection to her framing is reserved for this aspect. Yes most SSM advocates recognize that there is more to marriage than just the children, but there is nothing new in this view [nor is this view necessary for SSM]. Marriage has traditionally been about more than just children. Hence marriages have not automatically disolved after the last child is raised. [The longer life expectancy, though, is something that has gradually changed]. Hence marriages that ended--through death or divorce--have still been considered marriages in the eyes of the law. This has been important for allocating property, another traditional purpose of marriage.
More importantly the childrearing aspect is still critical in the pro-SSM worldview. This worldview does not want to strip marriage of its reference to and orientation around childrearing. Rather it recognizes that with regards to children, it is the childrearing aspects of marriage that are vital and not the capacity for child producing. Again I don't see a focus on childrearing as being very new [although the role of the parents in raising the child has I believed gradually changed]. Hence it has been desirable for single parents to marry (or remarry) even when the children's other genetic parent was no longer around (either because of death or abandonment). The idea that it is difficult to raise children and even more difficult to do it alone is not new. There are a few new aspects with regards to how families may have children. In addition to procreation and past children, couples may now adopt children [the modern concept of adoption is new and quite different than say the old Roman concept] or use assisted reproductive technologies [although the concept of surrogate mother does appear numerous times in the Bible]. The emphasis on childrearing, though, is certainly not new.
So I disagree with Eve over what aspects of the pro-SSM worldview are new and what the view entails. I would be happy to defend this worldview. Namely that how gender functions should not be determined by the government, that the individual should choose his own spouse, and that marriage is helpful for childrearing and not just childmaking. I think it is important, though, to first understand what the view is and what it is not.