Philosophy and Homosexual Marriage

I have recently penned a piece on philosophy and abortion. In it I sought to show how one can make the pro-life case by appealing to classic philosophy, and long-standing philosophical concepts. That article can be found here:

In it I sought to take somewhat technical philosophical terminology and explain it in a way the average layman could understand. I then applied it to the issue of abortion. Here I wish to take some of the same concepts and apply it to the issue of marriage, and the debate over homosexual marriage. Let me repeat what I said in that earlier article in the next seven paragraphs:

Philosophers going as far back as Aristotle have spoken of predication, properties and the like. Predication very simply refers to the attributing of characteristics to a subject or a thing. What a thing is may have different properties or ways of being characterised.

For our purposes here I wish to speak of two basic predications, or predicates, which have been distinguished in intellectual history for nearly three millennia now. These two main predicates are the essential and the accidental. It is important to be clear about how these differ, since discussions about personhood and the like depend upon these distinctions.

In very simple fashion, let us define our terms this way:
-An essential predicate, attribute, or property is one that belongs to the very nature or essence of a thing. They are necessary and permanent properties of a thing.
-An accidental predicate, attribute, or property is a quality which is not an essential part of a thing’s essence. They are contingent and temporary properties of a thing.

Thus something which is essential is that which must be true of a thing. If that quality or characteristic is missing, then that thing or object no longer is or can be. As John and Paul Feinberg explain: “An essential characteristic is a quality that is part of the very essence of a thing. If that quality is lost, the thing ceases to exist. On the other hand, an accidental quality is one that is not part of a thing’s essence. It can be lost or gained without the thing ceasing to exist.”

So let’s flesh this out and start applying it to people. It is not hard to show how the two predicates are quite different:
-If we say that Socrates is a human being, we are saying something basic or fundamental about what kind of a thing Socrates is: this is an essential predication.
-If we say that Socrates is tall, we are saying something which is not fundamental or essential, but something that merely happens to be the case: it is an accidental predication.

There are plenty of accidental properties. The colour of your hair is one. A human being can have red hair or brown hair or black hair or blonde hair or no hair. It does not matter what the hair is like – that does not determine what a human being is.

A person can be left-handed or right-handed, or have no hands at all. But a human being still exists, regardless of the accidental predicates of one’s hands. Being male or female, thin or fat, short or tall, are also accidental predicates. These things can change or differ, but they do not make a human being any less human.

OK, now let’s relate this to the issue of homosexual marriage. My point is very simply this: marriage by its very nature and essence is about two people of different genders coming together. While marriage may have accidental predicates, such as the duration of the ceremony, the particular ages of the participants, whether it is a church wedding or not, and so on, its essential predicate is the one man/one woman requirement.

That is what makes marriage marriage. This gendered nature of marriage is its essential defining feature. Take away the two genders and you no longer have marriage. In the same way, take away three legs or three angles and you no longer have a triangle.

Simply redefining something does not change its ultimate reality. There is a famous story of this attributed to Abraham Lincoln. He asked the following question: “How many legs would a dog have if you called a tail a leg?” To the response “five,” Lincoln replied, “No, a dog would still only have four legs; calling a tail a leg does not make it so”.

It’s the same here. Marriage is still about a man-woman relationship. Calling homosexual marriage marriage does not make it so. It is just a rhetorical sleight-of-hand trick. But someone has just penned a piece on all this and he does such a good job of it that it is better to just let him speak.

I refer to Wallace Alcorn and his excellent article, “Same-sex marriage is a philosophical impossibility”. He notes how the activists are simply playing language games here: “If a triangle can have four sides and a circle can be square, then I guess red can be the new green and black can be called white. If these things were possible, then I guess two men living together and two women living together can be considered a marriage.”

He continues, “A red ball possesses the properties red and round. Calling a green round object or a red square object a red ball does not make it a red ball. Calling same-sex ‘marriage’ does not make it marriage.

“The universe in this philosophic consideration is marriage, which is — by its very definition and essence — the complementary wedding of male and female. Other properties of this particular can be health, ethnic, and intelligence. All such are non-essentials (the term is ‘accidentals’) and can vary greatly and still be marriage. This is so because these are either consistent with or indifferent to the essence of the universal. In contrast, same-sex by its very nature is dissonant and incongruous with the essence of marriage.

“Again in the taxonomy of philosophy, the accidental properties of a given marriage are irrelevant to its essence. They just happen to be present without being necessary. What is not an accidental property is an essential property. These are accidental properties but heterosexuality is an essential property when the universe is marriage. Again: a green ball is not a red ball precisely because the property red is absent.

“Without such essential properties as sex that is compatible and complementary, an alleged marriage simply is not marriage at all. Without this, the relationship might be beautiful and wonderful socially or even domestically — but it is not marriage.

“I have been reluctant to offer this line of reasoning, because following it requires some knowledge of the terms and categories of technical philosophy. (This, without also showing the invalidity of same-sex marriage by its violation of the laws of identity and contradiction.) But this dimension needs to be factored into any comprehensive consideration. It should be sufficient for some, then, to allow there is this factor even if they need to reread to follow it.

“Neither a male-male nor a female-female relationship has the essential — i.e., of the essence — property of male-female. Same-sex marriage is neither validated nor created. It is metaphysically impossible. So to think is a logical fallacy; so to speak is semantic nonsense.”

Quite so. I can go on all day long and declare that the Australian football team which won the AFL Grand Final yesterday was in fact the Geelong Cats. But no amount of blustering on my part will change the reality: the Sydney Swans won yesterday.

And no amount of blustering or bullying by the activists can ever change the fact that marriage by definition and essence is a heterosexual institution.  They can play their little semantic games all they like, but reality remains reality.

[1304 words]

17 Replies to “Philosophy and Homosexual Marriage”

  1. Dear Bill, I have just read in a Catholic magazine a statement from Rome in 2003 about same sex civil unions. They basically back up what you have been saying, they also have direct instructions for Catholics, especially Catholic politicians. Unfortunately some of those politicians have seen to ignore the teachings of the Bible. Keep up the good work.
    Regards, Franklin Wood

  2. I guess as we are in a Post Modern Society truth is in the eye of the beholder. So what you say maybe right but as it does not agree with what I want to be truth then you are wrong to force your veiws on me. But then the gay lobby is forcing their veiws on us. Why do we have a law which says in Australia we all drive on the left side of the road. Well it is for safety and order. Just having same sex marriage so some people can be happy does not make it right. Maybe having marriage between a man and a woman has some safety and order for society as well. The do what feels good for me society is going to cause heaps of problems. As you mention elsewhere about the Booths and Wilberforce if they had not stood up and be counted one wonders where we would be now.

    David Lawson

  3. Bill, if I were to play the devils advocate, I would say that gender is not an essential predicate. Might the essential predicate may be two people to the exclusion of all others for life? Just want to cover all bases.

    Will Taylor

  4. Thanks Will

    Of course marriage has never been about merely “two people to the exclusion of all others for life”. It has always been about two people of the opposite sex to the exclusion of all others for life. Otherwise homosexuals could marry, or two brothers, or a father and daughter, and so on. So the gender requirements is absolutely essential to what marriage is.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  5. “He notes how the activists are simply playing language games here.”

    The sooner we realize how homosexual activists have hijacked language and use Orwellian double speak to control the culture, the more people will see how they are being deceived by them and will wake up!

    Jason Salamone

  6. Hi David. You said “I guess as we are in a Post Modern Society truth is in the eye of the beholder. So what you say maybe right but as it does not agree with what I want to be truth then you are wrong to force your views on me.”
    I think that would be a typical PM comment uttered by many resulting from a mind-set that is conditioned by Post modernism. But, I take it you are not endorsing it from your following comments!

    In terms of marriage, I’m sure that as Christians we must insist on what Bill reveals that some philosophers appear to have discovered that there is an ‘essential property’ of marriage – i.e. the male female ingredient, and without which there can be no genuine marriage.
    But our insistence is not based on philosophical presuppositions, correct though they are in the examples Bill cites, but rather on the firmer ground of what Scripture says. Thus the male/female gender element must be essential on the basis of Genesis 2:27,28, and what Jesus himself says in Mark 10 about the creation order – i.e.exclusively heterosexual. And we can argue this quite confidently as our apologetic for basic truth about gender and marriage.
    Incidentally, and returning to the falsity of post-modernism which is highly subjective and rejects moral or other absolutes – there is a superb comment on all of this in Douglas Groothuis’s book, aptly named ‘Truth Decay’. Excellent riposte to post modernism and a better defence of the biblical concept of ‘truth’ I have yet to see.

    Graham Wood, UK

  7. “How strangely will the Tools of a Tyrant pervert the plain Meaning of Words!” – Samuel Adams

    Considering how long ago he wrote that, he certainly knew tyranny.

    Ian Nairn

  8. Everything you have said about marriage as a concept is true unfortunately the supporters of gay ‘marriage’ are only interested in having the political power to push through the legislation. And that is what has to be denied them otherwise we will all be subjected to totalitarian ‘gay law.’
    Alan Williams

  9. The 1 thing that distinguishes marriage from all other relationships is of course the sexual act. God put it in the middle of marriage and put a strong fence of commitment and fidelity around it.
    There is a term borrowed from the creation argument that also describes the unchangeability very well, “irreducible complexity”.
    In response to the comment about truth being relative, try to suggest that you will give change to a purchaser of goods according to your fancy and not according to the rules of mathematics and watch them squirm.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  10. Here is another thought – no doubt not original.
    Your idea about an essential predicate, and accidental predicate, could actually be the answer to defining what are, and are not, ‘basis human rights’.
    We were told in Canberra recently that many good Christian young people now see s-s m as a human right.
    The person telling us this was asking for ways to explain to them why it was not a human right.
    I have long pondered how to explain the difference between real ‘human rights’ and perceived human rights because people keep trying to add things to the list including those pushing for s-sm.
    If we can clearly define the essential predicates for what constitutes basic human life – they then become the sole guide for an individuals ‘human rights’.
    Being a part of a couple of any ‘type’, could never be described as an essential predicate.
    Clearly, marriage is not even a basic human right for heterosexuals – but this might give us a way to explain that.
    Or am I delusional because, as David rightly says, truth does not exist today!!
    Peter Stokes

  11. Franklin, I sent a copy of the document you mentioned – “Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons” to the politicians (who state their faith as being Catholic) in the Federal Parliament prior to the vote on SSM.
    Madge Fahy

  12. Bill, on holiday Mondays the pedant in me rises – I believe the correct word is complementary (with an e)

    May you continue to be the salt and the light,

    Rob Pollnitz

  13. Thanks Rob

    Hey I did not write that bit – Alcorn did! But I take your point and will make the change. Thanks again,

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  14. That’s a thought, what if some people really believed they should be able to drive on the other side of the road?? Would I be called a bigot if I said I didn`t believe they should be allowed to?
    I`m just glad that with all the ideas and examples we can find to help us in our publications, we have The Scriptures, and it`s here that we find all we need to help us defend against the darkness.
    Thanks David Lawson, and thanks Bill.

    Johannes Archer

  15. I guess the essential components are all there at birth. This leads me to the argument, is homosexuality a choice or are you born with it as some recent add seems to suggest when they compare it with being left handed. Of course, as far as I know, the radical homosexuals reject the idea of being born that way, so logically it is not an essential component. They try to have it both ways and due to the diminishing, mental faculties both in parliament and the rest of society, they quite often get away with it, because not many people know how to expose their lack of logic.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  16. We don’t need this whole rhetoric at all. Quite simply God created Adam and Eve first, not Adam and Steve.

    God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden by marrying together Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve or Eve and Esther so therefore ends the totality of the argument for same sex marriage.

    The Gays say it is about ending discrimination knowing that it is a total lie. It is about justification and rationalization of an immoral lifestyle choice.

    Well I have news for them even with a change to the marriage act it will not change the basic truth that their choice of lifestyle will still be immoral.

    What these proponents call as love is not truly love but more like lust and an inability to fulfill a full heterosexual relation and all the underlying principals of a marriage.

    Social recognition and acceptance is not going to change the truth one iota their lifestyle will forever remain immoral.

    As God stated I am an unchangeable God, I will be the same tomorrow as I am today and I will continue to be the same God in the future as I am tomorrow. God has nowhere in my knowledge changed these truths to account for times and present circumstances otherwise it would not be truth because all truth is ultimate and will never change regardless of time and circumstances.

    What was true yesterday must be true today and what is true today must still remain true tomorrow and into the future. True is eternal from all Eternity to Eternity must so ever remain. No ifs, buts or exceptions.

    Leigh Stebbins

  17. Regarding Peter Stokes’ question about how to define basic human rights. If the audience is Christian then the answer is simple. Rights are not given to us by man but by God and He nowhere gives anyone the ‘right’ to indulge in sin. Since God clearly prohibits homosexual practice, how could any Christian think that homosexual ‘marriage’ should be considered a “human right”? The idea is absurd and clearly the product of secular thinking not biblical thinking.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

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