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The Logic of Marriage

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Mar 18, 2005

Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide is supporting legal recognition for same-sex marriages. This would be good, he says, "so that people can be properly protected in their rights." He argues that laws should be carefully phrased so that same-sex unions will not be construed to be the same as marriage, but "we are living in a time of change" in which same-sex couples deserve legal protection for the same rights as married couples for inheritance, health care, and retirement benefits.

One wonders how someone capable of this sort of logic can become a bishop. There are no natural rights to the kinds of benefits married couples enjoy with respect to inheritance, health care and retirement. Quite the contrary, these benefits have been conferred by positive law precisely because marriage provides an important service to society which it is in the State's interest to facilitate.

The difficulty of making "rights" the foundation for social theory is becoming increasingly obvious. Some alternative theories provide a necessary corrective by focusing on duties. For example, the right to life exists precisely because life has an intrinsic value so great that all men have a corresponding duty to conserve, protect and defend it. Other basic or true rights are similarly related to corresponding moral imperatives.

But rights are now commonly perceived as recipes for personal entitlement. Any good that one person possesses and another lacks is proclaimed a right, quite apart from the attendant moral imperatives. To take the present case, there is a moral imperative on the part of society to support marriage because marriage is critical to social health. For this reason, married couples have a general (though imprecise) claim on the State. They have, if you will, a general right to special consideration. The particular benefits which the State may confer on married couples, however, are not rights, and they are certainly not the rights of the unmarried, who have no claim to this special consideration.

Presumably, conferring the legal benefits of marriage on same-sex couples would lead others to construe same-sex unions to be equal to marriage in their benefit to society. Was the Professor in The Chronicles of Narnia thinking of seminaries when he said, half to himself, "Logic! Why don't they teach logic at these schools?"

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