A paper by Robert George, Sherif Girgis, and Ryan Anderson (H/T) seeking to defend the moral propriety of restricting marriage to heterosexuals, is making the rounds in right-ward circles.
I don't think it's particularly impressive. For a piece that purports to provide a positive case for the intrinsically heterosexist quality of marriage, its positive case is remarkably thin -- solely occurring in Part I.B, pp. 252-259, and effectively only in Part I.B.1, pp. 253-255. That argument, claiming that only generative sex can provide a truly comprehensive "bodily union", seems to be a recycled and cross-applied version of the arguments John Finnis made to argue that homosexual sex was intrinsically immoral -- an argument that I think was definitively shredded by Catholic legal scholar Michael Perry over a decade ago.* (The other two arguments contained in Part I.B are scarcely worth mentioning. George's claims in I.B.2 regarding the intrinsic superiority of heterosexual marriage over gay marriage as an environment for rearing children are on the margins of the relevant literature in the field. And I.B.3 is a less-than-one-page blip that tosses out some disconnected rhetoric on "marriage norms" that, by the author's own admission, are dependent on accepting the points made previously in the section.).
Returning to the Perry/Finnis discourse, it's notable, I think, how this debate does seem to be reprising similar ones over whether the state can morally proscribe homosexual conduct -- a debate that raged hot and heavy until approximately 9 months after Lawrence v. Texas. Once that case came down and the requisite fulmination about "activist judges" had subsided, the moral case for outlawing sodomy effectively died -- virtually nobody, not even virulent gay rights opponents, is willing to admit they want to recriminalize sodomy in the United States.
However, I don't think the function of George's argument is to persuade. That isn't to say that he doesn't believe what he wrote, or that many others don't agree with him. But I highly doubt that there is anybody who started sympathetic to marriage equality, who will be remotely convinced by George's argument.
The function of George's argument, in conservative circles, is to restore the question's status as one of reasonable disagreement. A considerable chunk of the conservative movement, privately, has no problem with gay rights. They may oppose gay marriage as a matter of political expedience, but once it becomes reality (and it will, slowly, fitfully, but inexorably), they don't expect the sky to fall. It is a closer cousin to sodomy than abortion in this respect -- once the battle is won, the issue will die. And they know this. They know where the nation is headed. They can't expect this to be a live issue in 50 years.
These people know they're on the wrong side of history. And yet, they still have to sleep at night, knowing who they've crawled into bed with (so to speak). And that's where Professor George comes in. He makes this issue look like something complicated -- a question upon which it is reasonable to expect some folks to be mistaken. There is no shame in being wrong about such an issue, after all. We expect a considerable chunk of the population to get hard questions wrong. It's not a moral failing. And consequently, there is no moral failing in allying with such people. It'd be akin to disowning an early 20th century scientist for initially doubting Einstein.
Of course, the issue really isn't that complicated. Professor George's argument is, as one commenter put it, "trying, desperately, to find some way, any way to overcome the naturalistic fallacy ... and of course, failing." There is a lot of totemic hand-waving towards this idea of "bodily union", but it is an argument which lies on a precariously thin reed of "biological compatibility" -- a naturalistic fallacy if there ever was one, and the style of argument that, as noted, Perry had long-since dismantled.
To my conservative friends who think that George's article will give them cover for their dalliances with the merchants of discrimination -- will shield them from the harsh judgment of history's gaze -- know this: it won't. This issue will not be seen as one of reasonable disagreement whose ultimate answer was, by the year 2010, still in doubt. This issue will be seen as the premier civil rights challenge of our times. And the enablers of the old, discriminatory ethos will be found guilty. Mark my words on that.
* Michael J. Perry, The Morality of Homosexual Conduct: A Response to John Finnis, 9 Notre Dame J. L. Ethics & Pub. Pol'y 41 (1995).
UPDATE: Vice President Joe Biden just said it is "inevitable" our nation will eventually reach a consensus in favor of gay marriage, and, following DADT repeal, mentioned DOMA as the likely next piece of the anti-gay agenda to fall. An interesting statement, given that then-Senator Biden was among the "yea" votes for the Defense of Marriage Act when it originally passed in 1996.