Note: This article was submitted to Ethika Politika by a graduate student in the midst of professional review. It is posted anonymously by request, and because of other very specific circumstances. Such anonymous posting is not our normal practice.

gay-marriage-fairHomosexual rights advocates often claim that restricting marriage to heterosexual couples is unfair; that if everyone had equal rights, homosexuals would be able to marry each other as well. If we look at the different ways to define marriage, however, we can see that the definition often proposed by gay marriage proponents is arbitrary, taboo-ridden, and prejudicial—in fact, it is unfair.

First of all, let's clear the ground for the debate. Not every group of people (or individual, for that matter) qualifies for marriage. It's not just any relationship; it has to be restricted in some way. We can safely start with the assumption that everyone in the debate wants to say that the relationship of marriage is freely consented to (no one is trying to fight for coerced marriages), loving (since “love” is often the reason cited by people who want to marry), exclusive (so far no one is arguing that people should be able to have multiple marriages), and committed (a one-night stand doesn't seem to qualify as a marriage). Since these conditions come up often, I'll use the abbreviation FLEC to stand for freedom, love, exclusivity, and commitment.

So, we can restrict marriages to FLEC relationships. But not even every FLEC relationship qualifies for marriage: think of Mulder and Scully, Bruce Wayne and Alfred, or the Five-0 task force. It seems as though sex also has to be part of the relationship for it to qualify as marriage material.

Now, sex is a complicated thing, but don't worry—we can break down FLEC sexual relationships into two major kinds: baby-making relationships (in which people engage in the kind of risky behavior that could land them with a son or daughter), and pleasure-making relationships (in which people engage in fun sexy time). Of course, lots of sexual relationships will be both baby-making and pleasure-making. Probably most. And many people involved in baby-making behavior won't actually end up with a baby; after all, a woman is actually infertile for most of her prime baby-making years. And pleasure-making behavior might not always be fun for each person involved. But we can still easily distinguish between the type of behavior that creates babies, or pleasure, or both.

Given that marriage has to do with sexual relationships, and given that we can sort sexual relationships into baby-making and pleasure-making, let's take a look at the types of relationships that could qualify for marriage. Traditionally, marriage was restricted to baby-making FLEC relationships. A more loose and free perspective would restrict marriage to pleasure-making FLEC relationships. The third way is a compromise between the first and second, and restricts marriage to only certain pleasure-making FLEC relationships. A lot of people are adopting this compromise and arguing that we should allow marriage for both heterosexuals and homosexuals, but only in certain conditions. I'm claiming that these conditions are unfair and unjustified—and that if we don't want to accept the loose restrictions, we should go back to the traditional restrictions. Why? Let's look at each of the restrictions.

The traditional restrictions of marriage are tied to baby-making relationships. For a human sexual relationship to be naturally baby-making, one human guy and one human girl are needed. Anyone else would just be providing extra decoration or fun, or starting a second baby-making relationship, but not adding to the original baby-making relationship. So, the traditional restrictions of marriage copy this by allowing only two people, a guy and girl, same species, to get married. A few extra restrictions come into play because some baby-making activity is dangerous for the girl, guy, or baby—a teenage girl could get badly damaged during labor, and the reproduction of close relatives is notoriously bad for the resultant babies, so underage and incestuous marriages aren't allowed. But in general, the traditional view restricts marriage to non-dangerous baby-making FLEC relationships—and obviously, only a heterosexual couple can meet these standards.

How about if we restrict marriages to pleasure-making FLEC relationships? This is our second option, and allows a lot more variety in the kind of relationships we can call marriage. Actual baby-making behavior only comes in a few flavors, and there are many more ways that people can give each other intense sexual pleasure. Two girls can qualify for a pleasure-making relationship, as can two guys. But why stop at two? Pleasure-making activity can be engaged in by an indiscriminate number of people. And why stop at people? Add a horse, or a hamster, as long as the relationship is still FLEC (though I seriously doubt it is, for hamsters). If no baby-making activity is going on, we can also remove the restrictions we placed on underage and incestuous FLEC marriages, since they were only dangerous if a baby showed up. This looser option lets us restrict marriage to non-dangerous pleasure-making FLEC relationships, and lets many different groups qualify for marriage: a teenaged lesbian couple; a dad, son, and family dog (if dogs can have FLEC relationships); five men and one woman; three women and their (sterilized) father; and so on.

Finally, the third way to restrict marriage, which has much popular appeal today, is a compromise between the first two. It isn't limited to baby-making relationships, but it keeps some of the restrictions that are natural to baby-making relationships and smacks them down as rules (for no good reason) on pleasure-making relationships. Typically, a defender of this third view (let's call him Joe) argues that marriage should be for non-dangerous pleasure-making FLEC relationships between heterosexual or homosexual couples. But Joe also claims that polygamous, inter-species, incestuous and underage FLEC relationships shouldn't qualify as marriages. How can Joe back up this claim? He can either prove that these relationships are dangerous to someone, as baby-making between cousins is dangerous to the baby, or that they are just wrong. Both of these seem hard to do: most of these relationships aren't going to be baby-making, so Joe can't automatically rule them out as dangerous. And if he claims that they are “just wrong”, he needs to say why, especially since we've agreed that they are FLEC relationships. Until he can prove that danger or evil lurks in these relationships, he has no reason to restrict marriage this way—he's merely imposing his primitive taboos and arbitrarily judging others' behavior! Can he justify his claim that two men can marry, unless they happen to be brothers? Can he show that it is dangerous or wrong for a girl to give sexual pleasure to her cat? That two people who love each other can get married, but the third person whom they love just as much, and who loves them, must be left out?

To restrict marriage fairly, then, we need to have reasons for our restrictions, and Joe doesn't. The traditional view uses facts about baby-making behavior and its incumbent dangers to restrict marriage. The loose view uses facts about pleasure-making behavior to ease up on these restrictions. Joe tries to compromise by using some of the restrictions from the traditional view, but without the reasons behind them: he's not restricting marriage to baby-making relationships. This isn't a fair way to restrict marriage, and if we are looking for fairness and equality, we will have to throw it out and choose either the traditional or the loose restrictions.

Which should we choose—traditional or loose restrictions on marriage? For now, I'll give at least two reasons to choose the traditional restrictions. First, most people here and now want either the traditional restrictions, or a compromise between them and the loose restrictions. Very few actually want the loose restrictions. If the compromise really isn't fair, then we should choose the other popular view—the traditional restrictions—instead of the unpopular view—the loose restrictions. Second, even if we did want to acknowledge FLEC pleasure-making relationships, it may be more useful to take note of baby-making relationships. Of course, people in any kind of relationship can parent (even single parents or leaders in group homes), but people in baby-making relationships are much more likely to actually make babies together. If the public or the government should know about anything sex-related, it's probably more important that they know about baby-making than about fun sexy time. Since the word is already available, why not just call these FLEC baby-making relationships “marriages”?