Nothing has a purpose. Wait, that’s not what I meant.
No “thing” has a purpose. Only living things can have a purpose. When we say a thing has a purpose, we really mean that people have a purpose for that thing.
Confusing? It should be. “Purpose” is one of the most abused words in our language. We see it in statements like, “The purpose of sex is procreation.” Or, as in NOM employee Jennifer Morse Roback’s recent testimony to the Minnesota legislature:
The essential public purpose of marriage is to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another.
“The essential public purpose of marriage.” That’s NOM’s new catchphrase and it’s sprinkled all through their rhetoric. But it’s meaningless. How about we rip it apart and make sure they never get away with it again.
No thing has a purpose
What’s the purpose of a chair? To sit on, obviously. Except when it’s not. I visited Versailles once, the royal estate which is now a museum of excess. Sitting on some of the chairs in that place will get you thrown out. The original owner’s purpose for the chair may have been to sit on, but the current owner’s purpose is to show how the French royal family lived.
Closer to our own lives, someone might tell you, Or, “Don’t sit there – it’s where I put my laptop.” Or, “Don’t sit in that chair, it’s falling apart – we keep it because it belonged to our grandma.”
Purpose depends on the person. So what’s the purpose of sex? Ask the people having sex. What’s the purpose of marriage? Ask the people getting married.
No thing has a purpose; people have a purpose for things. It’s an easy and honest trap door if you find yourself in a rhetorical corner.
The moment I hear “The purpose of…” I know somebody’s trying to get something past me. If purpose doesn’t reside in a thing, but in the intent of the person, then a thing can “have” as many purposes as there are people. What’s the purpose of sex? Procreation, intimacy, recreation, revenge, validation, profit. And many, many others.
People who invoke “the purpose” are usually referring to:
- the most common purpose
- the most productive or useful purpose
- the purpose intended by the owner of the thing
- the purpose intended by the designer of the thing
But even on those terms, procreation is hardly the purpose of sex. I doubt it’s the most common purpose. Sex produces pleasure or intimacy much more often that it produces children. And no one “owns” sex, so forget that.
It’s that last item, the purpose intended by the designer of the thing, where people part ways. Many devoutly religious folk do think sex had a designer (God) with an intention (procreation). But given the many, many ways that sex can enrich our relationships and lives, it would ludicrous to think this would be HisHer only purpose for sex. Same goes for marriage
There’s almost never such a thing as the purpose for something. Another easy and honest trap door to remember.
“The essential public purpose of marriage.” This might be NOM’s way of getting the question of answering the question of “Whose purpose are we talking about? Why, it’s the public’s purpose, of course!” Which means…well, what does that mean?
It can’t mean the general public because the general public is diverse and full of varied, contradictory purposes. NOM’s rhetoric suggests they simply mean the government’s purpose, as in: Why does the government regulate marriage? What is the purpose of marriage in the eyes of the government?
Hey, that’s easy, and I can even offer citations. Step back and ask, what is the citizenry’s purpose for having a government? Check our nation’s founding document:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men
Emphasis, um, added.
So our purpose for government is to secure our rights, and thus the government’s purpose for recognizing marriage should be to aid in securing those rights, including the pursuit of happiness, which may or may not include procreation.
Securing our right to the pursuit of happiness – that’s a public purpose of marriage.
Again, NOM doesn’t do much of a job defining its terms. What does NOM mean by “essential”? They don’t say. Let’s take a stab and define it to mean, that without which it would not exist.
This is one of NOM’s biggest lie: that there would be no reason for marriage if it weren’t for the kids. Because, apparently, without kids no one wants to build a life with a partner. Combine homes and lives and finances. Arrange for the care of your loved one in the event of your own death. Be secure in knowing that your partner won’t be deported. Exercise the right to claim the body of one’s partner after a tragedy.
This kind of malarkey, divorced from the reality of everyday life, is enough to make you doubt the National Organization for Marriage knows anything about marriage at all.
So what was NOM’s phrase again? “The essential public purpose of marriage.” They manage to cram five lies into just six words. Of course, when it comes to NOM, that’s underachieving.