Debating Same-Sex Marriage: A Teleological Perspective

By Suyash Saxena

Edited by Liz Maria Kuriakose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

The views on same-sex marriage and the recent Supreme Court verdict on sexual relationship between homosexuals have been more or less homologous and unidirectional; almost all against the verdict. Views welcoming the verdict mostly argue from the staunch religious or some parochial ‘moral’ position which to a great extent fails to appeal our reason. As a result, to most of us the verdict that incriminates two consenting adult individuals for having an intercourse just because they happen to have a particular sexual orientation seems almost counter-intuitive and outrageous. Any balanced debate on it seems totally out of question. However, these questions of justice towards the homosexual community couldn’t have lingered on through history had they not been ‘essentially contested issues’. The intent of this article is to put forth a debate on same-sex marriage. The subject of this debate is same-sex ‘marriage’ and not just same-sex ‘intercourse’ which is the subject of the verdict. The debate aims to examine the institution of marriage from a teleological perspective and on the lines of teleology argue for and against. To clarify, teleology is the “theory about the purposiveness of an institution or an organism.” It is derived from the word telos- the aim, goal and purpose of an activity. Since the times of Aristotle, teleology has been the basis of several debates and several theories of politics and sociology are grounded in teleology. Therefore teleological perspective is chosen for the purpose of the debate to lend a better vantage point. To bring out the teleological perspective the question we need to address is ‘What are the telos (purpose) of the institution of marriage?’



Several psychologists argue that man is by nature a monogamous animal. Emotions of love, affection and bonding that cement marital relationships have been handed down to us through evolution. Even jealousy toward an extra-marital partner is argued to be a product of evolution making us more or less monogamous. Thus the institution of marriage has its roots in the evolutionary history of man. With lower species of protozoan and viruses being asexual, sexes developed through evolution; then came sexual love in species like reptiles and finally filial love between the parent and the progeny and platonic love between the mating individuals evolved during the last stages of evolution. Platonic love gave rise to ‘marriage’ with the individuals staying together even after mating and out of filial love rose the family. If the roots of marriage are founded on evolution then the purpose (telos) of marriage could be easily established. The purpose of every evolutionary change is to produce a fitter race. The two sexes stay together after mating (as in marriage) only to rear a better progeny and hence a fitter race. The binding forces of marital relations and family i.e. platonic love and filial love have a meaning only in the achievement of the goal of evolution- to produce a fitter race. Since the same-sex relationships fail to deliver this basic purpose of evolution which defines the institution of marriage they cannot be considered to be within the definition of marriage. If the evolutionary argument is strictly adhered to, all same-sex relationships can be seen to be aberrations to the institution of marriage. (This, however, does make it legitimate to criminalize them.)



Marriage is not merely a biological or an evolutionary institution. It may have its roots in evolution but marriage is essentially a social institution. Marriage institutionalizes human emotions of love, care and affection and legitimizes them into the social fabric. Those emotions may happen to deliver some evolutionary purpose but they are not valued solely because of the evolutionary role they play in raising a fitter progeny. They are defining qualities of the human being and hence are ends in themselves. Any institution that institutionalizes these qualities is legitimate as it simply recognizes the defining characteristics of human being. If same sex marriages help recognizing the basic human traits of love and affection between individuals and institutionalize them into the social and cultural fibre, they serve their intended purpose and hence are legitimate.