Confucius referenced in U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage

“The centrality of marriage to the human condition makes it unsurprising that the institution has existed for millennia and across civilizations. Since the dawn of history, marriage has transformed strangers into relatives, binding families and societies together. Confucius taught that marriage lies at the foundation of government. 2 Li Chi: Book of Rites 266 (C. Chai & W. Chai eds., J. Legge transl. 1967). This wisdom was echoed centuries later and half a world away by Cicero, who wrote, “The first bond of society is marriage; next, children; and then the family.” See De Officiis 57 (W. Miller transl. 1913). There are untold references to the beauty of marriage in religious and philosophical texts spanning time, cultures, and faiths, as well as in art and literature in all their forms.” [Read full opinion here.]

5 replies on “Confucius referenced in U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage”

  1. Sadly, in his dissent, Justice Scalia responded to the presence of Confucius in Kennedy’s opinion with this: “The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”

    The US Supreme Court decision also sparked discussion in China, including on-loine debates about the relevance and meaning of certain classical passages. See here.

  2. Some Chinese scholars have examined the majority opinion’s hermeneutically liberal interpretation of the passage. Capital Normal University professor Chen Ming (陳明) holds the position that historically Confucians were more concerned with the union of two families, not two genders (punningly “早期儒家的婚姻观所看重的…是两姓(注意,不是两性)关系”). Chen’s reply to fellow Confucians is to restate Analects 12:2’s famous Silver Rule, “What one does not desire, do not do to others [己所不欲,勿施於人]”, reminding others to keep in mind the cardinal virtue of benevolence.

    Interestingly, he still advances that gay marriage shouldn’t be legalized. His reasons are more modern, but some would argue not scientific (“我感觉许多的同性恋是被建构塑造出来的” ). Regardless, his interpretation of the classics is a historically sensitive one, both in terms of it’s ancient roots and modern application.

    For the full article, see here:

    • I am a fan of this Chen Ming already. There is a Japanese Confucianist named Kure Tomofusa, who is known for similarly taking liberal positions on the classical tradition before ending his essay with a surprising conservative twist on modern institutions.

  3. Thank you, Sam, Steve, and Maxwell for these informative comments. I hope others will take the opportunity to add their thoughts as well!

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