"We cannot accept the view that Amendment 2's prohibition on specific legal protections does no more than deprive homosexuals of special rights. To the contrary, the amendment imposes a special disability on those persons alone. Homosexuals are forbidden the safeguards that others enjoy or may seek without constraint"
-Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court in the decision overturning Colorado's Amendment 2 referendum
The Arguments Against Gay MarriageWell, of course there are a lot of reasons being offered these days for opposing gay marriage, and they are usually variations on a few well-established themes. Interestingly, a court in Hawaii has recently heard them all. And it found, after due deliberation, that they didn't hold water.
Here's a summary:
1. Marriage is an institution between one man and one woman. Well, that's the most often heard argument, one even codified in a recently passed U.S. federal law. Yet it is easily the weakest. Who says who marriage is to be defined by? The married? The marriable? Isn't that kind of like allowing a banker to decide who is going to own the money in stored in his vaults? It seems to me that if the straight community cannot show a compelling reason to deny the institution of marriage to gay people, it shouldn't be denied. And such simple, nebulous declarations are hardly a compelling reason. They're really more like an expression of prejudce than any kind of a real argument. The concept of not denying people their rights unless you can show a compelling reason to do so is the very basis of the American ideal of human rights.
2. Marriage is for procreation. The proponents of that argument are really hard pressed to explain why, if that's the case, that infertile couples are allowed to marry. I, for one, would love to be there when the proponent of such an argument is to explain to his post-menopausal mother or impotent father that since they cannot procreate, they must now surrender their wedding rings! That would be fun to watch! Again, such an argument fails to persuade based on the marriages society does allow routinely, without even a second thought.
3. Same-sex couples aren't the optimum environment in which to raise children. That's an interesting one, in light of who society does allow to get married and bring children into their marriage. Check it out: murderers, convicted felons of all sorts, even known child molesters are all allowed to freely marry and procreate, and do so every day, with hardly a second thought by these same critics. So if children are truly the priority here, why is this allowed? Why are the advocates of this argument not working to prohibit the above categories of people from raising children?
The fact is that many gay couples raise children, adopted and occasionally their own from failed attempts at heterosexual marriages. Lots and lots of scientific studies have shown that the outcomes of the children raised in the homes of gay and lesbian couples are just as good as those of straight couples. The differences have been shown again and again to be insignificant. Psychologists tell us that what makes the difference is the love of the parents, not their gender. The studies are very clear about that. And gay people are as capable of loving children as fully as anyone else.
4. Gay relationships are immoral and violate the sacred institution of marriage. Says who? The Bible? Somehow, I always thought that freedom of religion implied the right to freedom from religion as well. The Bible has absolutely no standing in American law (and none other than the father of the American democracy, Thomas Jefferson, very proudly took credit for that fact), and because it doesn't, no one has the right to impose rules anyone else simply because of something they percieve to be mandated by the Bible. Not all world religions have a problem with homosexuality; many sects of Buddhism, for example, celebrate gay relationships freely and would like to have the authority to make them legal marriages. In that sense, their religious freedom is being infringed. If one believes in religious freedom, the recognition that opposition to gay marriage is based on religious arguments is reason enough to discount this argument.
5. Marriages are for ensuring the continuation of the species. The proponents of such an argument are going to have a really hard time persuading me that the human species is in any real danger of dying out through lack of procreation. If the ten percent of all the human race that is gay were to suddenly refrain from procreation, I think it is safe to say that the world would probably be better off. One of the world's most serious problems is overpopulation and the increasing anarchy that is resulting from it. Seems to me that gays would be doing the world a favor by not bringing more hungry mouths into an already overburdened world. So why encourage them? The vacuity of this argument is seen in the fact that those who raise this objection never object to infertile couples marrying; indeed, when their retired single parent, long past reproductive age, seeks to marry, the usual reaction is how cute and sweet that is. That fact alone shows how false this argument really is. Let's face it - marriage is about love and commitment, and support for that commitment, not about procreation.
6. Same-sex marriage would threaten the institution of marriage. That one's contradictory right on the face of it. Threaten marriage? By allowing people to marry? That doesn't sound very logical to me. If you allow gay people to marry each other, you no longer encourage them to marry people to whom they feel little attraction, with whom they most often cannot relate sexually, and thereby reduce the number of supposed heterosexual marriages that end up in the divorce courts. If it is the institution of heterosexual marriage that worries you, then consider that no one would require you or anyone else to participate in a gay marriage. So you would have freedom of choice, of choosing what kind of marriage to participate in -- something more than what you have now. And speaking of divorce -- to argue that the institution of marriage is worth preserving at the cost of requiring involuntary participants to remain in it is a better argument for tightening divorce laws than proscribing gay marriage.
7. We shouldn't alter heterosexual marriage, which is a traditional institution that goes back to the dawn of time. This is morally the weakest argument. Slavery was also a traditional institution, based on traditions that went back to the very beginnings of human history. But by the 19th century, humankind had realized the evils of that institution, and abolished its legal status. So what happened to tradition?
In the first place, no one is proposing the alteration of heterosexual marriage at all. Heterosexuals may still marry (and divorce) at will - entirely unaffected by the institution of gay marriage. No change there - not even one whit.
Then there is the issue of divorce. If we are supposed to worship the traditional status and nature of marriage, why do we freely allow divorce, which has only been legal in most states for just a few decades? To suggest to most of the ardent supporters of this argument that they should not only be married, but will get only one shot at getting it right, and a mistake will and must permanently ruin their life, will sound onerous. But how less onerous is the notion that one will have to marry someone one cannot love and to whom one cannot relate, if one is to enjoy the benefits of marriage? Clearly, this hypocrisy - on the one hand, asserting the importance of the traditional nature of marriage, while allowing its destruction through the thoroughly modern concept of divorce with hardly a second thought - demonstrates very clearly that this really isn't about traditional definitions at all, it's about using this argument as a cover for another, less acceptable motivation. Why not recognize the hypocrisy - that there is no sound moral ground on which to support the notion of worshipfully traditional heterosexual marriage while freely allowing its destruction through divorce? Wouldn't it just be better to recognize that the concept of marriage is not as rigidly traditional and fixed as claimed?
8. Same-sex marriage is an untried social experiment. The American critics of same-sex marriage betray their provincialism with this argument. The fact is that a form of gay marriage has been legal in Denmark since 1989 (full marriage rights except for adoption rights and church weddings, and a proposal now exists in the Danish parliament to allow both of those rights as well), and most of the rest of Scandinavia from not long after. Full marriage rights have existed in many Dutch cities for several years, and it was recently made legal nationwide, including the word "marriage" to describe it. In other words, we have a long-running "experiment" to examine for its results -- which have uniformly been positive. Opposition to the Danish law was led by the clergy (much the same as in the States). A survey conducted at the time revealed that 72 percent of Danish clergy were opposed to the law. It was passed anyway, and the change in the attitude of the clergy there has been dramatic -- a survey conducted in 1995 indicated that 89 percent of the Danish clergy now admit that the law is a good one and has had many beneficial effects, including a reduction in suicide, a reduction in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and in promiscuity and infidelity among gays. Far from leading to the "destruction of Western civilization" as some critics (including the Mormon and Catholic churches among others) have warned, the result of the "experiment" has actually been civilizing and strengthening, not just to the institution of marriage, but to society as a whole. So perhaps we should accept the fact that someone else has already done the "experiment" and accept the results as positive. The fact that many churches are not willing to accept this evidence says more about the churches than it does about gay marriage.
9. Same-sex marriage would start us down a "slippery slope" towards legalized incest, bestial marriage, polygamy and all manner of other horrible consequences. A classic example of the reductio ad absurdum fallacy, it is calculated to instill fear in the mind of anyone hearing the argument. It is, of course, absolutely without any merit based on experience. If the argument were true, wouldn't that have already happened in countries where forms of legalized gay marriage already exist? Wouldn't they have 'slid' towards legalized incest and bestial marriage? The reality is that a form of gay marriage has been legal in Scandinavian countries for many years, and no such legalization has happened, nor has there been a clamor for it. It's a classic scare tactic - making the end scenario so scary and so horrible that the first step should never be taken. Such are the tactics of the fear and hatemongers.
If concern over the "slippery slope" were the real motive behind this argument, the advocate of this line of reasoning would be equally vocal about the fact that today, even as you read this, convicted murderers, child molesters, known pedophiles, drug pushers, pimps, black market gun dealers, etc., are quite free to marry, and are doing so every day. Where's the outrage? Of course there isn't any, and that lack of outrage betrays their real motives. This is an anti-gay issue and not a pro marriage or child protection issue.
10. Granting gays the right to marry is a "special" right. Since ninety percent of the population already have the right to marry the informed, consenting adult of their choice, and would even consider that right a fundamental, constitutionally protected right, since when does extending it to the rest constitute a "special" right to that remaining ten percent? As Justice Kennedy observed in his opinion overturning Colorado's infamous Amendment 2 (Roemer vs. Evans), many gay and lesbian Americans are, under current law, denied civil rights protections that others either don't need or assume that everyone else along with themselves, already have. The problem with all that special rights talk is that it proceeds from that very assumption, that because of all the civil rights laws in this country that everyone is already equal, so therefore any rights gay people are being granted must therefore be special. That is most assuredly not the case, especially regarding marriage and all the legal protections that go along with it.
11. Churches would be forced to marry gay people against their will. This one has absolutely no basis in law whatever, existing or proposed. There are many marriages to which many churches object, such as interracial marriage, interfaith marriage, the marriage of divorcees, etc., and yet no state law of which I am aware requires any church to marry any couple when that church objects to performance of that particular marriage. The right granted by the state to a church to perform marriages is a right, not a requirement, and to pretend that it would be a requirement in the case of gays, but not in the above examples, is disingenuous on the face of it.
12. If gay marriage is legalized, homosexuality would be promoted in the public schools. Gay marriage is already legal in several states and many foreign countries, including Canada, but can anyone point to an example of homosexuality being promoted in the public schools? No. Because it hasn't happened in any significant way. What is being objected to is tolerance of gays, not genuine promotion of homosexuality. And if tolerance itself is not acceptable, what is the absence of tolerance? It is bigotry. If we do not promote tolerance in the public schools, we are accepting that bigotry has a place there. Is this really what we want?
13. Gay marriage and its associated promotion of homosexuality would undermine western civilization. Homosexuality is as old as civilization itself, and has always been a part of civilization, including this one - indeed, cross-cultural studies indicate that the percentage of homosexuals in a population is independent of culture. So even if promotion of homosexuality were to occur, it wouldn't change anything - people aren't gay because they were "recruited," they're gay because they were born that way, as the population statistics across cultures makes clear. As for gay marriage itself undermining western civilization, it is hard to see how the promotion of love, commitment, sharing and commonality of values and goals isn't going to strengthen civilization a lot sooner than it is going to undermine it. Gay marriage has been legal, in various forms, in parts of Europe for more than twenty years, and in Canada and many states in the United States for some time now, but can anyone point to any credible evidence that gay marriage itself is leading to the crumbling of western civilization? If they can, it certainly hasn't been presented to me.
14. If gay people really want to get married, all they have to do is to become straight and marry someone of the opposite sex. There are several problems with this argument, the first of which is that it presumes that sexual orientation is a choice. This lie is promoted so endlessly by bigoted religious leaders that it has become accepted as fact by society as a whole, and it was advanced, beginning in the 1980's, for the purpose of discrediting the gay rights movement. But the reality is that a half century of social research on this subject, consisting of thousands of studies, beginning with the Kinsey and Minnesota Twin studies of the 1950's and continuing to the present, has shown conclusively - beyond any reasonable doubt - that among males, sexual orientation is only very slightly flexible, and among females, it is only modestly more so. That homosexuality is, among males at least, congenital, inborn, and has a genetic component of about 50% and somewhat less among females. In other words, if you're gay, you're gay and there is little that you do about it.
Another problem with this argument is that it presumes that heterosexuality, if it were a choice, is self-evidently a more desireable and/or morally superior choice to make. This is a qualitative argument with whom many gay people - and many thinking straight people as well, both religious and secular - would take issue.
A third problem is that this argument presumes that someone else has the right to veto your presumed choice sexual orientation on the basis that they are not comfortable with the choice you have made. It is difficult for me to see how any religionist or anti-gay bigot, however sincere and well-meaning, has the right to arrogate to himself that veto power. Or, frankly, why a homosexual should be forced to go out of his way to make bigots comfortable with their bigotry.
A fourth, legalistic problem with this argument is that it presumes that if the choice of sexual orientation can be made, the voluntary nature of that choice removes any and all right to the protection of the law for the choice which has been made. But I would point out that the First Amendment to the United States constitution protects, by constitutional fiat itself, a purely voluntary choice - that of religion. So if it is acceptable to argue that unpopular sexual minorities have no right to equal protection of the law because they can avoid disadvantage or persecution by voluntarily changing the choice they have presumably made, then it is equally true that the First Amendment should not include protection for choice in religion, because no rational person could argue that religious belief is itself not a choice. In other words, this is like arguing that you should not expect legal protection from being persecuted because you are a Mormon or a Catholic; the solution to such disadvantage or persecution is simple: just become a Southern Baptist or whatever. I have never, ever seen a religious opponent of homosexuality who is asserting that homosexuality is a choice, advance that last point with regards to religion - a fact which very glaringly demonstrates the clearly bigoted character of this argument.
The real reasons people oppose gay marriageSo far, we've examined the reasons everyone give for opposing gay marriage. Let's examine now the real reasons people oppose it, even fear it:
1. Just not comfortable with the idea. The fact the people aren't comfortable with the idea stems primarily from the fact that for many years, society has promoted the idea that a marriage between members of the same sex is ludicrous, mainly because of the objections raised above. But if those objections don't make sense, neither does the idea that gay marriage is neccessarily ludicrous. Societies have long recognized that allowing civil rights to certain groups may offend some, and at times, even the majority. But that is why constitutional government was established -- to ensure that powerless, unpopular minorities are still protected from the tyranny of the majority.
2. It offends everything religion stands for. Whose religion? Many mainstream Christian denominations, to be sure, and definitely most branches of Islam and Orthodox Judaism, but outside those, most religions are unopposed to gay marriage, and many actually favor it. When the Mormon church arrogantly claimed to represent all religions in the Baehr vs. Lewin trial in Hawaii, the principal Buddhist sect in that state made it very clear that the Mormon church didn't represent them, and made it very clear that they support the right of gay couples to marry. That particular Buddhist sect claims many more members in Hawaii than does the Mormon church. In a society that claims to offer religious freedom, the use of the power of the state to enforce private religious sensibilities is an affront to all who would claim the right to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience.
3. Marriage is a sacred institution and gay marriage violates that sanctity. This is, of course, related to the motive above. But it is really subtly different. It's based on the assumption that the state has the responsibility to "sanctify" marriages - a fundamentally religious idea. Here we're dealing with people trying to enforce their religious doctrines on someone else, but by doing it through weakening the separation of church and state, by undermining the Bill of Rights. Not that there's anything new about this, of course. But the attempt itself runs against the grain of everything the First Amendment stands for - one does not truly have freedom of religion if one does not have the right to freedom from religion as well. It would seem to me that anyone who feels that the sanctity of their marriage is threatened by a gay couple down the street having the right to marry, is mighty insecure about their religion anyway.
Even if one accepts the presumption of the United States as a bible-believing, Christian nation as an acceptable legal doctrine, as many conservative Christians insist, and the bible should be the basis for the sacred institution of marriage, perhaps those Christians should get out their bibles and actually read them for a change. Including all the inconvenient passages that not only permit but can even require polygamy, involuntary marriage and the like.
How about Deuteronomy 25:5-10, for example: "When brothers reside together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband's brother shall go in to her, taking her in marriage and performing the duty of a husband's brother to her, and the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. But if the man has no desire to marry his brother's widow, then his brother's widow shall go up to the elders at the gate and say 'My husband's brother refuses to perpetuate his brother's name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband's brother to me. Then the elders of his town shall summon him and speak to him. If he persists, saying 'I have no desire to marry her,' then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, pull his sandal from his foot, spit in his face, and declare 'This is what is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house. Throughout Israel his family will be known as 'the house of him whose sandal was pulled off.'"
If the Bible is sacred and inviolate when it comes to the institution of marriage, then the above passage and all the other inconvenient ones require reverence too, do they not? If the Christian is going to say, well, that's old, quaint and should no longer be expected to apply, well, then, that's exactly the point! The institution of marriage as it is practiced in the real world is a culturally defined institution, not biblically defined, as a reading of the above quotation should make quite clear, and it is high time we recognize and face up to the cold reality that cultural values have changed since the bible was written, and the institution of marriage has changed along with it. Gay marriage is simply part of that evolutionary process of social progress.
4. Gay sex is unnatural. This argument, often encoded in the very name of sodomy statutes, betrays a considerable ignorance of behavior in the animal kingdom. The fact is that among the approximately 1500 animal species whose behavior has been extensively studied, homosexual behavior in animals has been described in at least 450 of those species. It runs the gamut, too, ranging from occasional displays of affection to life-long pair bonding including sex and even adopting and raising orphans, going so far as the rejection by force of potential heterosexual partners. The reality is that it is so common that it begs for an explanation, and sociobiologists have proposed a wide variety of explanations to account for it. The fact that it is so common also means that it has evolutionary significance, which applies as much to humans as it does to other animal species.
5. A man making love to another man betrays everything that is masculine. Well, I've known (and dated) plenty of very masculine gay men in my day, including champion bull-riding rodeo cowboys and a Hell's Angel biker type, who, if you suggested he is a limp-wristed fairy, would likely rip your head off and hand it to you. There was a long-honored tradition of gay relationships among the tough and macho cowboys of the Old West, and many diaries exist, detailing their relationships. In fact, the Autrey Museum of the Old West in Los Angeles recently did an exhibition of this little-told story. Plenty of masculine, respected movies stars are gay. Indeed, Rock Hudson was considered the very archtype of a masculine man. Came as quite a shock to a lot of macho-men to find out he was gay! So what's wrong with all these kinds of men expressing love for each other? Why is that so wrong? A society that devalues love devalues that upon which civilized society itself is based. Should any form of that love for one another be discouraged?
The base fear here is that of rape and a loss of control or loss of masculine status. This is instinctual and goes right to the core of our being as primates. If you examine what happens in many animal species, especially displays of dominance in other primate species, dominance displays often have sexual overtones. When, for example, in many species of primates, a subordinate male is faced with aggression by a dominant male, the dominant male will bite the subordinate, causing him to squeal in pain, drop the food (or the female) and present his rump. This is an act of submission, and it is saying to the whole troupe that the subordinate is just that - subordinate.
It has been suggested that homophobia is an instinctual fear of being raped by someone that the homophobe regards as lower than him in status. And the notion that a gay man might rape him is an instinctual fear.
This happens in humans just as it does in other primates. It is the cause of homosexual rape in prisons. Prison rape is not an act of sex as much as it is an assertion of dominance and a means of control. Nearly all of the men who aggressively rape other men in a prison setting actually revert to promiscuous heterosexual sex once they're on the outside.
So is this something straight men should fear from gay men? Well, relax, all you straight guys. You've nothing to worry about. The vast majority of gay men prefer sex in the same emotional setting you do as a straight man with a woman - as a part of the expression of love, affection and commitment. We're not out to rape you or force you into a subordinate position. The majority of gay men don't want sex with you because we're looking for the same thing in a sexual relationship that you do - the love and affection of a partner. Since we're not likely to get that from you, you're not desirable to us and you have nothing to fear from us. The small minority of us (and it's a very small minority) who enjoy sex with straight men understand your fears and are not going to have sex with you unless it's clearly and completely on a peer-to-peer basis and your requirement for full and complete consent and need for discretion is honored.
6. The thought of gay sex is repulsive. This is the so-called "ick factor." Well, it will come as some surprise to a lot of heterosexuals to find out that, to a lot of gays, the thought of heterosexual sex is repulsive! But does that mean the discomfort of some gays to heterosexual couples should be a reason to deny heterosexuals the right to marry? I don't think so, even though the thought of a man kissing a woman is rather repulsive to many homosexuals! Well then, why should it work the other way? Besides, the same sexual practices that gays engage in are often engaged in by heterosexual couples anyway. Prompting the ever-popular gay T-shirt: "SO-DO-MY -- SO DO MY neighbors, SO DO MY friends."
7. They might recruit. The core cause of this fear is the result of the fact that most virulent, even violent homophobes are themselves repressed sexually, often with same sex attractions. One of the recent studies done at the University of Georgia among convicted killers of gay men has shown that the overwhelmingly large percentage of them exhibit sexual arousal when shown scenes of gay sex. The fear, then, for the homophobe is that he himself might be gay, and might be forced to face that fact. The homophobia is as internalized as it is externalized - bash the queer and you don't have to worry about being aroused by him.
The fear of recruitment is baseless because it is based on a false premise - that gay people recruit. We don't. We don't recruit because we know from our own experience that sexual orientation is inborn, and can't be changed to any significant degree. Indeed, the attempts by psychologists, counselors and religious therapy and support groups to change sexual orientation have all uniformly met with failure - the studies that have been done of these therapies have never shown any significant results, and usually create psychological damage in the process, which is why they are uniformly condemned by mental health professional associations. So the notion that someone can be changed from straight to gay is quite unlikely. Yet there remains that deep, dark fear that somehow, someone might be.
8. Gay marriage would undermine sodomy laws. Many conservative religionists privately oppose gay marriage in part because it would undermine the legal basis for sodomy laws, which, even though they have been deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, are still dreamed of by those who would seek to legalize discrimination against gays. It would be hard to justify, before a court, allowing a couple to marry and then legally bar them from having sexual relations.
9. Gay marriage would legitimize homosexuality. This presumes that homosexuality is anything other than simply a normal variation of human development. The reality is that every mental health association has recognized that homosexuality is a perfectly normal variation on how humans develop, and there is now a substantial body of evidence from science that there are sound reasons why it has evolved, and why it is not selected against in evolutionary pressure. It is not perverted, it does not degrade human culture, it is not a threat to humankind in any way. All those stereotypes, long cultivated by homophobes, have been disproven both by experience and by scientific research, but that does not prevent the homophobe from holding to them dearly. And allowing state sanction in the form of marriage, threatens the stereotype by undermining the justification for it.
At the end of the day, the opposition to gay marriage stems ultimately from a deep-seated homophobia in American culture, borne almost entirely out of religious prejudice. While many Americans do not realize that that homophobia exists to the extent that it does, it is a very real part of every gay person's life, just like racism is a very real part of every black person's life. It is there, it is pervasive, and it has far more serious consequences for American society than most Americans realize, not just for gay people, but for society in general.
Why This Is A Civil Rights IssueWhen gay people say that this is a civil rights issue, we are referring to matters like the fact that we cannot make medical decisions for our partners in an emergency. Instead, the hospitals are usually forced by state laws to go to the families who may be estranged from us for decades, who are often hostile to us, and totally ignore our wishes for the treatment of our partners. If that hostile family wishes to exclude us from the hospital room, they may legally do so in nearly all cases. It is even not uncommon for hostile families to make decisions based on their hostility -- with results actually intended to be inimical to the interests of the patient! One couple I know uses the following line in the "sig" lines on their email: "...partners and lovers for 40 years, yet still strangers before the law." Is this fair?
If our partners are arrested, we can be compelled to testify against them or provide evidence against them, which legally married couples are not forced to do. Is this fair?
In most cases, even carefully drafted wills and durable powers of attorney have proven to not be enough if a family wishes to challenge a will, overturn a custody decision, or exclude us from a funeral or deny us the right to visit a partner's grave. As survivors, they can even sieze a real estate property that we may have been buying together for years, quickly sell it at a huge loss and stick us with the remaining debt on a property we no longer own. When these are presented to a homophobic probate judge, he will usually find some pretext to overturn them. Is this fair?
These aren't just theoretical issues, either; they happen with surprising frequency. Almost any older gay couple can tell you horror stories of friends who have been victimized in such ways.
These are all civil rights issues that have nothing whatever to do with the ecclesiastical origins of marriage; they are matters that have become enshrined in state laws over the years in many ways that exclude us from the rights that legally married couples enjoy and consider their constitutional right. This is why we say it is very much a civil rights issue; it has nothing to do with who performs the ceremony or whether an announcement is accepted for publication in the local paper. It is not a matter of "special rights" to ask for the same rights that other couples enjoy by law, even by constitutional mandate.