Can Somebody Help Me Understand…?
One of the constant arguments by those opposed to same-sex marriage is that by allowing homosexual couples to marry, the institution of marriage or the sanctity of marriage is somehow being damaged or diluted. Opponents of same-sex marriage (and proponents of constitutional amendments to define marriage and/or ban same-sex marriage) speak of the “harm” that would be caused to marriage if gays are allowed to marry. But, in all honesty, though I hear this argument over and over, I don’t understand it.
Sure, I understand the superficial appeal of the argument, but I don’t understand what it really means. I suspect that it’s simply some kind of code for “gay marriage is icky and we don’t like it” or “G-d says homosexuality is wrong” but formulating the argument in those ways is less appealing to all but the most religious or conservative voters. So I’m asking those of you who oppose gay marriage or who want to see the Constitution amended to define marriage as solely between a man and a woman to help me understand what is meant when people say that the institution or sanctity of marriage will be damaged or diluted. Explain it to me.
And be very, very specific. I’ve heard the broad outlines plenty of times. What I want to understand is how, precisely, marriage will be damaged or diluted. What does that mean and how will actual, real, living, breathing, heterosexual married couples or their marriage be harmed.
When you’re explaining it, please keep a few things in mind. These are some of the arguments that I’m likely to use in response. Your explanation doesn’t do much good if it doesn’t try to go beyond platitudes and really tackle the substance in detail.
For example, Larry King and Elizabeth Taylor have each been married numerous times (I’m not sure I can count that high). So too have both Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich (who, if memory serves, had an extra-marital affair while he was presiding over efforts to impeach President Clinton for lying about a blowjob). Britney Spears was married for 52 hours. All of those marriages were heterosexual marriages. So please explain how allowing two loving, committed homosexuals to marry will do any more harm to the institution or sanctity of marriage than King, Taylor, Limbaugh, Gingrich, or Spears. Again, please be specific. You might also want to address the issue of infidelity, especially among elected officials (remember Sen. Vitter or Gov. Sanford?) in your analysis.
Also, when articulating your response, please don’t talk about procreation. All too often, opponents of gay marriage point to the “purpose” of marriage being procreation and argue that, because gay couples can’t procreate, they shouldn’t be married. If you insist on discussing procreation as a part of your argument, consider whether the argument against marriage on the basis of procreation should also apply to anyone who is sterile, to post-menopausal women, or to anyone who does not want or does not intend to have children. If the procreation argument applies to gays but not to those who can’t or won’t bear children, then please explain why gays — and only gays — are being treated differently. Oh, and in providing this part of your explanation, consider gay couples who may choose to have a child with the assistance of a donor or surrogate or who choose to adopt a child. Do those situations have any impact on your procreation argument? One more thing: If the purpose of marriage is procreation, should engaged couples be forced to sign a binding agreement to either have children or to adopt (or otherwise lose the benefits of being married)?
If you plan to argue that allowing gays and lesbians to marry will cause heterosexual couples to elect not to get married, please provide some empirical evidence to back up the assertion. It’s easy to say if X then Y (if I belch twice, sneeze, and fart really loudly while singing “My Way”, the moon will fall out of orbit and cause pandas to become extinct), but without empirical evidence, your assertion is just as silly as the one that I just made. If you believe that heterosexual couples will stop getting married, point to supporting evidence (how has gay marriage impacted heterosexual marriage in Iowa or Massachusetts?). And consider that there are statutory and economic benefits to getting married, so be sure that your response considers the cost-benefit analysis to heterosexual couples deciding not to get married. And be sure that your evidence demonstrates that heterosexual couples choose not to get married because gays can marry and not for some other reason (like viewing marriage as an old-fashioned institution or not economically beneficial).
If what you mean by the “sanctity” of marriage has something to do with religion, consider a few things. For example, if the sanctity of marriage is a religious issue, then why is the government involved in marriage at all? Why isn’t marriage simply left to individual faiths without involvement from government? Why do you need the government to recognize your religious institution. The government doesn’t recognize baptism, confirmation, bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, or communion. Nor does government tell us who can be baptized, confirmed, have a bar or bat mitzvah, or take communion. (In fact, in a way, the opposite is true: The government tells us that you have to be 21 to drink alcohol, but recognizes an exception for religious observances.) So why is marriage special?
Similarly, if marriage is a religious institution, why are those from different faith traditions who may have different views of marriage allowed to share in the ritual of marriage. For that matter, why are atheists allowed to marry? I know that this is a dangerous place to go, but if marriage is a religious issue, then why don’t we permit polygamy (for faiths that allow it) or require a man to marry his brother’s widow (as required by the Bible)? My suggestion, in explaining how gay marriage will “damage” the institution of marriage is to avoid religion altogether. But if you insist on bringing religion into your explanation, please provide a detailed explanation of which religious rules you don’t follow and the basis in choosing not to follow those rules (i.e., show me the “pick & choose” clause of your particular religious text); pay particular attention to rules attendant to marriage and family.
And if your concern is simply that the definition of “marriage” has a particular meaning in society that should not be changed, can you explain the problem with giving gay couples something precisely equal to marriage in all respects other than use of the term “marriage” (such as civil unions)? How will allowing a gay couple to share in property, make medical decisions together, visit one another in the hospital, and be beneficiaries of tax, inheritance, and other property laws harm your marriage, especially if that gay couple is only “unionized” or “joined” or “naimisissa” — just not “married”?
Finally, if gays are allowed to get married, will you get divorced? If you’re not yet married, will you refuse to get married because gays are also allowed to marry? Be honest.
So, please help me understand this component of the argument against gay marriage. But make it worth my while and don’t waste my time with arguments that are going nowhere. Help me understand why you oppose equality and want to stop loving couples from having the same rights that you have. Help me understand. But if you can’t articulate a cogent argument, then perhaps you should re-examine your own thoughts on the subject.
Labels: Gay Rights