Objections to Marriage Equality Just Don’t Make Sense
In the wake of President Obama’s announcement that he supports same-sex marriage, the response that I keep hearing from opponents of marriage equality is that allowing gays to marry will somehow damage the institution of marriage. And, though I’ve written about this before (over and over, it seems; see for example Can Somebody Help Me Understand…?), I still don’t understand how the actions of one couple in formalizing their loving relationship will have any impact whatsoever on other couples. What is the fear or concern that opponents of same-sex marriage are really expressing? Is there really something beyond homophobia or the “ick factor” of a gay sex?
If you are an opponent of marriage equality, will you decide not to get married because gay couples can get married? Will you divorce your spouse because gay couples can marry? Will you suddenly decide not to adopt? I didn’t think so. Thus, I’m really having a hard time understanding how a gay marriage will impact heterosexual marriages or heterosexual individuals. How will someone else’s happiness harm you?
One line of explanation is that allowing gay couples to marry would be “changing the definition of marriage”. OK. I’m not sure that I agree. But let’s work with that for a moment. Why is changing the definition of marriage a problem? Again, if the definition is changed to become more inclusive will that cause you to not get married or force you to get divorced? Of course not. So what’s the problem? Not terribly long ago, the definition of marriage in many states also exclude interracial marriages. Did changing that definition have some sort of societal-wide adverse consequences upon single-race marriages?
Even as the law stands right now (and without even focusing on the fact that some states allow same-sex marriage), the definition of marriage already varies from state to state. In most states, individuals must be 18 to get married, but in Nebraska they need to be 19 and in Mississippi they need to be 21 (and does that seem odd to anyone else?). But even those rules aren’t hard and fast as most (all?) states allow individuals to marry when they are young, sometimes even younger than the age of majority when certain conditions are met. Thus, we cannot even reliably say that a marriage is the union of an adult man and an adult woman (as some kids can marry and some adults cannot); nor can we even say it is the union of a man and woman as those under majority age (as low as 14 in some states, I think I read) certainly aren’t “men” and “women” so far as common understanding goes.
Similarly, some states allow people to marry a first cousin, while others do not.
We don’t have to look back too far to see how definitions of marriage have changed, either. Mitt Romney may claim that the definition of marriage is 3,000 years old … but to do so he has to ignore the fact that his great-grandparents were not only polygamists, but that they fled to Mexico when Utah was changing its law defining marriage to outlaw polygamy.
And think back to your European history classes. Sure marriages may have been between one prince and one princess, but were those sorts of arranged political marriages what we think of when we think of the definition of marriage? We don’t seem to mind the idea of Orthodox Jews or Gypsies arranging marriages for their children, often to people in other states whom those to be wed have never met. Yet that sort of “marriage” falls within the commonly understood definition of marriage while a union based on love does not?
For that matter, there is some argument to be made that same-sex relationships were not only recognized in medieval Europe, but even the subject of religious rites within both the Orthodox and Catholic churches. Obviously, there remains some debate on this subject, but history and tradition aren’t quite as clear-cut as opponents of marriage equality would like you to believe.
Perhaps I’m mistaken, but don’t Catholic nuns consider themselves to be “married” to Jesus? Wouldn’t that expand the definition of marriage to include a woman and her deity or a woman and ancient (though dead) prophet (depending of course of your view of Catholic theology)?
One of the things that really burns me about this whole discussion is the way so many marriage equality opponents fall back upon religious understanding of marriage. Remind me again what Jesus said about homosexuality? Oh, wait. He didn’t. More importantly, equality opponents seize upon a few lines from the Bible to brand homosexuality as an abomination and thus infer that something that is an abomination cannot be natural (i.e., G-d could not have created gay people because G-d made man in G-d’s image and wouldn’t create an abomination; thus homosexuals must have chosen that “lifestyle” and decided to become abominations). Therefore, the reasoning seems to go, if homosexuality is unnatural, then certainly we shouldn’t condone it or give it recognition in law. Do I have that right?
But the problems with this line of reasoning should be obvious. First, is the question of “pick & choose” theology. In other words, why are some things that G-d said were abominations still considered to be abominations while others now have entire restaurant chains devoted to them (I’m looking at you Red Lobster)? And if G-d didn’t make gay humans, why did G-d apparently make gay animals … or shrimp? If animals without a cloven hoof are unclean, why didn’t G-d cleave the hooves of those animals? If animals that don’t chew their cud are unclean, why didn’t G-d make all animals chew their cud? And so and and so on and so on… I keep failing to find the sermon where Jesus says, “Keep stoning the gays, but go ahead and have a cheeseburger and a shrimp cocktail; stop believing that a woman’s life comes before that of her fetus, but go ahead and cut your hair and wear cotton-polyester blends; keep owning slaves but don’t stone your daughters.” I guess I missed that chapter. Oh, and why is it that the Bible seems to prohibit gay male sex but not lesbian sex? Maybe G-d had a subscription to Showtime?
Second, it’s important to remember that biblical references have been used to justify all sorts of things over the centuries, whether it be slavery, laws against inter-racial marriage, laws against women’s suffrage, and who knows what else. How many Jews have been killed in the name of G-d or Jesus or the Bible? When we hear about a thief in Saudi Arabia having his hand cut off we recoil in horror; yet the Bible does call for a hand for a hand, doesn’t it? And when was the last time you saw a new groom demand that his non-virgin bride be stoned following their wedding?
We also need to recall that atheists are allowed to marry. How does a religious understanding of the definition of marriage address that? And what of Buddhists or Jains or African animists? How do the words of one (or two or three) faith traditions define the traditions or understandings of those people? If you’re an opponent of marriage equality, you really don’t want to learn about Native American cultures and the Two-Spirit or berdache. But of course, that religious tradition doesn’t matter here in “Christian” America, does it?
Then again, if a religious definition of marriage was truly central to our understanding of marriage, then shouldn’t we ban inter-religious marriages (especially, say, among a Christian and non-Christian)? Shouldn’t we ban atheists from marriage entirely?
Oh, and before I conclude the discussion of the definition of marriage in the context of religion, it may be worth going back to the Bible and examining the “marriages” of Abraham and Solomon (for example). Just how many wives did they have? What exactly was the relationship between David and Jonathan and why were they kissing? Also, if you would, remind me again who Jesus married? Many religions seem to hold a place of honor for practitioners who live a life of celibacy and faith; yet how is it that we view men and women deciding to live a celibate life without procreating as perfectly normal (or even a choice to be honored) but two people sharing their love with one another as unnatural if they are of the same sex?
Though this particular horse was long ago beaten on this blog, I continue to note that one of the objections to marriage equality is that it doesn’t produce children. But, as I’ve said here in the past, a marriage where one of the partners is infertile doesn’t produce children either. Nor does a marriage where the couple elects not to have children. And yet we don’t prohibit infertile couples from marrying, we don’t require men to divorce post-menopausal women, and we don’t require that marriage licenses include a promise to bear offspring. So what exactly does have procreation have to do with prohibiting same-sex marriage? Don’t forget that a same-sex marriage may produce children through one of the partners or via adoption.
Which, of course, leads to yet another commonly heard refrain, that children do better with a mother and a father. That may be true (though I’m not convinced that is what the scientific evidence actually says; it may be more accurate to say that children do better in a two-parent household than in a single-parent household). But the end result (oft-heard) of that reasoning is that we would rather have children remain in foster care than be adopted by two loving parents if one of those parents is gay. Perhaps children do better with both a mother and father. Perhaps. But they probably also do better if the parents are rich. And smart. And don’t live in Mississippi. Or smoke. But we don’t use those criteria to determine who can adopt. I mean think about it. Are we really so scared of “the gays” that we’d prefer children to grow up without any parental involvement or as wards of the state in a foster care environment than allow them to be raised by people who may desperately want a child just because the prospective parents are gay? Perhaps we should ban all non-Christians from adopting, too. After all, we wouldn’t want adopted children to be exposed to … gasp … Islam or Judaism or atheism, would we. No, that would be bad for the children, right?.
Another point that I can’t let slide is the suggestion that marriage equality means that churches, synagogues, or mosques would be required to solemnize or recognize same-sex marriages. That is completely false. No religious affiliation is presently required to recognize any marriage that it doesn’t want to recognize. A rabbi cannot be compelled to officiate at the marriage of a Jew to a Methodist; a priest cannot be compelled to say mass at the marriage of a Catholic to a Muslim, and no member of the clergy would be obligated to sanction the marriage of a man to another man. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying to you or just painfully stupid. Don’t forget, we also allow judges and certain other public officials to conduct marriages that have absolutely nothing to do with religion. Similarly, the Catholic church doesn’t allow divorces (usually) and a Jewish divorce (a get) is difficult to obtain; yet the government has no problem allowing a couple to obtain a divorce whether or not their religion recognizes that divorce.
And that’s really the whole point, isn’t it? Marriage may be a religious doctrine (at least to some religions). But it is also a civil contract between two people that the state recognizes and helps to enforce. As I’ve also mentioned previously, the state does not recognize consecration or bar mitzvah or communion or any of a host of other religious observances. Just marriage. So ask this question: If a civil union was completely and totally the same as marriage in all but the name, then would you support civil unions? And if a civil union was completely and totally the same as marriage in all but the name … then what would be wrong with just calling it a marriage and erasing the fiction that the two were somehow something different?
Thus, when I reflect on all of this, I can really only draw one conclusion: Virtually all of the objections that people raise to marriage equality are mere excuses for the true problem. Religion is an easy out; tradition sounds good. But none of these objections, when really analyzed and mulled over, hold much water. Nope. It seems to me that the real objection isn’t religion and it isn’t tradition and it certainly isn’t procreation. Nope. The real objection is a simple objection to homosexuality and homosexuals. Many people find it “icky” and the idea of sanctioning it feels wrong because of that “ick factor”. And, so, what better way to avoid something that feels “wrong” to you than to try to sweep that which makes you feel uncomfortable under the proverbial rug. Sure there will be gays around, but if they can’t get married then maybe you won’t have to be exposed to them and all that icky gay sex. And then your world will be just that much happier and safer of a place, right? In the end, it seems to me that many in our society are willing to discriminate against people solely on the basis of who they are and simply because who they are makes some people uncomfortable. I don’t think that most marriage equality opponents are evil or even, really, bigoted; rather, they are uncomfortable by homosexuality and would prefer to keep it at a distance.
Or could it be that deep down, those people might be questioning their own sexuality? Ooh. Best not go there…