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On Gay Marriage, or: Man, Those Are Some Terrible Arguments

May 10, 2012

Between the people of North Carolina voting (without really understanding) to outlaw something that was already illegal, 30 of the 33 Republican representatives in Colorado hijacking the legislative process to prevent something that 71% of Coloradans approve of, and the President of the United States coming out in support of gay marriage, today seems like as good of a day as any to flesh out a post that’s been kicking around in my head for some time.  Specifically, I’m talking about the absurdity of the arguments against marriage equality.

Let me back up.  Despite the fact that I wholeheartedly support marriage equality for same-sex couples, it’s not a topic that seems to come up much when talking or writing about Arkansas politics.  I’m not sure whether to chalk that up to my being a straight, married guy or to the fact that Arkansas (like Georgia) is so very backward in many ways, but it’s true nonetheless.  Whenever it does come up, however, I am always flabbergasted by the arguments — often made by otherwise intelligent people — against marriage equality.  I mean, the arguments in favor of such equality are pretty straightforward.  They tend to be things like equal protection or even “why should I care if two consenting adults want to marry one another?”

The arguments against it, however?  Well, let’s take some of the most popular ones in turn and discuss the inherent flaw(s) in each.

1. The Bible defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.  Because we’re in the Bible Belt, this tends to be the most oft-repeated argument.  The most obvious response to this, of course, would be “great, but the Bible is not a source of binding legal precedent in the United States.”  A more thorough response might point out that that the Bible’s message on marriage is mixed at best; for every frequently cited “love is patient, love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13 — a passage that’s not even technically about marriage), there’s something like Deuteronomy 22:28-30, imposing an obligation on a man to marry a woman that he has raped.  For every water-into-wine wedding miracle (John 2:1-11), there’s Paul in First Corinthians telling unmarried people not to marry (1 Corinthians 7:27).

And a more flippant, but no less accurate, reply to this argument would be to borrow a page from the (possibly apocryphal) “Letter to Dr. Laura” and point out that the same people who are basing their position on same-sex marriage on the Bible are ignoring some of the Bible’s other dictates, such as owning slaves (Leviticus 25:44).  If one can disregard certain Biblical commands in response to societal changes, then marriage is no different.

2. Allowing same-sex marriage would cheapen traditional marriage.  This one always makes me laugh out loud.  How could allowing two consenting adults to marry cheapen something that you can get at a drive-thru in Vegas?  How could it lessen the value of something that is a reality-show prize?  How could it diminish the worth of an institution that over 20 states allow first-cousins to enter into?  What harm would same-sex couples do to the sanctity of marriage that Britney Spears’ 55-hour marriage and Kim Kardashian’s 72-day marriage-for-the-sake-of-TV did not already do?

Also worth noting: “protecting” notions of traditional or conventional marriage was also an argument used against interracial marriage prior to 1967.  See, e.g., Perez v. Scott, 32 Cal.2d 711 (1948); Scott v. State, 39 Ga. 321 (1869).  “Traditional” marriage was not destroyed by the outlawing of anti-miscegenation statues in Loving v. Virginia, nor did the change from the common-law notion of women as property ruin it.

3. Allowing homosexuals to marry means that you’ll have to allow polygamy, incestuous marriages, and even “man on dog” marriages.  The Santorum argument.  Ignoring for a moment that a dog can’t even sign a marriage license, there’s still a massive logical leap from allowing marriage between two consenting adults, regardless of their respective genders, to allowing multiple people to marry, allowing parents to marry their biological children, or allowing someone to marry a non-human.  When we talk about marriage equality, we are simply removing gender-based restrictions on the ability to wed; no one is saying anything about removing species-based or consanguinity-based restrictions.

As for polygamy, allowing two men or two women to marry does nothing to further the argument for polygamy than does allowing one man and one woman.  As the U.S. Supreme Court explained in Reynolds v. U.S., 98 U.S. 145, 164 (1878), “At common law, the second marriage was always void (2 Kent, Com. 79).”  That is, marriage at common law, whether viewed through religious or contractual terms, was an institution for no more than two people.

4. Homosexuality is a “lifestyle choice,” so we shouldn’t change laws to fit it.  Personally, this is the argument that bothers me the most, because it belies a terrible lack of understanding about biology and logic.  After all, if homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, then heterosexuality must be as well.  In which case, the argument that we shouldn’t accommodate lifestyle choices with our marriage laws is facially absurd.

But that’s never what the person making the argument means, is it?  They are implying that heterosexuality is the natural biological trait.  Except, as you can see via any number of examples — from blue eyes to cystic fibrosis — basically any genetic trait you can point to on a person has a possible recessive genetic trait.  If heterosexuality is genetic, then homosexuality (or, more accurately, “not heterosexuality”) is the obvious recessive form of that gene.

Often, the person making this argument will follow up with the I-failed-high-school-biology-argument about how, if homosexuality were genetic, it would have died out, since homosexuals cannot reproduce.  Every time someone says this, Gregor Mendel weeps from the great beyond.

5. Allowing homosexuals to marry and raise children will result in those children being gay.  I actually overheard this at Starbucks where two people were discussing Joe Biden’s comments on Meet The Press.  I wanted to ask, “so that means that heterosexual couples always raise children who are heterosexual?”  But I didn’t, mainly because my overpriced latte was ready.

More broadly, this whole “won’t someone think of the children?!” line of argument fails regardless of how it is cast.  There is no scientific (read: not “studies” commissioned by bigots like the Family Council) support for the idea that children of same-sex couples are not as well off as the children of heterosexual couples.  The fact that children of same-sex couples might feel less welcome in certain social settings — public schools, for example — is not an argument against marriage equality; it’s an argument for parents and school officials to do a better job teaching tolerance.

At the end of the day, a lot of this line of argumentation boils down to parents not wanting to discuss homosexuality with their kids.  (Of course, if they really believed that homosexuality was a lifestyle choice, you’d think these parents would want to talk to their children about it and warn them of the evils, but whatever.)  Maybe Louis C.K. said it best, if somewhat abrasively:

I’m sure there are more arguments, but most of the remaining ones are either derivatives of the above-listed statements or the are so absurd that they don’t warrant a response.  Which leaves us at an odd spot: if all the arguments offered against marriage equality are flawed/absurd, as we’ve just established, then, by definition, there is no valid argument against it.  And, if there is no argument against it, then continuing to fight tooth-and-nail against something as basic as marriage equality reeks of selfish close-mindedness at best and outright bigotry at worst.

But, hey, whatever brings out the voters, right?