Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gay marriage: I'm serious, I want to know.

I never talk about political issues, especially controversial ones. But I'm breaking that rule today because I feel like a civil rights moment happened yesterday when President Obama spoke out in favor of gay marriage.

Now, I know some of my readers are opposed to gay marriage but I hope you will read on and maybe comment because the whole point of this post is to understand the arguments against. And I am very serious about that.

Now, as I see it, the reasons to oppose gay marriage take these forms:

1. The Bible says it's wrong.
2. Allowing gays to marry will redefine/harm traditional marriage.
3. It's bad for the children
4. Gay = icky

Here are my responses to each.

1. The Bible says it's wrong.

It does. And people are free to believe this if they choose. Moreover, ministers should never be required to perform weddings for gay couples if doing so would offend their beliefs.


The First Amendment says you cannot impose your beliefs on others, that you cannot legislate your Christian beliefs the same way Hindus and Muslims and Wiccans may not. To allow some people to marry and others not based purely on religious beliefs is a violation of the First Amendment.

I will reveal myself here: I think all arguments against gay marriage fail, other than this one. And I wish those opposing gay marriage would admit they do so based on religious grounds because I find the other arguments weak, if not spurious. I would have a lot more respect for those opposing if they would abandon the pretense that it's not about their religious beliefs.

And my final word on the Bible, because I'm no scholar. But it seems to me that basing our views of marriage according to the Bible is absolutely not something anyone in the modern world would endorse. Here's why:

2. Allowing gays to marry will redefine/harm traditional marriage.

It will redefine marriage, absolutely.

But so what?

I have long sought a firm and logical response explaining the harm gay marriage might cause and this is usually the answer I get. But these are conclusions, not harms.

So I agree it will redefine marriage and I say again, "So what?" Redefining isn't a harm. Will two women marrying in Vermont affect my own marriage? Unless one of those women is my wife, I can't imagine how.

People also argue that it not just redefines but waters down the institution of marriage. But if two people who love each other enough to get married "waters down" marriage, we have a problem.

I have also heard people say, "What's next, people marrying pigs, or chairs?" It's as if by widening the definition to include gay people we have to widen it to include farm animals and furniture. But the law makes distinctions all the time, we draw lines in the sand with everything we do. I can approach an acquaintance and pat him on the shoulder. I can even give him a gentle squeeze as I say "Hello." But I can't pinch or punch him. Do we outlaw friendly pats and squeezes because they somehow automatically lead to punches? Of course not, it sounds silly. Because it is. The idea that allowing adult humans to marry each other will magically open the door to babies marrying coffee cups is equally silly (and it always strikes me as rather insulting to equate a gay person with a chair).

So my question is, what is the precise harm? I just don't get it, and I want to.

3. It's bad for the children

 This argument is essentially: the best environment for kids to grow up in is one father and one mother. And, you know, with some rephrasing I could get on board:

"In theory and in a perfect world, a well-adjusted and happy home containing a mother and father appears to me likely to give more balance and perspective than any other pairing."

(I am editing this after my wife made some good points: no marriage is ever perfect, not all straight men are masculine, not all women are traditionally feminine, and even if they were, then the kid would miss out on having non-masculine/feminine perspective.  Which is to say, no one marriage will ever afford a child a look at or understanding of every single aspect of the human experience.)

The problem is, of course, we don't live in a perfect world. Heterosexual couples can be unhappy, abusive, neglectful, etc. and does anyone really disagree that a happy and loving gay couple is less damaging to their kids than an abusive and neglectful same-sex couple?

And what about single parents? I see no clamor to outlaw them.

A variant of this argument is that the purpose of marriage is primarily to have kids. It isn't of course, there's no law (natural or man-made) that says once you marry you have to have kids, or that you can't have them until you are married. That people tend to wait until they are married to have kids is a social construct, nothing more. I know that because I don't hear people fighting for ballot initiatives and constitutional prohibitions to prevent old people from getting married, or sterile people, or disabled people, or people who flat don't want to have kids. Kids are frequently a product of marriage but that doesn't make them the purpose of marriage.

This one, from where I sit, simply isn't about the children.

4. Gay = icky

As a teenager, I remember sitting on a train as it pulled into a station in Switzerland. I looked onto the platform and saw two men kissing. My visceral reaction was, "Eeewwwww, gross!" Even now, if I saw that, I'd probably be a little uncomfortable. But you know what else is icky and gross? When my kids see my wife and I kissing. A total "Eeeewww" moment. We all know and agree that's no basis for constitutional amendments.

So I want to know what I'm missing. If someone is willing to take a shot, I will not just post your comment/reply here, but I'll open my blog to a reasoned argument as to why gay marriage is harmful.

Because, as I keep saying, I really want to understand.


  1. Great thoughts. I believe our grandchildren will look at our homophobic bigotry in opposition to same sex marriage the same way we look at our grandparents racial bigotry in opposition to interracial marriage. Outlawing any two people who love each other from getting married is a moral wrong. And progress is happening. I am proud of President Obama and grateful for the progress while I mourn the North Carolina-type setbacks. As Dr. King said: The arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

  2. Thanks Adam, I agree. I've been frustrated with his "evolving" position but am ready to give him credit for doing the right thing, especially when it may cost him politically.

  3. I have also avoided posting political stuff on my blog. I didn't want to offend people who visited my site to read about criminal law. Nor did I want to give the appearance of foisting my own views on others.

    I made an exception last summer when I posted a series of entries in support of gay marriage. Once the dam was broken, I have since posted an occasional political piece (usually in support of Obama because I am a big fan).

    I realize you are most interested in hearing now from people who disagree with you. You are not looking for any more me-tooers. But I can't resist. I agree with you and Mr Ford that we will one day look back on this time with both shame and surprise that at one time gay people were not accorded the same rights as others.

    Leadership is doing what you believe is right whatever the political costs may be. President Obama may have waffled over gay marriage. He may have sent out his Vice President to test the waters first. But in the end he did the right thing.

    The Massachusetts Supreme Court decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, 798 N.E. 2d 941 (2004), remains for me the most eloquent and persuasive legal argument in support of gay marriage.

  4. I think it is clear from your post that you actually do NOT want to know. Who asks an open-ended question by stating all the arguments you have already ruled out?

  5. Jamison: thanks, I only posted because I feel like it's a moment in history. I'll go back to the light and fluffy forthwith...

    Anon: I do want to know. I set out the arguments as I see them thus far, and if I'm wrong or there are other factors to consider, I'd like them pointed out. I've always felt this should be a discussion not a shouting match and by putting my thoughts out there I in no way intend to end that discussion, rather to start it.

  6. Under #5, do you mean "The problem is, of course, we don't live in a perfect world. Same-sex couples can be unhappy, abusive, neglectful, etc. and does anyone really disagree that a happy and loving gay couple is less damaging to their kids than an abusive and neglectful same-sex couple?" as written, or rather
    "The problem is, of course, we don't live in a perfect world. Heterosexual couples can be unhappy, abusive, neglectful, etc. and does anyone really disagree that a happy and loving gay couple is less damaging to their kids than an abusive and neglectful heterosexual couple?"

  7. Ed: I do. Yes, I do. I will go change it now, good catch, thanks!

  8. I've never been able to figure it out. I can figure out why people feel the way they do about every single social/political issue in the world (guns! abortion! death penalty! welfare!), but I can not figure out a legitimate reason for opposing gay marriage.

  9. Anon* here again ...

    OK, DAC, if you want to read some rational arguments--both religious and non-religious--in favor of the traditional (Judeo-Christian) definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman, try these (warning: they are LONG): (secular approach) (rational religious approach) (Objectivist/libertarian approach) (orthodox religious approach from Catholic bishops)

    They address some of your points 1-3 (not necessarily #4--I agree that "ickiness" is not a legal/moral rationale that needs refuting), and especially in regard to #1, they refute your cute-but-uninformed chart by going beyond a simplistic "because the Bible tells me so" explanation.

    Despite the false start, I commend your openness to understanding those who hold an intellectually honest opposition to your current opinion. Don't be afraid to follow that wherever it leads. Maybe there is some "evolution" in your future as well, ha ha--who knows?

    *-Sorry for posting anonymously, but I work in a public office and fear the "forces of tolerance and diversity" (which are often neither) and will try to have me fired if I publicly ID myself.

  10. Well the problem you're going to have is that many people who are opposed to it cannot divorce their emotion from their logic. So they cannot give you a reasoned argument, all they seem to be capable of is lashing out. That's part of the problem in this country. We can't have a true dialogue that might lead to some understanding and acceptance on both sides of the argument because people get too defensive right off the bat--anon being a good exmaple. Immediately the tone is accusatory. It would be lovely if people could put down their anger and defensiveness long enough to really try to help others to understand where they are coming from. All of that said, I tend to agree with everything in this post and honestly I just do not get any of these arguments. Although I think you're right that if it is simply a religious belief, just say that because that actually makes sense to me. There are plenty of religious beliefs out there belonging to various religions that I do not understand but I respect peoples' right to peacably practice their own religion without harming others. I think the true answer to why people are opposed to gay marriage is plan and simple: FEAR. Of what? I couldn't say. But I think that's as good a candidate as any other argument.

  11. LegFab: I agree, all the other political debates seem far more legitimate to me, in that there are good, logical arguments on both sides.

    Anon: Thanks for coming back and sticking with me. I will absolutely check those resources out (though perhaps not on a work day). I'm grateful that you posted them, and I'm sorry you feel unable to "come out" (just kidding!) at work. People should be able to express their views without fear of reprisal, even those who disagree with me!

    Lisa: I think you may be right. Fear prevents change and prompts defensiveness. But I'm curious to see the articles Anon has referred to, and would encourage others coming here to check them out.

  12. Hi Mark, I saw your post as shared on FB from Wendy Pottgen who is a friend of mine (althought after she reads this, she might not want to be anymore! Just kidding, she's AWESOME and I'm sure she'll still want to be my friend, I hope so anyway.) Thank you for kindly asking for other's opinions about this, and allowing us this opportunity to share our thoughts on your blog. I wrote a response and then thought, "Hey, I need to put what I'm writing on MY blog!" So, here it is... my answers to your genuine and valid questions:
    I pray I won't be grilled too badly. ;)
    God bless!
    Agena Hurrle

  13. Agena, thanks so much for contributing. First chance I get (stupid work!) I'll pop over and read what you have to say, and comment if I have something intelligent to say in response. Thanks again!

  14. I'm Canadian, the law was changed here a couple of years ago, guess what the sky didn't fall in. I subscribe to the live and let live theory of life, besides with the divorce rate what it is, it kind of blows #2 as an arguement out of the water.
    Why do people want to force their views on everyone else? As long as both parties in question are adults who cares? Fine you don't believe in it, great, don't marry someone of the same sex.

  15. Anon@7:26 - precisely. I always forget to point out that in other countries gay marriage, and gays in the military, are non-issues and, as you say, the sky hasn't fallen in. Well said.

  16. Original Anon here (also with more weekend time on my hands now):

    "The sky hasn't fallen in"? Really? Well I guess that would depend upon whose sky is being gored (if I may mix a metaphor).

    In Canada, columnists, comedians, and religious ministers have been, or are now being, *criminally* prosecuted for hate speech for publicly stating their objections to gay marriage and homosexuality in general. In Canada (and Wales, and England, to name a few), religious schools are being threatened with sanctions by their own governments for teaching their students about their church's traditional stance on the issue and for advocating against legalization of same-sex marriage in those nations. Now, in those situations, *who* is forcing their "views" on *whom*?!? The simple fact is that someone is always forcing their views on someone else when it comes to lawmaking--some are just more honest about it than others.

    Now, in several European countries that are farther down this road than Canada, same-sex marriage has continued those nations' long slide to fewer marriages of any sort, fewer births in general, more out-of-wedlock births when there are any, and an approaching demographic winter than threatens their economic and social survival. That's not necessarily the fault of same-sex marriage, but same-sex marriage is one of several symptoms of the cancer that is slowly killing those countries.

    (An aside here: yes, marriage as an institution has been weakened by the sexual revolution, no-fault divorce, etc.--so how does same-sex marriage improve that situation? That's like trying to fix a car with one flat tire by taking the air out of another tire to make both sides "even.")

    Here's my bottom line. Marriage and the resulting biological nuclear family have been the basic building blocks of Western civilization for ages. Western societies have given it privileged status because it helped maintain order, safety, freedom, and prosperity more successfully and at less cost than if the state tried to assume all those duties. But today, as "the State" assumes more of those roles in the cradle-to-grave welfare states found in Western Europe and elsewhere, the importance of marriage and the nuclear family as a building block of society recedes, pushed out by the government. (Ditto for non-governmental civil groups, local associations, and--most especially--churches that dare to be counter-cultural on issues of sex and morals.)

    Ultimately, I see same-sex marriage as a way for leftists of various stripes to burn that traditional bridge and prevent a return to a constitutional form of limited government in which government is the servant, not the master. This is not a Brave New World that I look forward to with anything resembling optimism. And again, same-sex marriage is not the only match under the kindling these folks are using, nor is it even the biggest match, but it is certainly lit and getting hotter.

    Flaming, even. And not in a fabulous way. ;-)

    So there it is, my own, not-a-hyperlink-to-someone-else's-thoughts position on the issue. Simply put, the experimentation is not worth the resulting costs. Mull it over as you see fit, DAC. No one was ever hurt by re-examining their opinion.

  17. My reasons for opposing gay marriage goes as follows.

    In every society, and at every level of government, people legislate morality. And they should. For example, at some point in our past a group of people got together in a village or city and decided it would be against the law to walk around nude in public. . .or kill each other. . .or steal from each other. . .or smoke crack. . .or make nuclear bombs. . .or commit fraud. . .or whatever. My point is that every society has their own standards for "decency."

    How does a society come up with these "standards." For Christians, of which I am one, we use the Bible. As Mark pointed out, the Bible is pretty clear about gay marriage. I firmly believe anyone who has "morals" or "standards" should vote according to their conscience. It's what makes up the consensus for what "decency" is and therefore what laws should be written.

    For me, I'm for institutionalizing and affirming that marriage is between a man and a woman. From God's view, homosexuality is just a sin just like any other sin in that it separates us from Him. And just as the apostle Paul called himself the "Chief Sinner" I too consider myself a great sinner and no better (or worse) than any other sinner. (Not saying all sins are of equal consequence, e.g. white lie vs. serial killer.)

    Bottom Line: I think people of faith should vote according to their faith (whatever religion and whatever faith.) If one doesn't like living in that community, he/she can either work to change it or move to a different location.

    The Bottom, Bottom Line: Even though Christians should stand their ground on this one, Jesus taught us to love. Love everyone, including homosexuals. But just because we love everyone doesn't mean we must approve or condone behavior contrary to our belief system.

  18. Why don't these same arguments in favor of gay marriage apply to polygamy? That's an honest question.

  19. I'm an atheist, so religious arguments don't sway me. However, I can't help but notice that many of the same arguments were used during the debate over no-fault divorce. And that has been absolutely disastrous for marriage and society. It does affect children. It's even a good predictor of poverty. And it's inherited. Once children grow up with no model of marriage, it's hard for them to re-enter the institution successfully.

    That's part of the reason why gay marriage probably won't impact the institution much: it's already had a nuclear bomb dropped on it. Even if it is bad for the institution, there's really not much left to destroy. And since gays are a small minority, there's a limit to the influence they can have. However, given that example of unintended consequences, should we really be in a hurry to try to modify the institution yet again? Can we at least slow down and think about this?

    The relationship between sexes - how we bind them together, how we resolve their differences, how we protect their interests, and how we pass those skills on to the next generation - is one of the most important in any society and time. There is an ideal, and while by definition no ideal is ever fully realized, it would be a mistake to discard ideals entirely. Society has an interest in making parents work things out for the sake of the children, and it may have an interest in promoting male-female marriages as a better model for children to see than same-sex marriages.

  20. Wow, tons of comments and interesting points. My thanks to everyone for posting their thoughts.

    I'll try and respond as best I can to each in new post that will appear in about 20 seconds. Ready? ..

  21. Jason makes excellent points about divorce. Being a Catholic, I stand with the church about our views on divorce.

    I know links to other sites aren't as effective as actual text right here on this page. I apologize for that and hope those reading will still copy/paste in their browser the links I've provided if interested.

    Here's a link to a Homily (aka "sermon") preached last night (just 13 mins) from an outstanding, young, Indianapolis priest on the subject of Homosexuality that I'd like to share. Most priests won't publically preach on the topic so I commend him for doing so! :)
    I understand many people are atheist or agnostic, but maybe out of curiosity, some may listen to this:

    Good discussions here! :)

  22. Thanks Agena, I will check that out.

  23. I don't usually post comments on blogs/articles or anything of the sort but I felt compelled to say something on this one. I am a Christian who does as the Bible says and "loves thy neighbor" whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. My belief is that the Bible has guidelines to live by and is not meant to be taken word for word. It is also too outdated to be taken so strictly. People don't just wake up one morning and think "I think I'll be gay now." I strongly believe God made them that way. Why would he make someone this way only to have their rights stripped from them? There is supposed to be a separation of church and state anyway, so religious beliefs shouldn't be a factor what so ever.

    There are children all over the world that are in need of a loving home. If there are fewer births in countries, that might not be a bad thing. I will use Neil Patrick Harris and his partner as a prime example of good parenting in a stable, happy, homosexual relationship. I will also use Britney Spears as an example of a heterosexual who is actually ruining the sanctity of marriage.

    I would like to say to those who are against it, I respect your opinion on the matter. However, I would also like to say, allowing gay marriage does not mean you must get one, attend one, or have any contact or relationship with anyone who is homosexual. It does not mean your church must allow them to attend services or even allow them to be married there. Making gay marriage legal only means that churches who are accepting of it (such as my own) can allow gay couples to attend services and be married there.

    I understand also that this a progressing issue and I, too, think someday my children will be surprised this was even an issue and it saddens me that it is even an issue now.

    My very last thing to say is that my marriage wouldn't affect you in any way shape or form. In fact, you wouldn't even know if I was married unless I told you or knew you personally. So why would you think a gay marriage would affect you in any way shape or form? I honestly don't understand why people are so concerned with what other people do with their lives, people they don't even know.

  24. Anon (June 27): thank you. Wonderfully expressed and it's heartening to me when Christians come out (pun intended) and support gay marriage. An eloquent statement of your beliefs, I truly thank you.

  25. My father, both grandfathers, and most of my adult male relatives are Christian ministers or somehow associated with the Methodist church. I, myself, was raised in this environment. However, none of my family (minus maybe some of the older generation) discriminate against the gay. Very interesting that so many anti-gay marriage arguments are based on the Bible and religious reasoning, yet not all Christians or religious figures agree to these points.

    As my father told me back in 2007, religion should not dictate who a man or woman can marry. If two people are in love, that is between them and God, not between them, God, the government, and the general public. He stated that it would be better for a child to be raised in a loving home, no matter the combination of parentage (single parent, homosexual parents, heterosexual parents) rather than in an abusive or cold home.

    I believe (correct me if I'm wrong) that homosexual couples cannot adopt in a majority of, if not all 50, states in the US. Yet, in my city, there was a banner hung downtown during the duration of the month of November that urged people to foster or adopt children, because every child needed love. I honestly do not understand the thoughts of those who fear homosexuality. If you don't like it, don't participate in it.

  26. Daisy, it would seem to me that you have inherited your father's wisdom. I totally agree with everything you said.


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