Both in the U.S.A. and internationally the marriage equality movement is gaining momentum. Accordingly, more and more people are starting to acknowledge the flawed nature of all arguments which oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. This article discusses 10 of the most common positions presented by opponents of marriage equality and outlines why each deserves a failing grade.
1. Nature: "It's Not Natural" (FAIL)
The most basic argument presented by gay marriage opponents purports that marriage between two people of the same sex is "not natural" and is in violation of the "natural order." At this level of the debate there is very little exploration of the inherent validity (or otherwise) of same-sex marriage but rather a fixation on the notion that homosexuality is unnatural: "It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," the opponents quip. In reality, marriage is a societal institution. The natural world didn't create marriage, humans did. Nature-themed arguments against gay marriage say little about the societal institution of marriage but reveal a lot about the homophobia and heterosexism of those who present such arguments. In this regard, the disapproval isn't about gay marriage per se -- it's more about discomfort with homosexuality, period.
2. Procreation: "Marriage is for Procreation" (FAIL)
With the procreation argument, opponents of equality argue that the institution of marriage is essentially in place to assist with procreation and the raising of children. They reason that because two people of the same sex cannot procreate that they should not be allowed to marry. While the production of children may indeed be a feature of many heterosexual marriages the capacity to procreate does not determine the legal validity of such marriages. There are many married straight couples who cannot biologically have children or who choose not to. The procreation argument ignores the fact that people marry for a wide range of reasons unrelated to procreation including love, friendship and companionship.
3. Religion: "It's Against My Religion" (FAIL)
Christianity-based arguments lead the way in efforts to oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage in America. References to the Bible, the "sinful" nature of homosexuality, and "religious beliefs" are regularly made by those who seek to rationalize their support of discrimination via religion. Marriage is a religious institution, they argue, and not one for society to tamper with. Given that the U.S.A. is a secular nation, religion should play no role in any discussion about civil and societal laws. In order to legally marry there is absolutely no requirement for a religious ceremony to be held. In this sense, marriage is not a religious institution but a socio-legal one governed by the state. Religious beliefs about marriage should never be enshrined in laws in ways that restrict the freedom of others who do not share those beliefs.
4. Redefinition: "You're Trying to Redefine the Institution" (FAIL)
Opponents argue that marriage has always been between a man and a woman and that it should stay that way. They say that efforts to legalize same-sex marriage will fundamentally alter the institution for the worse. History reveals, however, that marriage laws in the U.S.A. and in countries across the globe have been modified repeatedly in response to evolving cultural norms. There was a time when women were the legal property of their husbands. There was a time when a man and a woman of different races couldn't marry each other. There was even a time when not one country in the world had legalized same-sex marriage! Removing discrimination from the institution of marriage does not redefine "marriage" -- it simply makes the institution more accessible and reflects the evolution of society.
5. Sanctity: "It's a Threat to the Sanctity of (Opposite-Sex) Marriage" (FAIL)
With roots in religion, the sanctity argument posits that marriage is a "sacred" institution that only heterosexual couples should have access to. Allowing same-sex couples to marry apparently poses a "threat" to "traditional marriage" as though somehow heterosexual married couples will all be at risk of divorcing when two people of the same sex marry each other. If those who use the "sanctity" argument were genuinely concerned about the institution of marriage they'd focus their efforts on helping those straight married couples who are at risk of divorcing. If marriage was so "sacred" they'd also be pursuing the outlawing of heterosexual divorce. They do neither of these things. The only married straight couples impacted by the legalization of gay marriage are those in which one of the parties is a closet-case gay person who dreams of coming out and marrying someone of the same sex!
6. Children: "It Will Harm the Children" (FAIL)
Opponents of equality frequently make use of flawed research studies to insinuate that allowing same-sex couples to marry will somehow harm children. They argue that children need a "mom and a dad" in order to flourish in life and that legalizing same-sex marriage denies children this opportunity of "normalcy." Multiple studies across the social sciences have repeatedly demonstrated that there is no difference in psychosocial outcomes between children raised by opposite-sex couples and those raised by same-sex couples. There is no evidence that children are psychologically harmed by having two dads or two moms. The American Psychological Association (APA), the American Sociological Association (ASA), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has each endorsed the legalization of same-sex marriage and its capacity to provide a stable familial framework for children.
7. Reverse Discrimination: "Religious People Will Be Discriminated Against" (FAIL)
Some opponents of marriage equality describe a future in which religious people become the new "victims" of oppression. They talk of charity-based religious organizations being "forced out of business" for "sticking to their beliefs" about marriage. In this reverse scenario, gay people are apparently "hateful" for wanting to be treated equally in society. How dare we demand equal rights and criticize those who discriminate against us! In no state of the U.S.A. in which gay marriage is legal is a church legally required to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. Religious groups and churches are still free to pick and choose who they will and won't marry. Organizations that receive public money, however, and which must adhere to anti-discrimination laws, should rightly be challenged if they engage in discrimination against a protected class of people.
8. Slippery Slope: "It Will Lead to Marriage Involving Animals, Siblings, Children, or Groups of People!" (FAIL)
Slippery slopes arguments suggest that legalizing gay marriage will serve as a "gateway" for the legalization of marriage involving animals, siblings, children, or groups of people. People who present these scenarios portray a catastrophic future with society crumbling under the weight of rampant immorality and social discord. Efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, however, simply aim to provide same-sex couples with equal access to marriage laws -- there is no intention to change the fundamental definition of marriage as the legal union between two adult human beings who have no direct biological connection with each other. Facts are useful in this regard: of the fifteen countries and 12 U.S. states that have legalized same-sex marriage, none of them has subsequently legalized marriage involving animals, children, siblings, or groups of people.
9. Civil Unions: "Civil Unions Are Good Enough" (FAIL)
Some opponents of same-sex marriage support the creation of a "separate but equal" platform in which straight couples and gay couples receive the same relationship rights and benefits, but from within different institutional frameworks. They argue that "marriage" should be left exclusively for opposite-sex couples and that same-sex couples should be granted "civil unions." History has demonstrated that this "separate but equal" approach doesn't work. Various countries and American states which initially permitted "civil unions" for same-sex couples have subsequently enacted marriage equality legislation. These jurisdictions have pursued such changes because civil union legislation, no matter how valiant the effort, is not able to provide the same rights and benefits as legal marriage. In essence, having a two-class system continues to maintain the erroneous notion that one group (straight people) is more superior to another group (LGBT people).
10. States' Rights: "States Have the Right to Oppose It" (FAIL)
This position stresses that states have a constitutional right to make their own decisions about the legalization of same-sex marriage which may include banning it. Ironically, most advocates of this argument also support the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law which allows the federal government to deny more than one thousand federal rights and benefits to same-sex couples legally married at the state level. The maintenance of a system which allows some states to recognize same-sex marriage and others not to, and which allows the federal government to ignore legal same-sex marriages performed at the state level, sets up a cumbersome and extremely complicated national map of unequal rights and legal nightmares. Those who support a "states' rights" approach to same-sex marriage should at least be consistent and drop their support of a federal government act (DOMA) which essentially tramples states' rights.
Conclusion: Marriage Equality is the Future -- Embrace it!
There is no logical or reasonable basis for denying same-sex couples access to secular marriage laws. Opposing the inevitable (marriage equality) is a waste of time, money and energy. I urge all of those who oppose gay marriage to start focusing on their own lives, to accept that they don't need to marry a person of the same sex, and to recognize the right of all Americans to be treated equally under the law: "liberty and justice for all" should not come with a disclaimer.
(A longer version of the above article is available at the GMUSA blog. Thank you to those at the GMUSA facebook page who have regularly shared their views on this topic and who have, in that regard, helped contribute to the ideas and arguments expressed in this article. Photos by Murray Lipp.)