Marriage equality: the arguments

Ali wrote an excellent post this morning about various religious groups being rightly deemed hate groups.  Her post has motivated me to rehash my post about the various arguments against gay marriage.  This is a collection of all the arguments I have heard against gay marriage and the reasons I find them to be factually errant, logically vacuous, cruel, or a combination of the three.  I will use Atheism Resource as a holding post for this entry, and will add to it as I hear new arguments.

In order to get into some of these arguments, we all need to be on the same page about marriage’s development. Historically speaking, the notion of marriage is a nebulous concept that changes constantly. While marriage traditions differ greatly from culture to culture, marriage within Jewish culture and subsequently Christian culture was seldom an issue of love, but rather a means of producing children, securing bloodlines, and managing property rights. This is why a widow was made to marry her husband’s brother. Also, throughout much of it, women were considered chattel, which was a different way of saying ‘property’ (the word itself being derived from ‘cattle’).

The History

Polygamy.

“Although [polygamy] was lawful among the ancient fathers: whether it be lawful now also, I would not hastily pronounce.” ~ St. Augustine, The Good of Marriage

Indeed, even Martin Luther, the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation from which we derive what would become our Christianity, wrote “I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict Scripture.”

In 1650, the parliament of Nürnberg decreed that men could take up to ten wives for a brief period, and the Catholic Church adopted it.
Religious philosophers, starting with Augustine in the 5th century, debated the issue of polygamy for centuries. However, it was the Roman Catholic Church that put an official end to the practice in the 12th century.

Endogamy.

Marrying only within a particular social group (the opposite of exogamy, which is marrying outside your particular social group). Many Muslim groups still engage in this, as do some Christian groups. Until 1967, Christian groups opposed exogamy in the form of marrying somebody of a different race (thus supporting endogamy). Names for these types of laws were often similar to Virginia’s “Racial Integrity Act,” and they were justified as defending the traditional meaning of marriage. They did this citing passages from the bible, the most frequent of which was Phinehas and the curse of Ham. It should be noted that these laws would have prevented the marriage of Barrack Obama’s parents.

Arranged Marriages.

These have been prevalent throughout history. We owe arranged marriages to the Hebrew edicts that marriage preserve property rights, as well as the tradition of marriage to tackle primarily financial issues. Often these marriages were conducted by proxy, in which somebody stood in for the groom. It is this tradition of marriage as a financial matter that gave us the idea of a dowry.

It was the troubadors of the 12th century that introduced the concept of romantic love to the notion of marriage, and begun to emancipate us from marriage, both in the religious and political sense, as an economic institution.

The list of assundry changes to the idea of marriage could quite literally go on forever, but this should be sufficient for arguments I’m about to make.

The Arguments

It is plain to see that any argument against gay marriage is merely bigotry dressed up as an argument, and if we are to be moral, good human beings with sensible moral imperatives, we must oppose bigotry wherever it rears its devout, ugly head.

We cannot “redefine marriage.”

We cannot redefine marriage for whom? Marriage exists in many cultures and many faiths differently than it exists in yours. There is not a single definition of marriage, and the United States government recognizes several faiths as legitimate religions that have a different definition than yours. Many of these faiths will marry people of the same gender. To recognize one religion over another legally is an abrogation of the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights.

By saying that we cannot redefine marriage, you are simply saying that the country must recognize your idea of marriage and grant you the monopoly on the concept. This is flagrantly discriminatory and for no good reason.

We must keep the traditional value of marriage.

Again, you do not seem to grasp the notion that there is no “traditional” value for marriage. The term is broad, and even marriage in your faith changes constantly (historically speaking). You really just want to force others, with their own notion of marriage (which is just as legitimate as yours) from keeping with their tradition. So in reality, it is you who is ignoring other cultures by demanding that they adhere to yours.

Also, as we’ve seen, tradition is a very poor measuring stick for what is fair. Traditionally, the United States allowed you to keep slaves (until we broke from that wicked tradition). Traditionally, blacks were not able to marry a majority of the citizens in the United States who didn’t share their ethnic minority. We rightly eliminated those laws – far later that we should have. Tradition should be eliminated if it conflicts with compassion. There is no need to maintain a practice from a dated society with different needs than our current one, that conflicts with modernity. To do so could only be called regressive and stupid.

My brother put it very well once:

“I hear there are some voodoo hoodoo tribes in Africa where it’s a passage to manhood to rip some poor sap’s still-beating heart out of his chest and eat it raw while prancing about on a bed of hot coals and whacking off with their free hand. I hope they get rid of that tradition – that one sucks.

Some traditions should be flushed down the proverbial toilet, or at least be given a few rigorous wipes to make them applicable to modern society.”

Homosexuality is a life-style choice.

Even if it is…who cares? Your traditional marriage once forbid marriage to a non-believer, which is certainly a choice. Why should whether or not loving somebody of the same gender is a choice even matter?

The following rebuttal to the life-style argument is a non-sequitor, since whether or not it’s a choice is irrelevant.

Our most prestigious batteries of medical minds say it’s not a choice. This is from the American Psychological Association in response to the question of whether or not homosexuality is optional:

No, human beings cannot choose to be either gay or straight. For most people, sexual orientation emerges in early adolescence without any prior sexual experience. Although we can choose whether to act on our feelings, psychologists do not consider sexual orientation to be a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed.

All credible medical bodies are in concert with the APA on this subject. In order to part ways from them, you must have a good reason to deny the consensus of the experts. What is it?

Marriage is for the production of children.

Your idea of marriage may be. But, once more, you do not hold all the rights to the notion of marriage. Nobody is insisting that you must alter your particular set of tribalistic rules to accommodate groups you want to exclude, so nobody wishes to alter your concept of marriage. It is you who wants to forcibly exclude other ideas of marriage from their protection under the first amendment because those ideas do not mesh with yours. If you can do that, what prevents others from doing the same to you?

If marriage were for the production of children, we would have laws against impotent couples (which make up about 15% of marriages), we would take away children from single-parent homes, and we would make procreation requisite for marriage. We do none of the above. We tried to do so in 2007 with Washington Initiative 957. Initiative 957 or the “Defense of Marriage Act” would have required a couple to prove they were capable of having children in order to be married, and it would have annulled their marriage if they did not produce offspring within three years. The measure failed and rightly so – because marriage is not exclusively about producing children in the eyes of our country.

If you want your definition of marriage to be about producing and rearing kids, great. Nobody is saying you cannot do this. But to insist that others forsake their traditions, religious or otherwise, and abide by yours is tyrannical and wrong.

Even if it were about raising children, adoptions happen (many of the orphans coming from straight-marriage homes), and gay people are certainly capable of handling that responsibility. The American Medical Association, perhaps the most austere medical organization on Earth, supports gay people raising children:

Our AMA will support legislative and other efforts to allow the adoption of a child by the same-sex partner, or opposite sex non-married partner, who functions as a second parent or co-parent to that child.

The American Psychological Association follows suit:

Studies comparing groups of children raised by homosexual and by heterosexual parents find no developmental differences between the two groups of children in four critical areas: their intelligence, psychological adjustment, social adjustment, and popularity with friends. It is also important to realize that a parent’s sexual orientation does not indicate their children’s.

According to the Department of Human Services in my home state of Arkansas, on any given day there are about 3,700 children are in foster care with only about 1,100 foster homes ready to take them. So even if gay people cannot produce children (a fact that is irrelevant for the purpose of denying them marriage), they can still adopt and provide a child with a loving family they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

If you are denying gay people familial rights that currently, in states like Arkansas, prevent them from adopting children, your policies are hurting children even as you pose as defenders of our progeny. If you are doing this, you should be ashamed of yourself.

The slippery slope argument.

The idea is that if we let gays get married we must also let polygamists get married. I have also heard other wretched comparisons used with this argument, like if we let consenting adult gays get married we must also let pedophiles marry their prey or let people marry animals.

This argument was also invoked by pious Christians leading up to the landmark 1967 decision to allow interracial marriage. If we let blacks marry whites, what next? The correct answer is, nothing. Each issue must be weighed on its individual merits and for fairness of its own account. If the slippery slope argument is to hold, what keeps us from slippery sloping in the other direction? What keeps the government from saying that you can’t marry whomever you choose based on your income, or some other arbitrary measure?

In the case of gay marriage, you are not protecting anybody. These are consenting adults, who have found happiness in each other’s arms. There is no harm. There is no danger. Why do we need to have laws against this? Who are we protecting by doing so?

The one-size fits all approach to marriage.

The idea here is that gay people have the same rights as straight people: they can marry somebody of the opposite gender. This is really just another way of saying that your particular idea of marriage (out of tens of thousands on Earth) should be the only one, and that people somehow have full rights because they can adhere to your sense of marital propriety.

That’s just stupid.

The mass opinion argument.

Usually sounds something like, “The majority of Americans think marriage is between a man and a woman.”   First off, this is not the case.

Secondly, it wouldn’t matter if it was the case.  There are some concepts that are outright unconstitutional, and the judiciary is there to bat them down.  If the majority of Americans voted to make carrying a bible illegal, for instance, the idea would never fly and rightfully so.  In matters of equality and liberty for all the constitution reigns supreme, and it protects minorities from the will of the majority.

Outro

This is a growing document, so I will be perpetually adding facts to it and addressing new arguments as they arise. If you have anything to contribute, please leave a comment.
All of us know what it is like to be discriminated against for one reason or another. If you would prevent that unpleasantness from being visited on perfectly normal and perfectly good people for no good reason whatsoever, speak out.  While life may not be fair, the unfairness does not have to come from us as compassionate human beings. If you have a sense of justice and want to wash your hands of unethical treatment of others, speak out.  If you want to be somebody who views us as a single race trying to share happiness on this rock we call Earth, rather than an agent of a balkanizing tribe, speak ou

In short, if you have empathy you cannot sit silently on this issue – and you must not let any of the terrible arguments that allow people to ignore the well-being of others to advance.

  • «bønez_

    Great article. Two problems, though — Initiative 957 was put forth by a gay rights group in order to show the absurdity of such a measure, and the NWCN link about it is broken/nonexistent.

    More info here:
    http://www.captainoblivious.com/rob_mcdonagh/home… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_Initiativ…

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    "Marriage is for the production of children."

    And so it follows that people should not be allowed to marry until the woman is pregnant.

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