“Why shouldn’t gays be allowed to marry?”
The question has a prima facie persuasiveness that’s akin to the popular rhetorical challenge, “Who’s to say what’s right and wrong?” Another trait these queries share is the likelihood that persons confronting them will be reduced to stammering incoherence. The main reason for this detour into dementia isn’t that opponents of gay marriage are idiots. It is rather that the case against same-sex unions requires more strenuous philosophical lifting than the case for it.
Proponents of this radical domestic innovation possess a pocketful of bumper sticker appeals--including the aforementioned “Who’s to say” argument. “It’s not fair” and “It’s discrimination” are two other easily developed themes. Then there’s the protest that people who “love each other” should be encouraged, not discouraged, by society to commit themselves to their male-female, male-male, or female-female partners. Why, after all, should heterosexuals who decry the social damage caused by divorce be in the business of discouraging commitment among homosexual couples? Finally, there is that familiar prosecutorial standby, “How does it hurt you if someone else marries a person of the same sex?” In the 70s Phil Donahue and his talk-show clones touted sexual license by employing similar questions: “Why would you stand in the way of someone’s happiness?” So much nonsense is presupposed in these “beating-your-wife” challenges that no simple reply is possible.
Glibly articulated sound bites work well in mass media. By contrast, when one is obliged to defend an institution that has never been challenged and ideas that have almost always been taken for granted, the speaker faces a daunting task. Quickly! Why must women marry men? Who is hurt if you let people marry whomever they want? Who made you the marriage czar?
When Socrates, in Plato’s Republic, explored the nature of justice, he always searched for common ground between himself and his interlocutors. In book one of this extended dialogue, the impetuous Thrasymachus, after having been argued into a logical corner by his verbal sparring partner, rashly asserts that justice is bad and injustice good. This novel perspective, Socrates declares, makes his own philosophical task much more difficult. Most persons take for granted that justice is good and only argue over its proper definition. Socrates, however, is forced to demonstrate for his auditors something more fundamental--the superiority of justice to injustice.
Defending male-female marriage is akin to defending the value of justice over injustice. It’s seldom done, and the issues are so basic that people are inclined to fall silent. Certainly, no simple slogan serves as an adequate defense of this previously unquestioned proposition. Replying that “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” isn’t compelling--especially when addressed to secular audiences inclined to equate religious faith with stupidity.
As Socrates was forced to ponder the essence of justice and injustice in response to Thrasymachus’ assertion, so advocates for the traditional definition of marriage are faced with the task of explaining to short-attention-span Americans plausible reasons why male-female unions ought to remain the norm. Those explanations, however condensed, should presuppose an analysis of the essential nature of marriage itself.
Marriage: Procreation and Commitment
Marriage is a institution that ties procreation to commitment. This newly-minted but long-presupposed definition constitutes the heart of any defense of traditional marriage. For centuries marriage has revolved around pledges of loyalty made by husbands and wives to each other. “In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer” are words familiar to all Americans. Until recently the phrase “as long as you both shall live” was part of most wedding ceremonies. These vows of commitment aren’t important simply as expressions of the love that two individuals have for each other. They are also significant because marriages are consummated. And those sexual unions produce babies. Marriage, therefore, not only links two people to vows of commitment, it also links commitment to family.
Not all marriages result in children, but marriages aren’t complete--according to law and language--apart from consummation. And acts of consummation produce, for most couples, the children which Roman Catholic theology has rightly linked to acts of intercourse. Indeed, this link between consummation and reproduction is so pronounced that husbands and wives go to considerable contraceptive lengths to frustrate it. With same-sex couples the situation is reversed--and more so. Not only are biological offspring never a result of sexual intimacy, the acquisition of children is an arduous process fraught with legal hurdles. No matter how committed the parties, same-sex unions can never be linked, via consummation, to the creation of a family.
Heretofore, marriage has provided a framework, rooted in vows of commitment, for the raising of children. Though imperfectly realized, that ideal has served to sublimate--to place within the bounds of exalted purpose--mere acts of propagation. Absent this larger framework, intercourse tends to assume the raw visage of animalian instinct. C. S. Lewis once observed that a single man’s desires, freely indulged, would soon suffice to populate a small village.[i] Traditional marriage restrains such impulses because it sets forth the expectation that father and mother will provide a home for the fruit of their passion.
Same-sex marriage, by its very nature, dismisses this link between marriage and propagation. Few heterosexual unions remain childless. All same-sex unions are barren. This biological fact of life renders the term “shotgun wedding” meaningless as regards an entire class of persons--individuals who say their marriages are based on the same principles as everyone else. Though hardly a happy image, this coercive practice (based on whatever stigma still attends out-of-wedlock birth) bears witness, alongside the term “illegitimate,” to the essential link between marriage and children.
Should marriage be forced to accommodate same-sex commitments, it is hard to believe that this revised institution will continue to be viewed as the ideal framework for raising the offspring that same-sex couples cannot, by themselves, produce. Marital unions will likely focus even more exclusively on the feelings that two people have for each other--and even less on the children that one class of married pairs can, and another can’t, produce. This intensified focus on feelings will expedite the delinkage of sex, marriage, and family that began in the sixties with the era of convenient birth control. Such marriages, lacking the substantive bond between feelings and family, are destined to be as short-lived as nuptials sealed with a vow to be faithful “as long as we both shall love.”[ii]
For some time it has been fashionable to disparage couples who look to maternity as a way to save their marriages. The problem with this desperate logic, however, is not that it is totally benighted. It is rather that this reasoning puts the child at the wrong end of the marital relationship--as glue to mend what is already broken. Ideally, children are mutually desired centers of affection that serve to strengthen existing bonds. The spilled-milk approach to parenthood recognizes, only belatedly, the ephemeral nature of feelings not tied to something as tangible and enduring as “our baby.”
Marriage and Child-Rearing
It is hard to fathom the gamesmanship needed to nullify what seems a prima facie argument on behalf of male-female marriage--that children, ideally, are raised within two-parent, male-female homes. Yet many individuals cite a handful of extremely limited and ambiguous studies in order to “prove” the opposite of what nature and common sense would suggest.[iii]
What is incontrovertible, however, even within the dubious world of social science, is that children raised by two parents (who, as of now, “happen to be” male and female) are more successful on measures of social, emotional, and educational welfare than children lacking one or the other parent due to divorce or abandonment. What I think is equally plain is that a definition of marriage that ignores male-female consummation, and thus the link between marriage and family, will open the door (or rather, the floodgates) to a view of sexual relations that ignores children altogether.
Same-sex unions need not worry about having and educating offspring--a fact that clearly contributes to the short-term character of most homosexual pairings.[iv] Until recently opposite sex couples were obliged by society to worry about such matters. Under a regime of same-sex marriage, men and women will doubtless think less about these duties than they do today. After all, so goes the self-interested logic, if “studies prove” that kids are OK with same-sex guardians, why shouldn’t they be OK in less controversial domestic arrangements that also fall short of a presumably discredited ideal?
Some homosexual advocates agree that, optimally, children should have two, married, male-female parents. They concede that it makes sense to prefer intimate role models of maleness, femaleness, and male-female domestic relations. But they deny that same-sex marriage undermines this ideal. This optimistic assessment seems implausible given the positive public attention already received by gay couples (and even gay singles) who go to great lengths to birth or adopt children. On the contrary, what seems to be emerging is a view of marriage that ignores not only the connection between marriage, procreation, and child-rearing but also the link between male-female parents and domestic training. This is precisely the scenario suggested by statistics following the institution of gay marriage in Scandinavian countries.
In Sweden, where gay unions were made legal in 1994, marriage rates hit an historic low in 1997.[v] Meanwhile, out-of-wedlock births in 2001 rose to a record high of 55%. In Norway, where elites foisted gay marriage upon a reluctant country in 1993, illegitimate births rose from 39% to 50% by the end of the decade. Finally, in Denmark, which provided for gay unions in 1989, the out-of-wedlock birth rate for first-born children has increased to 60%--a figure that indicates a growing wall of separation between marriage and procreation in the minds of young Danes.
These numbers provide convincing evidence that under a regime of same-sex marriage even more children than today will be raised in homes that have no intimate male-female model. We should not pretend, for the sake of tolerance, that such homes are “just as good,” psychologically speaking, as homes where children see mothers and fathers interacting almost every day. Children who grow up in fatherless or motherless homes know that something is missing. If it is missing because of an accident, that’s tragic. If it is missing due to divorce, that’s regrettable. But if it is missing by design, then that situation is a socially sanctioned form of child abuse.
People might argue, based on the preceding observation, that same-sex marriage should be legal just as divorce and single-parenthood are permitted. This comparison is misleading. The latter circumstances are not (at least not yet) viewed as ideals to be celebrated. Instead, they are concessions to weakness and occasions for grief. The same-sex equivalency argument would transform all these domestic arrangements into joyous states mirroring a bride-groom wedding. Only minds untouched by divorce, clouded by the rigors of single parenthood, or blinded by ideology could seriously entertain such an empirically unwarranted equation.
Furthermore, children actually reared within same-sex households are not only deprived of male-female domestic models, they are also deprived of a family within which reproductive desire is channeled into a framework of familial affection. After all, no homosexual union, within or without marriage, has reproductive significance. Consequently, children raised in these environments will almost certainly be less prepared for male-female relationships, less likely to view those relationships in the context of a family, and more likely to indulge the variety of impulses that constitute the erotic profile of most humans.
The Fish or Fowl Myth
Over the last two decades we have been given to understand that each person is “straight” or “gay” in the same way that people are born with blue or brown eyes. Sit-coms (the late 20th century’s preferred propaganda tool) assert this notion with a repetitive vengeance. Yet no body of evidence comes close to confirming this dogma. Meanwhile evidence for the malleability of sexual expression is right before our eyes--but ignored in the name of pop-cultural orthodoxy.
It is now fashionable for Hollywood types and Jerry Springer guests to declare themselves “bisexual”--a term that raises insuperable problems for devotees of the I’m-just-that-way school of thought. Also increasingly prevalent are stories about “gay” celebrities who later link up with members of the opposite sex. Ellen DeGeneres’ one-time partner, Anne Heche, is a prominent example. Diversity of this stripe leads individuals who embrace the fish or fowl dogma in disconcerting directions.
Is bisexuality genetic? If so, are bisexuals condemned by their chemistry to be promiscuous? Are threesomes and groups the next “progressive” innovations? (Those ideas, some of us recall, were tried and found wanting in the 70’s.) How does being “who I am, sexually” differ from wanton indulgence of whatever erotic urges happen to emerge from regions just south of the navel? Is self-restraint always verboten--or only sometimes? And how is one to know which impulses are “me” and which are gratuitous?
People more intent on being non-judgmental than on providing guidance for the next generation aren’t inclined to ponder these questions. They would rather blindly embrace what is politically palatable--that children’s sexual habits are inflexibly set--than confront the “lesbian chic” experimentation that already pervades college life. Cognitive dissonance is resolved by denying or ignoring evidence at hand.
Here’s the bottom line of this train of thought. The popular idea that boys and girls aren’t affected by their sexual environment is a myth. Even a recent study conducted by researchers sympathetic to the gay agenda now says as much. These sociologists admit, gingerly, what was previously denied because most folks would have found the conclusions highly objectionable. Today, however, in a society where “gay marriage” is promoted on a par with “straight marriage,” the aversion to homosexuality has been so minimized that the air-brushed truth can be told. Children raised by homosexual partners “seem to grow up to be more open to homeoerotic relations.”[vi]
Sex-Ed and Gay-Marriage
What is true for children raised in same-sex households is true to a lesser extent for all children--boys and girls who may soon be forced by avant-garde health teachers to ask themselves at the age of ten just which sex they think about marrying. That’s a perverse load to put on kids who have yet to reach puberty. Only ideological zealots, moral ostriches, and confirmed couch potatoes could possibly think a “freedom” of this sort is anything but an invitation to social chaos.
Progressive views of sex have taken us from an illegitimacy rate of 4% in 1950 to 33% today--and from under 20% to almost 70% among blacks. The idea that legitimizing homosexual marriage will staunch or reverse that trend requires a degree of self-deception that borders on the psychotic. Adolescents invited to explore their sexual identity will not sit quietly in the corner until they choose A or B -- especially not when “bisexual” or “polymorphous” are among the options that a society bereft moral backbone is putting on the table.
At a meeting of very tolerant church folks, I was discussing, as politely as possible, some of the off-putting and dangerous practices that are erotic norms among male homosexuals. (I invite readers to peruse the NARTH website.)[vii] The general reaction ranged from denial to disbelief. One commentator went so far as to assert that homosexual sex and gay marriage had nothing to do with each other--an assertion equivalent to denying that consummation is linked to marriage. Most of these people seemed to believe that same-sex intercourse involves no greater medical risks than heterosexual relations and that only a geographical accident caused AIDS to be vastly more prevalent among America’s homosexuals than among heterosexuals.
If putative adults are abysmally ignorant of the nature and medical consequences of male homosexuality, how much more are their media-molded children kept in the dark about the dangers of acts that constitute an open invitation to disease and death. The portraits that children constantly see and hear in the media falsely portray gay sex as a benign variation of heterosexual relations. About nothing are same-sex proponents so deceptive as the normal erotic practices of homosexuals. Any culture that puts a seal of approval on gay marriage is as much as inviting its children to engage in forms of sexual expression that are both sterile and dangerous--practices that have no natural connection to the creation of a family.
Arguing for Armageddon
The philosopher Edmund Burke would sympathize with those who face the task of painting a plausible portrait of a hypothetical future. There are so many subtle interconnections that one can hardly imagine the impact of even minor changes. Despite the assurances of pundits whose views are assiduously attuned to tenor of the Times, a change of the magnitude now contemplated will surely have enormous consequences--consequences that may dwarf even the devastating effects of the sixties sexual revolution.
Bumper-stickers can proclaim the onset of Armageddon, but they cannot make an argument for it. It is incumbent upon defenders of traditional marriage, therefore, to ponder realistically the shape of a culture that has rejected one of history’s most fundamental assumptions--an assumption rooted in the reproductive facts of life.
Marriage has been at the heart of our rise from savagery to civilization. I do not think that future generations will bless us for severing its already damaged root--the one linking propagation to commitment.
[i] Mere Christianity, Book III, Ch. 5, “Sexual Morality.”
[ii] William Bennett relates the story of a couple who pledged to stay together “as long as we both shall love.” His suggestion for a wedding gift was paper plates.
[iii] The tenuous and contradictory nature of these very limited studies can be seen in Professor Steven Nock’s analysis of the literature for a Canadian Superior Court in 2001.
[iv]McWhirter and Mattison, The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop (Englewood Cliffs, Prentice-Hall, 1984). Gay authors Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen observed, “Alas, it turns out that, on this point, public myth is supported by fact. There is more promiscuity among gays...than among straights.” Even among committed partners, they observe, “the cheating ratio, given enough time, approaches 100%.” Cf. After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90's (Doubleday, 1989).
[v]All Scandinavian figures come from Stanley Kurtz, “The End of Marriage in Scandinavia,” The Weekly Standard, February 2, 2004.
[vi]Stacey and Biblarz, American Sociological Review, 2001.
[vii]National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, John R. Diggs Jr., “The Health Risks of Gay Sex.” Cf. also R.S. Hogg, et al., International Journal of Epidemiology, Vol 26, No. 3, 657-661. “In a major Canadian centre, life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 20 years less than for all men.”