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Same-Sex “Marriage”: Why We Don’t Fight

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<span style="font-family:arial, sans, sans-serif;font-size:13px;">Same-Sex &ldquo;Marriage&rdquo;: Why We Don&rsquo;t Fight</span>

John Zmirak - published on 05/08/13

  • We are afraid that our own marriages will somehow be tainted when the same name is used to describe homosexual unions. In fact, we have learned to live with remarried neighbors, whose relationships do not fit our sacramental definition, and we could equally live alongside homosexual couples – if the sanctity of terminology were the only thing at stake.
  • We oppose homosexual unions because what “those people do” disgusts us. The “ick” factor is a poor basis for making moral distinctions and could equally be used to ban marriages between the ugly or the obese. Interracial marriage was once as repugnant to millions of Americans as sodomy. But bans on “miscegenation” were always wrong and it was right when they were repealed. Our objection to same-sex unions is not visceral but moral.
  • We oppose same-sex unions because they further undermine an already fragile institution: marriage. It is true that the marriage rate has plummeted, and the divorce rate is alarmingly high. That is a problem of heterosexual behavior, which predates (and may have helped enable) the “gay rights” movement; if we try to blame it on someone else, we will rightly come off as fools.
  • We oppose same-sex unions because homosexual behavior violates Christian moral norms. While this may be true, it is not a constitutional basis for making a law in the United States. It might fly in the Philippines or Mexico (for the moment), but don’t try it here. Even natural law arguments against homosexual actions can equally apply to contraception, which we aren’t trying to make illegal. Pick your battles, folks.
  • We are concerned that same-sex unions will lead to legal recognition of polygamy, or men getting married to their German shepherds or their Chevys. Really, who cares?

All these objections to same-sex unions, which may occur to us spontaneously and help motivate many people, are logically flawed and rhetorically useless. When we wheel them out and liberals who aced the SATs shoot them down in flames, we have no right to be surprised.

But there is a powerful, valid set of arguments for opposing same-sex unions and reforming marriage laws in a wholesome direction. I learned it from the single best resource out there on the marriage fight: Getting the Marriage Conversation Right, by William B. May of Catholics for the Common Good. It takes less than an hour to read, but it will transform your thinking, as it did mine.

Its thesis is simple: marriage is not primarily about guarding the property rights or policing the sexual behavior of the two adult partners contracting the covenant. The only reason the government has any cause to meddle in the private, romantic associations of its citizens is the presence of innocent, helpless third parties: children. If babies really came from the stork or grew in the garden, the government would be completely out of line in trying to enforce a single, normative legal framework for romantic relationships. That really would be tyranny.

But marriage exists as a legal fact to account for the rights and interests of children – and by extension, their mothers. So the state is not overreaching when it tries to encourage men to support the children whom they father – indeed, to stick around and really be fathers. It is natural for children to grow up with two parents of opposite sexes, and the law ought to encourage that without being unduly punitive to others. Having parents of each sex present is the primal human experience of the family, and the burden of proof ought to rest with those social experimentalists who claim that same-sex couples, single parents, or polyamorous ménages are just as beneficial to children.   

Social science is famously easy to manipulate, and researchers who aren’t biased in favor of experimental families are afraid of ruining their careers, so don’t expect that you’ll find abundant research to settle this question. But the point can be made more simply and effectively: ask someone who claims to favor same sex unions or adoption, “Do you really believe that it’s just as healthy for boys to grow up with no men in the house, or girls to grow up with no women? Are the sexes so indistinguishable as to be interchangeable units?” Most people know better. Once you focus their attention on the real good protected by marriage – the best interests of children – then a true dialogue can begin.

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