The argument here is that equal marriage will change society too much and will be too disruptive. The argument sounds plausible at first, implying that this change should be made gradually, slowly adding rights and freedoms until complete equality is finally reached.
Except that, oddly, most advocates of this position never seem to be saying, “Let us give gays and lesbians equal marriage, but do it slowly, step by step.” No, their main argument seems to be, “This would change society too drastically, so let’s never do it at all.”
Which should be an instant red flag to anyone who’s paying attention. Because it demonstrates that it’s not the “disruption of society” they’re really worried about, at all. If that were their big worry, they would surely welcome the solution of making the change, but making it gradually. But they don’t welcome it. In fact, speaking anecdotally, I have heard far more gay and lesbian marriage advocates arguing for the gradual approach than heterosexuals. The problem gets addressed with agreement by gays and lesbians, and the heterosexuals ignore this. Because most of the people who use this argument do not want a solution to the perceived “problem”. They want to put a stop to the change altogether.
We should also point out that “A Law Changes Society Drastically” is no argument in itself to refrain from making a law. Society changed drastically when women were given the vote. Shall we rescind the vote for women? Society also changed drastically when the Canada Health Act was passed. When Alberta or Newfoundland joined Canada. When Worker’s Compensation was introduced.
In fact, society changes in one way or another with every single law passed in this country. (Kind of the whole point of any law, in fact.) Shall we refrain from making laws? Shall we repeal every single law ever made by parliament (or Congress), because it changed society?
It is clearly not “drastic change” that should be the criterion for whether or not a law should be made. Societies are apparently quite willing to undergo drastic change in some cases. So other considerations are far more important.
When Member of Parliament, John McKay, spoke against equal marriage while the debate was going on in Canada prior to legalization of equal marriage, he used many of the arguments we have already demolished: the gender requirement is paramount (despite how a same-sex couple actually functions the same way an opposite-couple does in these relationships); biological children have to be privileged over mere “legally recognized” children [implication: adoptees!], and so on. We already know how much weight these arguments carry, which is very little.
He also said this (see his entire speech here:
Margaret Somerville, the noted secular medical and legal ethicist, argues that the Government of Canada is proposing to change an inherent feature of a social institution. I would say that it is a critical feature. I would say it is a sine qua non, that which cannot exist without it: the opposite gender requirement. Doing so, Somerville argues, will have a direct impact on the life of the social institution, radically re-engineering marriage and directly affecting the work it does in society.
We’ve seen some of this before, as we discussed the “Differences” argument. Again, there is no weight to that part of it. But perhaps we should address something else he says on the same subject:
First, marriage will no longer act as a unique forum for interplay between men and women in which the gender gap is bridged to create stable bonds between men and women. Marriage is easily the best way in which men relate to women and is easily the best way in which women relate to men.
My response to this is an incredulous — WHAT THE HELL DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH HOMOSEXUALS?? When a man is gay, Mr. McKay, he is simply not going to “relate to women” in the way you’re talking about. Ever. Period. Denying this man the right to marry the person he does relate to in that way is going to improve the way heterosexual men and women relate to each other…how, again…?
This is, plain and simple, either a stupid argument or a very evil one. McKay is arguing that if you deny homosexuals the right to marry, why then, they’ll finally straighten up and marry the opposite sex like they’re supposed to, dammit. Stupid, stupid argument, taking no account of the facts, but certainly acting as Mr. McKay’s wish fulfilment. It is clearly the existence of gay people at all that he is objecting to here, because in fact, he speaks as though they do not exist at all. They are not, and cannot be, any part of his “bridge between man and woman” argument. He has wiped them out of consideration altogether.
And he gives no reason why, when two men can marry each other, marriage cannot still be a “bridge” between some other, heterosexual, man and a woman. Why would men and women suddenly stop the interplay they now do, by way of marriage, if two guys down the street who they’ve never met have a similar interplay going on??
So back to McKay’s main complaint, stemming from that “interplay” he was talking about between men and women in marriage, which is apparently threatened by having the same “interplay” happening between two women or two men. The problem seems to be that in places where equal marriage has been introduced, he is right — heterosexuals seem to get married less. He cites his first example:
The Netherlands has had same sex marriage for the last five years. It should be noted that in the first three years of that bill, marriage declined among heterosexuals by 10% each and every year, and in the last year of 2004 it declined between 3% and 4%. There seem to be no other factors to explain this sudden drop in heterosexual attachment to the institution of marriage. Marriage is now dead in Denmark and 61% of children are born outside of marriage.
Two things. First: Denmark is a separate country from the Netherlands (and has not legalized equal marriage). So what is it doing here?? It’s irrelevant, unless he merely mis-spoke, which is a possibility.
Secondly: he hasn’t contrasted these statistics with the statistics for heterosexual marriage prior to legalizing equal marriage. Were the percentages steadily going up before legalization, and did a sudden turnaround? Were they going down, and this just continued that trend? He gives no context, no before-and-after, nothing. And what is that ten percent OF, by the way? Does he mean there were ten percent fewer marriages by number count, compared to number count in previous years? (E.g. 90 marriages that first year, compared to 100 the previous?) Perhaps there were fewer heterosexual individuals of marriageable age in the country to begin with, in those years, which would lower the numbers whether or not gay people got married. We don’t know, and McKay doesn’t give us that context. Or does he mean that of the eligible heterosexuals available to be married, 90 percent of them did get married that year, whereas 100 percent married the previous year? We don’t know, and he gives us no context.
His other example, Quebec, is somewhat bizarre:
Quebec has had a form of civil union for a number of years now. Fewer and fewer heterosexuals are marrying. Fifty-eight per cent of children in that province are now born outside of marriage. All evidence suggests that children born outside of marriage have poor socio-economic outcomes and require far greater intervention by the state to compensate for parenting shortfalls. The birth rate in Quebec is demographically not sustainable and its population is contracting as in the Scandinavian countries. Absent in immigration, the contraction would be catastrophic: few marriages, fewer children; fewer children, fewer marriages.
Um…it sounds like his big complaint about Quebec is that marriages are not acting as the baby-making machines he wants them to be. And he wants native Quebecers to sustain the population — not those damn immigrants. (“Oh, Mr. McKaaaay! Jacques Parizeau on line one…!”)
(Psst! By the way. This “diminishing population if not for immigrants” problem has existed for a while in Canada already — well before the very first province legalized same sex marriage. So don’t go blaming the hets’ lack of baby-making on the gays, please.)
McKay also ignores the fact that if children growing up with two married parents is what helps society be stable — two married gay parents can fill that bill just fine. What a lovely solution! But no — he wants heterosexual married parents, period. The children of gay parents DO. NOT. COUNT. And he will not allow gay relationships to be legalized so that their home can be as stable as any married heterosexual relationship. He assumes that there is an intrinsic difference in internal function, between a gay married relationship and a heterosexual mariage relationship.
Which there is not. Apart from — do I even need to repeat this? THE GENITALS. (*sigh* How monotonous this obsession is getting.)
But apart from all that, as I said, his main complaint appears to be that if gay people marry, heterosexuals apparently don’t want to, though he has far from proven this to begin with. Let us say, though, that he is right: If gay people marry, fewer heterosexuals want to.
My reply to this? “SO WHAT”?? This is gay people’s fault because…? And they should be denied equal rights therefore, because…?
If heterosexuals’ relationship to the very idea of marriage is so fragile that allowing more citizens to marry will blow their own commitment to marriage right out of the water — THAT IS THE HETEROSEXUALS’ PROBLEM. It is not gay people’s job to babysit them, or to sacrifice their own rights so the heterosexuals’ fragile and uncertain commitment to marriage can retain the illusion of being strong.
If some heterosexual people can look next door at the two men married to each other, and think, “Harumph! I think I won’t get married after all, then” this whiny, self-centered, foot-stomping, pick-up-your-toys-and-go-home attitude is something those heterosexuals need to grow out of, and they should stop getting their noses out of joint because someone else has joined what they seem to view as their elite little club.
I repeat: their immature attitude toward marriage is NOT THE HOMOSEXUALS’ PROBLEM. Gays and lesbians have no problem whatsoever in recognizing the supreme value of marriage. That’s why they want to get married; they know how important it is, or they’d be satisfied with mere “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships.” It is the heterosexuals who refuse to value it, and treat it like a toy that they’ll throw away if they’re forced to share.
There is no reason to deny this citizenship right to homosexuals, because the heterosexuals can’t grow up and view marriage in a mature way. Let the heterosexuals deal with their own problem attitudes, and stop blaming everyone else for it.
This argument usually goes like this: “If you really must allow legal status to these relationships, fine. But at least use a different term for them, like “Civil Union” or “Domestic Partnership.” Because traditionally, the word “Marriage” has always referred to a one man/one woman relationship. And we’d like to keep it that way, because, well, a man/woman relationship is different, and furthermore, implies a sanctified relationship.”
We have already dealt with the “sanctity” argument. And we’ve already looked at the “differences” argument and shown it to be a smokescreen for something else. But it returns here in a slightly different guise, because the underlying preoccupation tends to rear its head over and over, pretending to be different arguments. We’ll get to that in a moment.
But first, there’s one other little matter to clear up: the claim that “marriage” has always been defined as a “one man/one woman relationship.” In actual fact, the term has also referred to a “one man/several women” relationship. This definition has not been confined to one country or one religious group, either; polygamous marriages have existed in Judaism, in Islam, in Hinduism, in Mormonism, from China to India to Arabia to North America, and throughout all centuries.
So already the definition of “marriage” isn’t nearly so cut-and-dried as it’s made out to be in this argument. These objectors are already playing with the definition, and picking-and-choosing which parts of the historical definition they favour, and which ones they’ll quietly slip under the rug. Not a single one of them ever seems to argue FOR the “one man/several women” formula, even though it, too, has been one traditional definition of marriage.
Nor do these people argue for another “traditional” form of marriage: the financial or business transaction whereby the bride is a means to an end — usually financial gain for the groom’s family — and where the bride is essentially a piece of property herself, passed from one family’s ownership to another’s. Most of these objectors do not argue for this type of business/marital transaction, nor for the long-standing tradition of arranged marriage.
They are very particular about which marriage “traditions” they actually want. What they actually mean by “traditional definition of marriage” is “marriage as it is practised by men and women in modern North America and Europe.”
Okay, then. What tends to make a marriage, as most people think of it in modern North America and Europe? Most of what makes a relationship a “marriage” rather than a “platonic room-mate” situation has to do with how the relationship functions.
A marriage tends to be a relationship of commitment, nurturing, support, sharing, in both sickness and health, and in good times and bad times. Sex is involved, but is only part of the complete relationship. A marriage frequently involves complete families, with children and pets and mortgages, taking out the garbage and doing the dishes, and even the white picket fence. There is usually some element of shared values, interests, and goals as well.
Now. What part of that description cannot possibly apply to two men living together, or two women living together, but can only-and-exclusively apply to the very selective man/woman combination that these objectors favour?
Logically, one must surely say, if it walks like a marriage, looks like a marriage, and quacks like a marriage — it’s a marriage. Those who watch a gay or a lesbian couple functioning in this way — functioning in the identical way to a heterosexual marriage — and yet don’t want to call this relationship a marriage, have got to be thinking of a marriage as something else. Their definition of what is “essential” to the definition of marriage cannot possibly include all that love, commitment, nurturing, shared goals, daily living, and the picket fence. Because gays and lesbians can — and do! — do all of that, as much as any heterosexual couple can and does.
So what other possible difference can there conceivably be, to make the heterosexual relationship a “marriage,” but the homosexual relationship a “domestic partnership”??
Oh. Oh no. Not that again??
That is the only possible difference. Thinking exclusively about genitals again! It’s the genitals that make the marriage — not the commitment and the love and taking the kids to school and paying the bills and planning for the family’s future. All of that, apparently, is superfluous. If two male sets of genitals are bumping together, then according to these objectors, this is nothing like a heterosexual marriage — even if 99.999% of everything else functions identically!
These people concentrate on the word — “marriage” — the surface, the superficial externality — to the exclusion of ALL OF THE CONTENT in the relationship. All the content of the relationship is nothing. All that matters is the genitals.
Have you ever heard of anything more shallow and superficial than that? And those anti-gay heterosexuals — obsessed with sex again. Perhaps they really ought to see a therapist about that little problem.
So. The “use a different name” argument? Ludicrous. Doesn’t stand scrutiny at all. Toss it out the window.
Arguments against equal marriage: #5 Equal marriage could change society drastically
“Men and women are ‘different.’ A true marriage is a union of complements and differences.”
What “differences” are meant, exactly, by this argument?
Usually, the objectors are referring to the idea that men are a certain way, and women are a certain way, and therefore they complement each other in a marriage, in a way that you’ll never find with two men, or two women. But even that still doesn’t make it clear what the “differences” are supposed to be.
Do we mean differences in temperament? This is one of the things they mean, but it can’t stand as an argument, because there are as many different temperaments as there are people in the world. There are independent, hard-nosed, driving women and there are sensitive, nurturing, consensus-building men. Even among heterosexual relationships we find that the stereotypes don’t fit very well. An awful lot of “aggressive” women have to be taught to be docile and compliant and supposedly “agreeable”, and a lot of “weak” men have to be taught to be assertive and aggressive and “manly.” The stereotypes obviously don’t come nearly as “naturally” as we are told, if men and woman have to work so hard to learn and live up to them.
So. There are as many possible temperament combinations among gays and lesbians as there are among straights. “Differences in temperament” meaning that only heterosexuals should get married? This is an argument that holds no water at all.
So what else can possibly be meant by these “differences” that must force two men or two women apart, but somehow cement a man/woman combination “naturally” together? Differences in personality? Outlook? Nurturing impulses? Values?
All of these things vary from person to person, and in every coupling on earth, you will find a slightly different combination of all these things. Two men or two women have just as much difference in these categories as any man/woman couple. So in none of these categories whatsoever does the “differences” argument carry any weight.
So, what can these objectors mean by “differences”??
Think about it. What is the only possible difference left? What is the real objection behind all these other smokescreen objections?
GENITALS. As always. There is absolutely nothing else left that is different enough to make them object so strongly.
Always, with these people, it comes down to genitals. You’ve got similar genitals, you can’t get married. You’ve got different genitals — GO FOR IT. They take no real consideration of people’s commitment or values or people’s desire to form a family of support and nurturing. Nope. Shove all those things aside — shove aside all the things that make a REAL family — and think only of the genitals. Blast all that commitment and nurturing and support and dedication to bits, just so long as two men’s genitals aren’t bumping together in a way that makes these objectors squeamish. Eeeeew!
And they say it’s homosexuals who base everything on sex and can’t think of anything else.
Anyway. Third argument tossed out and shown for the sex-obsessed thing it is.
Arguments against equal marriage: #4 Just use a different word from ‘marriage’
This is one of the arguments clearly based on religious belief, and it holds the least power of all in a democratic society.
First of all, this one instantly annuls every heterosexual marriage on the planet in which one or both of the partners is an atheist. None of their marriages are “sanctified,” either by the beliefs of the participants or the beliefs of the officiating body. This argument also makes invalid any marriage that was ever performed by officially atheist communist states in the twentieth century as well as the remaining officially atheist states in the twenty first. That’s an awful lot of marriages annulled by one statement.
Let us first discuss the nature of a democratic state, because that is the key component in refuting this argument.
Whatever their original intention, the evolution of democratic states has seen their purpose become, today, completely secular. This is a very good thing, when you think carefully about it. The main goal of democratic states is the governing of all citizens in a way that treats them as equals under the law, regardless of religious or political belief, race, or other factors (which, in most democratic countries, include sexual orientation, even if this concept is frequently only given lip service).
By keeping democratic governments and legal systems secular, several things are accomplished. There can be freedom of religious belief, because religious beliefs are not required for citizenship or legal status. No one religion is preferred, and none is penalized. Religion is, in fact, irrelevant when one’s civil, legal status is involved. This is the theory, and the goal is to practise it more perfectly as the governmental system is democratically refined. (There are, of course, difficulties and some clashes, and working through these is part of the refinement over time.)
Also, no religious law can be imposed on someone of one faith, by a law maker or law enforcer of another faith. One is free to be Buddhist, Wiccan, Christian, or Jedi — and the law is not supposed to care one way or another. It doesn’t matter, if you’re challenging a parking ticket or charging someone with trespassing, whether you’re Muslim or atheist. In addition, no law and no judge can require religious things of you. No Christian judge can legally require you to wear a cross, no Jewish judge who keeps kosher can impose on you that you can’t eat pork, no conservative Muslim judge can require all women to wear the hijab. No vegetarian Hindu judge can forbid anyone, by law, to eat meat.
If you think about it, this secularism is a wonderful protection for everyone. You may be of a religious persuasion that really believes society would be better as a whole if it followed certain spiritual laws or practices. And in a free society, you are free to try to persuade other citizens of the wisdom of that belief. But think about it. The same legal and governmental system that prevents you from imposing on others those beliefs and practices (even if, as you see it, it’s “for their own good”) also prevents other religions from imposing their differing beliefs and practices — which may be distasteful to you — upon you. This is especially beneficial to you if you are a minority in the country; a majority of citizens from another religion cannot impose their beliefs and practices upon you. You are protected.
If the government and the law maintains a strictly secular relationship to all its citizens, none can impose their beliefs on any of the others. As soon as a government favours one religion above others, all citizens of any other religion, or no religion at all, are in jeopardy. This is no longer democracy.
When this is applied to issues like marriage, it means that NO GOVERNMENT IS IN THE BUSINESS OF “SANCTIFYING” ANYTHING in a person’s life. Whatever religious interpretation a private individual may give her or his marriage, and no matter what his or her church, temple, mosque, synagogue, meeting house, etc. might think of the relationship, the state plays no part in that. The state’s purpose where marriage is involved is purely secular: granting legal status and certain responsibilities to a committed, familial partnership between two people, and determining how this legal status will play out in legal terms in society. Period.
People are mixing the two — state and religion — and this is an absolute mistake in a democratic society. The roots of our marriage laws may originally have come from a particular religion, but a democratic state today does not privilege citizens from one religion over other citizens from other religions. The very fact that civil marriages, performed outside of a religious context, have for decades had the exact same legal status as any marriage performed in a religious establishment shows that the legal status does not depend on the religion (or lack of religion). The religious status of a marriage and the legal status of a marriage are TWO SEPARATE THINGS.
The government is not a church. Period.
People from all religions who wail about gay marriage “destroying the sanctity of marriage” are, in fact, not wailing about the gay marriages at all. What they’re really doing is whining that their country isn’t a one-religion country ruled by their version of god, imposing their spiritual vision on everyone else, whether everyone else believes in their god or not.
If they want to “sanctify” their own marriages, they can marry in a church or a temple or a synagogue or a mosque or a starship, or whatever. They can live in what they perceive as a “sanctified” manner within their own marriage. But it is, frankly, none of their business what anyone else’s marriage is about.
At least, not in a democratic society, it isn’t. If they want a non-democratic society, well, there are plenty of those elsewhere in the world, and they should move to those spiritual paradises as soon as possible. Or if they are reluctant to move to those “spiritual paradises” precisely because they want the freedom and democracy of the country they live in now — then they should live by democratic principles, not just applied to themselves but to every citizen.
[**My very deep thanks to the late Michael Mele, for teaching me the things in this post, way back in 1999**]
Arguments against equal marriage: #3 Marriage partners should be “complements” like Men and Women
First of all, this argument has single-handedly annulled every heterosexual marriage that has not produced children. By this argument, every heterosexual person who can’t produce children for any reason (voluntary or involuntary) should be denied a marriage license if they seek one. Do anti-gay marriage people advocate this? No. They make exceptions for “their own kind.” This is the first hint that this objection has nothing whatsoever to do with producing children, and is based on something else entirely. Children are a mere smokescreen here.
Secondly, many gays and lesbians do have children. Even, shock of shocks, biological children! And many have adoptive children. But when these children aren’t being completely ignored by the anti-gay marriage people, they want to take them away from their parents altogether. Nice people, eh?
But the fact remains that the argument — “same-sex relationships can’t produce children” — is patently false. The children are there. They exist. Their very existence is a refutation of this so-called “argument.”
This is also a slap in the face to all adoptive children. By saying that two committed partners who adopt a child have an invalid relationship because they “can’t produce children,” these people are saying that adoptive children aren’t “real” children of their adoptive parents, and adoptive parents aren’t “real” parents.
I’m sure the anti-gay marriage people would immediately say, “Well, we don’t mean that heterosexual parents aren’t real parents of their adopted children.” So again, they make an exception for “their own kind.” Meaning that this objection has nothing whatsoever to do with the children and the parents, and is really about something else altogether.
This “can’t produce children” argument also presupposes that marriage basically has One Purpose Only: to produce babies. Perpetuate the race. Churn ’em out for the team.
What a narrow, joyless, clinical, mechanical definition of marriage! Any two strangers can meet once and make a baby, yet these people surely don’t think those strangers qualify to be married? A marriage is for more than only making babies. All that other stuff — the loving, nurturing relationship, the life commitment, the support, the shared goals, the togetherness — that can be as much a part of a same-sex relationship as it is of a dual-sex relationship. With or without children.
So much for that.
Arguments against equal marriage: #2 Same sex marriages harm the “Sanctity” of marriage