Many people support gay marriage as policy, even though they don’t support it morally, on the grounds that the law must be equally applied or that individuals should have the freedom to engage in any consensual relationship they choose. But this position poses several problems from a logical, or even legal, standpoint. I have been confronted with various arguments from time to time and, after giving them serious reflection and thought, I am bringing some of those questions, with my responses, together here for your review.
Keep in mind that I am not responding in accordance with philosophical practices, i.e. searching out both sides of an argument to decide which has the more correct position. I have religious convictions on same-sex marriage, and my responses to these arguments are informed thereby. I don’t subscribe to the notion, common among the philosophically-oriented, that arguments based on religious faith are illegitimate and have no place in debates on public policy. To those who object thus I say, read the founding fathers.
Argument #1: Government should just get out of the marriage business altogether; it is the province of the Church, rather than the State.
How do you propose to accomplish this wish? It is a wish, meaning a desire for a certain object in spite of impossible odds that such object will ever really happen. One might as well wish for a billion dollar chunk of gold to drop out of the sky in one’s front yard. The problem with wishful thinking, especially in politics, is that it wastes a lot of time and energy. Politics, as Russell Kirk has expressed, is the Art of the Possible. Public policy is ordained in basically one of two ways, 1) by the voice of the people, or 2) by the will of the State. In which of these two avenues do we see the best possible chance for our wish to come true? The voice of the people is unstable, changing sometimes from day to day. And people have a tendency to group together with others of like mind. So getting everyone to agree on a plan to strip the State of its involvement in marriage would require that everyone suddenly agree, which is why this is classified as a wish.
Conservatives view the role of government in marriage as necessary to protect the legal contract that is marriage, and it’s result. The argument of the supporters of Prop8 in the case being argued before the Supreme Court today is essentially that the government’s role is the protection of the rights of the individuals intimately affected by a marriage, namely the two adult partners and any resulting children. with the primary focus on preserving generational continuity.
Liberals and Progressives have an entirely different argument. They believe that the government should take an active role in shaping social consciousness and molding the culture. They will oppose any efforts to remove the vehicle of the expressions of power.
The second option is to gather strength for your position, get elected and reelected enough to become powerful and influential, then just mandate the change. Of course this means that you will have to ignore the voices of all those who disagree with you. Are you prepared to become a righteous dictator?
Argument #2: If marriage is supposed to be about procreation, then we would also have to outlaw marriages by people over 55, and people who are unable to have children.
This is a classic throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater argument, and I was rather surprised to hear Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan express it in similar words. However, to be honest, marriage is not just about having children. It’s also about creating homes and societies based on respect, commitment, and preservation of the natural order. You may take two couples, one gay and one straight; they may both have love for each other (I would argue that homosexual attraction is not love in the real sense), exhibit respect and commitment, but one is still wrong because it violates the natural order, an order revealed in Nature by Nature’s God. In the beginning, God commanded all life to multiply and replenish the earth, setting in motion the perpetuation of the species. We see that even today in the natural instinct of every creature to pass on it’s genetic code through another generation. Gay marriage subverts that instinct.
Additionally, the argument that if we oppose marriage for gay couples because of inability to procreate, we must also oppose marriage for straight couples unable to have children due to physical problems or advanced age, indicates a profound misunderstanding of the position conservatives take. In fact, it is deeply flawed in two different ways. First, it suggests that gay marriage is morally equivalent to straight marriage, and thus you cannot be opposed to one without also being opposed to the other. That this is a false assumption on its face is self-evident. Second, the role of government in marriage is one of protecting rights within the marital union and of the children that result. It is not to enforce a mandate to actually have children.
The argument becomes plainly invalid when one considers that many childless couples have not known they were unable to bear children until after many years of marriage and trying. Are we therefore arguing that the government should screen marital candidates for fecundity in order to accomplish what this argument suggests is the conservative position? What about those couples who marry and put off childbearing, eventually deciding not to have children. Is the conservative argument therefore that the government should be able to penalize such couples for violation of social expectations? In light of these questions, it becomes easy to see that the argument is nothing more than a straw man.
These are just two of the more common arguments I have faced in the gay marriage debate. In the interest of space, I will break here and post a follow-up at a later date. Keep reading!