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Same-Sex Marriage, Part 9: The Ultimate Goals of Both Sides

Same-Sex Marriage, Part 9: The Ultimate Goals of Both Sides

Same-sex marriage is one of the most significant cultural issues of our day. This series has attempted to illuminate the tremendous negative consequences that affirming gay marriage would have on the institution of marriage itself, and on our culture as a whole.

Read the other parts of the series here:

 

To truly understand the significance of the same-sex marriage debate, it is critical to understand the goals of those on both sides of it. It seems to be a foregone conclusion, as evidenced by the vociferous social, media, and political endeavors by gay marriage advocates, that same-sex marriage is something the gay community desperately wants. Very few voices, however, ask the question:

Why do they want it?

Likewise, on the other side of the coin is the query, “Why don’t traditional marriage advocates want them to have it?”

Reasons for Gay Marriage

Many gay marriage advocates, such as Mark Stern from CNN, would respond that “Religious liberty…does not give anyone the right to demand that someone else be deprived of the ‘right to live the most intimate portions of their lives according to their own deepest convictions’…”. In other words, the gay community wants gay marriage because they want to be free to have intimate relationships according to their desires and convictions. According to Freedom to Marry, “Gay and lesbian couples want to get married to make a lifetime commitment to the person they love and to protect their families.”

However, the law does not deny gay people of the right to live their intimate relationships according to their convictions. There is no civil or criminal punishment in the United States for being in a same-sex relationship; no states prohibit homosexual relationships.[1] Persons who desire to enter into a same-sex relationship may certainly do so, and they are free to have a marriage ceremony and call their relationship a marriage if they so desire. The issue, of course, is that the state does not recognize the union as a marriage. And, as Part 7 explained, it does not do so because same-sex unions, like polygamous unions and unions between two close friends, are not the same kinds of unions as marriages. But even if the state does not recognize the relationships as marital relationships, same-sex partners are perfectly free to engage in intimate relationships with one another without repercussions against them.

Other gay marriage advocates argue that they want same-sex marriage so that homosexual persons receive the same benefits and protections as heterosexual married partners. However, as Part 7 addressed, a variety of states already offer civil unions for same-sex persons, which provide “the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities as married persons”. Yet even if these rights and benefits did not exist, they could be obtained through other means than the redefinition of marriage. For example, The Heritage Foundation, which supports traditional marriage, has argued for more than fifteen years for the repeal of the “death tax” – a tax on assets that are transferred between partners upon death of one partner, from which married spouses are exempt.[2] Repealing taxes, establishing visitation rights, gaining power of attorney and enabling other legal benefits for same-sex couples can occur without a change to marriage law. Indeed, establishing benefits for people, in any arena of life, is a completely separate issue from what marriage is.

So the question remains: Why does the gay community want the state to recognize same-sex marriage?

The Goal of Same-Sex Marriage

Bisexual English professor Robert Oscar Lopez, author of Growing Up With Two Moms: The Untold Children’s View, answers this question with a comment about California’s Proposition 8:

“…The material difference to be gained by overturning Proposition 8 is nowhere near as lucrative as the symbolism of doing so. Symbols are definitely meaningful, which is why I do not discount the LGBT lobby’s desire for the word ‘marriage’…Even if unquantifiable, the fact that marriage is culturally understood as something prestigious and validating makes it worth fighting for.”[3] Maggie Gallagher clarifies the position: “The primary goal of the existing gay marriage movement is to use cultural, social, economic, and political power to create a new norm: marriage equality. The governing idea behind ‘marriage equality’ is this: there is no difference between same-sex and opposite-sex unions.”

In other words, marriage is the vehicle for society’s validation and approval of same-sex relationships.

Reshaping Culture for Acceptance: Lopez goes on to say, “Whatever same-sex marriage is, that’s not what gays are after. They are after a symbolic vehicle that can make them equal to people who can do something they cannot – procreate.” The same-sex marriage movement seeks to demonstrate that same-sex and opposite-sex unions are the same. Simultaneous to that achievement will be the widespread acceptance of homosexual relationships and practices. The gay community rightly understands that policy and culture are closely linked; policy influences culture and vice versa. When the state recognizes same-sex relationships as marriages, it effectively endorses those relationships, which sends a powerful message about the moral validity of homosexual urges and practice.

Same-sex marriage is the mechanism to “reshape the culture to eliminate ‘prejudice’ (or perceptions of any difference between gay and straight unions) – just as the law was used to reshape culture on race”.[4] Gay rights advocate Michelangelo Signorile writes that same-sex marriage is the “chance to wholly transform the definition of family in American culture. It is the final tool with which to dismantle all sodomy statutes, get education about homosexuality and AIDS into public schools, and, in short, usher in a sea change in how society views and treats us.”[5]

Marriage law is the most effective mechanism for gaining cultural approval of same-sex relationships, because it applies to everyone. There are no exceptions in marriage law – it applies universally. This universal nature has made it the best means for ushering in widespread cultural change in the attitudes and perceptions toward homosexual persons, relationships, and practices. Whether society should endorse gay relationships and behaviors – in other words, the morality of homosexuality – is a worthy discussion that is beyond the scope of this paper. However the affirmation of homosexuality is most certainly the primary aim of the same-sex marriage movement, and a goal that the majority of gay marriage advocates would happily admit.

Maggie Gallagher, in her book Debating Same-Sex Marriage, summarizes it this way:

“For gay marriage advocates, the ultimate end is equality: the recognition of gay unions as marriages in all fifty states and ultimately around the world as part of the process of creating a world in which sexual orientation is treated like race”.

Behind the Same-Sex Marriage Goal

There are some significant forces that drive this goal of gaining approval for same-sex relationships and lifestyles. One of these forces is the desire to eliminate of gender distinctions all together in culture. If the courts redefine marriage to be between two persons of any gender, distinctions based on gender complementarity become rendered unjust. Gender then loses its reality as a grounding construct in public policy or perception.

Genderless Society: The effects are already evident. In 2012, a federal judge in Massachusetts ordered the Department of Corrections to provide sex-reassignment surgery, at taxpayer expense, for a transsexual prison inmate, ruling that the surgery was the “only adequate treatment” for the inmate’s gender identity disorder. In early 2013, the Massachusetts Department of Education has eliminated gender distinctions from public schools. The department mandated that transgender children be allowed to use bathrooms and play on sports teams that correspond to the gender identity with which they identify, not their biological sex. The regulations state, “A student who says she is a girl and wishes to be regarded that way throughout the school day and throughout every, or almost every, other area of her life, should be respected and treated like a girl”. Even further, school officials must obtain the student’s permission before disclosing the student’s gender identity to his or her parents, and students who do not refer to the transgender student according to his/her anatomical sex, rather than the gender with which he/she identifies, is subject to punishment.[6] Similar legislation has been proposed in California, as well. Once gender difference is no longer relevant to marriage, it is not surprising that what follows is that gender difference becomes no longer relevant to any area of life.

Moral Relativism: But there is an even deeper impetus behind the advocacy for same-sex marriage. Underneath the desire for affirmation of same-sex relationships and practices, and the elimination of gender difference within society, is a philosophy of moral relativism – the belief that truth (particularly moral truth) is, rather than an objective concept grounded in a transcendent reality, a subjective idea that changes from person to person. This moral relativism plays out in a laissez-faire, “live and let live” perspective on life, in which each person is allowed to do largely what he or she wants, particularly in relation to sexual practices. According to this philosophy, man is the measure of all things, and individual choice reigns supreme.

Gay writer Doug Mainwaring underscores this point in his article, “Same-Sex Marriage: We’re Playing Chess, Not Checkers“: “Same-Sex marriage legislation is defended solely on grounds of moral relativism and emotions.” Gallagher agrees: “Same-sex marriage represents an intellectual and moral repudiation of the idea that marriage is grounded in any human reality outside of government…Marriage is becoming an idea at the mercy of changing fashion, without deep roots in human nature.”[7] Political scientist Carson Holloway eloquently explains, “It is incoherent to be guided by nature when it comes to individual rights but then to censor the data of nature when it comes to sexual ethics and the definition of marriage. To try it is to embrace a willfulness that is in principle indistinguishable from nihilism…”.

Freedom Over Responsibility: An underlying purpose is to replace moral absolutes, particularly in the realm of sexuality, with the freedom for each person to behave according to whatever principles are desirable to him or her. The philosophy encourages personal fulfillment and individual freedom, as opposed to personal responsibility, as the reigning principle of life. Ellen Willis, feminist and liberal activist writes, “Homosexuality, by its very nature, challenges the primacy of procreation over sexual pleasure… Sex, reproduction and childrearing have increasingly become separate activities.” She goes on to affirm, “Feminism and gay liberation have already seriously weakened marriage… conferring the legitimacy of marriage on homosexual relations will introduce an implicit revolt against the institution into its very heart, further promoting the democratization and secularization of personal and sexual life.”[8]

Addressing philosophy behind the same-sex marriage movement, Carson Holloway asserts, “There is…no older or more widespread notion than that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. It would be no exaggeration to call this definition a tradition of the human race. It is safe to say that a society that rejects this definition has also, whether it wants to admit it or not, rejected the idea that tradition should exert any authority over the present.” He explains that same-sex marriage is incompatible with the values of faith, reason, and nature, which have formed the basis of moral authority for America: “We cannot embrace same-sex marriage and live in continuity with our past as a civilization. To embrace it is to deny that tradition, revelation, reason, and nature have any authority over us. We can make society whatever we want it to be. What will it be? No one can say for sure.”[9]

Although some gay-marriage advocates likely are not aware of these deeper forces beneath their cause, they exist nonetheless. From the proposition that pedophilia should be protected as a sexual orientation to the argument that infanticide is an acceptable option if the mother and medical provider deem it so, to laws banning counselors from helping clients who want to change their sexual orientation, the seeds of moral relativism, and particularly its emphasis on sexuality with few restrictions in the interest of personal fulfillment, are growing. Gay marriage is simply one flower of many that have germinated from those seeds.

The Goal of Traditional Marriage Advocates

Strengthening Marriage: The goal of traditional marriage advocates is not, as many gay marriage advocates claim, to deny gay persons rights. Certainly gay persons have suffered ill will at the hands of persons who, in the name of preserving traditional marriage, have behaved in hurtful, demeaning ways, and that is a tremendous tragedy. But the aim of the movement for defending traditional marriage is not to debase homosexuals. In fact, the primary goal, for the vast majority of traditional advocates, is not to merely stop gay marriage at all, but to strengthen the institution of marriage. Preventing same-sex marriage is simply a piece in the larger puzzle of improving marriage as an institution for the well-being of partners, families, and society as a whole.

Those in favor of marriage between a man and a woman recognize the unique nature of the marriage relationship, and the incredible benefits provided by husbands and wives being connected together to their mutual children (See Part 2 for an in-depth discussion of these benefits). Same-sex marriage is not the only threat to these benefits – divorce, infidelity and anything that compromises the strength of the husband-wife bond do so as well. Traditional marriage advocates ultimately seek a culture in which the unique contributions of men and women are celebrated, and the health of their unions and commitment to each other and any children they produce is strong.

Matthew Franck, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Radford University, expounds this idea: “…Redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships completes the separation of marriage from its true nature, already begun by modern divorce law and other social changes, by making it about adult desires rather than the formation of families and the welfare of children.”

Defending Not Aggressing: The same-sex marriage debate is not a war that traditional marriage advocates have wanted, nor is it a war they began. Those who stand for traditional marriage are not fighting to discriminate against gay persons, they are fighting to preserve a time-honored institution central to the well-being of individuals, families, and nations, that is being besieged.

Maggie Gallagher expounds, “Far from being a neutral or pro-liberty position, same-sex marriage amounts to a government takeover of an ancient and honorable institution.” Traditional marriage advocates have been waging the war for the strength of marriage for some time. Organizations such as Focus on the Family, The Heritage Foundation, and Family Research Council have worked for years to strengthen marriage through public policy – long before same-sex marriage was a hot issue. President Bush’s Healthy Marriage Initiative and Mike and Harriet McManus’s Marriage Savers demonstrated efforts in the 90s to strengthen marriages, although same sex marriage did not become prominent until the Massachusetts Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriages in 2003.[10]

Even amongst the most liberal, until approximately 20 years ago, gay marriage was something for which virtually no one advocated. American culture did not decry discrimination of same-sex couples because they were denied marriage licenses, leftist scholars didn’t write books about marriage inequality, and even gays and lesbians themselves were not sure marriage was something they wanted, until approximately two decades ago.[11] Traditional marriage, which has essentially existed since the dawn of mankind, is and has been the norm. Traditional marriage advocates simply have the goal of maintaining that norm, and strengthening that norm, in order to ensure the health and well-being of individuals and society.

Maggie Gallagher encapsulates the aims of traditional marriage advocates: “For opponents of gay marriage, stopping gay marriage is not a victory, it is only a necessary step to the ultimate victory: the strengthening of a culture of marriage that successfully connects sex, love, children, and mothers and fathers.”

 

Behind the Traditional Marriage Goal

Objective Morality: The major philosophy behind the defense of traditional marriage is one grounded in tradition, faith, and objective reality – and the belief that human sexuality (and all of human behavior) must have boundaries in order to be beneficial. It is the idea that there is a concrete “right” and “wrong” for behavior according to objective standards set by a natural or divine source greater than any individual’s desires. Sexuality is seen, according to this view, not simply as “preferable” or “not preferable” according to its consequences, but as “right” within certain boundaries, but “wrong” outside of those boundaries according to a standard that is above and outside of ourselves.

This perspective understands that personal freedom necessarily takes a bow to personal responsibility, and that adherence to this objective moral standard serves the best interest of everyone. Divorce, abortion, infidelity, sexual intercourse outside of marriage, for example, are all, under this objective morality, things that fall short of that which is “right”, and, as such, naturally lead to negative consequences for all involved. The goal of those from moral objectivity perspective is not to simply eliminate these “wrongs”, but to strengthen the juxtaposing “right”s: commitment, a love for children, faithfulness, and self-control.

Using Augustine’s understanding of the three goods of marriage, proles (procreation or fruitfulness), fides (loyalty or faithfulness) and sacramentum (bonding or sacred union), Christian professor Douglas Farrow opines, “Though our society now applauds almost any kind of “loving” union, it admits no sacramentum but sexual self-expression. Though it professes the highest respect for women, it no longer requires or expects fides from either men or women. Though it preaches progress, it is uncommitted even to proles – that is, to its own secular future. It prattles about children’s rights, but denies them even the right to life. It is a society that no longer knows what love is, and that no longer believes that humans may hope for very much”.

Conclusion

The debate over marriage is symptomatic of more foundational goals, from both sides. Those advocating for same-sex marriage seek the recognition and acceptance of same-sex relationships and lifestyles, while traditional marriage advocates are working to preserve and strengthen the institution of marriage. Even further, these positions are supported by underlying philosophies and principles: moral relativism with an emphasis on personal fulfillment on the side of same-sex marriage, and moral absolutes with an emphasis on personal responsibility on the side of traditional marriage.

In this way, the Supreme Court is in a tremendously influential position, as it rules on the issue of same-sex marriage. Its decision will serve to do much more than simply decide what relationships the state will recognize. It will be making a decision about the bedrock values of our society. Carson Holloway, in his article, “Same-Sex Marriage and the Abyss of Nihilism” writes, “To embrace same-sex marriage is to plunge headlong into the abyss of nihilism. It is a step into a realm where there are no longer any solid or reliable public standards of judgment as to what is right and wrong, just and unjust.”

This series has sought to shed light on the ways that redefining marriage by eliminating gender complementarity and the ties to nature will be detrimental for everyone. Changing the definition in one way will establish a legal basis for changing the definition in every other way, (including eliminating the norms of monogamy, exclusivity, and permanence) which will lead to the disintegration of marriage as an institution. The destruction of marriage will exacerbate all manner of social problems that already exist from marital decline (as a result of divorce, infidelity, etc.), and will create new ones. Children will be deprived of either one parent or the other and will be reduced to assets as biological parenting is replaced by contract parenting. State involvement in family life will increase exponentially as relationships normally regulated by nature must become regulated by the government, and as the state must step in to fill in the gaps from the holes created by marital and family demise. Individual liberty, particularly religious liberty, will be threatened as those who oppose same-sex relationships become cast as bigots and agents of discrimination, and receive consequences for adhering to traditional moral values. And, ultimately, same-sex marriage will serve to shift the underlying values of our country from one based upon nature, objective morality, and personal responsibility to one based on personal choice, subjective morality, and individual fulfillment.

Same-sex marriage is a watershed issue for humanity. Marriage is the stable foundation on which rests the well-being of children, adults, families, and our culture as a whole. Gay columnist Doug Mainwaring, in his article “Same-Sex Marriage: We’re Playing Chess, Not Checkers” summarizes what is at stake: “Same-Sex marriage will undefine marriage and unravel it, and in so doing, it will undefine children. It will ultimately lead to undefining humanity. This is neither ‘progressive’ nor ‘conservative’ legislation. It is ‘regressive’ legislation”.[12]

Marriage is about so much more than any individuals’ desires or choices. For the well-being of people – both gay and straight – and for health of our country, America must get marriage right.

 

Sources:

 

Beach, W. W. (2013, March 13). “We Don’t Need to Redefine Marriage to Fix Policy Problems”. Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/03/9583/

Gallagher, M. (2011, August 23). “Defend Marriage: Moms and Dads Matter”. Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/08/3761/

Girgis, S., Anderson, R. & George, R. (2013, February 11). “Marriage and Politics”. E-mail subscription from Ryan T. Anderson of Public Discourse. Can also be downloaded from https://www.nationalreview.com/nrd/articles/338682/marriage-and-politics?utm_source=Copy+of+RTA+Bradley+Paradox+of+Persons&utm_campaign=winstorg&utm_medium=email

Ellen Willis, “Can Marriage Be Saved? A Forum,” The Nation, July 5, 2004. Retrieved from http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-118670288.html.

Farrow, D. (2012, Jan/Feb). “Why Fight Same-Sex Marriage?”. Touchstone. Retrieved from http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=25-01-024-

Franck, M. (2013, January 4). “Same-Sex Marriage and Social Change: Exceeding the Speed of Thought”. Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/01/7495/

Franck, M. (2012, July 30). “Truth and Lies, Nature and Convention: The Debate Over Same-Sex Marriage.” Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/07/5905/

Gallagher, M. (2011, August 23). “Defend Marriage: Moms and Dads Matter”. Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/08/3761/

Gallagher, M. (2008, October 31). “Marriage Matters: For Kids, for Parents, and for Religious Liberty.” Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2008/10/122/

Holloway, C. (2013, April 4). “Justice Sotomayor and the Path to Polygamy”. Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/04/9725/

Holloway, C. (2013, March 18). “Same-Sex Marriage and the Abyss of Nihilism”. Public Discourse Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/03/8044/

Lee, P. (2012, January 30). “The Same-Sex Marriage Proposal is Unjust Discrimination”. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/01/4597/

Lopez, R. O. (2013, February 11). “Truth, Metaphor and Race in the Marriage Debate”. Public Discourse. Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/02/7871/

Mainwaring, D. (2013, March 20). “Same-Sex Marriage: We’re Playing Chess, Not Checkers”. Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/03/9622/

MacLeod, A. J. (2013, March 1). “Sky Fall: Gender Ideology Comes to the Schoolhouse”. Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/03/9244/?utm_source=RTA+MacLeod+Beckwith+Sky+Fall&utm_campaign=winstorg&utm_medium=emai

MacLeod, A. J. (2013, April 2). Marriage, Religious Liberty, and the Ban Myth. Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/04/9708/?utm_source=RTA+MacLeod+Ban+Myth&utm_campaign=winstorg&utm_medium=email

Steinberger, M. D. (2009, November). “Federal Estate Tax Disadvantages For Same-Sex Couples”. The Williams Institute. Retrieved from http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/research/economic-impact-reports/federal-estate-tax-disadvantages-for-same-sex-couples/

Tellez, L. (2012, November 26). “The Future of Marriage: Why The Inevitable Is Not Inevitable”. Public Discourse. Retrieved from http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/11/7192/

Williams, J. “Discriminatory and unfair Death Tax Should Be Repealed”. Log Cabin Republicans. Retrieved from http://www.logcabin.org/site/c.nsKSL7PMLpF/b.6417741/k.9A1C/End_the_Death_Tax.htm

Willis, E. (2004, July 5). “Can Marriage Be Saved? A Forum”. The Nation. Retrieved from http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-118670288.html


[1] MacLeod, A. J. (2013, April 2). Marriage, Religious Liberty, and the Ban Myth. Public Discourse.

Holloway, C. (2013, April 4). “Justice Sotomayor and the Path to Polygamy”. Public Discourse.

[2] Beach, W. W. (2013, March 13). “We Don’t Need to Redefine Marriage to Fix Policy Problems”. Public Discourse; Steinberger, M. D. (2009, November). “Federal Estate Tax Disadvantages For Same-Sex Couples”. The Williams Institute; Williams, J. “Discriminatory and unfair Death Tax Should Be Repealed”. Log Cabin Republicans.

[3] Lopez, R. O. (2013, February 11). “Truth, Metaphor, and Race in the Marriage Debate”. Public Discourse.

[4] Gallagher, M. (2008, October 31). “Marriage Matters: For Kids, for Parents, and for Religious Liberty.” Public Discourse.

[5] Signorile, “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do,” Out, May 1996, p. 30.

[6] MacLeod, A. J. (2013, March 1). “Sky Fall: Gender Ideology Comes to the Schoolhouse”. Public Discourse.

[7] Gallagher, M. (2011, August 23). “Defend Marriage: Moms and Dads Matter”. Public Discourse.

[8] Willis, E. (2004, July 5). “Can Marriage Be Saved? A Forum”. The Nation.

[9] Holloway, C. (2013, March 18). “Same-Sex Marriage and the Abyss of Nihilism”. Public Discourse.

[10] Girgis, S., Anderson, R. & George, R. (2013, February 11). “Marriage and Politics”. E-mail subscription from Ryan T. Anderson of Public Discourse.

[11] Franck, M. (2013, January 4). “Same-Sex Marriage and Social Change: Exceeding the Speed of Thought”. Public Discourse.

[12] http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/03/9622/

 

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