Gay Marriage: The Arguments and the Motives

A personal essay in hypertext by Scott Bidstrup

"We cannot accept the view that Amendment 2's prohibition on specific legal protections does no more than deprive homosexuals of special rights. To the contrary, the amendment imposes a special disability on those persons alone. Homosexuals are forbidden the safeguards that others enjoy or may seek without constraint"
        -Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court in the decision overturning Colorado's Amendment 2 referendum




Ask just about anyone. They'll all tell you they're in favor of equal rights for homosexuals. Just name the situation, and ask. They'll all say, yes, gays should have the same rights in housing, jobs, public accomodations, and should have equal access to government benefits, equal protection of the law, etcetera, etcetera.

Then you get to gay marriage.

And that's when all this talk of equality stops dead cold.

About half of people in the U.S. support gay marriage, far less than those who are otherwise supportive of legally enforced gay rights (about 75%). This means that many of the same people who are even passionately in favor of gay rights oppose gays on this one issue.

Why all the passion?

It's because there is a lot of misunderstanding about what homosexuality really is, as well as the erroneous assumption that gay people enjoy the same civil rights protections as everyone else. There are also a lot of stereotypes about gay relationships, and even a great deal of misunderstanding of what marriage itself is all about.

The purpose of this essay is to clear up a few of these misunderstandings and discuss some of facts surrounding gay relationships and marriage, gay and straight.

First, lets discuss what gay relationships are really all about. The long-standing, but increasingly obsolete stereotype has it that gays are promiscuous, unable to form lasting relationships, and the relationships that do form are shallow and uncommitted. And gays do have such relationships!

But the important fact to note is that just like in straight society, where such relationships also exist, they are a small minority, and exist primarily among the very young. Indeed, one of the most frequent complaints of older gay men is that it is almost impossible to find quality single men to get into a relationship with, because they're already all 'taken!'

If you attend any gay event, such as a Pride festival or a PFLAG convention, you'll find this to be true. As gays age and mature, just like their straight cohorts, they begin to appreciate and find their way into long-term committed relationships.

The values that such gay couples exhibit in their daily lives are often indistinguishable from those of their straight neighbors. They're loyal to their mates, are monogamous, devoted partners. They value and participate in family life, are committed to making their neighborhoods and communities safer and better places to live, and honor and abide by the law. Many make valuable contributions to their communities, serving on school boards, volunteering in community charities, and trying to be good citizens. In doing so, they take full advantage of their relationship to make not only their own lives better, but those of their neighbors as well.

A benefit to heterosexual society of gay marriage is the fact that the commitment of a marriage means the participants are discouraged from promiscous sex. This has the advantage of slowing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, which know no sexual orientation and are equal opportunity destroyers.

These benefits of gay marriage have changed the attitudes of the majority of people in Denmark and other countries where various forms of gay marriage have been legal for years. Indeed, in 1989, when the proposal to legalize marriage between gays first was proposed in Denmark, the majority of the clergy were opposed. Now, after having seen the benefits to the partners and to society, they are overwhelmingly in favor, according to the surveys done then and now.

So, having established the value of gay marriage, why are people so opposed to it?

Many of the reasons offered for opposing gay marriage are based on the assumption that gays have a choice in who they can feel attracted to, and the reality is quite different. Many people actually believe that gays could simply choose to be heterosexual if they wished. But the reality is that very few do have a choice -- any more than very few heterosexuals could choose which sex to find themselves attracted to.

Additionally, many people continue to believe that homosexuality is about nothing but sex, considering it to be merely a sexual perversion. The reality is that homosexuality is multidimensional, and is much more about love and affection than it is about sex. And this is what gay relationships are based on -- mutual attraction, love and affection. Sex is a means of expressing that love, just the same as it is for heterosexuals. Being gay is much more profound than simply a sexual relationship; being gay is part of that person's core indentity, and goes right the very center of his being. It's like being black in a society of whites, or a blonde European in a nation of black-haired Asians. Yes, being gay is just that profound to the person who is. This is something that few heterosexuals can understand unless they are a minority themselves.

Science itself has finally weighed in on the reasons why conservatives in particular are so opposed to gay marriage. It has a lot to do with the conservative mindset, of placing high values on a sacred, valued in-group - the married - and the intrusion into that sacred group of a largely despised out-group - gays. So now we know why conservatives as a group is in opposition to gay marriage, but there are additional, subtle reasons which will be delineated below, which address individual concerns, not necessarily related to a general conservative worldview.

The Arguments Against Gay Marriage

Well, of course there are a lot of reasons being offered these days for opposing gay marriage, and they are usually variations on a few well-established themes. Interestingly, the Supreme Court in Hawaii has heard them all. And it found, after due deliberation, that they didn't hold water.

Here's a summary of the common reasons given:

1. Marriage is an institution between one man and one woman. Well, that's the most often heard argument, one even codified in a recently passed U.S. federal law. Yet it is easily the weakest. Who says who marriage is to be defined by? The married? The marriable? Isn't that kind of like allowing a banker to decide who is going to own the money in stored in his vaults? It seems to me that if the straight community cannot show a compelling reason to deny the institution of marriage to gay people, it shouldn't be denied. And such simple, nebulous declarations are hardly a compelling reason. They're really more like an expression of prejudce than any kind of a real argument. The concept of not denying people their rights unless you can show a compelling reason to do so is the very basis of the American ideal of human rights.

2. Marriage is for procreation. The proponents of that argument are really hard pressed to explain why, if that's the case, that infertile couples are allowed to marry. I, for one, would love to be there when the proponent of such an argument is to explain to his post-menopausal mother or impotent father that since they cannot procreate, they must now surrender their wedding rings! That would be fun to watch! Again, such an argument fails to persuade based on the marriages society does allow routinely, without even a second thought.

3. Same-sex couples aren't the optimum environment in which to raise children. That's an interesting one, in light of who society does allow to get married and bring children into their marriage. Check it out: murderers, convicted felons of all sorts, even known child molesters are all allowed to freely marry and procreate, and do so every day, with hardly a second thought by these same critics. So if children are truly the priority here, why is this allowed? Why are the advocates of this argument not working to prohibit the above categories of people from raising children?

The fact is that many gay couples raise children, adopted and occasionally their own from failed attempts at heterosexual marriages. Lots and lots of scientific studies have shown that the outcomes of the children raised in the homes of gay and lesbian couples are just as good as those of straight couples. The differences have been shown again and again to be insignificant. Psychologists tell us that what makes the difference is the love of the parents, not their gender. The studies are very clear about that. And gay people are as capable of loving children as fully as anyone else.

4. Gay relationships are immoral and violate the sacred institution of marriage. Says who? The Bible? Somehow, I always thought that freedom of religion implied the right to freedom from religion as well. The Bible has absolutely no standing in American law (and none other than the father of the American democracy, Thomas Jefferson, very proudly took credit for that fact), and because it doesn't, no one has the right to impose rules anyone else simply because of something they percieve to be mandated by the Bible. Not all world religions have a problem with homosexuality; many sects of Buddhism, for example, celebrate gay relationships freely and would like to have the authority to make them legal marriages. In that sense, their religious freedom is being infringed. If one believes in religious freedom, the recognition that opposition to gay marriage is based on religious arguments is reason enough to discount this argument.

5. Marriages are for ensuring the continuation of the species. The proponents of such an argument are going to have a really hard time persuading me that the human species is in any real danger of dying out through lack of procreation. If the ten percent of all the human race that is gay were to suddenly refrain from procreation, I think it is safe to say that the world would probably be better off. One of the world's most serious problems is overpopulation and the increasing anarchy that is resulting from it. Seems to me that gays would be doing the world a favor by not bringing more hungry mouths into an already overburdened world. So why encourage them? The vacuity of this argument is seen in the fact that those who raise this objection never object to infertile couples marrying; indeed, when their retired single parent, long past reproductive age, seeks to marry, the usual reaction is how cute and sweet that is. That fact alone shows how false this argument really is. Let's face it - marriage is about love and commitment, and support for that commitment, not about procreation.

6. Same-sex marriage would threaten the institution of marriage. That one's contradictory right on the face of it. Threaten marriage? By allowing people to marry? That doesn't sound very logical to me. If you allow gay people to marry each other, you no longer encourage them to marry people to whom they feel little attraction, with whom they most often cannot relate sexually, and thereby reduce the number of supposed heterosexual marriages that end up in the divorce courts. If it is the institution of heterosexual marriage that worries you, then consider that no one would require you or anyone else to participate in a gay marriage. So you would have freedom of choice, of choosing what kind of marriage to participate in -- something more than what you have now. And speaking of divorce -- to argue that the institution of marriage is worth preserving at the cost of requiring involuntary participants to remain in it is a better argument for tightening divorce laws than proscribing gay marriage.

7. We shouldn't alter heterosexual marriage, which is a traditional institution that goes back to the dawn of time. This is morally the weakest argument. Slavery was also a traditional institution, based on traditions that went back to the very beginnings of human history. But by the 19th century, humankind had realized the evils of that institution, and abolished its legal status. So what happened to tradition?

In the first place, no one is proposing the alteration of heterosexual marriage at all. Heterosexuals may still marry (and divorce) at will - entirely unaffected by the institution of gay marriage. No change there - not even one whit.

Then there is the issue of divorce. If we are supposed to worship the traditional status and nature of marriage, why do we freely allow divorce, which has only been legal in most states for just a few decades? To suggest to most of the ardent supporters of this argument that they should not only be married, but will get only one shot at getting it right, and a mistake will and must permanently ruin their life, will sound onerous. But how less onerous is the notion that one will have to marry someone one cannot love and to whom one cannot relate, if one is to enjoy the benefits of marriage? Clearly, this hypocrisy - on the one hand, asserting the importance of the traditional nature of marriage, while allowing its destruction through the thoroughly modern concept of divorce with hardly a second thought - demonstrates very clearly that this really isn't about traditional definitions at all, it's about using this argument as a cover for another, less acceptable motivation. Why not recognize the hypocrisy - that there is no sound moral ground on which to support the notion of worshipfully traditional heterosexual marriage while freely allowing its destruction through divorce? Wouldn't it just be better to recognize that the concept of marriage is not as rigidly traditional and fixed as claimed?

8. Same-sex marriage is an untried social experiment. The American critics of same-sex marriage betray their provincialism with this argument. The fact is that a form of gay marriage has been legal in Denmark since 1989 (full marriage rights except for adoption rights and church weddings, and a proposal now exists in the Danish parliament to allow both of those rights as well), and most of the rest of Scandinavia from not long after. Full marriage rights have existed in many Dutch cities for several years, and it was recently made legal nationwide, including the word "marriage" to describe it. In other words, we have a long-running "experiment" to examine for its results -- which have uniformly been positive. Opposition to the Danish law was led by the clergy (much the same as in the States). A survey conducted at the time revealed that 72 percent of Danish clergy were opposed to the law. It was passed anyway, and the change in the attitude of the clergy there has been dramatic -- a survey conducted in 1995 indicated that 89 percent of the Danish clergy now admit that the law is a good one and has had many beneficial effects, including a reduction in suicide, a reduction in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and in promiscuity and infidelity among gays. Far from leading to the "destruction of Western civilization" as some critics (including the Mormon and Catholic churches among others) have warned, the result of the "experiment" has actually been civilizing and strengthening, not just to the institution of marriage, but to society as a whole. So perhaps we should accept the fact that someone else has already done the "experiment" and accept the results as positive. The fact that many churches are not willing to accept this evidence says more about the churches than it does about gay marriage.

9. Same-sex marriage would start us down a "slippery slope" towards legalized incest, bestial marriage, polygamy and all manner of other horrible consequences. A classic example of the reductio ad absurdum fallacy, it is calculated to instill fear in the mind of anyone hearing the argument. It is, of course, absolutely without any merit based on experience. If the argument were true, wouldn't that have already happened in countries where forms of legalized gay marriage already exist? Wouldn't they have 'slid' towards legalized incest and bestial marriage? The reality is that a form of gay marriage has been legal in Scandinavian countries for many years, and no such legalization has happened, nor has there been a clamor for it. It's a classic scare tactic - making the end scenario so scary and so horrible that the first step should never be taken. Such are the tactics of the fear and hatemongers.

If concern over the "slippery slope" were the real motive behind this argument, the advocate of this line of reasoning would be equally vocal about the fact that today, even as you read this, convicted murderers, child molesters, known pedophiles, drug pushers, pimps, black market gun dealers, etc., are quite free to marry, and are doing so every day. Where's the outrage? Of course there isn't any, and that lack of outrage betrays their real motives. This is an anti-gay issue and not a pro marriage or child protection issue.

10. Granting gays the right to marry is a "special" right. Since ninety percent of the population already have the right to marry the informed, consenting adult of their choice, and would even consider that right a fundamental, constitutionally protected right, since when does extending it to the rest constitute a "special" right to that remaining ten percent? As Justice Kennedy observed in his opinion overturning Colorado's infamous Amendment 2 (Roemer vs. Evans), many gay and lesbian Americans are, under current law, denied civil rights protections that others either don't need or assume that everyone else along with themselves, already have. The problem with all that special rights talk is that it proceeds from that very assumption, that because of all the civil rights laws in this country that everyone is already equal, so therefore any rights gay people are being granted must therefore be special. That is most assuredly not the case, especially regarding marriage and all the legal protections that go along with it.

11. Churches would be forced to marry gay people against their will. This one has absolutely no basis in law whatever, existing or proposed. There are many marriages to which many churches object, such as interracial marriage, interfaith marriage, the marriage of divorcees, etc., and yet no state law of which I am aware requires any church to marry any couple when that church objects to performance of that particular marriage. The right granted by the state to a church to perform marriages is a right, not a requirement, and to pretend that it would be a requirement in the case of gays, but not in the above examples, is disingenuous on the face of it.

12. If gay marriage is legalized, homosexuality would be promoted in the public schools. Gay marriage is already legal in several states and many foreign countries, including Canada, but can anyone point to an example of homosexuality being promoted in the public schools? No. Because it hasn't happened in any significant way. What is being objected to is tolerance of gays, not genuine promotion of homosexuality. And if tolerance itself is not acceptable, what is the absence of tolerance? It is bigotry. If we do not promote tolerance in the public schools, we are accepting that bigotry has a place there. Is this really what we want?

13. Gay marriage and its associated promotion of homosexuality would undermine western civilization. Homosexuality is as old as civilization itself, and has always been a part of civilization, including this one - indeed, cross-cultural studies indicate that the percentage of homosexuals in a population is independent of culture. So even if promotion of homosexuality were to occur, it wouldn't change anything - people aren't gay because they were "recruited," they're gay because they were born that way, as the population statistics across cultures makes clear. As for gay marriage itself undermining western civilization, it is hard to see how the promotion of love, commitment, sharing and commonality of values and goals isn't going to strengthen civilization a lot sooner than it is going to undermine it. Gay marriage has been legal, in various forms, in parts of Europe for more than twenty years, and in Canada and many states in the United States for some time now, but can anyone point to any credible evidence that gay marriage itself is leading to the crumbling of western civilization? If they can, it certainly hasn't been presented to me.

14. If gay people really want to get married, all they have to do is to become straight and marry someone of the opposite sex. There are several problems with this argument, the first of which is that it presumes that sexual orientation is a choice. This lie is promoted so endlessly by bigoted religious leaders that it has become accepted as fact by society as a whole, and it was advanced, beginning in the 1980's, for the purpose of discrediting the gay rights movement. But the reality is that a half century of social research on this subject, consisting of thousands of studies, beginning with the Kinsey and Minnesota Twin studies of the 1950's and continuing to the present, has shown conclusively - beyond any reasonable doubt - that among males, sexual orientation is only very slightly flexible, and among females, it is only modestly more so. That homosexuality is congenital, inborn, and has a strong genetic component. In other words, if you're gay, you're gay and there is little that you do about it, regardless of the endless propaganda to the contrary.

Another problem with this argument is that it presumes that heterosexuality, if it were a choice, is self-evidently a more desireable and/or morally superior choice to make. This is a qualitative argument with whom many gay people - and many thinking straight people as well, both religious and secular - would take issue.

A third problem is that this argument presumes that someone else has the right to veto your presumed choice sexual orientation on the basis that they are not comfortable with the choice you have made. It is difficult for me to see how any religionist or anti-gay bigot, however sincere and well-meaning, has the right to arrogate to himself that veto power. Or, frankly, why a homosexual should be forced to go out of his way to make bigots comfortable with their bigotry.

A fourth, legalistic problem with this argument is that it presumes that if the choice of sexual orientation can be made, the voluntary nature of that choice removes any and all right to the protection of the law for the choice which has been made. But I would point out that the First Amendment to the United States constitution protects, by constitutional fiat itself, a purely voluntary choice - that of religion. So if it is acceptable to argue that unpopular sexual minorities have no right to equal protection of the law because they can avoid disadvantage or persecution by voluntarily changing the choice they have presumably made, then it is equally true that the First Amendment should not include protection for choice in religion, because no rational person could argue that religious belief is itself not a choice. In other words, this is like arguing that you should not expect legal protection from being persecuted because you are a Mormon or a Catholic; the solution to such disadvantage or persecution is simple: just become a Southern Baptist or whatever. I have never, ever seen a religious opponent of homosexuality who is asserting that homosexuality is a choice, advance that last point with regards to religion - a fact which very glaringly demonstrates the clearly bigoted character of this argument.

The real reasons people oppose gay marriage

So far, we've examined the reasons everyone give for opposing gay marriage. Let's examine now the real reasons people oppose it, even fear it:

1. Just not comfortable with the idea. The fact the people aren't comfortable with the idea stems primarily from the fact that for many years, society has promoted the idea that a marriage between members of the same sex is ludicrous, mainly because of the objections raised above. But if those objections don't make sense, neither does the idea that gay marriage is neccessarily ludicrous. Societies have long recognized that allowing civil rights to certain groups may offend some, and at times, even the majority. But that is why constitutional government was established -- to ensure that powerless, unpopular minorities are still protected from the tyranny of the majority.

2. It offends everything religion stands for. Whose religion? Many mainstream Christian denominations, to be sure, and definitely most branches of Islam and Orthodox Judaism, but outside those, most religions are unopposed to gay marriage, and many actually favor it. When the Mormon church arrogantly claimed to represent all religions in the Baehr vs. Lewin trial in Hawaii, the principal Buddhist sect in that state made it very clear that the Mormon church didn't represent them, and made it very clear that they support the right of gay couples to marry. That particular Buddhist sect claims many more members in Hawaii than does the Mormon church. In a society that claims to offer religious freedom, the use of the power of the state to enforce private religious sensibilities is an affront to all who would claim the right to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience.

3. Marriage is a sacred institution and gay marriage violates that sanctity. This is, of course, related to the motive above. But it is really subtly different. It's based on the assumption that the state has the responsibility to "sanctify" marriages - a fundamentally religious idea. Here we're dealing with people trying to enforce their religious doctrines on someone else, but by doing it through weakening the separation of church and state, by undermining the Bill of Rights. Not that there's anything new about this, of course. But the attempt itself runs against the grain of everything the First Amendment stands for - one does not truly have freedom of religion if one does not have the right to freedom from religion as well. It would seem to me that anyone who feels that the sanctity of their marriage is threatened by a gay couple down the street having the right to marry, is mighty insecure about their religion anyway.

Even if one accepts the presumption of the United States as a bible-believing, Christian nation as an acceptable legal doctrine, as many conservative Christians insist, and the bible should be the basis for the sacred institution of marriage, perhaps those Christians should get out their bibles and actually read them for a change. Including all the inconvenient passages that not only permit but can even require polygamy, involuntary marriage and the like.

How about Deuteronomy 25:5-10, for example: "When brothers reside together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband's brother shall go in to her, taking her in marriage and performing the duty of a husband's brother to her, and the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. But if the man has no desire to marry his brother's widow, then his brother's widow shall go up to the elders at the gate and say 'My husband's brother refuses to perpetuate his brother's name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband's brother to me. Then the elders of his town shall summon him and speak to him. If he persists, saying 'I have no desire to marry her,' then his brotherís wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, pull his sandal from his foot, spit in his face, and declare 'This is what is done to the man who does not build up his brotherís house. Throughout Israel his family will be known as 'the house of him whose sandal was pulled off.'"

If the Bible is sacred and inviolate when it comes to the institution of marriage, then the above passage and all the other inconvenient ones require reverence too, do they not? If the Christian is going to say, well, that's old, quaint and should no longer be expected to apply, well, then, that's exactly the point! The institution of marriage as it is practiced in the real world is a culturally defined institution, not biblically defined, as a reading of the above quotation should make quite clear, and it is high time we recognize and face up to the cold reality that cultural values have changed since the bible was written, and the institution of marriage has changed along with it. Gay marriage is simply part of that evolutionary process of social progress.

4. Gay sex is unnatural. This argument, often encoded in the very name of sodomy statutes, betrays a considerable ignorance of behavior in the animal kingdom. The fact is that among the approximately 1500 animal species whose behavior has been extensively studied, homosexual behavior in animals has been described in at least 450 of those species. It runs the gamut, too, ranging from occasional displays of affection to life-long pair bonding including sex and even adopting and raising orphans, going so far as the rejection by force of potential heterosexual partners. The reality is that it is so common that it begs for an explanation, and sociobiologists have proposed a wide variety of explanations to account for it. The fact that it is so common also means that it has evolutionary significance, which applies as much to humans as it does to other animal species.

5. A man making love to another man betrays everything that is masculine. Well, I've known (and dated) plenty of very masculine gay men in my day, including champion bull-riding rodeo cowboys and a Hell's Angel biker type, who, if you suggested he is a limp-wristed fairy, would likely rip your head off and hand it to you. There was a long-honored tradition of gay relationships among the tough and macho cowboys of the Old West, and many diaries exist, detailing their relationships. In fact, the Autrey Museum of the Old West in Los Angeles recently did an exhibition of this little-told story. Plenty of masculine, respected movies stars are gay. Indeed, Rock Hudson was considered the very archtype of a masculine man. Came as quite a shock to a lot of macho-men to find out he was gay! So what's wrong with all these kinds of men expressing love for each other? Why is that so wrong? A society that devalues love devalues that upon which civilized society itself is based. Should any form of that love for one another be discouraged?

The base fear here is that of rape and a loss of control or loss of masculine status. This is instinctual and goes right to the core of our being as primates. If you examine what happens in many animal species, especially displays of dominance in other primate species, dominance displays often have sexual overtones. When, for example, in many species of primates, a subordinate male is faced with aggression by a dominant male, the dominant male will bite the subordinate, causing him to squeal in pain, drop the food (or the female) and present his rump. This is an act of submission, and it is saying to the whole troupe that the subordinate is just that - subordinate.

It has been suggested that homophobia is an instinctual fear of being raped by someone that the homophobe regards as lower than him in status. And the notion that a gay man might rape him is an instinctual fear.

This happens in humans just as it does in other primates. It is the cause of homosexual rape in prisons. Prison rape is not an act of sex as much as it is an assertion of dominance and a means of control. Nearly all of the men who aggressively rape other men in a prison setting actually revert to promiscuous heterosexual sex once they're on the outside.

So is this something straight men should fear from gay men? Well, relax, all you straight guys. You've nothing to worry about. The vast majority of gay men prefer sex in the same emotional setting you do as a straight man with a woman - as a part of the expression of love, affection and commitment. We're not out to rape you or force you into a subordinate position. The majority of gay men don't want sex with you because we're looking for the same thing in a sexual relationship that you do - the love and affection of a partner. Since we're not likely to get that from you, you're not desirable to us and you have nothing to fear from us. The small minority of us (and it's a very small minority) who enjoy sex with straight men understand your fears and are not going to have sex with you unless it's clearly and completely on a peer-to-peer basis and your requirement for full and complete consent and need for discretion is honored.

6. The thought of gay sex is repulsive. This is the so-called "ick factor." Well, it will come as some surprise to a lot of heterosexuals to find out that, to a lot of gays, the thought of heterosexual sex is repulsive! But does that mean the discomfort of some gays to heterosexual couples should be a reason to deny heterosexuals the right to marry? I don't think so, even though the thought of a man kissing a woman is rather repulsive to many homosexuals! Well then, why should it work the other way? Besides, the same sexual practices that gays engage in are often engaged in by heterosexual couples anyway. Prompting the ever-popular gay T-shirt: "SO-DO-MY -- SO DO MY neighbors, SO DO MY friends."

7. They might recruit. The core cause of this fear is the result of the fact that most virulent, even violent homophobes are themselves repressed sexually, often with same sex attractions. One of the recent studies done at the University of Georgia among convicted killers of gay men has shown that the overwhelmingly large percentage of them exhibit sexual arousal when shown scenes of gay sex. The fear, then, for the homophobe is that he himself might be gay, and might be forced to face that fact. The homophobia is as internalized as it is externalized - bash the queer and you don't have to worry about being aroused by him.

The fear of recruitment is baseless because it is based on a false premise - that gay people recruit. We don't. We don't recruit because we know from our own experience that sexual orientation is inborn, and can't be changed to any significant degree. Indeed, the attempts by psychologists, counselors and religious therapy and support groups to change sexual orientation have all uniformly met with failure - the studies that have been done of these therapies have never shown any significant results, and usually create psychological damage in the process, which is why they are uniformly condemned by mental health professional associations. So the notion that someone can be changed from straight to gay is quite unlikely. Yet there remains that deep, dark fear that somehow, someone might be.

8. Gay marriage would undermine sodomy laws. Because it would be hard to justify, before a court, allowing a couple to marry and then legally bar them from having sexual relations, many conservative religionists privately oppose gay marriage in part because it would undermine the legal basis for sodomy laws, which, even though they have been struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court (Lawrence vs. Texas), they are still dreamed of by those who would seek to legalize discrimination against gays - and are occasionally still enforced in some states, in spite of the fact that the laws have been invalidated and doing so is quite illegal and opens the state to civil lawsuit. In several states, gays convicted under these invalidated laws are even still being required to register as sex offenders.

9. Gay marriage would legitimize homosexuality. This presumes that homosexuality is something other than simply a normal variation of human development. The reality is that every mental health association has recognized that homosexuality is a perfectly normal variation on how humans develop, and there is now a substantial body of evidence from science that there are sound reasons why it has evolved, and why it is not selected against in evolutionary pressure. It is not perverted, it does not degrade human culture, it is not a threat to humankind in any way. All those stereotypes, long cultivated by homophobes and religious bigots, have been disproven both by experience and by scientific research, but that does not prevent the homophobe from holding to them dearly. And allowing state sanction in the form of marriage, threatens the stereotype by undermining the justification for it.

At the end of the day, the opposition to gay marriage stems ultimately from a deep-seated homophobia in American culture, borne almost entirely out of religious prejudice. While many Americans do not realize that that homophobia exists to the extent that it does, it is a very real part of every gay person's life, just like racism is a very real part of every black person's life. It is there, it is pervasive, and it has far more serious consequences for American society than most Americans realize, not just for gay people, but for society in general.

The Anti-Gay-Marriage Propaganda Effort

The Players

That the organized opposition to gay marriage is primarily from groups with an obvious homophobic agenda should be self evident if one looks at who they are and what they are doing outside of the arena of the gay marriage debate. That many of them call themselves "Christian" does not, in any way, relieve them of the responsibility for the fact that preaching hate is still preaching hate, even when the hate is dressed up in the form of religious doctrine. Putting lipstick on a pig does not make it any less a pig.

These are some of the most respected religious organizations in the United States. One of the most persistent and vigorous players is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, better known as the Mormons. It was the vigorous organization and strong fundraising effort by the Mormon church that raised approximately 70% of the money that came into California from out of state, to push the campaign for Proposition 8, a ballot measure that amended that state's constitution to prohibit gay marriage and even the recognition of gay marriages performed elsewhere. Other players were the usual suspects, the Catholic church, several of the more conservative Protestant denominations, the American Family Association, Focus On The Family, their various political subsidiary groups, and a whole host of smaller right-wing political and religious organizations, including a few out-right hate groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center maintains a "hate group" watch on many of these groups.

The Tactics

What these groups do, persistently, is to try desperately to legitimize what is clearly a campaign of hatred, fear and disinformation. The people of California saw that recently, when the campaign for Proposition 8 used just that tactic relentlessly, for months on end, spending millions of dollars in the process. Eventually the fear and disinformation campaign took its toll, emotion overtook reason, the majority in favor of gay marriage slowly eroded, and the proposition passed rather narrowly.

Hatred by itself, dressed up as religious dogma has been used for so long that it is beginning to lose its effectiveness (eventually people begin to figure out that it is mostly a tactic for filling pews, collection plates and campaign coffers more than it is a way of reforming lost souls and improving society), so the more clever of these organizations have begun to move onto a slick propaganda effort based on that long-time favorite argument-winner - fear.

Of course, the all time favorite among those fearmongering tactics is that logical fallacy called the slippery-slope argument, described briefly above. One sees the slippery-slope fallacy in almost every one of their arguments, because they have few logically sound arguments to which to resort.

Take, for example, one of the most popular anti-gay-marriage web sites out there, one so frequently clicked-on that it frequently comes to the top of Google results, the "Ten Arguments" page at nogaymarriage.com (as retrieved on 6/3/09). This web site is operated by the notorious American Family Association, run by Donald Wildmon, and one need only read that organization's Wikipedia entry (in its entirety) to understand just what kind of organization is behind this page. Among those "ten arguments," the slippery-slope fallacy (often more than one) can be seen clearly in every one of the ten. But for every slippery slope argument that Wildmon's organization has identified here, there is not a shred of verifiable evidence given for even a single one. That is a clear demonstration of just how logically fallacious those arguments are - no evidence, just disinformation, just fearmongering.

Gay marriage has been a reality for two decades in Denmark, nearly as long in one form or another in several other Scandinavian countries, and for several years now in Canada, and in the form of civil unions, and more recently, full-on gay marriage itself in several states in the United States. Can anyone point to civilization collapsing (as was alleged would happen in the recent Proposition 8 campaign in California) or students being taught gay sex in the public schools (another frequent allegation from that campaign)? If twenty years of gay marriage in Denmark has not brought about the collapse of civilization in that country (indeed, it remains higher on the United Nations Development Index than does the United States), I doubt that the collapse of civilization will be brought on in the United States by a couple of dudes saying "I do" - but that simple reality doesn't stop the argument from being made. Fear has long been used to neuter reason, and, well applied, it does so reliably - so all one has to do to nullify a logical argument is to instill fear. As for any of the other arguments raised against gay marriage, an examination of what has happened during the last twenty years in that country and other Scandinavian countries that followed suit shortly thereafter, will show that the fears are misplaced and the slippery slope so often fearmongered, remains remarkably ungreased.

The easiest way to counter the slippery-slope fallacy is to simply point out that gay marriage has been tried in many places in the world for many years, including the United States itself, and none of the dire effects insistently predicted have yet to occur in any of those locations to any significant degree.

The Strategy

The anti-gay-marriage campaigners have recently been losing in the courts with increasing frequency. It isn't difficult to understand why. It is hard to argue that gays, unable to access the dozens of rights of marriage available to straights (as identified by the Supreme Court of the State of Hawaii), have equal protection of the law, when they clearly do not under any reasonable standard of logic, and so the courts have been ruling that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. constitution, and similar statutes in state constitutions mean that the rights and responsibilities available to straight married couples are due to gays as well, and have struck down numerous state laws forbidding gay marriage. As a result, the anti-crowd has been losing in the courts. Simply putting a measure on the ballot, or getting a law through the legislature to overturn such decisions has not worked, because they run afoul of state constitution requirement for equal treatment under the law, and are therefore promptly struck down again.

So the response has been to place ballot constitutional amendment initiatives on the ballot in the states that allow for that. To date, more than half of all states have passed such initiatives, and in every case, the initiative campaign was based on fear, disinformation and hatemongering. Hardly a surprise, when an appeal to logic is not available to them, so an appeal to emotion, especially fear, is their only alternative.

An additional advantage to the constitutional amendment approach is that it is court-proof. For all intents and purposes, an amendment to a state constitution is by definition, constitutional, and can't be overturned as unconstitutional by a state supreme court, at least under most ordinary circumstances.

Gay marriage is a hot-button issue. There is no doubt about that. And because it is, the strategy is often used to put a gay-marriage initiative on the ballot when interest in an election important to the right is otherwise flagging. It gets out the homophobe vote quite reliably, so when right-wing candidates are behind in the polls, a gay marriage ballot measure is often used as a way to also raise the participation and push a right-winger into office when he would otherwise have lost. Conversely, when there is a hotly contested race between a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican, interest in the race is often used to get out conservative votes for a gay marriage ballot measure which may otherwise lose.

Once on the ballot, the disinformation used in the campaign consists of nearly always variations on the same arguments regardless of where the campaign is taking place, nearly all of them lies, generally easily refuted and can be easily seen to be without merit: 1) that homosexual sex (and/or gay marriage) would be taught and promoted in the public schools; 2) that heterosexual marriage would be undermined; 3) that churches would be forced to sanctify gay marriages; 4) that the underpinnings of western civilization (presumed to be heterosexual marriage) would be threatened; 5) that gay married couples would recruit, recruiting especially any adopted children who would then grow up to be gay. It doesn't matter whether these claims are true or not for this disinformation campaign to succeed; as Adolf Hitler himself noted, all it takes for a lie to be believed is for it to be repeated often enough, especially if it is a big lie, and these campaigns repeat the same lies over and over and over again until they finally become conventional wisdom. But there is a looming problem for the anti-gay-marriage crowd. That is the United States constitution, whose 14th Amendment states that all persons are entitled to equal protection of the law, and it makes no exceptions for gays, as the U.S. Supreme Court itself noted in its ruling striking down state sodomy laws. So if straights are entitled to special treatment for being married, gays are, in theory at least, due those same treatments under the 14th Amendment.

So to deal with this pesky issue of equal protection of the law that just won't seem to go away, the anti's have formulated a strategy. There is currently (as of this writing) a slim majority (of one vote) of conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. It could easily tip back into a minority of conservatives, and so the forces of reaction have initiated a gay marriage lawsuit, ostensibly seeking the right to gay marriage, but deliberately calculated to fail before the Supreme Court, in a deliberate effort to take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court before a new justice is appointed who would shift the balance in favor of gay marriage. That would have the effect of nullifying any challenge to the heterosexual monopoly on marriage solely on the basis of a violation of the 14th Amendment (equal protection of the law). If the lawsuit succeeds in failing, as intended, it would prevent an equal-protection challenge to gay marriage prohibitions to the U.S. Supreme Court for at least a generation. Which is precisely what happened in Hardwick vs. Bowers, the notorious Supreme Court decision that upheld state sodomy laws until the court reversed itself in Lawrence vs. Texas only recently. Talk about judicial activism!

Why This Is A Civil Rights Issue

When gay people say that this is a civil rights issue, we are referring to matters like the fact that we cannot make medical decisions for our partners in an emergency. Instead, the hospitals are usually forced by state laws to go to the families who may be estranged from us for decades, who are often hostile to us, and totally ignore our wishes for the treatment of our partners. If that hostile family wishes to exclude us from the hospital room, they may legally do so in nearly all cases. It is even not uncommon for hostile families to make decisions based on their hostility -- with results actually intended to be inimical to the interests of the patient! One couple I know uses the following line in the "sig" lines on their email: "...partners and lovers for 40 years, yet still strangers before the law." Is this fair?

If our partners are arrested, we can be compelled to testify against them or provide evidence against them, which legally married couples are not forced to do. Is this fair?

International married couples can usually pick which country in which to reside, with barely a thought about the law. Gay couples who are not married are not recognized in immigration law in most countries, and therefore cannot enter a partner's country to reside under "family reunion" immigration laws. Is that fair?

For married couples, it is a given that one parent or both can simply get on an airplane and take their child to another state if they wish. If you are gay, but unmarried, you cannot do so; you must get a written, notarized document of permission from the legal parent or gardian of the child before the child will be let on an airplane. Even if you are permanently parenting the child. Married heterosexuals are never asked for such a document. Is this fair?

In most cases, even carefully drafted wills and durable powers of attorney have proven to not be enough if a family wishes to challenge a will, overturn a custody decision, or exclude us from a funeral or deny us the right to visit a partner's grave. As survivors, they can even sieze a real estate property that we may have been buying together for years, quickly sell it at a huge loss and stick us with the remaining debt on a property we no longer own. When these are presented to a homophobic probate judge, he will usually find some pretext to overturn them. Is this fair?

These aren't just theoretical issues, either; they happen with surprising frequency. Almost any older gay couple can tell you horror stories of themselves or friends who have been victimized in such ways and many others.

These are all civil rights issues that have nothing whatever to do with the ecclesiastical origins of marriage; they are matters that have become enshrined in state and federal laws over the years in many ways that exclude us from the rights that legally married couples enjoy and consider their constitutional right. This is why we say it is very much a civil rights issue; it has nothing to do with who performs the ceremony or whether an announcement is accepted for publication in the local paper. It is not a matter of "special rights" to ask for the same rights that other couples enjoy by law, even by constitutional mandate.

How To Deal With Conservatives On This Issue

Those who have a great deal of experience in dealing with conservatives in hostile political venues have suggested that simply posing the facts, outlined above, isn't enough. In fact, it can often simply generate considerable hostility, when they realize they are backed into a logical corner from which they have no face-saving way out.

What, then, to do? How to approach discussions with them?

The most simple answer is to appeal to conservative values. Principal among these are a love of control, an often over-developed reverence for what they consider sacred, a respect for authority, a deep loyalty to and reverence for one's own group (especially family and church), a strong desire for law and order and social stability, and an abiding fear of lawlessness, social disorder and chaos, and/or loss of control.

Conservatives themselves generally understand this. It is why, in September of 2011, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, in addressing the convention of his Conservative Party, addressed these values in his announcement of his plans for a gay marriage law in Britain. He said, "Yes, it's about equality, but it's also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us... So I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative."

As you can see, arguments that can be readily framed to appeal to conservative values, such as those cited by Cameron. But they can include such arguments as these, also framed to appeal to conservative values:

"Is it not better for gay couples to be encouraged to have the same commitment to each other within well-delineated responsibility as are heterosexual couples, rather than just hit-and-miss, kiss-and-gone, easily discarded relationships?"

"When gays are not given the rights of marriage, are they not more likely to get involved in legal entanglements, court battles, family feuds, etc., than when they have legal, as well as emotional commitment to each other? Why encourage that?"

"Marriage is strengthened, not demeaned by gay marriage, because people who do not love each other and cannot relate to each other are not being encouraged or even forced to marry in order to enjoy the many hundreds of benefits and rights that legal marriage offers. That can only mean fewer divorces and better, more wholesome family life."

"Gay couples are going to get together. It's been happening since ancient times. Legal prohibitions didn't, couldn't and would never stop it. Isn't it better that gays conduct their relationships within the context of a well-defined marriage law, same as heterosexual couples?"

You get the idea. Come to understand what values motivate conservatives, frame the argument within those values and show why it is consistent with conservative values, and the conservative can be won over, however reluctantly.

Conclusion

As we have seen, the arguments against gay marriage don't hold up to close scrutiny. Neither the arguments traditionally raised nor the real feelings of the opponents make much sense when held up to the light of reason.

So let's get on with it. Let's get over our aversion to what we oppose for silly, irrational reasons, based on ignorance and faulty assumptions, and make ours a more just and honorable society, finally honoring that last phrase from the Pledge of Allegance; "With liberty and justice for all."


Resources for those researching the subject of gay marriage:

Books:

Books I strongly recommend, which you can obtain from Amazon.com, if you wish, by following the links (your transaction will be secure!):

The Case for Same-Sex Marriage : From Sexual Liberty to Civilized Commitment by William N. Eskridge, Jr. offers some compelling legal reasons why the arguments raised in this essay make sense, both from a legal and moral point of view. Highly recommended.

Created Equal: Why Gay Rights Matter To America by Michael Nava and Robert Dawidoff is a compelling argument on why the issue of gay marriage and gay rights are vitally important to all Americans, not just gays.

A Place At The Table is Bruce Bawer's excellent treatise on how Americans have come to misunderstand homosexuality, and in the process, have failed to understand why gay marriage would benefit society as a whole.



To get the current bibliography on gay marriage from Amazon.com, type the phrase same-sex marriage (be sure to include the hyphen) in the form above and click the "search" button. Other suggested search phrases are gay couples and homosexuality+law. Of course, you can search any other phrase you wish, too. In any event, Amazon.com will then return to you a list of the currently available books on the subject, which if you wish, you can safely purchase online and have within a few days.


Need to cite this article in your essay, paper, or report? Use one of the following formats:

MLA format: Bidstrup, Scott. "Gay Marriage, The Arguments And The Motives" [today's date here] http://www.bidstrup.com/marriage.htm.

APA format: Bidstrup, Scott (2009, June 3). Gay Marriage, The Arguments And The Motives. Retrieved [today's date here], from http://www.bidstrup.com/marriage.htm

Information on the author: Scott Bidstrup is a graduate of Brigham Young University, in Communications (BA, 1971). He is widely traveled and is a published author and has been a staunch human rights advocate for many years, especially in gay rights issues since coming out at the age 44 in the mid '90's. He is currently retired and living in exile in Costa Rica.


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