This article summarizes the Top 10 most common arguments against same-sex marriage and outlines why each one deserves a failing grade. Although not listed in a strict order, the sequence of the ten arguments presented in some ways corresponds with the increasing level of desperation displayed by opponents of marriage equality in their efforts to thwart the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Context: The Quest for Marriage Equality
Both in the USA and around the world, the quest for marriage equality is gaining momentum. Between December 2012 and May 2013 an additional six American states (MD, ME, WA, RI, DE, MN) introduced marriage equality laws bringing to twelve the number of states that permit gay marriage. Same-sex marriage is also legal in the nation’s capital. Internationally, four more countries have legalized gay marriage in recent months – three via national legislatures (Uruguay, New Zealand, France) and one (Brazil) through legal action. There are now fifteen countries in total that offer federal marriage equality.
While support for the legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S.A. and internationally is growing there remains opposition to it. In thirty-eight American states same-sex couples cannot legally marry. Moreover, same-sex marriages in the states that permit them are not recognized by the federal government courtesy of the woefully discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA denies same-sex married couples access to the more than one thousand federal rights and benefits associated with marriage. Globally, same-sex marriage is not legal in the vast majority of the world’s nations.
Listening to the recent marriage equality debates in legislatures in Rhode Island, Delaware, and Minnesota was like hitting the “repeat” button multiple times over. One by one, opponents of equality regurgitated the same tedious arguments against same-sex marriage that had already been heard – and debunked – in various other states and countries beforehand. Whether it’s here in the USA or overseas, those in opposition to gay marriage push the same flawed arguments repeatedly, recycling and rehashing them in a desperate effort to block progress.
1. Nature: “It’s Not Natural” (FAIL)
The most basic argument presented by gay marriage opponents purports that marriage between two people of the same sex is “not natural” and is in violation of the “natural order.” In this sense, the argument doesn’t really even relate to marriage but rather to non-acceptance of the biological nature of homosexuality. “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” the opponents quip. At this level of the debate there is very little exploration of the inherent validity (or otherwise) of same-sex marriage but rather a fixation on the notion that homosexuality is inherently “wrong.”
In reality, marriage is a societal institution that has no direct connection with nature. The natural world didn’t create marriage, humans did. Nature-themed arguments against gay marriage say little about the societal institution of marriage but reveal a lot about the homophobia and heterosexism of those who present such arguments. In this regard, the opposition isn’t toward gay marriage per se – it’s toward homosexuality, period.
2. Procreation: “Marriage is for Procreation” (FAIL)
An often-expressed argument against same-sex marriage relates to procreation. Opponents of equality argue that the institution of marriage is essentially in place to assist with procreation and the raising of children. They argue that because two people of the same sex cannot procreate that they should not be allowed to marry.
This argument denies the reality that while the production of children may indeed be a feature of many heterosexual marriages the capacity to procreate does not determine the legal validity of such marriages. There are many straight couples who cannot biologically have children or who choose not to have children. Should they be forced to divorce? Or prevented from marrying in the first place? No. The procreation argument ignores the fact that people marry for a wide range of reasons that have nothing to do with procreation such as love, friendship, companionship, and life stability.
3. Religion: “It’s Against My Religion” (FAIL)
Religion is a recurring theme in many arguments against the legalization of gay marriage. This is not surprising given the manner in which many conservative divisions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism demonize homosexuality in general. In the U.S.A., Christianity-based arguments lead the way in efforts to oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. References to the Bible, the “sinful” nature of homosexuality, and “religious beliefs” are regularly made by those who seek to rationalize their support of discrimination via religion. Marriage is a religious institution, they argue, and not one for society to tamper with.
Given that the U.S.A. is a secular nation, religion should play no role in any discussion about civil and societal laws. Marriage is not owned by any society or by any religion or church. In America marriage is first and foremost a socio-legal institution: try getting legally married without obtaining a marriage license from the state. In order to get legally married there is absolutely no requirement for a religious ceremony to be held. In this sense, marriage is not a religious institution. Yes, people are free to maintain their religious beliefs in regards to marriage, but those beliefs should never be enshrined in laws in ways that restrict the freedom of other people who do not share those beliefs. Freedom of religion is also freedom from religion.
4. Redefintion: “You are Trying to Redefine the Institution” (FAIL)
The redefinition argument appears regularly in debates about same-sex marriage. Opponents argue that marriage has always been between a man and a woman and that it should stay that way. They say that efforts to legalize same-sex marriage will fundamentally alter the institution and they present this position as though the institution of marriage has never been altered at any time during history. They catastrophize that allowing gay couples to marry will somehow lead to the collapse of society and civilization as we know it. Apparently, nothing in society should ever be changed.
Seemingly, those who push this line of thought are residing in some kind of time warp that ignores history. Marriage laws in the U.S.A. and in countries across the globe have been changed and modified repeatedly in response to evolving cultural norms and standards. There was a time when women were the legal property of their husbands. There was a time when a man and woman of different races couldn’t marry each other. There was even a time when not one country in the world had legalized same-sex marriage! Removing discrimination from the institution of marriage is not redefining it but making it more accessible and fair.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in the Netherlands since 2001 and from last reports the country is still on the map and still functioning. Massachusetts legalized gay marriage in 2004 and it’s still up and running also! To argue against the legalization of gay marriage using the “redefinition” argument is deeply flawed because it denies the fact that same-sex marriage is already legal in various states and countries. It dismisses the reality that society progresses, changes and evolves over time and marriage, as in institution in society, should not be excluded from this process of change. This argument also ignores the fact that no state or country that has legalized same-sex marriage has suffered any negative societal consequences for doing so.
5. Sanctity: “It’s a Threat to the Sanctity of (Opposite-Sex) Marriage” (FAIL)
With roots in religion, the sanctity argument posits that marriage is a “sacred” institution that only heterosexual couples should have access to. It’s another anti-equality position that gets rehashed repeatedly in marriage equality debates. Somehow (nobody knows how exactly) allowing same-sex couples to marry poses a “threat” to “traditional marriage” as though somehow heterosexual married couples will all be at risk of divorcing when two people of the same sex marry each other.
There is a deep arrogance, sense of entitlement and selfishness evident in those who promote the “sanctity” argument. They speak as though they own the institution of marriage, as though they have the exclusive right to determine who can and cannot enter it, and as though relationships between people of the same-sex are inherently inferior. The suggestion that same-sex couples will somehow tarnish the institution by being able to get married is insulting and offensive. The only straight married couples impacted by the legalization of gay marriage are those in which one of the parties is a closet-case gay person who dreams of coming out and marrying someone of the same sex!
If those who use the “sanctity” argument were genuinely concerned about the institution of marriage they’d be investing their time, money and energy helping those straight married couples who are at risk of divorcing. If marriage was so sacred, they’d be pursuing the outlawing of heterosexual divorce. The fact they do none of these things reveals the driving forces behind their opposition to gay marriage: homophobia and heterosexism. Their efforts to deny same-sex couples access to marriage laws are extremely misguided.
6. Children: “It Will Harm the Children” (FAIL)
One of the most emotive arguments presented in opposition to gay marriage is the notion that allowing same-sex couples to marry will somehow harm children. From this perspective, opponents of equality (advocates of discrimination) frequently make use of flawed research studies to suggest that children have worse social outcomes when parented in households led by same-sex couples. The insinuation is that all children need a “mom and a dad” in order to flourish in life and that legalizing same-sex marriage denies children this opportunity of “normalcy.”
Multiple studies across the social sciences have repeatedly demonstrated that there is no difference in psychosocial outcomes between children raised by opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples. The American Psychological Asscociation (APA), the American Sociological Association (ASA), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has each endorsed the legalization of same-sex marriage and its capacity to provide a stable familial framework for children. There is no evidence whatsoever that children are psychologically harmed by having either two dads or two moms. It can be rightly argued, however, that such children are indeed harmed by the failure of many states and countries to allow the same-sex couples parenting these children the right to marry.
Divorce and relationship breakdown is a stressful human experience, especially for children negatively impacted by the separation of their parents. If opponents of marriage equality were as concerned about the wellbeing of “the children” as they claim to be they’d be investing considerable resources in helping to prevent the breakdown of heterosexual marriages. The fact that they don’t do that once again reveals a deeper homophobic or heterosexist motivation for their opposition to gay marriage.
The only children negatively impacted by same-sex marriage are those raised by straight parents who teach their children discriminatory and shame-based views about LGBT people and same-sex relationships. Thankfully, an increasing number of heterosexual parents and couples now understand the importance of teaching their children about the diversity that exists across humanity in regards to sexual orientation and human relationships.
7. Reverse Discrimination: “Straight People and Religious People Will Be Discriminated Against” (FAIL)
Those who oppose marriage equality frequently conjure up all kinds of dire scenarios in their efforts to frighten the straight majority into opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage. They describe a future in which straight people and religious people become the new “victims” of oppression. They talk of charity-based religious organizations being “forced out of business” for “sticking to their beliefs” about marriage. In this reverse scenario, gay people are apparently “hateful” for wanting to be treated equally in society. How dare we demand equal rights and criticize those who discriminate against us!
This reverse discrimination argument ignores the fact that in almost all countries and states that have legalized same-sex marriage, various religious protections have been built into legislation to ensure the maintenance of religious freedom. In no state of the U.S.A. in which gay marriage is legal is a church legally required to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. Religious groups and churches are still free to pick and choose who they will and won’t marry. Organizations that receive public money, however, and which must adhere to anti-discrimination laws accordingly, should rightly be singled out if they engage in discrimination against a protected class of people.
In essence, those who engage in this type of fear-mongering about reverse discrimination are basically projecting their own fear about a perceived loss of privilege and status, and the loss of their right to freely discriminate against others without consequences. Religious freedom gives people the right to hold whatever beliefs they wish to and to privately practice their religion without governmental interference. It does not give people the right to publicly and legally deny freedoms to others in society based on one’s private and personal religious beliefs.
8. Slippery Slope: “It Will Lead to Marriage Involving Animals, Siblings, Children, or Groups of People!” (FAIL)
Slippery slopes arguments are an extreme version of the redefinition argument (number 4) whereby opponents argue that legalizing gay marriage will serve as a “gateway” for the legalization of marriage involving animals, siblings, children, or groups of people. People who present these scenarios portray a catastrophic future with society crumbling under the weight of rampant immorality and social discord. The hysteria generated by slippery slope arguments aims to confuse and frighten people and to distort reality. Completely devoid of facts, the slippery slope strategy is one which anti-gay organizations are very fond of employing.
Not surprisingly, these types of arguments have no basis in logic or reality. Suggesting that the institution of marriage (which involves two biologically unrelated adults forming a legal union) may one day embrace bestiality, incest, pedophilia and polygamy is absurd. These phenomena have no relevance to the definition of “marriage” as we know it. Efforts to legalize same-sex marriage simply aim to provide same-sex couples access to marriage laws – there is no intention to change the fundamental definition of marriage as the legal union between two adult human beings who have no direct biological connection with each other. Facts are useful in this regard: of the fifteen countries and twelve U.S. states that have legalized same-sex marriage, none of them has legalized marriage involving animals, children, siblings, or groups of people.
9. Civil Unions: “Civil Unions Are Good Enough” (FAIL)
Once the “civil unions” argument enters the marriage equality debate it’s usually an indication that opponents of equality are stating to realize the futility of their opposition. From this perspective, opponents of same-sex marriage support the creation of a “separate but equal” platform in which straight couples and gay couples receive the same relationship rights and benefits, but from within different institutional frameworks. They argue that “marriage” should be left exclusively for opposite-sex couples and that same-sex couples should be granted “civil unions.” In some ways it’s a feeble attempt to appease people on both sides of the marriage equality debate.
Unfortunately, history and reality have shown that this “separate but equal” approach doesn’t work. Various countries (e.g. Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Canada, New Zealand, France) and American states (VT, CT, NH, RI, DE) which initially permitted “civil unions” for same-sex couples have subsequently enacted marriage equality legislation. The U.K. is also currently pursuing this change from civil unions to full marriage equality. These jurisdications have pursued such changes because civil union legislation, no matter how valiant the effort, is not able to provide the same rights and benefits as legal marriage.
Having a two-class system also continues to maintain the erroneous notion that one group (straight people) is more superior and worthy than another group (LGBT people). Culturally and symbolically the language of “civil unions” is not well understood by mainstream society. Saying one is “civilly unioned” hardly carries the same value and meaning that saying one is “married” does. Support of civil union legislation is ultimately, therefore, support of discrimination.
10. States’ Rights: “States Have the Right to Oppose It” (FAIL)
Opponents of equality that push the “states’ rights” argument have in many ways given up the fight and have started to accept the reality that same-sex marriage is now legal in an increasing number of of U.S. states (and various countries). This last-ditch effort to maintain opposition elevates the discussion to the level of the Constitution and the right of states to make their own decisions about the legalization of same-sex marriage. This is an attempt to justify, rationalize and defend the fact that in thirty-eight states of the U.S.A. same-sex couples cannot marry. Ironically, advocates of this argument almost always support the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This Act is essentially a tool that gives the federal government the power to dismiss the decisions of various states to legalize same-sex marriage and to deny the provision of federal rights and benefits to same-sex married couples.
There was a period in U.S. history in which some states had legalized interracial (opposite-sex) marriage while others had not. Would those who support state-by-state bans and laws for same-sex marriage support the idea of interracial opposite-sex couples being able to only marry in certain states and not others? No. Would they support a federal government decision to deny federal rights and benefits to interracial opposite-sex couples married in states that permit it? No. There should be no difference in the case of gay marriage. Ultimately, the U.S.A. has one Constitution and the right to liberty and justice should not change as one moves from state to state.
The maintenance of a system which allows some states to recognize same-sex marriage and others to not do so, and which allows the federal government to ignore legal same-sex marriages performed at the state level, sets up a cumbersome and extremely complicated national map of unequal rights and legal nightmares. Those who continue to maintain the argument that states should have the right to not legalize same-sex marriage should be consistent and acknowledge that states should also have the right to legalize it. Additionally, they should drop their support of a federal government act (DOMA) which essentially tramples states’ rights by blocking same-sex married couples from accessing federal rights and benefits associated with marriage.
Conclusion: Marriage Equality is the Future – Embrace it!
Without doubt, as more states and countries move to legalize same-sex marriage we will continue to hear the above ten arguments rehashed over and over again in legislatures, in the media, in personal conversations, in churches, and on the Internet. As marriage equality gradually becomes a reality in an increasing number of jurisdictions, however, more and more people are starting to recognize and accept the flawed nature of all arguments which oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. In reality, there is no logical or reasonable basis for denying same-sex couples access to secular marriage laws.
More than 50% of Americans now support the legalization of same-sex marriage and more than 70% of those under thirty supports it. Opposing the inevitable (marriage equality) is not only a waste of time, money and energy, it’s also deeply selfish and cruel to continue to deny loving same-sex couples equal access to all parts of the American dream. I urge all of those who oppose marriage equality to start focusing on their own lives, to accept that they don’t need to marry a person of the same sex, and to recognize the right of all Americans to be treated equally under the law: “liberty and justice for all” should not come with a disclaimer.
(Credit: Thank you to those at Gay Marriage USA who have regularly shared their views on this topic and who have, in that regard, helped contribute to the ideas and arguments presented in this article)