The Problem with Arguments Against Same-Sex Marriage
Via Michael Brendan Dougherty, this CNN op-ed by
Paul A.Robert P. George, Sherif Girgis, and Ryan T. Anderson is the best anti-same-sex marriage (SSM) argument I’ve read in a while. And I suppose I would feel that way, considering that the authors spend the clear majority of their essay sounding like supporters of SSM:
All human beings are equal in dignity and should be equal before the law. But equality only forbids arbitrary distinctions. And there is nothing arbitrary about maximizing the chances that children will know the love of their biological parents in a committed and exclusive bond. A strong marriage culture serves children, families and society by encouraging the ideal of giving kids both a mom and a dad.
Indeed, if that is not the public purpose of marriage law, then the “injustice” and “bigotry” charges comes back to bite most same-sex marriage supporters. If marriage is just the emotional bond “that matters most” to you — in the revealing words of the circuit judge who struck down California Proposition 8 — then personal tastes or a couple’s subjective preferences aside, there is no reason of principle for marriage to be pledged to permanence. Or sexually exclusive rather than “open.” Or limited to two spouses. Or oriented to family life and shaped by its demands.
In that case, every argument for recognizing two men’s bond as marital –equality, destigmatization, extending economic benefits — would also apply to recognizing romantic triads (“throuples,” as they are now known). Refusing such recognition would be unfair — a violation of equality — if commitment based on emotional companionship is what makes a marriage.
So when it comes to scaring you into really listening to their position — and the piece is clearly written for an audience that does not already oppose SSM — the authors lean heavy on the whole polyamory stuff. They imply the rise of the polys is something that’ll have an affect on society equivalent to the LGBTQ movement because, otherwise, who cares? The fact that they imply rather than prove tells you all you need to know about whether or not this is a near- or medium-term conversation. (For what it’s worth I don’t consider this line of inquiry to be, in the abstract, foolish.)
But even if we shrug off moral panic about Sally getting bold with Harry, Mark, and John, George et al are still making an interesting argument. What’s striking about it to me, however, is just how much the hypotheticals they lay out reflect the mainstream view of marriage. When they write that a ban on SSM would be unfair if marriage was nothing more than the ultimate friend with benefits situation, I think they’re right. Where they’re wrong is framing it hypothetically at all. The not-conservative mainstream does view marriage that way. And I would bet it’s all the more pronounced among my generation.
Now keep in mind, I’m not describing a finished process. I’m sure we could find more than a few places in the US where the disapproval of the friends-with-benefits relationship is only matched by ignorance of what that phrase could possibly mean. But I am comfortable in saying that I think this is an inevitable process. Once it started it wasn’t going to stop. So the game was lost, if you’re politically inclined to see it that way, much earlier than in the past five years, decade or even generation.
For social conservatives who find SSM to be an enervating confirmation of some of their worst fears, the war ended when sex became disentangled from procreation. Any argument against same-sex marriage that can’t or won’t grapple with this larger ideological schism between themselves and the “mainstream,” no matter how elegant or fairly put, is doomed for failure.