Why the fight for Gay Marriage has (almost) nothing to do with homosexuality

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March 29, 2013 by Alex Johannigman

As a blog dedicated to topics of love, religion, and politics, I’d be cheating the world if I didn’t take a moment this week amid the discussions in the Supreme Court to discuss the debate on gay marriage. But rather than argue about whether the traditional marriage side is more right or wrong than the marriage equality side, I think it’s much more important to clarify what exactly is going on in this debate.

I see two big problems with the whole discussion that no one really wants to talk about.

The first is that the core of what is being argued in reality isn’t whether homosexuals are equal to straight people under the law. It’s what the definition of marriage actually is. And no one wants to admit it.

The second is that both sides are currently too busy demonizing the other to actually see any value in what their opponents believe. It’s not only making it harder and harder to have any intelligent discussion on the subject. It’s tearing our nation apart.

I found these  to be pretty fair and descriptive definitions of the two views of marriage that Americans seem to hold, and they were written by people who are much more intelligent than I am.

Conjugal View: Marriage is the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other of the type that is naturally (inherently) fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together. The spouses seal (consummate) and renew their union by conjugal acts—acts that constitute the behavioral part of the process of reproduction, thus uniting them as a reproductive unit. Marriage is valuable in itself, but its inherent orientation to the bearing and rearing of children contributes to its distinctive structure, including norms of monogamy and fidelity. This link to the welfare of children also helps explain why marriage is important to the common good and why the state should recognize and regulate it.

Revisionist View: Marriage is the union of two people (whether of the same sex or of opposite sexes) who commit to romantically loving and caring for each other and to sharing the burdens and benefits of domestic life. It is essentially a union of hearts and minds, enhanced by whatever forms of sexual intimacy both partners find agreeable. The state should recognize and regulate marriage because it has an interest in stable romantic partnerships and in the concrete needs of spouses and any children they may choose to rear.

If the conjugal idea of marriage is true, gay marriage, along with poly-amorous marriage and any other definitions (Between human beings. Let’s not get crazy, “gay marriage will pave the way for legalized bestiality” crowd) aside from one man and one woman for life, make no sense at all. If the revisionist view is best for society, than restricting it to only people who love one person of the opposite sex is a horrible form of discrimination. I would add that it would also be discriminatory to restrict it to only pairs of people since there are people in society who desire polygamous marriages, although the source I quoted above limits it to the union of two people.

The problem is that neither of these are what is reflected in the current laws of the land or what we see in society. We currently live in an awkward middle ground where no one really knows quite what marriage is, but everyone has an opinion on what it should become.

In order for conjugal marriage to be the predominant form of marriage in the United States, we would need to change a lot of laws that would cause a huge storm among liberals and conservatives alike. For starters, no fault divorce would have to go. Although it should remain legal, there would also be no reason for the elderly to get married. If you want to look at extreme scenarios (I don’t think this would be the case, but it’s a popular argument against the child-centric view of marriage), couples could be forced to prove that they are fertile before being married or promise in some way to have at least one child in the next 5, 10, 20 years. And only married couples would be allowed to adopt, which I think many traditional marriage supporters don’t realize is currently not the case. As the law stands right now, gay couples can adopt in over 20 states and single parent adoption is legal across the nation, meaning gay couples can raise children across the country but only one of the two can legally be the parent.

For revisionist marriage to be the law of the land, it would need to extend to all groups of people who desire to spend their lives together and share the burdens and blessings of domestic life. It is less of a contract for the protection of some special interest (children) and more of a legal recognition of a meaningful relationship between two or more people.

But before we start taking sides, we have to realize that the question is not about “which of these reflects my marriage or what I want my future marriage to be?” The discussion is about which of these should our society recognize as marriage in the law. Although I plan for my marriage to reflect all of the beauty and awesomeness of the conjugal, sacramental ideal of marriage, I’m not sure if our country can handle conjugal marriage as the law of the land. We are a nation that, in general, doesn’t know how to love and turns to marriage for self-fulfillment rather than for self-gift. I believe that in a country battered by the consequences of the sexual revolution, suffering from an addiction to pornography, contraception, and pre-marital sex, and with a divorce rate around 50%, and the sixth highest in the world, we can’t realistically hold everyone to the incredibly high standard of conjugal, spousal love, especially since it seems like a majority of Americans don’t want it anyway. For better or worse (probably worse) marriage has been an adult centered rather than a child centered institution at least since no-fault divorce became the law of the land, and I don’t see very many people actually wanting to undo that redefinition of marriage.

I think it would make things a lot easier if we recognized that we are using the same word to talk about two different things, just as I can use the same word to say how much I love me a deep dish, meat lovers pizza, as I will use to tell my future wife on our wedding day that I love her.

While different in nature, in all honesty the feeling will likely share the same level of passion. Why am I writing this on Good Friday?

While different in nature, in all honesty the feeling will likely share the same level of passion. Why am I writing this on Good Friday?

Unfortunately, no one wants to talk about definitions because as a whole the marriage debate has degenerated into large-scale name calling similar to the behavior that I thought people had grown out of when we outgrew our elementary school playgrounds.

The pro gay marriage side I feel is the worst about this, but the traditional marriage camp isn’t a whole lot better. Many of the talking points of gay marriage activists seem to revolve around telling their opponents that they are bigots and hate all gay people, even though a majority of them have close friends and family members who are gay who they love very much. It’s offensive and shuts down successful dialog. It also is about as unfair to them as it is for a pro-lifer to call all abortion supporters racist eugenicists. Sure, there are pro-abortion people who promote abortion as a means to keep the poor and ethnic minorities from reproducing (such as the founder of Planned Parenthood herself, Margaret Sanger, who believed that lighter-skinned races were superior to darker-skinned races and advocated coercion to prevent the “undeniably feeble-minded” from procreating in her book The Pivot of Civilization), just as there are supporters of traditional marriage who don’t want gays to get married because they are sinful sodomites who are damned to hell and don’t deserve a lick of love or respect from anyone, much less the government.

I'll tell ya what Cletus. It's only a matter of time 'fore God smites 'em all. Remember Sodom and Gommorah?

I’ll tell ya what Cletus. It’s only a matter of time ‘fore God smites ’em all. Remember Sodom and Gommorah?

But they both represent a small minority, and characterizing an entire population of people based on the worst among them does a disservice to everyone and prevents the two camps from engaging each other in discussion.

With that being said, the traditional marriage supporters are allowing themselves to stoop to the same level, stating that gay couples will be bad parents and that they are trying to deprive children of the right to a biological mother and father. This guy has a good idea of what’s going on and what needs to change. In an effort to defend love, Christians all over the place have forgotten about the call to love and show compassion that is the core of Christ’s message.

So here’s my challenge to you. Ask yourself, what does marriage actually mean, and what should it mean in the law? What laws regarding marriage would best serve the common good of our country? If you identify yourself as a supporter of marriage equality, take some time to learn about why your opponents think marriage is such a beautiful thing that needs to be defended. Also, think about why we have laws regarding marriage to begin with. Why is it in society’s best interest to support stable relationships? If you identify yourself as a supporter of traditional marriage, think about the plight of the homosexual community in the United States today. Think of what it would be like to walk in their shoes, or talk to a close friend or family member who is attracted to members of their sex and ask them about their life experiences. What are ways that you can make them feel more loved rather than isolated from others in their communities? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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10 thoughts on “Why the fight for Gay Marriage has (almost) nothing to do with homosexuality

  1. “What are ways that you can make them feel more loved rather than isolated from others in their communities?”

    Let them get legally married.

    There. That was easy.

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  2. Adrienne says:

    You do a good job of qualifying the case. I’d like to comment on a couple of sentences, specifically, instead of trying to answer your questions. I feel like that conversation should be shared in person at some other time.

    “For better or worse (probably worse) marriage has been an adult centered rather than a child centered institution at least since no-fault divorce became the law of the land…”

    ^ Perhaps this is just my opinion, but I always thought marriage WAS between the two adults and centered on the emotional and mental support and whatever else that comes with it. That’s not to say that children aren’t important or the most common result of marriages, but they shouldn’t be the priority. They should be the result of a loving and fruitful union, not the sole focus of marriages, or even the primary focus. I’ve seen too many of my parents’ friends whose marriages eventually fell apart because the kids were the main focus. It’s something romantic to say that you want to have children with your best friend and partner in life, but I can see that going dangerously when not enough attention is given to making the marriage work between the two ADULTS in the first place. I guess I align more with the revisionist view of marriage, then.

    Hm, I hope I explained myself clearly enough.

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    • The reason I said that marriage is primarily a child centered institution is because that is the reason marriage is supported and protected the way it is by the government. The government/ society has an interest in children being raised in a stable, loving environment, because children raised in those environments have a higher graduation rate, lower crime rate, make more money over their lifetimes, and generally contribute more positively to society. You could argue that society also has an interest in making sure as many people as possible are in a loving relationship that is emotionally and mentally supportive. After all, studies show that married people tend to make more money, are more productive at work, and report being happier. But if the only care from the government’s perspective is the needs of two adults, what makes marriage any different from a long-term romantic relationship or an engaged couple or a couple that is cohabitating?

      I see your point in the dangers of neglecting each other in a marriage and focusing too much on the children. But there are also dangers in focusing too much on each other and neglecting children, or focusing too much on one’s career at the expense of spouse or children. But what if you switch your argument around? What if you think about the negative impacts of focusing on the spouse at the child’s expense? Although neglecting any part of your family has dire consequences, I think overall the negative consequences of neglecting the children outweigh the negative consequences of neglecting your spouse. Ideally, you’d give them all the love, time, and respect that they deserve.

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      • Peter Kaminsky says:

        I agree with Chris. The reason we want couples to maintain stable and loving relationships is because it is in the best interest of their children. We can test both of these hypotheses, child centered vs. adult centered, in the case of divorce. If the child centered couple is having marital troubles, keeping their children’s best interests in mind, they will work it out, because they love their children. The adult centered couple also is having marital troubles, but once things aren’t working out, they think about their own romantic life and how it’s not like it used to be, and then divorce. They may love their children, but their romantic life takes priority, and the family is destroyed.

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  3. kdk0726 says:

    this is awesome. I am going to share it with a lot of people. FYI.

    The main thing that got me thinking, was your point that our society *already* fails to legally support conjugal (ideal, awesome) marriage. Legal gay marriage is a step away from God’s ideal — but I would venture to say that no-fault divorce is an even larger step (from child-centric to adult-centric), and that already happened. That doesn’t automatically mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater is the right thing to do. (“I wash my hands of this!”, e.g.) But it changes the situation from “OMG AMERICA IS ON THE BRINK OF DOOOOMMM”, which is the way some people I know talk. (And to which I previously had no good answer.)

    My question is: so we’re supposed to live out our faith in our politics as well. But what is the best way to do this in a pluralistic society? Do we exclusively promote laws that are most in accord with the Truth? Or do we consider the pluralism that exists and vote based on what see as the “greater good” for society?

    In the case of gay marriage: as Catholics, we believe that “revisionist marriage” cannot bring anyone complete fulfillment, the way that sacramental, conjugal marriage can. In one sense, voting for gay marriage uncharitably enables people to go down the wrong path — paving the path to sin, away from the only Source of joy. We’d be sort of complicit in that, no? But perhaps legal gay marriage is simply meeting people where they are at, as part of a greater attempt to bring them closer to the God who is utterly selfless love. I’m not sure.

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    • Great question, and one that I’ve wrestled with a lot and am still not entirely sure I have the right answer for. The key thing to think about is what the purpose of government and laws are in the first place? Are they there to protect us from ourselves, or just to protect us from others that may mean to do us harm? If the former, we should make every effort to limit/ outlaw activities that we think are harmful. From a Catholic perspective, that would include things like same sex relationships, contraception, pornography, harmful drugs, and possibly alcohol since it has a potential to be abused. The problem with that approach, in my mind, is that it turns our government into a totalitarian state where the government has the ability to decide what it thinks is good or bad for you. How about we outlaw sodas since they negatively impact health?

      In my pseudo-libertarian, fairly moderate, Catholic influenced political worldview, I think using the law just to protect us from others and not ourselves is a better approach. It still says things like murder, theft, rape, and abortion are wrong because they are actions that we can take that harm another person, but it wouldn’t outlaw the other things that I mentioned above. I don’t think this makes us complicit in sin any more than failing to outlaw any other sinful and harmful activities does. We should continue to speak up about how harmful same sex romantic relationships are, how pornography warps people’s views of sexuality and degrades women, and how contraception keeps couples from being a complete self gift to each other, but I don’t think it is wise to outlaw those things and the many others that we consider sinful but are still legal today (and the list is quite long).

      That being said, the gay marriage debate starts to blur the lines because if you think of marriage as being adult centered, they’re only really harming themselves. But if you think of marriage as child centered, and start talking about their ability to adopt children, you become worried that a child being raised in that environment will be harmed by that situation, and it becomes an action that harms another which should be protected against by the law. The problem then remains that, at least in my opinion, that there hasn’t been good enough research in the field to suggest that, from a secular perspective, parents in a same sex marriage are definitely worse than those in a heterosexual one. There’s definitely proof that biological parents in a stable relationship are the best, but since we’re dealing with adoption laws we would need to compare adoptive same sex vs adoptive opposite sex parents. All of the studies I’ve seen that suggest they are the same suffer from small sample sizes and selection biases which are inexcusable. And the Regnerus study that suggests they aren’t as good, while being better because it had a large and random sample, wasn’t really asking the right questions. So I’m hesitant to make a verdict for or against gay adoption outright until there’s been a higher quality of research done on the topic.

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  4. Adrienne says:

    “What if you think about the negative impacts of focusing on the spouse at the child’s expense? ”

    (First of all, yay, I got a reply!)

    Ahem.

    That certainly could happen. I’ve not really seen or heard of any real-life examples where that is the case, however. I think the situation that I mentioned is more common. Obviously, neglecting either spouse or child in favor of the other is not a good thing, as you said.

    The other question in your reply: “But if the only care from the government’s perspective is the needs of two adults, what makes marriage any different from a long-term romantic relationship or an engaged couple or a couple that is cohabitating?”

    Well, technically, that IS the only thing government cares about, at least when it comes to taxes. (And you know as well as I that it’s always about the taxes.) If we’re talking about DOMA, then that case is about whether or not gay couples can get the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. As of now, they do not. So, that is not about the definition of marriage in the sense that everyone is talking about but the unglamorous but necessary side of it — does a homosexual person get the same rights as a heterosexual one regarding taxes, visiting a partner in the hospital, etc.?

    I think they should.

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    • Peter Kaminsky says:

      You’ve never heard of real-life examples of adults neglecting their children to focus on their relationship? Especially in wealthy culture, this happens all the time. Children are seen as a nuisance, so they send them to boarding school as soon as they can to be rid of the burdens of parenting. It’s selfish bull. Or with unwanted children that are the result of a romantic flame? Those children get aborted, or neglected, so the child doesn’t ruin the parents’ fun.

      Also, the government very much cares about the needs of children as much as the needs of adults. Children are the future labor force. Giving tax breaks to married couples isn’t just done because the government likes it when people love each other. It does it with economic interests in mind. As for visiting a partner in a hospital, and transferring money to the partner’s estate, that is bureaucratic red tape that doesn’t need to be there. I definitely support making life easier for gay people in regards to civil rights such as those.

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  5. Joshua Perkins says:

    One factual correction: Margaret Sanger was indeed a racist eugenicist, but she opposed abortion, as did Planned Parenthood until around 1960.

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  6. […] in the past about why this ongoing debate isn’t as much about homosexuality as it is about what marriage actually means to us as a nation, and more recently about the cultural trends that are more dangerous than any court ruling, but […]

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