In considering gay marriage, focus on family

Plenty of those who oppose gay marriage can only cite Scripture to justify their position. In a secular state, such arguments will not be persuasive in the long term. But many proponents of gay marriage present equally inadequate reasoning; they criticize the legislation of Scriptural morality instead of providing positive justification. Implicit is the false idea that Scriptural morality is the only intellectual challenge to the institution of gay marriage.

It is certainly true that Scriptural morality bolstered the sodomy laws prevalent in America before the 1960s. And in the last 50 years, as these laws encountered more intense criticism, most states responded by reducing sentencing and enforcement, or repealing their sodomy laws altogether. The change culminated in 2003 in the Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, which, by invalidating remaining sodomy laws, constituted a defeat of the legislation of scriptural morality. But since then, only Massachusetts has recognized gay marriage. If Scriptural morality is the only challenge to the institution of gay marriage, why isn’t gay marriage now widely recognized?

The debate concerning gay marriage is more complex than a simple acceptance or rejection of religious dogma. In fact, it occupies the crossroads of the American identity. On the one hand, America inherited the English common law that conceptualized the family as the basic unit of society. On the other hand, the Declaration of Independence conceptualized the polity as a product of the consent of its basic units, individuals. Ever since Lincoln established the Declaration of Independence as the prism through which to understand the Constitution, these two conceptions have been fighting each other in the public consciousness and in the law.

A good example is the development of divorce law. Under common law, one could not obtain a legal divorce without providing a good reason and receiving the approval of a judge. But the purpose of government, according to the liberal philosophy of the Declaration of Independence, is to protect the individual right to liberty — which is clearly violated by common law divorce procedure. While the procedure prevailed for a long time, it increasingly became a farce. Jealous of their own liberty, couples routinely committed perjury to acquire the divorce they took as their right. From 1970 to 1985, no-fault divorce law swept the nation, adopted in some form by every state. Liberalism had triumphed over the common law.

Unsurprisingly, an increase in divorce rates followed the adoption of no-fault divorce law. And as the social sciences linked the broken family to most social pathologies, the ranks of those critical of the new law grew. The problem with no-fault divorce is two-fold. First, it allows for easy divorce where a little social pressure might have induced the parties to work through their difficulties rather than separating. Perhaps more problematic is that the heightened availability of divorce reshapes the public conception of marriage, undermining its status as a unique commitment set apart from other relationships. If the marriage bond may be so easily broken, it seems not dissimilar from other relationships, where loyalty is contingent upon the continued satisfaction of both parties.

Those who oppose gay marriage, therefore, do so for the same underlying reason that they oppose no-fault divorce law: They are worried that changes to the legal understanding of marriage will further undermine the public conception of it as a unique relationship set apart from all others. The opposition to gay marriage is not absolute; rather, it is contingent upon the presumed negative effects gay marriage will have on the societal understanding of marriage.

The problem is that, in a society increasingly conceptualized as one of rights-bearing individuals — one moving away from common law and toward the philosophical framework of the Declaration of Independence — marriage is understood as little more than a visible contract, a public declaration of mutual love. Proponents of gay marriage who lament that the absence of gay marriage “prevents gay couples from a public expression of their love for each other” thereby confirm the fears of their opponents, for the foundational character of marriage is entirely absent.

Under common law, in addition to having a foundation, marriage is a foundation. It is the liminal ritual by which a new social unit, the family, comes into existence. Those who oppose gay marriage are not motivated by the desire to prevent the public expression of mutual love. They simply maintain that marriage cannot be divorced from the family. This is not to say that family arising out of gay marriage is impossible. But gay family is less familiar, less obvious. So the opponents of gay marriage will only change their mind if gay marriage is understood as the foundation of a family. If proponents would focus on gay family, the acceptance of gay marriage might follow.

Peter Johnston is a junior in Saybrook College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays.

Comments

  • Gay Yalie

    Some proponents of gay marriage, like Andrew Sullivan, do make family-based arguments for gay marriage.

    We don't want to break apart marriage as an institution, or redefine it as a simple legal contract. We want to honor it in the deepest way we can: by joining it.

  • Mike

    Start with a clean slate: We are all individuals, and we all have the same legal rights. No person is preferred to another.

    Now: Why should certain combinations of TWO individuals have more rights? Perhaps Gay Yalie can explain to me why a heterosexual couple -- a man and a woman -- should have more rights together than the same man and woman separately. If the answer is "children," what's your complaint? If the answer is "historical accident," what's your complaint? What is it about marriage, exactly, that you want? Why do so many people get married these days when so many don't?

  • Anonymous

    This argument is a big, fat red herring. If it's correct, then we should also not allow old couples (at least with post-menopausal women) or infertile people to get married. And we should invalidate marriages that don't ultimately bear children.

    The fact is, marriage as an institution has never been as closely tied to the family as Johnston would like to pretend. If one person has a penis and one person has a vagina, that couple is allowed to get married, no questions asked. If your objective is to ensure stable family life, it seems odd to apply only that single criterion.

    But when it comes to motivations, the author's argument is just laughable. There is a small stable of right-wing intellectuals who try to make arguments against gay marriage socially respectable by using this family argument, of whom the author is one. But it should be patently obvious that the average man-on-the-street gay marriage opponent doesn't oppose it because of some deep philosophical conviction about the abstract connection between concepts of family and marriage. They oppose it because they don't like gay people, and they use Scripture (incorrectly, I might add) to justify their homophobia.

  • Anonymous

    Also, it's difficult to focus on the gay family, as it were, when so many zealous activists (predominately religious, no doubt) are intent on ensuring that there can be no gay families (e.g. the attempt to keep gay couples from adopting). The marriage equality movement has long been focusing on the family, and the religious have blocked them (or attempted to do so) at every point.

    Secondly, Peter, you seem to understand the power of religiosity in politics. Considering the disturbing fact that more Americans believe in angels, literal biblical Creationism, and other religious myths than in Evolutionary Theory, biology, astronomy, or quantum mechanics, do you honestly believe there need be much more than the sad facade of secular arguments for them to push their claims? No, there is no simple answer to defeating these bigots, but any liberal or conservative (or whatever else people are calling themselves these days) who truly believes in individuals, society, and their institutions is going to have to be willing to recognize that not all ideas of family and community are consistent with their own experiences and preconceived notions, and they're going to have to accept that and demand our legal system do so as well (as is the constitutional right of every citizen).

    So yes, let's support the family, but in doing so, let's remember that family takes many forms and that the government ought not to decide how those forms look or develop (within reason, obviously). I think this is an argument to which even the ardently religious might be able to assent, but the question is getting out there and challenging misperceptions with statistics, reason, and other facts, not allowing the discussion to continue on their (the bigots') terms. One way to get at this is by thinking of 'gay marriage rights' rightfully as marriage equality. Admittedly, it's just a terminological difference, but, as you've noted yourself on occasion (and have undoubtedly heard countless times among the floors of the YPU) the way people think about things plays a significant role in how they judge and respond to them.

  • ugh

    Gay "marriage" does not a family make.

  • Charlotte

    Marriage is a basic civil right that should be attainable by all Americans. For the truth about gay marriage check out our trailer. Produced to educate & defuse the controversy it has a way of opening closed minds & provides some sanity on the issue: http://www.OUTTAKEonline.com

  • Stephen

    "… changes to the legal understanding of marriage will further undermine the public conception of it as a unique relationship set apart from all others."

    So what? Why is this important? Why should we care? Why is it important to have "a unique relationship set apart from all others"?

    "The opposition to gay marriage is not absolute;"

    To some -- especially the religious -- it absolutely is …

    "… rather, it is contingent upon the presumed negative effects gay marriage will have on the societal understanding of marriage."

    Key word here: "presumed." As in, assumed; no proof; no rational reason to believe this.

    "Proponents of gay marriage who lament that the absence of gay marriage 'prevents gay couples from a public expression of their love for each other' thereby confirm the fears of their opponents, for the foundational character of marriage is entirely absent."

    And what, precisely, do you (or these "opponents") claim is the "foundational character of marriage"? I don't see that you've made this clear anywhere … And further, doesn't this stance assume that there is only one "foundational character of marriage"? Doesn't it stand to reason that the character of any particular marriage will depend entirely on the character of the participants in said marriage? And that, as such, there will be as many "foundational character(s) of marriage" as there are marriages? What's with this whole "you've got to do it the same way I do it, or else you'll destroy mine" attitude? Conformists much? How American is that?

    "Under common law, in addition to having a foundation, marriage is a foundation."

    I just have to point out that this statement makes no sense at all. As in, it reads as gibberish … so, what are trying to say here?

    "Those who oppose gay marriage are not motivated by the desire to prevent the public expression of mutual love. They simply maintain that marriage cannot be divorced from the family."

    No, they simply maintain that marriage cannot be separated from traditional family, of which there are fewer and fewer these days, by no fault of the homosexuals who want to get married.

    "This is not to say that family arising out of gay marriage is impossible."

    OK, this is just insulting on so many levels: not only is it not impossible, it's also not unlikely. As a matter of fact, it is almost completely certain that a gay marriage will produce a family. And some would argue that the "family" existed before the marriage, which merely served to solemnify the family thus formed. But to add further insult, the fact of the matter is simply that every day bigots DO claim that it is impossible. So you're implicitly supporting that (unfounded) view while trying to sound "reasonable" about it all -- but you're being an absolute ass instead!

    "But gay family is less familiar, less obvious."

    Not to those in such families. Just because something is unfamiliar to you does not mean that it is unfamiliar in human experience.

    "So the opponents of gay marriage will only change their mind if gay marriage is understood as the foundation of a family."

    So start understanding that way! What do you expect gay people to do to "convince you" of this reality? Seriously …

    "If proponents would focus on gay family, the acceptance of gay marriage might follow."

    Well, this is exactly what all of the proponents I've ever run across DO argue. Among other things (there's not just one reason why this discrimination is wrong). But to insist that the burden lies with the oppressed, rather than with the oppressors, is just … flabbergasting.

  • Yale '08

    Our society is at a turning point. Are we going to undo the mistakes of the past thirty years that have given us an epidemic of divorce, fatherlessness, drugs, and violent and promiscuous children? Or are we going to continue the legitimization of same-sex unions by giving them the same status as heterosexual marriages?

    The choice is an easy one. Marriage should be exclusive, unconditional, permanent, and life-giving. Marriages like that lead to health, happiness, prosperity, long life, and social peace. And the evidence is there to prove it. Homosexuals will not be able to create marriages like that, even if their "marriages" become legal. Statistics reveal that the lives of homosexuals are anything but gay. A more accurate description would paraphrase Thomas Hobbes's vision of life apart from civilization: nasty, lonely, and short.

    The loneliness and short lives are not due to the fact that same-sex marriage is illegal. They are inherent in the nature of the homosexual lifestyle itself. Homosexuality doesn't satisfy; sexually satisfied people don't seek random sex with hundreds of strangers. Gay activists who seek absolution from society will not find it, even if same-sex marriage becomes legal. Courts and legislatures cannot create clean consciences.

    But legalization of homosexual marriage would empty marriage of its meaning. And that will tend to weaken marriage even further, which will further increase the divorce rate and maximize divorce-related misery.

    The institution of marriage is precious. It enhances the health, longevity, and well-being of married couples. It increases the health, vocational success, and emotional well-being of children. In providing all these benefits, heterosexual marriage contributes to the happiness and prosperity of society. Marriage must, therefore, remain limited to one man and one woman who strive to keep their marriage exclusive, unconditional, permanent, and life-giving. Nothing less will ever meet the needs of the human person, because nothing less satisfies.

    Because it is intrinsically disordered, we must not recognize homosexual activity as legitimate, and we must not give public approval to homosexual marriage because of the harm that will do to the institution of marriage and because of the social harm that will result from emptying marriage of its meaning. Perhaps the most serious social harm would be to children: the children of divorce and the children of same-sex couples, who will suffer all the ills we have discussed.

    Society has a lot to lose from legalizing homosexual marriage. And homosexuals have nothing to gain.

  • heartsurgeon

    marriage is regulated at the state level. each state may pass laws, as the elected legislators wish, that legalize gay marriage or civil unions. the converse is also true. the courts have no legitimate role in dictating the parameters of marriage, that is for the legislators to do. what upsets those in favor of "gay marriage" is that they don't want to attain that right through legislative means, they want the courts to dictate it by legal fiat. that's the real issue.

  • PP, Pierson '90

    An important function of marriage is to create more stability and permanence in the relationships that cause children to be born. The obligations and benefits of marriage offer an inducement to opposite-sex couples who make a solemn, long-term commitment to each other. And in so doing, the two persons most responsible for creating the child are encouraged to raise the child.

    Public-policy makers could conclude that the rationale for marriage does not apply with comparable force to same-sex relationships. Homosexual couples cannot, as a matter of biology, produce their own offspring and so children of homosexual parents will in 100 percent of all cases be raised by at least one non-biological parent. It follows that government may confer recognition on opposite-sex marriages, which may produce children, but not confer recognition on same-sex “marriages.” There is simply no equivalent to marriage of a man and a woman.

    The Purpose for the Marriage Limitation is Not Weakened by Including Infertile Opposite-Sex Couples and Excluding Same-Sex Couples with Children.

    Same-sex marriage proponents contend that procreation and child-rearing are no longer, if they ever were, the bases for the marriage limitation because fertility has never been a condition of civil marriage. But most laws are underinclusive or overinclusive. That fact does not render the classification invalid.13 Moreover, inquiry into the procreative intentions and capacity of prospective couples would raise obvious privacy concerns under the Constitution, Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 489, 85 S. Ct. 1678 (1965).

    Same-sex marriage proponents also argue that an opposite-sex couple must not be the optimal structure or else the state would not permit gays to adopt or to have children through artificial means. However, the state’s desire to protect the biological relationship does not require the state to outlaw adoptions or otherwise to prevent parents from raising children to whom they are not biologically related. It does, however, allow the state to express a preference for biological parents. This policy supports a marriage law, which is not only limited to male-female couples, but which extends the benefits of marriage to those willing to undertake a legal and lengthy financial commitment to each other and their children.

    In certain cases, the best interests of children may necessitate placing a child in a non-traditional home. But the state’s focus is just that, on the best interests of children in less than ideal circumstances. “Alternative arrangements, such as adoption, arise not primarily in deference to the emotional needs or sexual choices of adults, but to meet the needs of children whose biological parents fail in their parenting role” Gallagher, Maggie, “What Is Marriage For? The Public Purposes of Marriage Law,” 62 La. L. Rev. 773, 788 (2002).

    The state may reasonably conclude that the optimal family form does not always work for some children, while still preferring the family headed by a mother and father as the preferred environment for procreating and raising children.

    Nothing about adoption or placing children in a single-parent home undermines the state’s preference for rearing children by their natural parents. And leaving the area of reproductive technology unregulated is not the same as elevating that technology to a status equal with procreation by the biological parents of the offspring. -- by Steven T. O' Ban

    Excerpted from "Why Voters, State Governments, and the Courts Support the One Man/One Woman Marriage Limitation,"
    http://www.wsba.org/media/publications/barnews/jan08-o'ban.htm

  • Nicola

    I completely agree; the best argument for marriage, gay or straight, is as the foundational unity of the family and thus of society.

    But -- where ARE all these gay marriage activists who are talking about things other than the family? I certainly haven't seen many of them…

  • Anonymous

    In response to Mike, it no longer matters whether there is a reason for two individuals joined in marriage to receive more rights or not. The fact is that marriage bestows certain benefits, if you will, upon couples -- such as rights to hospital visitation, social security, health insurance, estate taxes, family leave, pensions, etc. The Human Rights Campaign has a great page about this (http://www.hrc.org/issues/5517.htm).

    Marriage has historically been used as a form of legal categorization and a way of organizing society. It has also, over the years, come to represent a societal recognition and validation of a relationship.

    People get married for all sorts of reasons, of course, and legal benefits are certainly one of those. But just as important is the desire to have society accept homosexual relationship as equal to heterosexual ones.

  • Hieronymus

    Coupla-few points:

    First, to the author, who writes, "Plenty of those who oppose gay marriage can only cite Scripture to justify their position."

    This is the Liberal mantra: "Only right-wing religious fundamentalists oppose [insert your issue here]." Yes, "plenty" of religious ppl (and, in my experience, the Left usually labels ANYONE professing belief in a higher entity a "right-wing theocrat" or equivalent) oppose lots of things, but so do plenty MORE mainstream thinkers. Religion need not be the basis of opposition to the opposition; indeed, it more often acts as a red herring (at best) or a straw man (at worst).

    #2 Mike asks "why should [a couple] have more rights than [an individual]." First off: regardless of what you prefer, this happens already (e.g., "Filing Jointly" with regard to tax returns). The 'why' of it strikes to the heart of a government's reason for being.

    One of the practical roles of government is to "nudge" citizens toward preferred behavior without impinging on their rights to refuse (within the law, of course). Taxes--and rebates--are often the carrot and stick in this regard For example, you can BUY a luxury car, but you might pay a "guzzler" tax; cigarette taxes are continually increased in an effort to deter smoking, and so on. Laws work in a similar manner.

    In the case of family construction, the government implicitly agrees with all available research that a stable, low-conflict, two-parent family is the optimal family structure for a child (note: this neither denies nor disallows other structures, it merely holds one structure out as the preferred or best).

    #3 suggests that if marriages purpose is the formation of family (and he assumes that family = children), then he states that those unable/unwilling to procreate would be disallowed. This is looking at marriage from the ground up; government looks at marriage from the top down.

    The ONLY way (at this time) to create new human life is for conception to occur between ONE woman and ONE man. Marriage acknowleges this uniqueness, and seeks to formalize it. Marriage serves the CLASS of participant that can create new life (i.e., one man and one woman) and excludes those classes that either can produce no life or are at risk of producing problematic life (e.g., a brother and a sister; as a point of law, a step-sister and step-brother are forbidden from marrying, even though there is no biological connection… I state this to establish that the law is not necessarily about individual rights, at least where marriage is concerned).

    The government is not in the business of ascertaining whether any particular CAN or INTENDS to reproduce, it merely recognizes and protects that CLASS from which children WILL issue (and no other class can make that claim at this time).

    #6 states that marriage is a basic civil right (Is it? Are you sure?). And yet I rather doubt that she will place absolute NO restrictions on marriage, to wit:

    Should a brother be allowed to marry his sister? Why or why not?

    How about step siblings?

    How about a son and his mother?

    How about a STEP-son and his mother?

    Why, in Massachusetts, is a man allowed to marry another man but a man REMAINS ineligible to marry his step-brother or step-father?

    If a man has several children with several women, why cannot he marry all of the mothers?

    Should a minor-age male be allowed to marry? At what age? If 17 is good enough, then why not 16? (I *believe* the lower limit is, under certain conditions, 14; why not 13? What is the intrinsic difference between a 17 year old and a 16 year old?)

    My point here is that, generally, we acknowledge that SOME limits apply; the quibble is about where those limits should be set. To claim that it is all about individual rights and that all individuals have (or should have) the exact same rights when it comes to marriage flies in the face of both logic and law.

    Lastly, a true story for your amusement. When I attended graduate school, my father came to live with me (he even helped with the rent). At some point, he needed health care. Studying my schools policy, I discovered that the only two requirements for extending coverage to a "partner" (undefined) were that the two be 1)financially and 2)emotionally "intertwined."

    Not only was my father denied healthcare, I was subjected to ridicule and humiliation for what, to the bureaucratic mind, I was suggesting (despite there being absolutely no definition, much less a "test" as to what constituted emotional intertwining…).

    So: a woman can extend his health coverage to another woman, but an adult child cannot seek that same benefit, despite a lifelong commitment (to include the intertwining of emotions and finance) to another human.

    Please try some argument other than "we are all equal," because, my friends, we aren't.

  • AC

    Peter's article is interesting. Ultimately though, I think he is misguided in arguing that most opponents of gay marriage see it through contending principles of English Common Law and personal liberty. Let's not be apologists here; most oppose gay marriage simply because they abhor gay people. I think you would find an extremely high correlation between people who oppose the concept of gay marriage and who just don't like the idea of homosexuality

  • Anonymous

    My god, if Hieronymus keeps using all of these slippery slope arguments, what's next? A straw man fallacy?

  • Nico

    Wow, I'm amazed to see all this opposition to gay marriage present here. I thought Yale was the 'gay ivy,' where progressivism had finally won and all of these petty little arguments weren't really worried about.

    Okay, that was a bit of a dramatization. Yale has been the only place I've ever lived (and I've lived a lot of places) where I've never heard a single disparaging thing said about gay people. Until now. Maybe a lot of the anonymous comments are from people who have nothing to do with Yale who are trolling here from the FTC or something. Or maybe Yale really isn't as friendly a place as I have known it to be so far.

    #5: the usage of quotation marks around the term gay "marriage" is patently offensive. You are using punctuation to subtly imply that it is something that should not be. That's a low blow.

    #8: You're actually going to use the argument that gay people are supposedly wild drug promiscuous drug users to say they shouldn't get married and adopt children? You're going to generalize about an entire group of people based on the behavior of an unrepresentative few in their group? Why don't you also detain all muslims because a few are terrorists? Prevent all black people from nearing campus because a few have mugged people? Prevent all women from having children because a few have had abortions? Not let fat people have children because some of them miht get a heart attack and not be able to finish raising their kids? Think about how absurd that is. Some gay people do live wild, dangerous lives. So do just as many straight people. And for both straights and gays, the percentage of people living dangerous lives (i.e. drugs, promiscuity) is very, very low. Not enough to use that as criteria for who can have children.

    #13: The slippery slope argument also doesn't hold water. It's a very small small change in language to say that marriage is a union of two consenting adults of legal age. Any sort of changes saying marriage can have 3 parties, or include minors, or include immediate relatives, etc would be a whole change in the definition of marriage and is not what anyone is seeking.

    I guess I struggle to understand all of the vehement opposition to gay marriage. It's really not that big of a deal and won't do anything to undermine your straight marriage. I want to have children and know that I would be a great parent, as would my boyfriend of six years. Do you really want to deny a child the chance to grow up in the healthy, stable family that I am forming? It's also about so much more than children. If we can't get married, he will forever remain simply my 'boyfriend.' We won't be able to have joint finances, visitation right, inheritance rights, etc. That's not a way to form a family.

    I think the need in our society for stable, healthy unions like the one I am producing should trump your squeamishness about gay people marrying. You're probably also the same person who would feel gross if you saw two men holding hands but wouldn't care if you saw a man and a woman doing the same thing. Basically, it's a matter of getting used to it. Once you see it a little more, it will become totally normal to you… and you'll wonder how you could have ever been so discriminatory.

  • Anonymous

    Alas! The stability of my petit bourgeois code is threatened! Someone is doing something (GASP!) differently than I, and it makes me feel like my way isn't the only one. This cannot stand.

  • Mike

    I'll cut to the chase.

    Are there left-handed people who have ever wished they were right-handed?

    "Marriage," as we know it, is very much about a sense of tradition, of doing what our parents did, of being part of a long line that disappears into the invisible past and stretches on into the indeterminate future. It's not about having a package of legal rights -- hell, civil unions accomplish exactly that. It's about being viewed by others as legitimate in certain (not all, certain) dimensions.

    I would not be surprised to find that one of the motivations of gay people who want to marry is a sense of legitimacy and satisfaction that a left-handed person who sometimes wishes he or she were right-handed seeks. There is, of course, no difference between left-handed and right-handed people, nor should there be, but some left-handed people may just feel that way sometimes. The problem is, a state cannot pass a law declaring all left-handed people to be right-handed. A state can pass a law that all left-handed people will be TREATED no differently than right-handed people . . . but is that what is really desired by the person who feels different because he or she is left-handed?

    One of the most telling illustrations of the kind of thing I am pointing out above is the use of the word "adopted." How many times have you ever heard of someone referred to as an "adopted" son or daughter, either in media or in private conversation? (Be honest.) Whatever would motivate anyone to use such an adjective? I'd venture that each of us is in absolute agreement that there should be no difference whatsoever in the way we think about natural born and adopted children, and for all intents and purposes the law treats adopted and natural born children exactly the same. So why do we ever hear "adopted son" or "adopted daughter"? Moreover -- will we ever NOT hear it?

  • jouster

    Hieronymous: "#6 states that marriage is a basic civil right (Is it? Are you sure?). And yet I rather doubt that she will place absolute (sic) NO restrictions on marriage, to wit:

    Should a brother be allowed to marry his sister? Why or why not?

    How about step siblings?

    How about a son and his mother?

    How about a STEP-son and his mother?"

    Posted by the person who earlier condemned straw men. Hypocrite much?

  • Hieronymus

    to #19: answer the question.

    to #16, who wrote, "#13: It's a very small small change in language to say that marriage is a union of two consenting adults of legal age."

    Can two adult brothers marry?

    We KNOW, e.g., that "long lost" sister/brother marriages have occurred (most recent media case was in Germany); so… can two brothers marry?

    So: ALL consenting adult couples? NO exceptions? If you allow for ONE exception, then you must allow for OTHER exceptions (i.e., you have allowed that some exceptions must occur--marriage is NOT for ANY adult consenting couple: why not?).

  • Hieronymus

    to #19:

    Straw man? Not at all: if all marriage does is convey certain rights (usually touted as "visitation, inheritance" etc.), then CERTAINLY we will see strange combinations occur, even if merely to take advantage of favorable law.

    In the US navy, for example, sailors often sign up for each other's life insurance policies; why would it be less than rational for two otherwise unencumbered soldiers to "marry" for the added pay and benefits (were those to come to pass in the US military)?

    I find it absolutely reasonable that two young ppl would "marry" to take advantage of corporate health plans (if only to later "divorce" when "true love" came a'knocking).

    You find these scenarios to be straw men?

    I suppose you think folks don't get married just to get a green card, too….

  • Lefty

    To #18:

    I doubt you are left handed. If you were, you would know that NO left handed people want to be right handed. After all, left-handedness is the next phase of human evolution! :-)

    (Well, maybe you ARE left handed, but not really in touch with your inner self.) Lefties of the world, unite!

    On a more serious note, I thought Mr. Johnston's article was a very balanced, dispassionate musing into some of the views espoused on both sides.

    To #4: Anthony, you wrote

    Considering the disturbing fact that more Americans believe in angels, literal biblical Creationism, and other religious myths than in Evolutionary Theory, biology, astronomy, or quantum mechanics, do you honestly believe there need be much more than the sad facade of secular arguments for them to push their claims?

    I think you would have a hard time proving that. Interesting that you would write it, however, and then make the wild leap that all those people must be bigots.

    Please get a grip on your emotions…after all, "the question is getting out there and challenging misperceptions with statistics, reason, and other facts, not allowing the discussion to continue on their (the bigots') terms."

    Oh, I get it - you were looking in a mirror!

    Peace.

  • Carlyle Castle

    There is no such thing as a gay family and never will. Marriage is between a man and woman. Two of the same sex can not produce a child.

  • Ryan

    How has this site been taken over by such spiteful, hateful, close-minded homophobes? This REALLY changes my opinion of Yale. So much for being the progressive Ivy. I haven't seen this much animosity towards gay people in a LONG time. Wow. I am floored.

  • Hieronymus

    to #24: one need not be a homophobe to oppose gay marriage. I, for one, recognize a full spectrum of human sexuality and preferences--and one should be free to engage in those areas that are of interest, and free or subject to changes in those interests, urges, or motivations over time.

    That said: marriage as we know it serves a societal purpose and should not simply be preserved, but fostered and fortified.

    I am not necessarily opposed to some legal contract between or among individuals; however, such contracts already exist and require neither the streamlining nor the imprimatur of some government entity (ironically, the same governmental entity often scorned by proponents of new forms of marriage).

    Do what you want with whom--or even what--you want, but allow marriage to continue (despite its having to suffer continuous assault) to serve its positive societal purpose.

    [Caveat: the following is an IDEAL.]
    Every child deserves to grow up in a stable, low-conflict, family headed by its biological parents. This is the optimal case, and the one fostered by consensus and, hence, government.

    This ideal does not preclude or obstruct the possibility or reality of other structures: single-parent households, adoptive families, grandparents in loco parentis, gay households, foster homes, etc. Some of these alternatives are happy and healthy; some alternative structures may produce better outcomes than some instances of the "optimal" structure. However, on the whole, the best structure remains that in which a child is raised by its biological parents.

    Marriage reinforces this ideal, and incents participants toward preferred behavior, and recognizes (and rewards) the obvious and extra burden of raising the next generation of citizens, voters, workers, and taxpayers.

  • Anonymous

    These people are in fact the majority in much of the country. It always amuses me how much people here are shocked by the more polite ones around here (such as #23).

  • AC

    Hieronymous, the slippery slope argument is 1) a cheap way for someone to argue against any kind of change (if we adopt more progressive policies what's next? COMMUNISM?!?!?) 2) not valid in this case. Polygamy brings up problems of inheritance and beneficiaries of money given the death of the man and health care. A brother and sister shouldn't marry because incest amplifies inherited traits and destroys genetic diversity -- both these things = a higher likelihood of inherited mental and development dysfunctions as well as immune system deficiencies. All the other pairings you can think of also confuse the means of inheritance and legal rights as a child and/or spouse. None of these things are confused when one man marries another man who are not related in other ways. Thus, there is NO reason other than fear of changing our traditional concepts and religion that we cannot adopt gay marriage.

  • Suisse '09

    It's funny how most of the conservatives who write here use the excuse that gay people can't get marriage because they can't conceive children. It's obvious that our society does not see child-rearing as a qualification for marriage, so to deny gay people marriage based on that aspect is hypocritical. Nevertheless, child-raising is a very important part of many marriages, and I strongly beleive that most gay couples would be outstanding parents, whether or not the children are biologically their own.

  • No jurisdiction

    Holy matrimony is a religious rite, not to be regulated in any way by a secular government. I am all for government granting equal legal standing for civilly-united homosexual couples and married heterosexuals. But if gays want marriage, not just civil unions, the question is then, "Which churches will redefine marriage?" And it becomes a theological problem: on what authority would they do it?

  • Question

    Is there a clear statement of a Biblical prohibition of homosexuality? I seem to recall that the assailants at Lot's home in Sodom were rapists as well as homo- or bisexual. Is rape not the primary offense here, in God's view? Does there exist a passage condemning consentual homosexual acts?

  • FYI

    No discussion is informed without Colbert weighing in:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dCwzX0KHVA

    and

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8zqQ3VQhpM

  • Hieronymus

    Suisse:

    Marriage does not exist to exclude gays; it exists to include the unions that might produce offspring.

    BTW: gays are not excluded from marriage by reason of their inability to reproduce; indeed, gays are neither precluded from marrying nor reproducing. We all agree that certain unions are not worth upholding via marriage--step-siblings, second cousins (some states), etc. Two unrelated men simply do not qualify for the class targeted by marriage (and this is not to say that two men cannot love, just that they cannot marry).

    As for the claims of "slippery slope," your assertion implies that some of the described scenarios are absurd, when I myself have tried to use grad skool rules to benefit something outside of what was "meant" (i.e., homosexual love) versus what was "stated" (i.e., two financially and emotionally intertwined individuals of the same sex). This is not a "slippery slope," it is logic and reality.

  • SPC

    It's amusing that for "tolerance" to exist there can be not one person around who is "intolerant." Game theory would suggest that this is not a Nash Equilibrium, since one person can easily defect and destabilize the whole system. It also reminds me of South Park episode "Death Camp of Tolerance," where "Intolerance, vill NOT be tolerated."

    In any case, if such a thing as gay "marriage" ever exists, society will simply draw distinctions that the government refuses to. The vast majority of Americans (this can be a post-partisan issue for Obama, were he not marginally left wing) would scorn gay "marriage" and like gay people even less than many do now, or else a small minority of happy liberals will be pleased with their successful project. Either way, nothing material will change except that people will become even more sarcastic, cynical, bitter, and divided until Americans learn to stop going hat in hand to the Federal Government every time they want something done.