"A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take away everything you have."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Case for Marriage As the Union Between a Man and a Woman

NOTE: I originally wrote most of this article more than a year ago, but never got around to completing and publishing it.  Now that gay marriage is in the news, both in Maryland and nationwide due to President Obama's "flip-flop-flip" on the issue, I decided to revisit and complete this.  It is of necessity long, because I am trying to address the issue as comprehensively as possible and respond to many of the claims made by gay marriage advocates.  I have two main goals in writing this.  The first goal relates to conservatives and religious people who are uncomfortable with gay marriage but may not be able to articulate why and may be reluctant to take a stand.  I hope this article will help them to realize that there are good public policy reasons to keep marriage between a man and a woman and encourage them not to back off in the face of accusations of bigotry from the left.  The second goal is to convince any supporters of gay marriage who may read this that there are good reasons for our opposition to gay marriage and that we are motivated not by hatred or the desire to deny gay people basic civil rights, but by our desire to preserve an institution that benefits children and society and to protect religious liberty.  I don't necessarily think that this article will change the mind of someone who believes strongly in gay marriage, but I think if that person is honest and fair-minded it will convince him or her that there is a clear case against gay marriage that is not based on bigotry and hatred.

The other day, I glanced at a letter on my dining room table from my state delegate. He was talking about all the supposed "accomplishments" of the 2011 session of the Maryland legislature. One of the items he mentioned was the issue of same-sex marriage. Even though same-sex marriage narrowly failed to pass the House of Delegates this year, my delegate considered it a great triumph for equality that the legislation came so close to becoming law. He even included a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

This got me thinking about how thoroughly social conservatives are losing the battle over marriage in this country. Everyone knows that the key to winning an argument is framing the debate in terms favorable to your position. No matter how strong a case you may have, it is next to impossible to win an argument when you are fighting on your opponent's turf. In this case, gay rights activists have succeeded in convincing a sizable percentage of the American population that gay marriage is a fundamental human and civil right guaranteed by the Constitution, and to ban it is to deny equality to millions of Americans. In almost any debate on this topic nowadays, the onus is on defenders of traditional marriage to prove that they are not the hate-filled, discrimination-loving bigots that they are assumed by default to be. Indeed, most of the time the media calls the issue a debate over "marriage equality." Talk about loaded definitions! Obviously, no one wants to get stuck on the side of inequality, which explains why support for traditional marriage from many conservative quarters has been tepid at best.

I think it's important to take a step back and think about the actual institution of marriage -- what it is, why it exists, why it is important to society. In my view, understanding these points is a critical first step to discussing whether changes are needed in the definition of marriage. Instead of allowing our opponents to pick the battleground, we have to redirect the focus back to these critical questions.

The Universal Institution of Marriage

The first thing to point out is that, obviously, our government (or any other government in existence) did not invent or define marriage. Marriage existed for thousands of years before our country came into being, and it has always been defined in Western society as the union between a man and a woman. Aristotle, one of the founders of Western thought, wrote about the importance of heterosexual marriage and government regulation of marriage for the good of society. Jews and Christians believe that God established marriage at the very beginning, as part of the creation order. For Christians, marriage has a deeper theological significance because it symbolizes the relationship between Christ and Christian believers.

Marriage, however, is not merely a Western institution. In her 2004 article in the University of St. Thomas Law Journal entitled "(How) Will Gay Marriage Weaken Marriage as a Social Institution," Maggie Gallagher cites 12 family scholars who write that "marriage exists in virtually every known human society." While there are differences between marriage from culture to culture, certain characteristics of marriage are virtually universal -- the sexual union between a man and a woman, the public nature of the union, and clearly defined rights and responsibilities of spouses to each other and their children. According to Gallagher, the only exceptions are the practices of a small number of polygamous North American Indian and African tribes. It is striking that so many different cultures throughout history with such widely-varying beliefs and practices have all come up with the same basic idea of marriage. Gallagher argues that this is the case because the institution of marriage is "grounded in certain universal features of human nature."

What are those universal features of human nature? Gallagher notes three interrelated ones. The first is the fact that sex produces babies. While many people today try to deny the inevitable link between sex and procreation, citing modern birth control methods, statistics indicate this law of nature is not so easily repealed. Various studies have found that 60% of American women in their late thirties have had at least one unplanned pregnancy during their life, that almost half of all pregnancies occurring during the year 1994 were unintended, and that a woman who uses reversible contraceptives continuously from age 15 to age 45 will get pregnant, on average, nearly 2 times.

The second fact is that society needs babies. In Gallagher's words: "Reproduction may be optional for individuals, but it is not optional for societies. Societies that fail to have 'enough' babies fail to survive." This is another fact that is frequently challenged today, with radical environmentalists claiming that human overpopulation threatens the future of the planet. However, the evidence does not support such alarmist claims. In his book Politics According to the Bible, Dr. Wayne Grudem examines the scientific and statistical evidence relating to world population growth, the availability of arable land, water, and air, waste disposal, and global forests. His thorough examination leads him to conclude that world population is stabilizing and that "long-term trends show that human beings will be able to live on the earth, enjoying ever-increasing prosperity, and never exhausting its resources."

In fact, in most developed countries in the world, depopulation is the primary concern, not overpopulation. Maggie Gallagher points out that in many European countries fertility rates have declined well below the level necessary to replace the population. These very low fertility rates have actually reached crisis levels in some countries, damaging economic growth, threatening the ability to pay for pensions and health care for the elderly, causing labor shortages, reducing the ability to assimilate new immigrants, and even threatening the future of their societies. In light of these concerning trends, Gallagher notes that it is especially important for our society to have a social "institution that encourages men and women to have children if they want them."

The third key fact is that babies need mothers and fathers. It takes a mother and a father to bring a child into the world, and marriage helps to connect that child to both of his parents and makes it more likely that both parents will help to raise him and will stay involved in his life.

The Benefits of Marriage for Children

Marriage is highly beneficial for children, and the evidence for this is quite compelling. In her testimony before a Congressional subcommittee in April 2004, Dr. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Projection at Rutgers University, summarized the many benefits that children raised by their married biological or adopted parents enjoy. The following are some of the advantages that such children have compared to children in virtually all other family situations, including children raised by single parents, divorced or re-married parents, or co-habitating unmarried parents:
  • They are far less likely to be poor or to experience "persistent economic insecurity"
  • They are far more likely to graduate from high school and to obtain a college degree
  • They have fewer behavioral problems in school and enjoy higher levels of educational achievement
  • They are less likely to have sex at a young age and less likely to become parents as teenagers
  • They are less likely to experience emotional or psychological problems or depression and less likely to commit suicide
  • They are more likely to have satisfying romantic relationships and lasting marriages themselves
  • They are far less likely to be victims of child abuse
  • They enjoy better health and are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol
  • They are much less likely to commit crimes or to be incarcerated
Obviously, one important caveat is that children whose married parents have a "high-conflict relationship" do not enjoy the same positive outcomes. Nevertheless, the evidence is clear that, on average, children do much better when raised by their married biological parents. In her article "Are Married Parents Really Better for Children?" written for the Center for Law and Social Policy, Mary Parke notes that the advantage for children does not merely consist in having two parents instead of one, because the children of co-habitating parents and stepchildren do not have the same positive outcomes as those of married biological (or adopted) parents. Parke also notes that lower income is not the primary explanation for why the children of single parents have significantly worse social outcomes. A study of children raised in single-parent families in Sweden found the same problems as those found in the U.S., even though Sweden has a very low poverty rate for single mothers due to an extensive government safety net.

Thus the evidence strongly suggests that family structure matters for children. This confirms what most of us already know intuitively: children need both the firm, strong hand of a father and the warm, gentle touch of a mother -- and they need the stability and security of growing up in a home where their parents have entered into a legally binding commitment of faithfulness to each other. Chuck Donovan of the Heritage Foundation sums it up this way: "Study after study of the impact of marriage and the sustained presence of mothers and fathers in the home, striving together and nurturing their children, demonstrate the advantage of a married mother and father over every family form that has been exhaustively studied to date." Donovan adds that such advantages are "statistically significant, consistent, and often dramatic" and that "studies to examine whether parenting by same-sex couples would represent a unique exception to this finding remain controversial and incomplete."

Those studies mentioned above are often cited by gay marriage advocates to insist that children raised by gay parents are completely normal and well-adjusted.  From what I have read, however, these studies simply suggest that children growing up in homes with two gay parents do not necessarily fare worse than the children of single parents or children growing up in other non-traditional arrangements such as homes with a step-parent or unmarried heterosexual parents.  But none of these arrangements are as beneficial for children as being raised by their married biological father and mother.  Since there are a very small number of children being raised by two gay parents and since it is a very new phenomenon, these studies are limited in scope and there have no long-term studies done tracing how these children have done from childhood into adulthood.  The body of evidence is not nearly complete enough to claim that it makes no difference whether a child has a mother and a father or whether he has two mothers, or to claim that the benefits of marriage discussed above are solely attributable to having two parents rather than to having a mother and a father.  I think attempts to deny that any fundamental differences exist between men and women (in general, but specifically here as it relates to parenting) are simply ideological attempts to avoid what should be obvious to any unbiased observer.  And I also believe that a boy growing up in a home without a father, regardless of whether he has one mother or two mothers, is at a disadvantage in finding his identity as a man.  I know from personal experience how vital this was in my life.  A donor-conceived child raised by a lesbian couple, no matter how much the couple may love him, is still being deprived of the right to a father.  An interesting article by Elizabeth Marquardt entitled "How Redefining Marriage Redefines Parenthood" notes that the first generation of donor-conceived children, who are now coming of age, are starting to speak out, and some express confusion over their identity and frustration that they were not able to give their informed consent over being intentionally separated from at least one of their biological parents. 

To recap, there are three key facts that explain the public rationale for marriage: 1) Sex produces babies, 2) Society needs babies, and 3) Babies need a mother and a father. Procreation is important for a society to survive and thrive, but it needs to be managed in a responsible way for the good of children and society as a whole. Marriage is perfectly designed to do exactly that.

The Benefits of Marriage for Society

The unique role that marriage plays in managing procreation and protecting children, described in the paragraphs above, is the most important reason why marriage should be publicly recognized by society. However, marriage is beneficial to adults and to society at large in ways far beyond its immediate impact on children. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead also mentions several of these in her previously mentioned testimony before the U.S. Senate. As mentioned earlier, married people are much less likely to be poor than single people or cohabitating couples for a variety of logical reasons. Men, in particular, tend to "settle down" after marriage -- they generally follow a healthier lifestyle, take fewer risks, and live longer. They are less likely to engage in illegal activities and more likely to be involved in religious activities and maintain close ties to relatives. Married women, even those who leave the workforce to care for children or relatives, benefit financially from marriage. They also report higher sexual satisfaction than single or cohabitating women. Not surprisingly, married mothers enjoy lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, largely because of the emotional and practical support they gain from their spouse and his family. For both men and women, marriage tends to promote "pro-social behavior" -- for example, married people are more likely to vote, to be involved in community activities, and to serve as mentors to children outside of their immediate family. Whitehead argues that these behaviors are effects, not merely causes, of marriage, noting that marriage itself "has a transformative effect on attitudes and behaviors" in ways that benefit society.

Why does marriage tend to transform people's attitudes and behaviors in a way cohabitation does not? For one thing, traditional marriage provides protection for both partners in a sexual relationship. In a sexual union, people make themselves uniquely vulnerable and give themselves to another person in the deepest way possible; marriage provides at least some level of assurance that the other person is not going to use them for a cheap thrill and then head for the exits. While far too high a percentage of marriages in this country end in divorce, marriage remains the single biggest deterrent to cheating in a relationship. Despite our culture's increasingly low moral standards, most Americans consider adultery to be wrong and most people will at least think twice before breaking a solemn promise made to their spouse before hundreds of witnesses. Without such a commitment, leaving is easy and there is little incentive to make the extra effort to work things out when times get rough. In his 2004 The Weekly Standard article entitled "The End of Marriage in Scandinavia," Stanley Kurtz of the Hoover Institution cites multiple studies in several Western countries showing that cohabiting parents split up at a rate 2 to 3 times that of married parents. Thus, as marriage rates fall, family dissolution rates soar. And family dissolution frequently leads to increased pain, unhappiness, depression, and stress for everyone involved, especially children. By contrast, people in secure and stable relationships are better able to turn their attention to community and religious activities that benefit other people and society as a whole.

Going along with the previous point is the point that marriage provides an important check on sexual promiscuity. Most of us have heard someone make a comment like "He's married but he acts like he's single." And of course we know what it means -- with no marital commitments single people may feel free to act with little or no sexual restraint. Obviously, married people cannot expect to behave like that for very long and stay married. Sexual promiscuity has many harmful effects on society, including the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, unwanted children, emotional pain, and depression. It is especially harmful to women, for whom sex is closely tied to emotional attachment. Dr. Miriam Grossman, a psychiatrist at UCLA, wrote a book a few years ago called Unprotected. In the book she describes, from her personal experiences working with students, how deeply the commitment-free "hook-up" culture on college campuses has injured women, not just physically, but also emotionally. (For more information see here and here.)

In the preceding paragraphs, I have sought to demonstrate that the institution of marriage has an overwhelmingly positive impact on children, men, women, and society as a whole, and I have also sought to at least partially explain the reasons for that. The importance of traditional marriage, in fact, can be readily seen throughout history. J.D. Unwin, a British social scientist from the early 20th century, demonstrated this in his landmark study of how sexual behavior affects societies. Unwin studied 6 major civilizations and 80 lesser ones over 5,000 years of recorded history, leaving out only societies about which he could not find reliable data. His initial goal was to help prove Sigmund Freud's theory about the harmfulness of sexual repression on society. In fact, his results demonstrated that the exact opposite was true!

As Daniel Heimbach points out in the Howard Center for Family, Religon, and Society's "Religion and Society Report" in October 2005, J.D. Unwin found that societies that adopted the norm of lifelong monogamous heterosexual marriage demonstrated "expansive energy" and prospered greatly, without exception. By contrast, he found that sexual permissiveness was always "the immediate cause of cultural decline." Over and over again, Unwin saw the same pattern in the civilizations he studied. A society would begin with strict standards of morality associated with the institution of traditional marriage, and would grow and flourish as a result. Over time, most of these societies would begin to lower moral standards and disassociate sex from marriage and the traditional family structure, and the inevitable result was a cultural weakening leading to social collapse and the death of that society. Unwin was amazed at the "unrelieved monotony" of the pattern. He concluded, "Any human society is free to choose either to display great energy or to enjoy sexual freedom; the evidence is that it cannot do both for more than one generation."

In my mind, this is the ground we should be fighting on. Gay rights activists are winning the debate because they have succeeded in hiding their real intentions of forcing societal approval of the homosexual lifestyle and destroying traditional morality under the guise of fighting for equal rights and against discrimination. (More on this shortly.) What we have to do to fight back is to explain why traditional marriage is something valuable and precious, something worth defending and protecting. We have to show how a strong marriage culture has helped to make our country great, and how the devaluation of marriage and redefinition of the family over the past few decades has deeply harmed our society.

Does the Traditional Definition of Marriage Discriminate Against Gays?

Having established the value of traditional marriage to society, I now want to focus on responding to some claims of gay marriage advocates. Their most important argument is the claim that the traditional definition of marriage discriminates against homosexuals by not permitting them to marry, and therefore the law must be changed to ensure that gays are treated equally under the law. They often compare gay marriage to interracial marriage, which was banned for many years in the South due to racial discrimination. As I mentioned earlier, this claim appears to have a paralyzing effect on many people, who keep silent about their real opinions out of fear of being labeled a bigot or a homophobe by society.

The truth is, however, the institution of marriage does not discriminate against homosexuals. Marriage law applies equally to every adult, male or female, gay or straight, black or white. All adults, including homosexuals, are free to enter into the institution of marriage under the law. Marriage "discriminates" against homosexuals in the same way it "discriminates" against singles and polygamists. No matter how we define marriage, some relationships will be included and others will be excluded. That is, unless we redefine marriage to include any relationship that anyone wants to have recognized, in which case marriage ceases to exist altogether. If marriage means everything, it means nothing. The issue here is not discrimination, but definition. 

For this reason, gay marriage is different from interracial marriage. Bans on interracial marriage were rightly recognized by the courts to be unconstitutional and discriminatory, because such bans were preventing marriage law from being applied equally to all Americans. As Robert George, Princeton professor and distinguished legal scholar, points out in a Wall Street Journal editorial, the definition of marriage was not at stake in the fight over interracial marriage. Everyone agreed that interracial marriage fit the definition of marriage, but some wanted to deny blacks the right to marry whites based on personal bigotry. However, recognizing gay marriage means changing the definition of marriage entirely. And it's important to note that race is not the same as sexual orientation.  Race is unquestionably the sole product of genetics, while the causes of sexual orientation are far less clear and appear to be a complex mix of biology and experience. Given the facts that marriage law is now applied equally to all people and that marriage as traditionally defined has been a source of so much good in our society, it is both incorrect and deeply unjust to accuse people who oppose the redefinition of marriage of being hate-filled bigots.

Supporters of same-sex marriage insist that marriage should be entirely defined by love, and that if two consenting adults love each other it is unjust to deny them the right to marry.  The problem with this is that if marriage is solely about love, then there is no compelling rationale for why the government should recognize marriage at all.  The state has no interest at all in romantic relationships, except as they affect the wellbeing of children and the stability of society.  The push for same-sex marriage is essentially a redefinition of the purpose of marriage from a socio-cultural institution to promote stable families and to connect parents with their children into a public affirmation of love and commitment between two people.  While opponents of same-sex marriage are often accused of wanting increased government involvement in people's bedrooms, it is actually supporters of same-sex marriage who are advocating for greater government interference.  The government never created or defined marriage in the first place, but by changing the definition and purpose of marriage it is taking upon itself the job of re-engineering a fundamental social institution.

Does Legalizing Gay Marriage Strengthen Marriage?

Another key argument advanced by supporters of same-sex marriage marriage is that extending the definition of marriage to include gay couples strengthens marriage rather than weakening it. After all, if marriage has such positive effects on society, why not also allow and encourage gays to marry? This argument is sometimes known as the "conservative" case for gay marriage, since it advocates gay marriage as a means to expanding and strengthening marriage.

The good news is that we don't have to guess about whether or not gay marriage strengthens or weakens a marriage culture, because there are other Western countries in which gay marriage (or its legal equivalent) has existed for nearly two decades -- namely the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. What does the data from these countries tell us about the effect of gay marriage on overall marriage rates? Stanley Kurtz addresses this question in some detail in an article mentioned above called "The End of Marriage in Scandinavia."

Kurtz notes that marriage is dying in Scandinavia, and has been for some time. A weakening marriage culture and an increasing separation of marriage from parenthood in the late 1980's and early 1990's, especially in Denmark and Sweden, was what opened the door to same-sex marriage in the first place. However, the legalization of same-sex marriage, far from stopping or reversing this cultural trend away from marriage, has instead accelerated it. Denmark legalized de facto gay marriage in 1989, and the 1990's showed a 25% increase in cohabiting couples with children. More than 60% of first-born children in Denmark are now born to unmarried parents. Sweden created gay domestic partnerships in 1987 and expanded them to the status of de facto gay marriages in 1994, and the country's out-of-wedlock birth rate increased from 47% to 55% during the 1990's. Norway established gay marriage in 1993, and its out-of-wedlock birth rate soared from 39% to 50% during the 1990's. Kurtz notes that once out-of-wedlock births top 50%, it is an ominous sign that even the toughest areas of cultural resistance are giving way and that "the path to the complete disappearance of marriage is open." He also points out that the impact of gay marriage was greatest in Norway, since Norway had the lowest out-of-wedlock birth rates, the most religious influence, and the most popular support for traditional marriage (of the three countries) at the time gay marriage was imposed by the political elites. He concludes that it is likely that gay marriage imposed by U.S. political elites or U.S. courts would have an even greater cultural impact than gay marriage in Norway, since the U.S. has a stronger marriage culture than Norway (pre-gay marriage).

Why has gay marriage weakened marriage in the Scandinavian countries where it has been enacted? It has encouraged society to look at traditional marriage as an outdated and unnecessary institution. It has encouraged individuals to view marriage and parenthood as separate and unrelated. It has weakened and divided religious institutions. And it has given powerful ammunition to Scandinavian politicians and academics who have used gay marriage and gay adoption to attack the institution of marriage altogether and to promote alternative family structures including single motherhood.

Also noteworthy is the fact that, as Kurtz points out in a related National Review Online article entitled "Deathblow to Marriage," only a tiny percentage of gays in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have actually chosen to marry. For example, only 749 same-sex Swedish couples registered after four years of legalized gay marriage, which is a mere 0.55% the rate of heterosexual marriage, and the rates are similarly miniscule in Denmark and Norway. Swedish research has also shown that same-sex spouses tend to be considerably older when they marry than heterosexual spouses and that same-sex couples divorce far more often than heterosexual couples (the divorce rate is 50% higher for gay couples and 170% higher for lesbian couples). The evidence from Scandinavia shows that very few gay couples choose to marry at all, and those that do marry generally do so later in life and frequently divorce.  In his recent National Review Online article "The Gay Divorcees," Charles C.W. Cooke confirms these trends about the very low rates of homosexual marriage and very high rates of homosexual divorce with more recent data both from Scandinavia and from the United States.

This evidence is consistent with what we also know about gay sexual practices in the U.S. Wayne Grudem's Politics According to the Bible cites studies from the late 1970's and early 1980's found that only 2% of male homosexuals were monogamous or semi-monogamous and that 43% of male homosexuals said they had had sex with 500 or more different partners (lesbians were far more likely to be monogamous, however). And Kurtz cites a more recent American study conducted by two psychologists from the University of Vermont. Their survey found that 79% of heterosexual married men believed that marriage demanded monogamy, compared to only 50% of homosexual men who registered for Vermont civil unions in the first year of their existence (that is, the most committed of all gay couples) and only 34% of homosexual men who were not part of a civil union. Another 1998 study by a lesbian supporter of gay marriage found that only 10% of the most committed gay couples said that monogamy was important to commitment, and also that many gay couples who expressed contempt for the idea of marriage said they would still get married to take advantage of perceived legal and financial benefits. 

All of this evidence points to the fact that exclusivity, permanence, and monogamy, all of which are fundamental to the Western conception of marriage, are completely foreign to most gay relationships. The evidence also demonstrates that while legalized gay marriage has little or no effect on the sexual behavior and attitudes of gay couples, it appears to have a significant effect on marriage for society as a whole. As Kurtz puts it in his 2003 Weekly Standard article entitled "Beyond Gay Marriage": "Instead of [gay] marriage reducing gay promiscuity, sexually open gay couples help to redefine marriage as a non-monogamous institution." The "conservative" case for gay marriage sounds reasonable at first glance, but the data -- particularly from the Scandinavian experience of gay marriage -- proves it to be false.

Will Legalizing Gay Marriage Fundamentally Change the Institution of Marriage?

Another related argument that supporters of gay marriage make is that extending marriage to gay couples does not take anything away from heterosexual couples who will still comprise the vast majority of marriages. They insist that adding homosexual marriage does not in any way diminish or discourage traditional marriage. This is untrue, because changing the definition of marriage removes the traditional family structure from its rightful place as the key building block of society. The recognition of gay marriage is the refusal to acknowledge and encourage the necessary and special role that mothers and fathers play in bringing children into the world and raising them. As Maggie Gallagher notes, changing the public meaning of marriage changes marriage itself. What same-sex marriage advocates mean by "marriage equality" is requiring the state to enforce the principle that same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples are equal in every respect and that men and women are completely interchangeable as parents and spouses. Given the many benefits that traditional marriage and the traditional family structure have provided to our society, such change in marriage is, to put it charitably, highly risky.

Of course, gay activists know that definitions matter and that significant legal changes to public institutions like marriage inevitably result in significant changes to social norms. Their goals are much broader than simply securing certain financial benefits for gay couples. They know that using the actual word "marriage" with regard to same-sex couples is a deeply symbolic step that will reshape the institutions of marriage and the family entirely. It is ironic that gay marriage advocates argue forcefully that the current definition of marriage has far-reaching negative effects of promoting bigotry and discrimination throughout society, and yet at the same time try to argue that changing the definition of marriage will have no real effect on society's conception of the family at all! They cannot have it both ways. Either the definition of marriage is important to societal behavior or it is not -- and the single-minded focus of gay activists on legalizing same-sex marriage clearly shows they believe it is. This single-minded focus, however, belies their claim that same-sex marriage will have no impact on traditional marriage.

It is not merely the change in the definition of marriage accompanying same-sex marriage that will impact society. It is also the inevitable changes to our vast framework of federal, state, and local marriage laws as a result of this change in definition. Maggie Gallagher points out that our marriage laws are based on the realities of heterosexual marriage and are not a good "fit" for homosexual relationships and family structures. For example, Gallagher references a San Francisco Chronicle article in which gay couples who registered as domestic partners in California were unhappy about the rules relating to the comingling of financial assets and financial obligations between spouses. These laws have long been on the books for married couples and provide important economic protection and security for women during pregnancy and childbearing. They also reflect the reality that most heterosexual couples are financial interdependent, especially those with children. However, financial independence is the norm for many homosexual couples. Another example of a law important to heterosexual marriage that does not apply well to gay couples is the presumption of paternity, in which the law places legal obligations on a married man who is assumed by default to be the father of any children his wife bears. Further, our legal system assumes the norm of monogamy within marriage, which is not a norm at all for most gay couples. If gays are allowed to marry, there will be pressure to water down such laws so they are more appropriate for same-sex couples -- and in the process traditional marriage will be weakened. In fact, Canadian courts are already demanding that legislators rewrite the country's marriage laws in order to cater to the needs of gay couples.

This point that gay relationships are not a good fit for our country's marriage laws also applies to another argument of gay marriage proponents -- the argument that it is unfair to deny committed gay couples all the benefits of marriage that heterosexual couples enjoy. Maggie Gallagher points out that our country's marriage laws are really not a package of benefits to reward married couples at all, but rather an attempt to consistently apply the law to married couples in a way that reflects our society's deep-rooted understanding that married couples are next of kin, financial partners, and exclusive sexual partners. However, since some gay couples are in committed relationships and desire some of these benefits, I have no objection to changing the law to allow them to qualify for those benefits, and I suspect many other supporters of traditional marriage would agree with me.  In fact, I would also be open to offering certain benefits to other types of couples who might want them, such as two sisters raising a child together, for example.  There is absolutely no need or reason to redefine the entire institution of marriage over an issue like health benefits or death benefits.

The Threat to Free Speech and Religious Liberty

The actions and behavior of supporters of gay marriage undermine their claims of respect for traditional marriage. They say they only ask for fair and equal treatment, but their vitriolic rhetoric suggests a much different agenda. They preach tolerance, but demonstrate nothing but hatred and contempt for their political opponents. A chilling example of this occurred in California following the passage of Proposition 8 in 2008 which amended the state's constitution to define marriage as the union between a man and a woman. Several left-wing newspapers printed the names, home addresses, and places of employment of all the individuals in the state who contributed money in support of Proposition 8. Gay rights activists then targeted many of those individuals, subjecting them and their families to harrassment and attempting to shut down their businesses or to get them fired from their jobs. Their mission was not to defeat supporters of traditional marriage but to silence them from expressing their point of view using threats and intimidation.  This sort of intimidation has become so common that Maggie Gallagher, the former head of the National Organization for Marriage (a woman who is herself relentlessly demonized for tireless fight to protect the traditional definition of marriage), has formed a group called the Marriage Anti-Defamation Alliance to seek to protect individuals who are being threatened with losing their jobs and livelihoods because they oppose gay marriage.

This is why gay marriage supporters such as our state delegate constantly use language from the civil rights movement and claim the mantle of Martin Luther King. They are convinced that their opponents are not just wrong but evil, on par with segregationists and Klan members from the Old South. In their mind, anyone who believes that the definition of marriage is the union between a man and a woman -- a position that had almost universal public support as recently as 15 years ago -- is a hate-filled, discrimination-loving, anti-gay bigot.

Earlier, I mentioned that the real goal of the gay rights movement goes far beyond achieving equality with regard to certain financial benefits.  I believe the deeper goal is to force society to approve of the homosexual lifestyle, and I think there is abundant evidence to support this claim. Three of the earliest states/jurisdictions to legalize gay marriage in this country were Vermont, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC. Interestingly, all three of these states/jurisdictions already had civil union laws that gave homosexual couples benefits that were virtually identical to those of heterosexual couples. Yet, in all three of these jurisdictions, liberal activists fought hard to get official recognition of same-sex marriage, despite the fact that gay couples already had similar benefits under the law. Why? Clearly the purpose was symbolic. The goal was to force the governments of those states to give their full stamp of approval to homosexual unions by calling them "marriage."

More evidence for this sinister goal of the gay rights movement can be found by looking at the nation of Canada, which has moved much further down the road of "gay tolerance" than our country has. Yet, when you take a closer look, there doesn't seem to be much tolerant about it. In Canada, strict speech codes prevent any sort of criticism of homosexuality whatsoever, including words that could be perceived as "insensitive." Pastors are prohibited from preaching against homosexuality from the Bible, and those who fail to comply are subject to severe penalties including significant jail time. The gay community has so effectively forced societal approval of homosexuality that this principle now trumps such fundamental Western values as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. There seems little doubt that gay activists want to impose the same speech codes in our country, and once gay marriage takes hold it will not be difficult for them to do so.

I believe the redefinition of marriage in our country is a genuine threat to religious liberty.  The Maryland legislature passed a law instituting same-sex marriage this year.  For now, the law does provide protection for pastors and churches to ensure that they would not be forced to perform or recognize such marriages in violation of their religious beliefs.  (The law does not protect Christian wedding photographers, for example, who could face penalties if they decline their services to a gay couple.)  However, if the rhetoric used by supporters of gay marriage takes greater hold in our country -- that supporters of the traditional definition of marriage are bigots who oppose civil rights and favor discrimination -- I believe this religious protection is in jeopardy.  Down the road, the government will use these moral claims to insist that churches end their "discriminatory" practices or risk losing their tax-exempt status.  If the government can force religious organizations to pay for contraception and abortifacients against their deeply-held beliefs, does anyone doubt they can also force those same organizations to recognize "marriage equality"?  (And by the way, Christians are just one of many religious groups in this country who believe marriage is between a man and a woman.)

There are other examples of this threat to religious liberty as a result of gay marriage.  Catholic Charities has been forced to close its adoption agencies in Washington, DC and Massachusetts as a result of gay marriage legislation that requires all adoption agencies operating in those states to place children with gay couples, which violated the beliefs of Catholic Charities that it is best for children to be raised in a home with a mother and a father.  Obviously, this is a loss for those jurisdictions, since Catholic Charities did a lot of good for the community, but it also shows how gay marriage drives out religious liberty.  Now we are hearing that the Obama Administration wants to force military chaplains to perform gay marriages.  In Massachusetts, a father was arrested when he refused to leave his child's school after he was told he could not take his child out of the classroom to avoid being taught about same-sex marriage.  For many supporters of gay marriage, tolerance does not extend to anyone who stands in the way of the gay marriage agenda.

Is Gay Marriage Inevitable?

Gay marriage supporters clearly believe they are on the right side of history and that their moral crusade on behalf of "marriage equality" will inevitably prevail.  And they want supporters of traditional marriage to believe that gay marriage is inevitable as well, because they know their task is easier when their opponents are demoralized.  There is certainly no doubt that the concept of gay marriage has gone from being a fringe idea to a mainstream belief in this country in an amazingly short period of time, and that many public opinion polls now show that about half of Americans support it.  It is also true that a large majority of younger Americans favor it, which adds more weight to the inevitability argument.

However, it is fascinating to me that people seem to expect defenders of the traditional definition of marriage to give up and accept their inevitable defeat.  State constitutional amendments to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman have been voted on in 32 states, and in every case without exception voters have voted in favor of keeping the traditional definition of marriage.  The truth is that our side has never lost a popular vote!  We have prevailed not just in conservative states, but also in liberal states like California, Maine, Oregon, and Michigan.  Actual results for traditional marriage at the ballot box have typically outperformed support for traditional marriage in polls by about 6 or 7 percentage points.  The only way gay marriage has been implemented in any state is either through the courts or the state legislature -- and usually there has been a backlash against state legislatures and courts who have done so.

Why does traditional marriage do so much better in actual voting than polling would indicate?  Part of the reason, of course, is that older voters tend to vote in much larger numbers than younger voters.  Another possible reason, though, is that many of those voters who tell pollsters they support gay marriage are not necessarily reliable votes in favor of gay marriage.  I suspect many of them go along with the idea when asked by a pollster, but they may not care about the issue much one way or the other.  If the only options are gay marriage or traditional marriage, they may choose gay marriage to avoid being accused of bigotry, but they would really prefer some sort of civil union arrangement which would keep marriage from being redefined entirely.  I recently saw a poll that included civil unions as a third option, and that poll found public opinion divided fairly equally between the three options of gay marriage, civil unions, or no government recognition of gay unions at all.  In other words, many of these supposed gay marriage supporters don't want to deny gay couples the benefits they want, but aren't enthusiastic about changing the definition of marriage. 

Even the fact that most younger voters support gay marriage shouldn't make those on our side despair.  Most younger voters also tend to be quite liberal in their political views, no doubt partially as a result of the ideology drilled into them at the colleges and universities they attend.  Most of these younger people have never been married or had children themselves.  Younger people have long tended to become more conservative as they grow up, and being married and having children themselves could change their perspective on marriage and the family.  For years public opinion trended in favor of legalized abortion, but thanks to the tireless efforts of pro-life advocates that has changed.  And if you want to talk about something inevitable, try reading about the history of the Equal Rights Amendment.  In the 1970's and 1980's it seemed unstoppable, with large majorities of Americans supporting it in polls.  But, in large part, thanks to the dedication of one woman, Phyllis Schlafly, it never became part of the Constutition.  I do not know what will ultimately happen with regard to marriage in this country, but I do not believe our side should give up in the face of these historical inevitability arguments.


While the arguments in this paper are not exhaustive, I think they provide not only vindication of the Bible's teaching on marriage, but also justification for the government's official recognition of traditional marriage. The weakening of marriage leads to the weakening of society and results in harm to individuals, especially women and children.  Obviously, even apart from same-sex marriage, traditional marriage has been under severe attack in American culture for decades. The divorce rate has been climbing at an alarming rate for decades and is now over 50%. Non-marital co-habitation is widespread. Out-of-wedlock births have soared among all racial groups and are especially high among African-Americans and Hispanics. And it is not hard to see how tragic the effect has been on children. Children growing up in single-parent homes are far more likely to commit crime, to grow up in poverty, to drop out of school, to end up in jail, to use drugs, and to become parents as teenagers. Boys who grow up without a father-figure in their lives are especially likely to end up in jail as teenagers or young adults.  I believe that same-sex marriage will simply accelerate this trend and exacerbate the social problems associated with it.

Ultimately, the National Organization for Marriage's website has it right when it says this: "Gays and lesbians have a right to live as they choose, but they don't have the right to redefine marriage for all of us."


Andrew V said...

By the way, Natedawg, just wanted to let you know that I read every word, and considered it a very thought provoking essay.

Natedawg said...

Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Andrew! In researching this essay, I learned a lot myself about the topic. Like you, I believe that ultimately the foundation for marriage is God's creation design, but I wanted to focus on public policy considerations in this essay that I hope will have broader appeal even to people who are not Christians.

Some Dude said...

Hey, Natedawg:

I am one of those aforementioned Christians who has a hard time arguing for traditional marriage in terms of public policy. I think that you present a lot of reasonable arguments and that only a hardened, cynical liberal (as opposed to a hardened, cynical libertarian like me) would accuse you of "homophobia" (which, of course, is one type of the worst of all sins ... INTOLERANCE! ... DUN ... DUN ... DUNNNNNNNN!!! *thunderclap*)

One deficiency I see in these arguments (which you addressed) is that there are no statistics which compare children who were raised by a homosexual couple with children who were raised by one or more unmarried parents. You mentioned that homosexual marriage is too recent a phenomenon for there to be any long-term statistics.

Maybe I fail at reading comprehension, but how did you reach your conclusion that homosexual marriage diminishes traditional marriage by redefining marriage and trivializing it in the eyes of people in society? Is that your personal assessment, or are you citing the results of some survey?

Natedawg said...

Some Dude,

With regard to your first point, I think I mentioned that there had been a couple of recent studies indicating that children of gay parents hold their own compared to children from other non-traditional family structures, but the data was too limited to conclude that they are the first and only exception to the rule that children do best when raised with their biological or adopted mother and father. Keep in mind that these studies are usually conducted by people with advanced degrees in psychology and sociology, two left-wing fields totally dominated by supporters of gay marriage. It will take a lot more than a short-term study or two by academics with strong biases to shake my confidence in the mountains of long-term evidence that the ideal environment in which to raise a child is a home with a married mother and father.

With regard to your second question, I think you are asking about the portion of the essay where I mention the effects of same-sex marriage on societies in which it has been legalized for some time, like Scandinavia. The data shows that same-sex marriage weakens marriage. The reasons for why that is the case are my personal assessment (no doubt influenced in general by some of the articles I read in researching this topic).

Hope this helps.