The discussion about gay marriage is a terrifically sensitive topic and for the faithful Catholic, it’s an incredible easy conversation to lose. It is simply too easy to be cast in the role of angry, finger-waving, “hater” whose moral sensitivity meter is wound too tight and whose sole mission in life is to be an obstacle to the erstwhile happiness of people who supposedly love each other.
It would be easy for us to console ourselves when we lose these conversations by reminding ourselves that we are blessed when persecuted for holiness sake (c.f., Matt 5:10) but the problem with this strategy of self-consolation, as I see it, is that the conversation on marriage is one we can’t afford to lose. The consequences of not making our case well are just too great to society, the Catholic vision of love and sex, and the protection of the family as the basic unit of society in any meaningful way.
ARGUMENTS THAT ARE DOOMED TO FAIL
Arguments that are rooted in religious/moral language (i.e., “God disapproves of this”), or the language of disgust (“gay marriage is unnatural” or “homosexual acts are distasteful”), even though they can be compelling for those who are already convinced of the rightness of the traditional view of things, are easily overcome by the opposition. For instance, how many of you have been shut up with simplistic responses like; “Your God might disapprove, but the God I know is a God of love and HE would NEVER stand in the way of our happiness.” or “How DARE you say our love is disgusting. You’re just a bumpkin, or worse, a bigot. Why should we listen to you much less let you lead the way? We’ve let ignorance lead for too long….” Had you led with a better argument, you wouldn’t have been so easy to dispatch.
The thing is, traditional Christians have much better arguments on our side than these; arguments that stand up to both logic and emotion. To NOT use these argument to advance the cause of traditional marriage is to do our side a real disservice and to hand the victory to the opposition. The marriage debate is not ours to win. It’s our to lose.
THE BEST ARGUMENT–THE RIGHTS OF CHILDREN.
To begin, I really encourage friends of traditional marriage to arm themselves with Bill May’s little, but powerful, booklet, Getting the Marriage Conversation Right. It offers what I really have seen are the best, can’t-lose strategies for defending the nature of marriage.
His point (and although it’s too much to get into in a a blog post, his argument is absolutely correct from the point of both history and social science) is that marriage is the only institution in existence that guarantees the rights of children to to be united with their mother and father. Period. For the 4000 years marriage has existed as a social and legal institution (beginning with Hammurabi) marriage has been understood as the institution that unites a man and a woman to each other and any children born from their union. No other social structure does that.
Additionally, the reason heterosexual marriage has enjoyed pride-of-place in society for 4000 years is not because of the bigotry or prejudice of the ancient pagan society that first gave marriage legal and social status. If anything, ancient Babylon was even MORE tolerant of alternative arrangements than our contemporary society is.
Instead, heterosexual marriage was given priority over other relationship types common to the time (hook-ups with temple prostitutes, cohabiting, same-sex unions) because it, much more than any other relationship type, yielded several observable benefits that were necessary for the creation of an orderly society. Let’s look at five.
1. Marriage unites children to their mother and father. This is the most important benefit. Even compared to cohabiting couples, marriage comes out ahead. About 30% of cohabiting couples give up their children. It is virtually unheard of for married couples to give up their children. Further, only children born in a marriage have a legal right to know who their mother and father are and to be raised by that mother and father. Any social movement that undermines this fact does violence to the dignity of children (and I’ll explain in a minute how gay marriage undermines this right).
2. Children raised by married mothers and fathers fare significantly better. Children born to a married mother and father do better on all academic, social, psychological, spiritual, and interpersonal measures. All the data supports this. Again, any social movement that undermines this fact does violence to the dignity of children (and, again, I’ll explain in a minute how gay marriage undermines this right).
3. No other relationship-type protects the financial and social security of women like marriage. Marriage is the best poverty-prevention program we know. The middle-class does not exist without marriage. Married women are more financially and socially secure than women in any other relationship type (including lesbian relationships). This is true even of college-educated women (Although this group is most likely to be secure without marriage, only 37% of women have a college degree).
5. Marriage secures sustainable fertility rates. Even though the gap has narrowed somewhat, married couples still have more children than unmarried couples. De-population is the most serious social problem facing the West. As marriage rates have decreased, societies are not producing enough children to support their social infrastructure. Marriage sees to the success of future generations.
So what does any of this have to do with gay marriage?
Remember, the only reason heterosexual marriage has enjoyed special legal and social status for 4000 years is the benefits it gives to society which are not limited to the above. Gay marriage does not grant any benefits to society and in fact, undermines several of these social benefits For example:
~Gay marriage makes it discriminatory to say that ANY child has a right to a mother and father. This is the most serious problem. Homosexual couples may have children through adoption or assisted reproduction, but they can not provide both parents. But if gay marriage is about getting society to recognize that homosexual families are “just as good as” heterosexual families, this requires denying that any children–not just children of gay parents–have a right to a mother and father or need a mother and father. This flies in the face of all available data. Every child who is denied a mother and/or a father feels the lack. Gay marriage would require society, and mental health professionals, to tell all children that their natural longing for two, opposite-sex parents is disordered.
~Same-Sex marriage does not provide the same level of security for the partners or children raised in those households. Homosexual relationships do not appear to be as stable as heterosexual relationships even where gay marriage is legal. Therefore, children raised in homosexual households are, statistically, at great financial and social risk. This is not the most important concern, but it is legitimate.
~Same-Sex marriage does not socialize partners to the same degree. The incidence of intimate partner violence is higher for both lesbian and gay couples than it is for married, heterosexual couples. This increases the risk of instability for children in gay and lesbian households. This is also not the most important concern, but it is legitimate.
HOW HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE UNDERMINES HETEROSEXUAL MARRIAGE.
1. The push for homosexual marriage asks society to give benefits to a relationship-type that does not grant any benefits to society in return and, in fact, undermines many of the benefits society might otherwise count on from marriage. This makes it harder to not justify extending similar benefits to cohabiting couples or any other household arrangement.
2. Likewise, homosexual marriage also undermines marriage rates for heterosexuals. Marriage is “more expensive” (in terms of the effort and commitment it requires) than other relationship types. Because of this, the more society promotes other marriage-like relationships as equivalent to marriage, the less attractive marriage becomes especially among the poor and those without a college degree (the very people who benefit from marriage the most). We’re already seeing this. As cohabitation becomes more socially acceptable, marriage rates have decreased for these most vulnerable groups. Since it is extremely difficult to be in the middle class without being married, the lower marriage rates among the poor or lesser-educated means that these groups are becoming trapped in the under-class.
In short, the best case against same-sex marriage has nothing to do with religion, morality, bigotry, or disgust. It has everything to do with protecting the rights of children to have a mother and father and to be united to their mother and father and the need to insist that it is unjust to extend benefits to a relationship-type that convey no benefits to society in return.
Homosexual persons do not deserve to be treated with scorn, disrespect, or bigotry. They are persons deserving of our love and respect just like anyone else. But extending love and respect to our homosexual brothers and sisters does not extend to redefining marriage so that it socially and practically meaningless.
It is true that most couples are completely ignorant of the social and public dimension of marriage. Most couples just think of marriage as a public recognition of a private, emotional commitment, but most couples’ ignorance of the facts doesn’t negate the facts. Society cannot afford to extend benefits to anyone or anything that does not work for the good of society. People must be free to make their own choices about who they live with, but society can only afford to encourage those relationships and institutions that demonstrably work for it’s good.