Clarifying the Clutter
There has not been, to my best recollection, a more polarizing topic in our society than the current issue of same-sex marriage. Now, before we get further along here, I’d like to point out something about this issue. That is…it is not “gay” marriage.
This is an important distinction, even if only for rhetorical purposes. And by that, I mean that referring to it as “gay” marriage is often used as a rhetorical bludgeoning device that is not as easily employed as the term “same-sex” marriage.
When we use the term “gay” marriage, it can be made to sound as though a specific group of people are being actively discriminated against. Whereas the idea of “same-sex” marriage rightly implies that this is not some sort of active repression which specifically targets a particular sub-culture, but rather an ideology about the concept of a fundamental societal institution.
Enough with that for now. The fact is, whether it is referred to as “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage” or “marriage rights” or “marriage equality,” there are several terms being bandied about that seem to need some clarification if we are going to be able to better communicate about this issue. It is those terms I would like to focus on here.
The first, and perhaps most foundational in light of how polarized these issues can be, is the idea of “tolerance.” It seems to me that this word, perhaps more than any other today, is not only continually used in an incorrect fashion, but is actually used in an entirely self-contradictory way by many people. Most of the time, when I hear someone referring to a person or a group as “intolerant,” what they are essentially saying is something to the effect of “You are intolerant because you refuse to allow other people to have different opinions on certain subjects and it’s my opinion that you shouldn’t express different opinions.”
Now, that is obviously hyperbolic, but it shows the ridiculous nature of how the idea of tolerance is understood today in common society. While they may not say something that sounds quite that silly, that’s still what it ultimately comes down to. People are vilifying others for being intolerant because those people don’t agree with their ideas, while they at the same time are disagreeing with the ideas of people they refer to as intolerant, but somehow they themselves are not intolerant. How does that pan out, exactly?
The next term that seems to need clarification is the idea of “marriage.” When those in favor of same-sex marriage (SSM) talk about marriage, what is it exactly that they are referring to? What does the term “marriage” mean? If it is just a way to sanctify a sexual relationship between consenting adults, it seems that marriage is not necessary. That ideology is pretty much the norm, these days. So, it is apparently not that concept of marriage that they are fighting for.
Or, do they mean a long-term, committed relationship with someone whom they love? If that is the case, I would question why the government should even care about those relationships. Why should the government have any involvement in whether or not two people who love each other wish to commit themselves to one another for life?
The concept of marriage pre-dated any state-sanctioned relationship. It began as an arrangment between two people of the opposite sex who would commit themselves to each other and their children. But, for the most part, the concept of marriage was about the children, not so much about the couple. The husband and wife, until recently history, did not marry one another because of love. In most cases, they had never even met before their wedding day. So, it seams that the love between two people was not a foundation for the institution of marriage.
Now, let’s take a look at the next term that seems to be thrown about with reckless abandon…discrimination. This, like tolerance, the way it’s used in this context is self-defeating. The very same people who argue that it is discriminatory to not allow same-sex couples to marry one another will have not problem with the idea that one should not be allowed to marry one’s own brother, sister, daughter, mother, father or some other, even non-human, being. By definition, that is discriminating. But as long as it’s a type of discrimination that they agree with, apparently it’s not wrong.
But, is discrimination always and everywhere a moral failing? Most of us will drink water, but not battery acid. Because we discriminate between the two, understanding that one is good to drink and the other is fatal. In a more analogous situation, those people who are heterosexual discriminate about whom they would have romantic relationships with. In fact, most heterosexual men would not only not have a romantic relationship with another man, they would also object to having a relationship with quite a few particular women as well. Those bigots!! How dare they discriminate against people to whom they are not attracted?!
The funny part is, the only scenario that proponents of SSM find discriminatory are those that they personally disagree with. So, in the end, they are discriminating against all ideas, lifestyles and concepts with with they disagree. Sounds a bit similar to what we already saw with regards to tolerance, doesn’t it?
Next, let’s look at the idea of “rights.” The argument that I hear most often is that same-sex couples should have the “right” to be married, just like opposite-sex couples. The problem I have with this is…who says marriage is a “right?” And if it is, what sort of right is it? Is it a negative right (like the right to not be murdered, robbed, raped, slandered, etc.)? Or is it a positive right (an entitlement to have something, which then implies that someone is then obligated to give that thing to you, like being treated with dignity and respect)? Just because so many people have drivers licenses, we still recognize driving a motor vehicle as a privilege and not a right.
If I have a “right” to be married, where does this right come from? Who conveys to me the “right” to marry? And who, by definition, would then be obligated to make my getting married a reality? Whoever that is, shouldn’t they have paid for the wedding, if that is the case? If I’m entitled to get married, meaning someone is obligated to make sure that I have a wife if I choose to exercise that right, what comes with that? Do I get to pick the person I will marry? What if they don’t agree? How does that affect my “right” to marry whomever I choose?
Part of the problem is that “rights” are conveyed to individuals, not couples or groups. The moment you attempt to convey to an individual a “right” such as marriage, you begin to run into all sorts of problems like those just mentioned above, to name just a few.
The very last term that I’d like to cover here is the idea of “equality.” While this topic initially started out being referred to as “gay marriage” and then later was re-branded as “same-sex marriage,” more recently I’ve been hearing it called “marriage equality.”
Well, let’s just take a look at the idea of equality for a moment, shall we?
Most people would agree that the idea of “justice” hinges on the idea that equals should be treated equally. The implication that can be derived from this, though it is rarely articulated, is that unequals should be treated unequally. That concept is at the very heart of what we know as “justice.”
Now, to set the stage, let’s take sporting events as an example…Let’s say you are watching the Olympic Games and you are really excited as you watch the 800M runners race around the track, vying for position. Finally, one of the runners crosses the finish line and the rest follow within seconds after them. Immediately after the race, all the runners are brought up to the platform and given gold medals. There! Everyone is treated equally. No intolerance. No discrimination.
You see the problem, right? Not everyone came in first. So not everyone should be awarded first place. If something like this happened in every Olympic event, how long would it take for you to stop watching the Olympic Games? Two events? Three? How long do you suppose it would be before we stopped even holding the games?
We intuitively recognize that people who accomplish different things should receive different things. In other words, unequals should be treated unequally!
Now, before you go off the deep end, let’s clarify something about how we’re using this idea of equality and inequality. There is a sense in which every athlete in the Olympic Games is equal. They are all equally valuable as human beings. However, they function differently and perform differently in different areas and are, with respect to those skills, talents and abilities, unequal.
There needs to be a distinction between whether we’re talking about the intrinsic value of a person being equal to another versus the functional role of a person being equal to another.
The fact is, functionally, men and women are different. There is simply no possible way to argue otherwise. We don’t even have the same physiology! That is one way that these two groups are NOT equal. The natural, normal result of an opposite-sex marriage is children. The same simply cannot be said of same-sex couples. There is no physical possibility that two men can have a baby together. They would have to either adopt a child or use some sort of surrogate mother or some other method of obtaining a child, but there is no way that a child will naturally result from a same-sex union.
One objection to this might be about the fact that not all opposite-sex couples have children. And this is true. It is also completely irrelevant. It is not a new idea that one should not legislate to the exceptions. Any time this happens, it never goes well. There may be examples where it was not necessarily catastrophic, but it has never been beneficial and has always just either left enormous loopholes in order to include the exceptions, or has been so convoluted that nobody understands it.
And that’s not the only way these arrangements are unequal. Mothers’ and fathers’ roles in their childrens’ lives are different. By saying that same-sex couples are “equal” in the way that it is being touted is to eliminate the distinction between males and females. It eliminates that distinction between mother and father. It claims that there is no difference between mothers and fathers in the life of a child. That this is false seems intuitively obvious. I mean, have you ever seen a man try to breast-feed a baby? Good luck with that.
Again, one can cite examples where the dad stays home with the kids and the mom brings home the bacon. But, again, this is the exception, not the norm. There is not a (valid) dispute that a same-sex couple could not be good parents. What is often avoided is the fact that that same-sex couples could also be bad parents. Just like the case with opposite-sex couples. Though a false dichotemy is often offered as “wouldn’t it be better for a child to be raised by two loving dads than an alcoholic, wife-beating, abusive father and a neglectful mother?” Well….DUH!!! The problem is, there are two other options….an abusive or unhealthy same-sex couple versus a loving, committed mother and father.
Opposite-sex couples, as a group, as a rule and by nature result in the next generation of citizens of a given society. Studies have shown that the best environment for children to be raised is by two biological parents in a low-conflict setting. Certainly, this is not always possible. But it is the best scenario, statistically.
If that is the case, one argument in favor of SSM marriage has never made it my way….that is…Why should the government care about relationships between same-sex couples? Not that the government should not care about the people in every relationship, but why should they care about the relationship itself? They have no stake in it. They have no reason to privilege that relationship or protect it like they do with opposite-sex couples. They cannot produce the next generation of citizens and it is not the best situation for raising children because the best situation requires the child’s “biological” parents, which cannot be a same-sex couple. Simply put, they are not equal, therefore they should not be treated equally.
There are no laws preventing same-sex couples from co-habitating, giving each other as medical power of attorney for each other, naming each other as beneficiaries of life insurance policies, owning property together or even adopting and raising children, etc. However, since this group cannot, as a group, as a rule and by nature produce the next generation of citizens for a given society, it seems to me that the government has no interest in the relationship from a legislative standpoint.
I am interested in hearing someone…anyone…offer a valid argument as to why the government should privilege and protect SSM in the same way as they do with opposite-sex marriage.
I await respectful, tolerant responses.