Same-Sex Marriage: Why Are Gay Interests So Easily Sacrificed?

Over on, Elizabeth Marquardt made an interesting argument against cloning:

With cloning, women and children become objects, merely means to someone else’s end. If — if — “therapeutic” cloning works, people with serious diseases may have a new treatment option, but it’s also quite possible that new treatments could be found that don’t require sacrificing women and children. Cloning isn’t worth it. Please, let’s come to our senses.

Although this argument is interesting in its own right, what struck me is how this contrasts with Elizabeth’s case against same-sex marriage. Here’s Elizabeth’s anti-SSM argument in a nutshell:

Legalizing same sex marriage requires us to change the legal definition of marriage. Marriage becomes between “two persons” rather than between “a man and a woman.” Once we change the definition our law, and increasingly our culture, is unable to say that children need their mother and father. This will make it much harder to defend the proposition, still held by many people even in our weakened marriage culture, that heterosexual parents should try to marry rather than cohabit, and that they should try to stay married and avoid divorce. As a result, with legalized SSM more children are likely to grow up lacking their mother and father in the home.

There’s an interesting parallel here. Elizabeth asks why it’s acceptable to exploit thousands of women to increase the chance of curing deadly diseases. There are two premises implicit in Elizabeth’s anti-cloning argument – one, that there are potentially fruitful avenues of research aside from cloning, and two, that cloning harms women’s interests – but if you accept Elizabeth’s premises, her conclusion is reasonable. All else held equal, it is better to try to cure diseases without harming women in the process.

Well, then: Isn’t it also better to try to help heterosexual families without harming lesbian and gay families in the process?

Why is it acceptable to deprive thousands of same-sex couples and their children of marriage – of the rights to having socially recognized families, with the dignity and security that, for many, only marriage can confer – just because there’s a chance that depriving same-sex families of equal rights will reduce heterosexual divorce?

The two situations are very similar. There’s a valuable goal being sought (stronger het marriages/cures for diseases). There are multiple policies we could pursue to reach the goal. However, one of the policies treats a particular group of people (women/same-sex families) as if their well-being doesn’t count.

When the group being sacrificed is women, Elizabeth says “let’s find an alternative route.” But when the group being sacrificed is same-sex families, suddenly a group sacrifice is appropriate. Why?

* * *

Elizabeth’s basic argument could have been made against interracial marriages being made legal. It’s a statistical fact that cross-racial marriages are more likely to end in divorce; if we want to reduce divorce, it would make sense to outlaw interracial marriage. Right?

Similarly, laws giving married women the right to own property – rather than all of the couple’s property belonging to the husband – almost certainly increased divorce in the long run, by giving women the financial wherewithal needed to leave unsatisfying marriages. To reduce divorce, we should return to the traditional understanding of marriage, in which husbands owned and controlled all the family property. Right?

Of course not. I’m confident that neither Elizabeth, nor Eve Tushnet, nor David Blankenhorn, nor any reasonable opponent of SSM would endorse these proposals – even if we assume (for the sake of argument) that these proposals would in fact reduce divorce. Reducing divorce is an important goal – but it’s not the only important goal. It is not so important that it justifies sacrificing equal rights between the races, or between the sexes.

Which begs a question, doesn’t it?

When did same-sex couples become objects, merely means to someone else’s end? Why are same-sexers – and same-sexers alone – so worthless?

That’s not right.

Why the difference? Our society now widely acknowleges that women and racial minorities deserve equality. Women and racial minorities aren’t actually treated equally, of course – but to openly advocate legal inequality is no longer acceptable. Except when it comes to the treatment of homosexuals. It is only because our society is still very bigoted against lesbians and gays that advocating their legal inequality is acceptable.

Elizabeth says she’s not bigoted against lesbians and gays, and I believe her. Nonetheless, her argument is premised on bigotry against lesbians and gays. It is only in the context of a bigoted society that a reasonable person like Elizabeth could advocate treating gays as objects to be sacrificed for others’ benefit.

I agree that reducing divorce would be a good thing. I agree that children’s welfare would improve if more heterosexual parents stayed together in healthy marriages.

But I cannot, will not agree that lesbians, gays and their families are appropriate objects for sacrifice. I cannot, will not agree that their interests should be trashed for someone else’s ends. Lesbians and gays are not pawns fit for sacrifice – and to suggest they are is an endorsement of bigotry (whether or not the speaker is personally bigoted). There are other possible approaches to saving het marriage. Let’s pursue those approaches, and allow same-sex families the equality that should be their birthright.

Opposing equality isn’t worth it. Please, let’s come to our senses.

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26 Responses to Same-Sex Marriage: Why Are Gay Interests So Easily Sacrificed?

  1. 1
    Stentor says:

    Amy Phillips: I think many anti-SSM people would like to ban divorce — at the very least there’s no end of complaining about the evils of “no-fault” divorce. I think their logic is that banning divorce isn’t feasible, whereas holding the line against SSM is. They hope that eventually they can turn the cultural tide and we will get rid of divorce.

    There’s also the fact that it doesn’t matter whether you can get a divorce if you never get married in the first place. From what I’ve read, there is much more fear that SSM will encourage people not to get married than that it will encourage already married people to get a divorce.

  2. 2
    Lachlan says:

    Raznor, I and my gay bretheren and sisters will endeavor to bring down society in a more timely fashion from now on. :)

    Neko, agreed- separation of church and state!! I do not like this continual rhetoric infused with “sanctity and sacred”- it merely inflames prejudices with emotional crap that has little to do with law.

    Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson is all aghast that anyone would compare gay rights to civil rights. What to make of that?

  3. 3
    Aaron says:

    Response to Pablo: homosexuals are rapidly ceding their spot on the bottom of society – homophobia is becoming steadily less acceptable in society. If you started making homophobic comments in my circle, you’d get quickly rebuked, if not shunned, and it’s like that in many other social groups.

    In 20-30 years, overt homophobia will be as unacceptable in general society as racism is now. Make of that as you will.

    I’ve posted elsewhere saying the same things Neko has. Don’t forget women marrying serial killers on Death Row!

  4. 4
    Raznor says:

    the very citation for the downfall of civilization.

    Which is kind of funny if you think of it, since this would mean they’ve been causing the downfall of civilization for thousands of years. I have no problems if gays want to bring down society, but you think they could do it more efficiently.

    But Pablo is exactly right. Prejudice against homosexuals is so rampant in society that something as simple as allowing them to marry becomes controversial.

  5. 5
    neko says:

    I have never understood why people get so hysterical about gays and lesbians marrying each other. Who *cares*? No one has ever been able to put forth a compelling argument that giving them full civil rights through marriage is harmful or detrimental. It doesn’t affect anyone else’s marriage, no matter what the fevered imaginations of the anti-gay contingent would think.

    You know what makes a mockery of marriage? Shows like the Bachelor/Bachelorette, Joe Millionaire, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire, etc. Drunken nuptuials in Vegas a la Britney Spears.

    And you know what? I don’t *care* if some people think it’s sacred. Churches don’t have to bless marriages–many won’t bless marriages of divorced people, interfaith couples, etc. Fine, that’s their perogative. But these couples could still go to a JP and get legally *married*. Religion has nothing to do with it; it’s the law, there are reasons why it’s legally recognized. I’m a big fan of separation between church and state. I really wish the politicos who blathered on and on about the sacredness of marriage were fellow fans, but I fear they are not.

  6. 6
    Worldwide Pablo says:

    Thank you for what is clearly one of the clearest dissections of the anti-SSM argument anywhere.

    Your premise is correct: gays and lesbians in modern culture are not people, they are objects, things that exist to fill in the bottom rung of today’s pecking order. As objects, as those who exist in lowly state, GLBTs are unhappily accustomed to being the butt-end of humor, the object of scorn and violence, and the very citation for the downfall of civilization. Easy to do when you’re not regard as … well, human.

    Sad to say, that’s because to our everlasting discredit, the animus to homosexuality is still the last “acceptable” prejudice.

    [Kudos and love to all those who married in San Francisco this week.]

  7. 7
    Amy Phillips says:

    Here’s what I’ve always wondered: if what anti-SSM activists really want is to strengthen marriage as a lifelong institution, why not simply outlaw divorce? That way, those gays who aren’t looking for a lifelong commitment won’t marry, and straight marriages are guaranteed not to fail.

    But of course, that would be too easy…

  8. 8
    ms. jared says:

    two of my best friends were able to get married this weekend and it was wonderful. city hall was overflowing with huge love and an intense, giddy joy. it felt so good to be there. it feels so good to be in san francisco.

    the air in the city is thick with happiness. i don’t understand how anyone can think that’s wrong.

    xoxo, jared

  9. 9
    Lachlan says:

    Amp, this post is one of the most cogent yet impassioned pleas for same-sex rights I’ve read. THANK YOU.

    It heartens me to read things like this, and know that there are people out there seeing the same things, recognizing the basic facts: that denying marriage rights to the gay and lesbian community is flawed in numerous ways.

  10. 10
    Cassie says:

    I’m not gay or anything, but I dont think gay-marriages should be illegal. It’s not right for someone to tell someone else who they should marry or shouldn’t. Being gay is not something someone chooses, it’s just something that happens. What I also do not like is that they say marriage should be between a man and woman because of how religion puts it. Then you turn around and they are banning pray or religion in schools and changing the words in the pledge. Who is it to try to ban this in schools across the nation but then ban gay-marriages because of what a religion is? It can’t work both ways. Not everyone believes in the same thing. Besides there are more important issues in this world to deal with that this. So what does anyone think about this?

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  13. 11
    casey says:

    also, blaming children “lacking the mother and father in the home” is kind of a stretch, dont you think? children all over this country already lack one or both of their parents from neglect, or cases like that, so that puts this argument out the window, because its just not true. i’d like to see it proved.

  14. 12
    coco says:

    its meant for a man and woman

  15. 13
    Raznor says:

    coco, are you for real?

    I think people posting under the name coco should suspended into vats full of rabid squirrels, but that doesn’t mean my narrow-minded opinions should be implemented into policy.

    Or does it? . . . . .

  16. 14
    Trey says:

    Another excellent post. It is the last sentence that most caught my eye, about outright bigotry and ‘country club bigotry’. I’ve felt the difference, now I can voice it thanks to you.

    Maggie Gallagher recently wrote an op-ed piece entitled “are you a bigot” where she criticized those who call someone who is against changing the ‘definition of marriage’ a bigot. It isn’t so, she argues. It is simply an argument against changing the definition.

    If that were all (we love our definition, lets not change), she might be right. But of course she must argue WHY changing the definition to include SS is bad. And that is where she and others start sounding like bigots, country club bigots perhaps, but still…

  17. 15
    casey says:

    i loved this post because i am writing a paper for school on gay/lesbian couples. its good to hear both sides to the story. HOWEVER i am COMPLETLEY for gay marriage. i think that close minded people running the government shouldnt be able to have the last say in the matter.the people should vote to make it legal in their states, thats fair OR we can just discard that 91yr. old law and make it ok for gay/lesbian couples to the article said, gay people DO NOT chose to be gay so its anti- american to be discriminatory towards them because they have a chemical imbalance. thats like saying and otistic person can go to school because they are disabled. it just not right.

  18. 16
    casey says:

    make that CAN’T on my opinion above

  19. 17
    coco says:

    i think that gay marriages are wrong

  20. 18
    Raznor says:

    lachlan: Yeah! Choke on that, society!

  21. 19
    sara says:

    The meme “Gay marriage will cause the decline and fall of Western civilization, hence we must prohibit its legalization for the good of society” cries for a psychological analysis, assuming that some of its criers are repressed homosexuals. That the anti-gay marriage (anti-GM) proponents make such a distinction between “homosexuality” and “homosexual behavior” (they only disapprove of the latter, they claim) is persuasive.

    Hidden assumptions:
    1. That *everyone* will become homosexual and enter gay marriages. This projection only makes psychological sense if you have a disposition towards this orientation.

    2. That “we” must abjure gay marriage for the good of society. The anti-GM homosexual person in the closet thus rationalizes his or her own denial of his / her identity and “sacrifice” of a major aspect of life.

    3. That marriage between a man and a woman, and procreation of children in said stable marriage, are sacred duties that preserve society. What happened to love? One suspects the anti-GM closeted person in a heterosexual marriage is enduring it out of this spirit of sacrifice.

    It will be ironically amusing (though tragic for the opposite-sex spouse and kids) if Anti-GM closeted person decides that he / she can’t take it anymore and splits.

  22. 20
    parodie says:

    I almost forgot! Congrats to Amp for another awesome, well-worded and interesting post. :-)

  23. 21
    Ampersand says:

    Thanks to many people for their kinds words.

    Kelseigh: You’re quite right. Point well taken.

  24. 22
    parodie says:

    This is partially in response to neko’s post … I can sympathise with the emotion I noticed.

    I think this article by linguist George Lakoff presents an interesting & thought-provoking analysis of “same-sex mariage will harm/devalue het marriage” claim. Not quite the same tangent as Amp’s analysis, but I think both have value and provide interesting ways to frame the argument.

    And just so it’s clear: I think SSM is important, I have & will continue to fight & argue for it.

  25. 23
    Kelseigh says:

    “Why are same-sexers – and same-sexers alone – so worthless?”

    As a transsexual, I’d like to assure you that same-sexers aren’t the only ones considered worthless.

    In most areas in North America, including mine, we aren’t even covered under human rights legislation.

  26. 24
    carsick says:

    Great Post!
    I have a whole new way to argue the point. Thanks.

    By the way, miscegenation laws were overturned in the late 60’s in a case called “Loving vs.Virginia”.
    I love the poetry in that. Perhaps later, that case was the inspiration for the Virginia visitors bureau using the phrase “Virginia is for Lovers”.