The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently released this press statement.
At the request of the Protect Marriage Coalition, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is making arrangements for them to call friends, family and fellow citizens in California to urge support of the effort to defend traditional marriage. The coalition has asked members of the many participating churches and organizations to contribute in whatever way they can to the effort to pass Proposition 8, including by phoning. (Church Readies Members on Proposition 8, 8 October, 2008)
With the upcoming vote in California on Proposition 8 I thought I would weigh in on the gay marriage debate. Because I’m not gay I’ll never be able to understand fully the homosexual perspective on this issue. As a devout Mormon my belief is strongly influenced by my religion. It’s a truism that each person is a captive of his culture, whatever that culture might be, so it should be no surprise that I’m conservative in politics and religion. What can I say? I’m not open to having my mind changed on this issue. So I can only tell it as I see it.
The issue of gay marriage touches many issues: the meaning and purpose of marriage, issues of sexual morality, religious freedom, and fundamentally it is a debate about what is civil rights. There’s a lot at stake for both sides, neither of which are willing to back down. Those who are liberal on this issue see gay marriage as an important step toward creating an all inclusive body politic. Those who are conservative see it as a shift down the slippery slope of degenerate morality, and a distortion of the institution of marriage.
In my judgment the pro side of the issue is making the more effective argument. So, except for making the point about likely interference with religious freedoms, the cons rely principally on those who already have conservative attitudes about sex and marriage. I can only put together my own understanding of this issue and hope it has some kind of persuasive force.
So I’ll begin.
I found a website that listed several reasons for supporting gay marriage. Some of the reasons listed are bereavement leave, insurance breaks, automatic inheritance, child custody, reduced rate memberships, joint adoption and foster care, and divorce protections, etc. But in the final opinion of the author,
…the single best reason to legalize same-sex marriage is not because it’s benign, or because it is inevitable, or because it is what our legal history demands of us, or because it is more conducive to family life. It is because legalizing same-sex marriage is the kind thing to do. (“Four Reasons to Support Gay Marriage and Oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment,” Tom Head)
Another variation on that theme is that same sex relationships ought to be legally recognized because it’s the right thing to do. After all, heterosexual relationships are legally recognized, so why not homosexual ones too? From the perspective of the left it is about equality before the law. Consequently they see it as a civil rights issue. But I’ve noticed that the pros have only recently come out positively and publicly that gay marriage is fundamentally about civil rights. And judging from the reaction of the left toward those who are opposed to gay marriage I would have to conclude that they definitely see it that way. After all, if it isn’t about civil rights, opposing gay marriage wouldn’t be so bad. But here is where the rub comes in. If it is a civil rights issue then they have to go all the way with it. Acceptability of gay marriage would have to permeate every level of society. Not necessarily down to small unimportant groups, but generally. After all, no self respecting civil rights advocate goes halfway with civil rights. Consequently, I don’t see how gay marriage advocates wouldn’t feel compelled to marginalize those who preach that homosexual sex is a sin, at least to the point of them becoming a tolerable minority.
In any political or religious movement there is no such thing as intellectual equilibrium; there is always movement in some direction or other. Intellectually, where else is there to go? Religion plays such a powerful role in American culture and politics, that if the churches don’t liberalize on this issue their influence poses an existential threat to gay marriage. If churches do liberalize, fine. If not, then other pressures are available. The government waged a thirty year campaign to force Mormons to abandon polygamy. This included the state of Idaho making it illegal for believers in polygamy to vote (upheld by the United States Supreme Court, see Idaho Test Oath), eliminating female suffrage in Utah, disincorporation the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, putting restrictions on how much property the church could own, and arresting its leaders. (Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, Edmunds Act, Edmunds-Tucker Act.) More was under preparation. Faced with an existential threat the church had to abandon polygamy. But what was it about American culture that made this possible? It’s simple. Polygamy was repugnant to Americans. One of the reasons given in Reynolds vs. the United States for supporting anti-bigamy laws is, “Polygamy has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe…polygamy has been treated as an offense against society.” Many people are treating opposition to gay marriage as an offense to society, and view it as odious. Reynolds established a basis for the legal persecution of religious belief.
I listed above some of the issues coupled to the debate about same sex marriage: insurance breaks, automatic inheritance, etc. But how do they relate to marriage? A great many privileges have been attached to the institution of marriage, so much so that it seems marriage is merely a collection of privileges beneficent to heterosexual couples. But marriage is not subsumed by its privileges. They are peripheral to it. From a religious point of view marriage is principally about providing a stable situation in which to raise children. And homosexual couples, having no procreative potential, are naturally apart from this purpose. Therefore gay marriage itself is not about procreation. By extending marriage to homosexual couples the emphasis of marriage is placed on its peripheral benefits, changing the public’s perception of marriage. Also, since gay marriage is generally seen by its advocates as a civil rights issue, it in effect legitimizes homosexual relationships. But from a religious view marriage is not about relationship validation—making it so has an Orwellian creepiness to it. Nor does marriage exist to acquire bereavement leave, insurance breaks, or inheritance rights. Using marriage to acquire these privileges is a distortion of the purpose of marriage because it places the peripheral privileges prior to the purpose of the institution. The privileges are there to assist the purpose, not to precede it. By saying gay marriage should be legalized for reasons that are not fundamental to marriage, the very purpose of marriage is distorted.
A typical counter argument is many heterosexual couples cannot have children, so why should homosexual couples be treated differently from them? But again, this goes back to the purpose of marriage. In order to affirm that the purpose of marriage is principally about procreation, all that is needed is to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and the implication is implicit. By extending marriage to homosexual couples the implication is lost.
Gay marriage advocates also argue that all the virtues found in heterosexual relationships are also found in homosexual ones. And on that ground equal treatment should be extended to homosexual relationships. But to what extent are homosexual relationships similar to heterosexual ones?
Marriage is an institution well suited to heterosexual relationships. Most happily married men would probably agree that marriage has had a civilizing effect on them—most of my male friends are married and they would probably agree with that. The principle cause of the stabilizing effect is simple. Marriage exists as a way for a man and women to commit to each other; traditionally a marriage had no legal force until it was consummated; and consummation implies procreation. Let’s face it, men are turned on visually and easily; women aren’t like that. To put it crudely, if a guy really likes a girl and wants her “favors,” generally speaking, she won’t until he has committed himself to her. So in its very nature heterosexual sexuality has a committing influence on men, and thus a stabilizing effect in heterosexual relationships. Marriage is a way for a man to commit himself legally. Given that the man has invested himself emotionally he feels responsible for his wife and kids. The difficulty for homosexual relationships is that it doesn’t work this way. There is no divergent sexuality. This is especially true for homosexual men, who’s sex drive is just as strong as any man’s. (I can’t speak for the female sex drive.) Homosexual emotional and sexual longings are just as real as heterosexual ones. Men are turned on visually and easily—that’s how we are. But in this case no one is left with a baby if the other partner leaves, and there is no difference in sex drive promoting a prior commitment. Homosexual feelings lack the stabilizing effect that arises from the divergent male-female sexuality. One might argue that marriage would provide a kind of stabilizing effect for homosexuals. But I am unconvinced. If homosexual orientation is driven by nature, and I’m convinced that for many it is, marriage won’t change that. Marriage wont change same sex sexual dynamics. So the natural instability of homosexual relationships remains.
Another issue at stake, again from the religious point of view, is that of sexual morality. Chastity is a religious concept. One thing that devoutly religious people, like myself, want to see preserved in this world is some kind of concept of chastity and fidelity: That men and women should abstain from sex before marriage and remain faithful to each other after marriage. But how would same sex marriage change that? Firstly, it does legitimize same sex relationships, which in itself is a mixed bag. Many homosexuals go through what is sometimes called a gay adolescence, what amounts to parties and promiscuity. David Starkey—host of the very excellent Monarchy series—described his gay adolescence as occurring in his thirties and forties. He was wildly promiscuous, commenting that “I had many memorable moments on Hampstead Heath [a park in London]. They were like scenes from a Midsummer Night’s Dream…Do I regret it? No. Am I pleased I went out and did it? Yes.” (“The history man,” The Independent.) His partner, however, never did enjoy the gay scene; some gays detest the wildly flamboyant element of gay culture, others not. My own impression is that at some point most homosexuals go through the “adolescence,” and are heavily involved in its promiscuous dimension. And it seems this element is inextricable. I can’t see any significant cross section of the gay community coming out in favor of abstinence before marriage. If some did, they would loose support from those who don’t distinguish
between celebration of sexuality and celebration of sex. So, for political reasons that is unlikely to happen. And from a practical point of view many homosexuals are unable to live a life of abstinence anyway. The LDS church teaches that there must be complete abstinence before marriage—I can only imagine how difficult it must be for devout LDS gays trying to live a chaste life with gay culture working against them. Those on the religious right see gay marriage as providing a degree of legitimacy to the promiscuous element embedded in gay culture. We see it as a further slide down the slippery slope. Religious conservatives believe healthy marriages are promoted when society has an expectation of abstinence before marriage and complete fidelity after. By legitimizing the “gay adolescence” gay marriage would effectuate a rejection of that expectation, an expectation that many have already rejected. Whether as a phase of life or as a lifestyle choice, promiscuity would be further legitimized. Those on the right believe that sex should not be seen as merely this thing that people do, or as a form of experimentation; promiscuity should not be seen as a right of passage or as a phase of teenage life. And many parents resent the popular culture that encourages this attitude for their children.
Gay marriage advocates have confused tolerance and approval: There can be no tolerance of gays without gay marriage, and in that light opposition to gay marriage becomes synonymous with intolerance; gay marriage provides a chance for loving gay couples to marry, anyone who objects must be a bigot, or simply ignorant. But that is not how I see it. There is a basic tension between freedom and equality: total freedom tends to promote inequality, and forcing equality restricts freedom. Wherever the balance lies, the marriage institution should be left out of the fray. Marriage should not be used as a way to promote diversity. That is not why it exists. Nor does it exist merely to provide an opportunity for loving couples to make a commitment to each other. Nor does it exist for people to claim its peripheral benefits. The necessary purpose of marriage is to promote stable environments for the procreation of children. And abusing the institution of marriage by saying it is about other things works against that purpose.
Support Proposition 8.
See also, In pictures: Sydney gay pride from BBC.
Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade 2005