Dispatches from the Creation Wars

More Bad Arguments Against Gay Marriage

In California, the first round of what will almost certainly be a long court battle over gay marriage has just wrapped up the trial phase. After the mayor of San Francisco began performing gay marriages last year (a bad, and politically motivated, idea), opponents of gay marriage appealed immediately to the California Supreme Court. That court did order a halt to the gay marriages, which are specifically forbidden by California law, but refused to rule on the constitutionality of that law until it worked its way up through the courts in standard fashion. In the first phase, the judge has ordered the attorneys for more arguments in writing, but the oral argument has wrapped and he is expected to issue a ruling by April. That trial has predictably brought about plenty of illogical arguments against gay marriage. To wit:

The future of same-sex marriage in California was left in the hands of a San Francisco Superior Court judge Thursday after a conservative group closed two days of hearings by arguing that gays and lesbians were inherently unfit for marriage.

“They can’t perform the basic functions of marriage,” said Rena Lindevaldsen, an attorney for the Campaign for California Families. “There is a basic difference between opposite-sex and same-sex couples … the ability to procreate and, therefore, insure the existence and survival of our species.”…

Limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples who can raise their own biological children “brings stability to the society,” said Glen Lavy, an Alliance Defense Fund lawyer representing the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Such an absurd argument. In competitive debate, the response would be that this is missing an internal link. Even if it’s true that gay couples lack the ability to procreate (which isn’t necessarily true with artificial insemination, a la Melissa Etheridge and Julie Cypher), and even if it’s true that the ability to procreate insures the existence and survival of our species, there’s no reason why allowing those who are not capable of reproducing to marry would impede on the survival of the species. Unless it can be shown that gay marriage would damage straight marriage, and hence damage the means of reproduction, there’s just no impact to the argument. We allow infertile couples to get married even though they can’t “perform the basic functions of marriage” and allowing them to marry doesn’t have any effect whatsoever on those marriages that do involve reproducing. The same is obviously true of gay marriage. Are straight couples going to stop getting married or stop having children if gays are allowed to marry? Of course not. So there’s no reason to believe that gay marriage is going to have any effect at all on the “stability of society” or the survival of the species. It’s just a ridiculous argument.

This attorney also tried to argue that forbidding gay marriage somehow protects children, prompting this response from the plaintiff’s attorney:

She derided an argument by Lindevaldsen that the ban on same-sex marriage was designed to protect children by promoting families with biological ties. “Child abusers, child molesters, even child murderers can get married as long as they marry someone of the opposite sex,” Kaiser said.

What makes the “protect the children” argument so absurd is that gay marriage doesn’t change anything regarding gays raising children. Some gay people have their own children; others adopt children, in states where that is legal. It already exists, and gay marriage wouldn’t change that. Ultimately, the only way they can truly “protect the children” is by taking away the children of gay couples. And that’s not nearly as farfetched as it sounds, it has happened many times.

Want a perfect example? Take a look at this. This gay couple, together longer than most straight couples I know, have raised 6 children, including 3 who were born with AIDS (one of them died from it at age 6). All of these children came to them as infants and none of them have ever known any other family. But the state of Florida is still trying to find someone else to take one of the children from them, because he is under 14 and therefore still deemed “adoptable” and, under Florida law, gay people cannot adopt children. The state of Florida wants to “protect the children” by taking them away from the only home they have ever known, away from the only family they have, to give them to total strangers solely because those strangers don’t happen to be gay. This is nothing short of insanity, motivated solely by bigotry.

And it doesn’t stop there. In Virginia, Sharon Bottoms lost custody of her son based solely upon the fact that she is a lesbian, and custody was given instead to her mother, the child’s maternal grandmother. There was not the slightest evidence that Sharon Bottoms had been an unfit mother, the father of the child wanted her to retain custody, and every bit of evidence from psychologists and social workers indicated that there was no reason whatsoever to disrupt the family. By contrast, Sharon and others testified that her mother had regularly had boyfriends who had assaulted her when she was growing up. Despite every single bit of evidence and testimony being on her side, the judge removed the child and granted custody to the grandmother. Why? Because homosexual sodomy was against the law in Virginia, and that made her a lawbreaker and therefore an unfit parent. That law was overturned last year by the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, and I hope now that Bottoms takes her case to federal court and gets the state court decision overturned.

Every single study that has been done on children raised by gay parents shows that they at least as happy, healthy and well adjusted as the children of straight parents, with at least two studies showing that gay parents actually show better parenting skills as a group. Not one study has ever been done that shows the opposite. All of the evidence is squarely against such restrictions, and this position is endorsed by the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Association of Social Workers and the Child Welfare League of America. There is simply no rational reason to deny to gay parents the right to be parents.

This is just another example of where rhetoric and reality are in conflict. I don’t wanna hear the so cons talk about “family values” because they don’t value families, only families that look just like theirs. Steve Lofton, Roger Croteau and the 5 at-risk children that they have taken in and raised are a family, and those who would seek to destroy that prove once and for all that their rhetoric is a lie. They will gladly destroy a family if it serves their sick and twisted sense of moral judgement, and the time has come for decent Americans to stand up and put them into the closet. Let bigotry become the shameful thing that being gay once was, the kind of thing you have to whisper about and keep secret from your family. The world will be a better place for it.

Comments

  1. #1 Richard
    December 26, 2004

    Yeah, I’ve posted about some similar ‘arguments’ recently.

  2. #2 steve
    December 26, 2004

    gay marriage threatens the survival of our species, eh? I can’t even make fun of that. it’s too stupid.

  3. #3 Jason Kuznicki
    December 27, 2004

    I agree entirely with what you have said here. Let me point out, though, that Lindevaldsen’s argument in court does not fully convey this line of social conservative argument against same-sex marriage as it is usually stated. The missing link you fault her for does indeed exist.

    Social conservatives would likely reply to your post by pointing out that there remains a legitimate interest in prohibiting gay marriages, one that can be stated as follows:

    Through their very existence, same-sex marriages deny the importance of being raised by one’s biological parents. Through their very existence, same-sex marriages break down the mother-father-children model of family, and this at a time when that model is already disintegrating. By contrast, infertile heterosexual couples do not break down this model any more than newlyweds who have not yet had children. Childlessness happens to almost all heterosexual couples at one time or another; by definition, same-sexedness does not.

    Infertile male-female marriages participate in building up the traditional model, because all it takes for infertile straights to attain the traditional model is simply to add kids.

    As to the argument that child murderers may get married–while responsible, loving gay parents cannot–social conservatives would make two obvious replies. First, the law is a blunt instrument; it does not deal with individual realities, but with overarching societal principles. Exceptions and oddities do not negate the overall justice of a law.

    Second, social conservatives would likely say that the very debate about same-sex marriage perhaps indicates to us that we ought to adopt more stringent rules for marriage across the board.

    Now, before anyone attacks me here, please keep in mind that I side fully with Mr. Brayton. As many of you know, I am in a same-sex marriage, and we fully intend to adopt children in the next few years. I do want our strongest arguments brought to bear, though, against the strongest arguments of the other side, so I welcome any friendly attempt to refute the positions I’ve laid out here. I’m quite confident it can be done.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    December 27, 2004

    Okay, I’ll take a shot at it, Jason.

    Through their very existence, same-sex marriages deny the importance of being raised by one’s biological parents. Through their very existence, same-sex marriages break down the mother-father-children model of family, and this at a time when that model is already disintegrating. By contrast, infertile heterosexual couples do not break down this model any more than newlyweds who have not yet had children. Childlessness happens to almost all heterosexual couples at one time or another; by definition, same-sexedness does not.

    If one were to be consistent in this, wouldn’t one also have to say that the act of adoption denies “the importance of being raised by one’s biological parents”? Surely no one would be against adoption. And of course, many gay parents have their own children. More importantly, it seems absurd to me to argue that gay marriage hurts the “model” of straight marriage without actually hurting any specific straight marriages. The notion that if gay people are allowed to get married, straight people will stop getting married, or stop having children if they do, or stop caring for their children or spouse, etc, is absurd. There simply isn’t any logical chain of steps that lead from A (gay marriage) to B (breakdown of straight marriages).

    As to the argument that child murderers may get married–while responsible, loving gay parents cannot–social conservatives would make two obvious replies. First, the law is a blunt instrument; it does not deal with individual realities, but with overarching societal principles. Exceptions and oddities do not negate the overall justice of a law.

    This doesn’t really matter to me much. This argument is not an argument for gay marriage, it’s only a response to one of the many arguments against gay marriage. And the fact is that I reject the “societal principle” that gay people are any less capable of long term healthy relationships than straight people, or that there is anything special about straight relationships that demands that they be “protected” by banning others from getting married. In fact, I think the whole notion of “protecting” marriage is a silly one.

    Second, social conservatives would likely say that the very debate about same-sex marriage perhaps indicates to us that we ought to adopt more stringent rules for marriage across the board.

    One would have to have some specific proposed rules on the table to comment on this. The overall difficulty I have with it is that it’s the same type of social engineering that conservatives typically accuse liberals of engaging in.

  5. #5 SharonB
    December 27, 2004

    Interesting point, Ed about the need “to adopt more stringent rules for marriage.”

    Under this banner the socons have enacted laws promoting a concept of “covenant marriage.” These marriages are felt to be of a superior design to standard marriages (implicit in this word “covenant,” is a host of religious meanings).

    Now, who actually devalues [standard] marriage by creating an alternative form felt to be superior?

    By creating “covenant marriages” the socons have achieved what they accuse SSM advocates of doing-diluting the meaning and worth of the institution.

  6. #6 Jillian
    December 27, 2004

    People who are convinced of the transcendant, irrefutable value of the biological family unit should spend a few days working on the domestic violence crisis intervention hotline I used to volunteer for. The horror of the things heterosexual husbands can do to their heterosexual wives, or that biological parents can do to their biological children, positively defy the imagination unless you’ve actually seen it yourself. I don’t even bother telling people about the worst of the things I’ve seen occur in “nice” families anymore, because I know they just won’t believe me.

    The very fact that we are sickened by domestic violence is all the evidence that is needed that we do not, as a society, think that “a family” is equivalent to “a heterosexual couple and their biological offspring”. We obviously think a family is something other than this – something involving love and respect and caring for other individuals. We don’t think that a “family” which lacks these things is healthy, or normal. I think that the fact that most people react so strongly to domestic violence is all the proof we need that our national rhetoric doesn’t match our national values.

    Heck, if all “a family” consists of is a heterosexual couple, why don’t we just bring back arranged marriages? That would be the best possible protection of the traditional family, because it would guarantee that everyone would be in one whether they wanted to or not. Once again, the fact that most Americans would be opposed to such an idea puts paid to the notion that we as a society think the defining characteristic of the family is heterosexual pairing.

    Frankly, after having seen the crap kids get subjected to by their biological “parents”, I wish more gay couples *would* adopt, or work as foster parents. DYFS might have an easier time getting kids away from crummy biological parents if there were more foster parents out there to take ‘em in.

  7. #7 Dan
    December 27, 2004

    Jason: Let me offer up some responsive arguments, too.

    Through their very existence, same-sex marriages deny the importance of being raised by one’s biological parents.

    This is a rights-trivialization argument – and a very bad one at that – trivializing the right to marry the person of one’s choosing compared to the right to be raised by one’s biological parents. The simplest response is to flip the argument: nothing is more fundamental, in the family/procreation sphere, than the right to marry the person you choose to marry. See, e.g., Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967) (“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men. Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival.”).

    Comparing the right of a child to be raised by his biological parents to the right of a consenting adult to marry the person of her choosing is like comparing apples to airplanes. The two bear no relationship to one another. The argument is not just illogical, it is irrational. If you want a valid comparison, juxtapose the child’s right to be raised by his or her biological parents to the child’s right to be raised in a loving home, or to be provided the necessities of life by caring parents.

    Even if we pretend that there is some connection between the two, this argument relies upon the obviously faulty premise that same-sex couples, because they are same sex couples, cannot love children, or that they cannot provide a child with food, shelter, clothing, education, and health care, to the same extent as can biological parents by virtue of the biological parents having engaged (at least one time) in heterosexual intercourse. In addition to being logically flawed, this argument is also contradicted by mountains of evidence.

    Finally, let’s turn to the child’s right to be raised by his biological parents. The right to be raised by one’s biological parents, while legally and socially important, is not as important as the right to be raised by competent parents. This is the state’s real interest: in protecting the child’s right to be raised by competent parents. If the biological parents are competent to raise the child, then the law respects the child’s right to be raised by his or her biological parents. But if the biological parents are not competent to do so, the state will protect its interest by terminating parental rights and placing the child with one or more competent surrogates to the biological parents – adoptive or foster parents. In that case, unless the state can show that same-sex parents, because they are same-sex parents, are less competent than biological parents because of their biological relation, being raised by same-sex parents violates no rights of the child.

    If biology does trump all else, then as Ed points out, our systems of adoption and foster care violate children’s rights. So too does heterosexual remarriage, which creates a legal relationship between child and step parent. And while we’re at it, we need to have a look at our compulsory education system, which takes children from their biological parents and puts school officials in loco parentis to children every day of every school year.

    Through their very existence, same-sex marriages break down the mother-father-children model of family, and this at a time when that model is already disintegrating.

    This is a utility argument – allowing same-sex marriage damages our model of the so-called traditional family. (I know, Ed, you hate the “traditional family” rhetoric – I do, too, but it’s a convenient shorthand here.) You respond with a utility argument, supported by empirical observation: same-sex couples in committed relationships do not split up (divorce) more than heterosexual couples, and children of same-sex couples grow up to be just as well adjusted, socially and psychologically, as children of heterosexual couples. Thus, same-sex marriage is no more damaging to our model of the traditional family than is the traditional family itself. If the social interest to be advanced is raising well-adjusted children to adulthood, same-sex couples do at least as good a job of this as do heterosexual married couples.

    But you’ve already identified an equally viable answer to this argument. The traditional family model is already disintegrating, and that disintegration cannot be blamed upon the institution of same-sex marriage, because that institution does not really exist yet. If the model no longer works, then it is time to change the model, and to support that change with the appropriate social infrastructure.

    Of course, you can also respond with the ever-present slippery slope argument. If the way to protect the traditional family is to outlaw same-sex marriage, then we need to outlaw: (1) divorce; (2) single parenthood; (3) heterosexual marriage where the parties are (a) infertile; or (b) do not want children; and (4) heterosexual cohabitation short of marriage where the parties have children. While some socons would no doubt be happy to go this far, I doubt that very many elected politicians would. They’d risk pissing off people like me, for example, in category (3)(b): Kim and I are married, but we’re perfectly happy with the two beautiful children she has from her first marriage. (I’m smart enough to know that I couldn’t do any better.) And then, of course, if you do plan to go that far, you need to be prepared to address the resulting utility argument: prevent me from marrying Kim, and you deprive Kim of a husband and the kids of a father figure who is perfectly happy to assume those roles.

    As to the argument that child murderers may get married–while responsible, loving gay parents cannot–social conservatives would make two obvious replies. First, the law is a blunt instrument; it does not deal with individual realities, but with overarching societal principles. Exceptions and oddities do not negate the overall justice of a law.

    This first response seems to me to be a version of a realizability argument, and in particular a formal realizability argument. That is, we need a simple rule that is easy to understand and administer. “No same-sex marriage” is easy for everyone to understand, and we can easily administer it by denying marriage licenses to homosexual couples. The response is a substantive realizability argument. A one-size-fits-all, formally realizable rule is not fair or just to the myriad people who fall outside the bounds of the rule. The law is not supposed to act as a “blunt instrument” but as an instrument of justice. A rule of law that classifies a large group of people on the basis of sexual orientation, irrationally denying them the benefits of society accorded to others, is fundamentally unjust. Furthermore, it denies those from whom social benefits are withheld due process of law. In short, the law should be built upon reasonable standards that bear some rational relationship to the interest society seeks to protect: the health and welfare of children. A fair and just law is one that looks at a person’s competence to parent, not one that uses sexual orientation as a proxy for those characteristics and skills.

    Second, social conservatives would likely say that the very debate about same-sex marriage perhaps indicates to us that we ought to adopt more stringent rules for marriage across the board.

    This one practically invites abuse on so many different levels. Examples: (1) Let’s restrict marriage to heterosexual couples under pain of criminal sanction on divorce. Don’t you suppose that a legislator who voted for that (how many would?) would have a hard time getting re-elected? (2) Only heterosexual couples who are fertile can get married. See above, and the response to number 1. (3) Only heterosexual couples who have gone through “marital counseling” can get married. Something tells me that this might place an unconstitutional burden upon a fundamental right, but even if it doesn’t, it still doesn’t explain why same-sex couples who go through “marital counseling” shouldn’t be able to get married. (4) There should be a mandatory “waiting period” between the time a couple applies for a marriage license and the time they can get married. Good luck with that one. It’s hard enough keeping laws on the books that mandate a waiting period to buy a handgun; I suspect that the number of people who want to get married at any point is at least as great as the number of people who want to buy a gun.

    These are a few, quick arguments in response to those in your comment. The bottom line is that arguments against same-sex marriage, like all arguments, can be categorized and easily rebutted. Sadly, none of this changes the fact that the socons have the stage right now, so even with good arguments, you face an uphill battle. Good luck to you and your partner when you are ready to adopt.

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