Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Or, why conservatives should learn to stop worrying and love gay marriage. Dale Carpenter has a brilliant column about the many ways in which opposition to gay marriage actually undermines marriage in ways that the social conservatives think gay marriage itself does. He begins:

Conservative opposition to gay marriage is having unconservative effects, helping to push the boundaries of family law into new territory that challenges the primacy of marriage itself. By opposing gay marriage, conservatives are forcing gay families to seek refuge through untraditional means that could undermine marriage or destabilize family concepts in ways that gay marriage itself would not.

He offers several examples of how this is happening. For instance, second-parent adoptions:

When married couples adopt, both become the legal parents of the child. Traditionally, however, only one member of an unmarried couple could adopt a child. Among other things, this rule has encouraged the couple to get married because it would provide the child with two parents.

Gay couples, who can’t marry, must find other ways to protect their children. Starting in the early 1980s, the National Center for Lesbian Rights pioneered the concept of “second-parent” adoptions by which two unmarried people could both be a child’s legal parents. Over time, the concept has been embraced by courts or by statute in about half the states.

Here’s the kicker. Second-parent adoptions have also become available to unmarried heterosexual couples. Thus, a legal reform intended to compensate for the unavailability of same-sex marriage has been seized by those who can marry but choose not to. It reduces the incentive to marry and means more children will be raised out-of-wedlock.

Another example – parental visitation by non-custodial parents:

In Minnesota, the state supreme court recently upheld an order allowing a woman parent-like visitation with the two adopted children she raised with her lesbian partner of 22 years. Because the women weren’t married, only one of them formally adopted the kids. When they split, the legal parent barred her ex from seeing them. If they’d been married, both parents would have been entitled to see the children.

The non-parent sued to get some access to the children based on a Minnesota statute allowing a person “reasonable” visitation if the person lived with the children at least two years. The court ordered that the non-parent be given the right to visit the children on a schedule exactly like what a divorced parent would get (weekends, alternate holidays, long summer vacations) — all without having to pay child support.

The Minnesota decision was correct under state law and was perfectly justified given that the lesbian couple could not marry and that both women raised the children. But it does set a precedent by which an unmarried heterosexual partner could likewise claim full parental visitation rights without accompanying support obligations. Another incentive to marry is eroded.

The same is true of a whole range of legal options for achieving the legal and financial protections automatically given to married couples. Ironically, we hear constantly from those who oppose gay marriage that it’s not necessary to allow gays to get married because there are other ways they can get the same protections through the use of private contracts, power of attorney filings and so forth. Do they not realize that this actually undermines their case? If you can achieve the same protections without getting married – and straight couples can do the same thing – then you are reducing the incentive to get married, something conservatives are always saying is necessary to get people to get married. All of this points out the disingenuousness of such arguments; the real reason they oppose gay marriage really has nothing to do with wanting to “preserve marriage” and everything to do with their bigotry toward gays.

Comments

  1. #1 Royale
    May 30, 2007

    I found myself thinking the same thing in my own private life, that perhaps my g/f and I should just get a civil union. If over non-traditional options are out there, then I’d be happy to explore them.

    Granted, I think she wants a wedding ;)

  2. #2 Royale
    May 30, 2007

    I found myself thinking the same thing in my own private life, that perhaps my g/f and I should just get a civil union. If other non-traditional options are out there, then I’d be happy to explore them.

    Granted, I think she wants a wedding ;)

  3. #3 MartinM
    May 30, 2007

    There’s another side to that. As well as removing the traditional advantages of marriage, the mere fact that traditional marriage remains a discriminatory institution becomes a disincentive for some. My partner and I could marry, but we choose not to until our gay friends’ right to do so is recognized.

  4. #4 John Wilkins
    May 30, 2007

    I think we should celebrate gay marriage because it is a bond between two adult human beings who have declared public commitment to each other. Their sex, gender, or determination to have sex or not is entirely beside the point.

  5. #5 Alex
    May 30, 2007

    Some conservatives do wake up to this rationale. A couple of years ago, Canada was in a position where same-sex marriage was still illegal, but because the courts had required that same-sex couples receive some sort of benefits/responsibilities, the government had beefed up common-law marriage, made it kick in after only 12 months of cohabitation, and extended it to same-sex couples. As it happened, an awful lot of opposite-sex couples (especially childless ones) decided that this new, robust common-law scheme was more than sufficient for their needs, and opposite-sex marriage rates declined.

    During the subsequent discussion over full marriage rights for same-sex couples, a fair number of conservative pundits argued that the proper thing to do to encourage marriage was to legalize same-sex marriage while simultaneously repealing or drastically scaling back the common-law arrangement.

    Personally, I’m enough of a social liberal that I like the idea of multiple types of arrangements that you can choose between (and, in fact, we have remained in a common-law marriage even though we have the ability to get a full marriage); but I can certainly see the logic that if (a) you object to “marriage-lite” arrangements and (b) the courts are never going to see a same-sex couple – particularly a couple raising kids – as legal strangers, then the only way to avoid “marriage-lite” either by statute or ad-hoc court decision is to open up full marriage to same-sex couples.

  6. #6 Rob Knop
    May 30, 2007

    I’ve thought for years and years (decades?) that conservatives in favor of marriage and social stability should be recognizing committed, monogamous homosexuals as their natural allies.

    Alas, in recent years, conservatives (at least the loudest ones) don’t really seem to be interested in that. “Defend marriage” is merely the tactic used for the real value, which is hatred of homosexuality. I realize that this was always there, but in recent years it’s completely taken over at least the Republican party, and to some extent the popular definition of “conservative” generally.

    -Rob

  7. #7 TWood
    May 30, 2007

    I think all the arguments against gay marriage are mostly vapor. People can be very controlling and try to make others conform. Probably some old survival instinct stuff operating under the ‘group homogenity is safer’ model, which has its own irony.

  8. #8 Mike
    May 30, 2007

    My gf are planning to get married, and we will only do it in states that allow same sex marriage (really cuts down on the choices).

  9. #9 Djinna
    May 30, 2007

    Royale, you do know that there is often a ceremony inolved even with civil unions, right? Hell, there’s lots of gay weddings even in states that don’t have the civil union option, why should a straight couple not be able to do the same thing? (Excepting those states with strong common law marriage stuff still on the books, like the one where I currently live, so the b/f and I couldn’t do that here, but I think in our mutual home state we could.) Wouldn’t want to deny the family an opportunity for another big party. From what I understand, in many European countries, the legal part is pretty much civil unions for everyone, but if you go to a church and do their bit, that’s the “marriage” thing. Lots of people even here separate the wedding part from the legally married part. One of the other bridesmaids at our brother’s wedding had gotten legally married a couple months before her wedding, as her fiance was supposed to deploy earlier than he actually did. I’ve known plenty of other people who got legally married long before the big ceremony. So, why couldn’t you separate the civil union from the wedding ceremony/party, too? Aside from the fact that it’s hard to get a civil union as a mixed-gender couple, that is.

    (I’m Royale’s older sister, if some of the words (our, not my brother) confused anyone there.)

  10. #10 Elf Eye
    May 30, 2007

    Government should get out of the ‘marriage’ business altogether. Let government register civil unions between adults, regardless of gender. Folks who want a ‘marriage’ can do so within the confines of their faith or ism.

  11. #11 Eamon Knight
    May 30, 2007

    Just once, I’d like to hear a coherent explanation from the anti-gay marrriage side, of exactly how allowing same-sex marriage “cheapens” (yes, I heard someone say that) or threatens traditional man/woman marriage. Not just Bible quotes, or predictions of divine wrath, or vague references to “well, it’s always been that way”, or “the traditional family is the foundation of society”. I want actual cause and effect arguments. Anyone got a URL to anything that at least attempts to be rational?

  12. #12 aaron jason silver
    May 30, 2007

    Is marriage a religious institution?

    I feel at times I am the only gay person that is not satisfied by the term “civil union”. To me it feels like a consolation prize given as a means of pacifying gays. Throw them a few crumbs as their used to and they’ll shut up. Truthfully, I hope that we gay men and woman will not stop at gay unions and go after what we truly deserve, that being gay marriage. I am saddened but not surprised that many gays are willing to accept second class citizenship after all it is what we are accustomed to. Our entire gay civil rights movement that is being courageously fought by a very few, has been about equal rights, not just some rights. This of course means marriage as well.
    We should not be satisfied by civil unions. Unions are not equal. It’s unfortunate that this issue has become so politicized as did the civil rights movement back in the 60′s. Even the politicians that are privately in favor of gay marriage are afraid to speak openly about it with the exception of a few impassioned politicians that have a strong sense of integrity and a clear view of what is right and wrong.

    We cannot look to the bible for any answers regarding equal rights. Those laws were written at a different time and for an ancient culture. It may surprise many to know that gay marriages were widely accepted by the Romans and the Greeks. We also must understand that many of the ancients were a very superstitious people that made many of their laws in regards to those superstitions. We therefore cannot be influenced by scripture. The many books within the bible vastly contradict themselves on issues to numerous to mention here. Which ones should we believe? Many religious institutions have the belief that sexual relations is solely for the purpose of procreation. This is an affront to childless marriages. Are they any less valid? Should they therefore not have sexual relations knowing full well that there will not be any children produced? I wonder why God would make sexuality so very pleasurable if it were only for the purpose of procreation. It wouldn’t need to be enjoyable. The mechanics of sexuality would be all that is necessary to create offspring. Beside don’t we live in a country that has a law about separation between church and state?

    Somebody please help me understand why marriage by many is considered a religious institution. For the sake of discussion I would like someone to tell me why atheists are then eligible for marriage? It seems to me that heterosexual marriages are afforded just about any opportunity and environment they choose to take their vows. Even those damned heathens.

    Straight men and woman can choose a church marriage; they can get married underwater, on a mountaintop, by a justice of the peace or even by a ship captain. However, the most romantic and holy place I can imagine to pledge ones vows of love and fidelity, is driving through a drive-in chapel in Las Vegas, as one would order a happy meal. Don’t get me wrong, I do love happy meals. The best part is no one even has to bother to get out of the car. How can one compete with that kind of service? I’ve heard that they even change your oil while waiting but that may be just hearsay.

    Has it dawned on anyone that the constitution of the United States says very clearly that all people shall be treated as equal? There are no clauses added to that, such as, except for gays. What was stated in that document still rings very clearly yet today and likely for many years to come. We don’t have to look too awfully far back into our history to find examples of how we ignored the constitution for selfish heterosexual Anglo-Saxon citizens so we could still own people. It wasn’t until the early part of the nineteenth century before woman were allowed to vote. Not so long before that, slavery was legal. It wasn’t until nearly fifty years ago that African Americans weren’t allowed to marry whites. If we are to learn anything from our nation’s history, we should then know that whenever we veer off from what that beautifully crafted document for whatever convenient reason, it is eventually overturned and changed for reasons of being fairer. I have still yet to hear a valid reason how gay marriage could negatively impact modern society. I’ve heard that if gays were allowed to marry it would have the potential of destroying traditional marriage. We only have to look at the statistics of the success of “traditional marriages to discover that more than half end up in divorce. Gays did not cause that. Fidelity within marriage has a terrible track record as well. Therefore I would truly like to hear some reasonable argument posed that would make sense why gay marriage ought not be allowed. Thank you, Aaron Jason Silver http://www.aaronjasonsilver.com; Fennville, Mi 49408 for more information on issues within gay culture please read; “why gay men do what they do”, an inside look at gay culture.

  13. #13 aaron jason silver
    May 30, 2007

    Is marriage a religious institution?

    I feel at times I am the only gay person that is not satisfied by the term “civil union”. To me it feels like a consolation prize given as a means of pacifying gays. Throw them a few crumbs as their used to and they’ll shut up. Truthfully, I hope that we gay men and woman will not stop at gay unions and go after what we truly deserve, that being gay marriage. I am saddened but not surprised that many gays are willing to accept second class citizenship after all it is what we are accustomed to. Our entire gay civil rights movement that is being courageously fought by a very few, has been about equal rights, not just some rights. This of course means marriage as well.
    We should not be satisfied by civil unions. Unions are not equal. It’s unfortunate that this issue has become so politicized as did the civil rights movement back in the 60′s. Even the politicians that are privately in favor of gay marriage are afraid to speak openly about it with the exception of a few impassioned politicians that have a strong sense of integrity and a clear view of what is right and wrong.

    We cannot look to the bible for any answers regarding equal rights. Those laws were written at a different time and for an ancient culture. It may surprise many to know that gay marriages were widely accepted by the Romans and the Greeks. We also must understand that many of the ancients were a very superstitious people that made many of their laws in regards to those superstitions. We therefore cannot be influenced by scripture. The many books within the bible vastly contradict themselves on issues to numerous to mention here. Which ones should we believe? Many religious institutions have the belief that sexual relations is solely for the purpose of procreation. This is an affront to childless marriages. Are they any less valid? Should they therefore not have sexual relations knowing full well that there will not be any children produced? I wonder why God would make sexuality so very pleasurable if it were only for the purpose of procreation. It wouldn’t need to be enjoyable. The mechanics of sexuality would be all that is necessary to create offspring. Beside don’t we live in a country that has a law about separation between church and state?

    Somebody please help me understand why marriage by many is considered a religious institution. For the sake of discussion I would like someone to tell me why atheists are then eligible for marriage? It seems to me that heterosexual marriages are afforded just about any opportunity and environment they choose to take their vows. Even those damned heathens.

    Straight men and woman can choose a church marriage; they can get married underwater, on a mountaintop, by a justice of the peace or even by a ship captain. However, the most romantic and holy place I can imagine to pledge ones vows of love and fidelity, is driving through a drive-in chapel in Las Vegas, as one would order a happy meal. Don’t get me wrong, I do love happy meals. The best part is no one even has to bother to get out of the car. How can one compete with that kind of service? I’ve heard that they even change your oil while waiting but that may be just hearsay.

    Has it dawned on anyone that the constitution of the United States says very clearly that all people shall be treated as equal? There are no clauses added to that, such as, except for gays. What was stated in that document still rings very clearly yet today and likely for many years to come. We don’t have to look too awfully far back into our history to find examples of how we ignored the constitution for selfish heterosexual Anglo-Saxon citizens so we could still own people. It wasn’t until the early part of the nineteenth century before woman were allowed to vote. Not so long before that, slavery was legal. It wasn’t until nearly fifty years ago that African Americans weren’t allowed to marry whites. If we are to learn anything from our nation’s history, we should then know that whenever we veer off from what that beautifully crafted document for whatever convenient reason, it is eventually overturned and changed for reasons of being fairer. I have still yet to hear a valid reason how gay marriage could negatively impact modern society. I’ve heard that if gays were allowed to marry it would have the potential of destroying traditional marriage. We only have to look at the statistics of the success of “traditional marriages to discover that more than half end up in divorce. Gays did not cause that. Fidelity within marriage has a terrible track record as well. Therefore I would truly like to hear some reasonable argument posed that would make sense why gay marriage ought not be allowed. Thank you, Aaron Jason Silver http://www.aaronjasonsilver.com; Fennville, Mi 49408 for more information on issues within gay culture please read; “why gay men do what they do”, an inside look at gay culture.

  14. #14 aaron jason silver
    May 30, 2007

    Is marriage a religious institution?

    I feel at times I am the only gay person that is not satisfied by the term “civil union”. To me it feels like a consolation prize given as a means of pacifying gays. Throw them a few crumbs as their used to and they’ll shut up. Truthfully, I hope that we gay men and woman will not stop at gay unions and go after what we truly deserve, that being gay marriage. I am saddened but not surprised that many gays are willing to accept second class citizenship after all it is what we are accustomed to. Our entire gay civil rights movement that is being courageously fought by a very few, has been about equal rights, not just some rights. This of course means marriage as well.
    We should not be satisfied by civil unions. Unions are not equal. It’s unfortunate that this issue has become so politicized as did the civil rights movement back in the 60′s. Even the politicians that are privately in favor of gay marriage are afraid to speak openly about it with the exception of a few impassioned politicians that have a strong sense of integrity and a clear view of what is right and wrong.

    We cannot look to the bible for any answers regarding equal rights. Those laws were written at a different time and for an ancient culture. It may surprise many to know that gay marriages were widely accepted by the Romans and the Greeks. We also must understand that many of the ancients were a very superstitious people that made many of their laws in regards to those superstitions. We therefore cannot be influenced by scripture. The many books within the bible vastly contradict themselves on issues to numerous to mention here. Which ones should we believe? Many religious institutions have the belief that sexual relations is solely for the purpose of procreation. This is an affront to childless marriages. Are they any less valid? Should they therefore not have sexual relations knowing full well that there will not be any children produced? I wonder why God would make sexuality so very pleasurable if it were only for the purpose of procreation. It wouldn’t need to be enjoyable. The mechanics of sexuality would be all that is necessary to create offspring. Beside don’t we live in a country that has a law about separation between church and state?

    Somebody please help me understand why marriage by many is considered a religious institution. For the sake of discussion I would like someone to tell me why atheists are then eligible for marriage? It seems to me that heterosexual marriages are afforded just about any opportunity and environment they choose to take their vows. Even those damned heathens.

    Straight men and woman can choose a church marriage; they can get married underwater, on a mountaintop, by a justice of the peace or even by a ship captain. However, the most romantic and holy place I can imagine to pledge ones vows of love and fidelity, is driving through a drive-in chapel in Las Vegas, as one would order a happy meal. Don’t get me wrong, I do love happy meals. The best part is no one even has to bother to get out of the car. How can one compete with that kind of service? I’ve heard that they even change your oil while waiting but that may be just hearsay.

    Has it dawned on anyone that the constitution of the United States says very clearly that all people shall be treated as equal? There are no clauses added to that, such as, except for gays. What was stated in that document still rings very clearly yet today and likely for many years to come. We don’t have to look too awfully far back into our history to find examples of how we ignored the constitution for selfish heterosexual Anglo-Saxon citizens so we could still own people. It wasn’t until the early part of the nineteenth century before woman were allowed to vote. Not so long before that, slavery was legal. It wasn’t until nearly fifty years ago that African Americans weren’t allowed to marry whites. If we are to learn anything from our nation’s history, we should then know that whenever we veer off from what that beautifully crafted document for whatever convenient reason, it is eventually overturned and changed for reasons of being fairer. I have still yet to hear a valid reason how gay marriage could negatively impact modern society. I’ve heard that if gays were allowed to marry it would have the potential of destroying traditional marriage. We only have to look at the statistics of the success of “traditional marriages to discover that more than half end up in divorce. Gays did not cause that. Fidelity within marriage has a terrible track record as well. Therefore I would truly like to hear some reasonable argument posed that would make sense why gay marriage ought not be allowed. Thank you, Aaron Jason Silver http://www.aaronjasonsilver.com; Fennville, Mi 49408 for more information on issues within gay culture please read; “why gay men do what they do”, an inside look at gay culture.

  15. #15 Royale
    May 30, 2007

    Aaron,

    Well said. Sadly, I can’t answer your questions. Rather, I ask them myself.

  16. #16 Randi Schimnosky
    May 30, 2007

    I’m constantly annoyed by suggestions such as those made by Elf Eye, that the term marriage should be left to the churchs and civil unions granted for everyone. The religious term for marriage is matrimony. Marriage is a secular term, the religious don’t own it in any way shape or form.

  17. #17 Pseudonym
    May 30, 2007

    This is a brilliant article, but it’s at best only going to rally the troops. It’s not going to win over anyone, because it ignores framing. (There’s that word again!)

    The “erosion of marriage” that conservative pundits talk about is not what you think it is. It’s an erosion of what Lakoff refers to as the “strict father frame”.

    In the strict father frame, the father is the leader (or should I say the “decider”?) who hands out rulings on right and wrong, and punishment to those who transgress.

    In this frame, two women cannot (by definition) have a “strict father” in their family family. Nor can two gay men, because we all know they’re effeminate.

    The right way to fight the frame is not to accept the frame. Do not talk about “erosion of marriage” at all, because it’s the language of the other side.

    It’s like Nixon saying “I am not a crook”; from that moment on, when you think “Nixon”, you think “crook”. After reading this article, a conservative will keep thinking “gay marriage” and “erosion” in the same thought, because the article.

    The right way is to invoke a different frame. In the case of same-sex marriage, the argument is easy: Why do you want the government to be able to tell you who you can and can’t marry?

    Remember, it wasn’t so long ago in the US when there was a serious social taboo against “inter-racial” marriage. We rightly think that was wrong; the government has no business getting involved in what races people are when they marry. Once you accept that, then accepting same-sex marriage is only a small step away.

  18. #18 doctorgoo
    May 30, 2007

    I guess I don’t understand or appreciate Aaron’s point of view as much as others here.

    The message that I got from Elf Eye’s comment was that the term ‘marriage’ is (or should be) just a matter of semantics. When, in the near future, civil unions become equivalent to marriages… what will it really matter if it’s officially called civil unions instead of marriages?

    Who really cares if religious bigots want to keep the phrase “marriage” to themselves. As long as civil unions are equivalent to marriages, it won’t make a difference at all in the long run.

    Therefore, in my mind, fighting for the right of homosexuals to have civil unions is 100% equivalent to fighting for gay marriage.

    I mean, let’s face it… when civil unions become the rule of law, nobody is going to call themselves civilly unionized, people will still call themselves married anyway… lol

    Now I’m sorry if I stepped on anybody’s toes here… no offense was intended. I think what Aaron wrote was very heartfelt and eloquent, I’m just not too sure I see what the big deal is.

    Let’s fight for equality, not over semantics.

  19. #19 Eamon Knight
    May 30, 2007

    Re: “marriage” vs. “civil union”
    I don’t know much about this either, but I think an argument can be made that, if you establish a nominally parallel institution, the details of that institution will be vulnerable to diddling (ie. weakening) by ideological politicians to the point where such partnerships become legally inferior to regular marriage; or courts might rule differently on cases, depending on which type of partnership it was. OTOH, we have a long-established body of law and jurisprudence governing marriage — rather than re-invent the wheel (and possibly have the new version turn out square), why not just subsume same-sex partnerships under the existing framework?

  20. #20 doctorgoo
    May 30, 2007

    Eamon, I was refering to what Elf Eye said:

    Government should get out of the ‘marriage’ business altogether. Let government register civil unions between adults, regardless of gender. Folks who want a ‘marriage’ can do so within the confines of their faith or ism.

    So if, from the government’s perspective, there are only civil unions that everybody has (homosexual AND heterosexual), then worries about ‘separate but equal’ not really being equal are unfounded.

    In this respect, Elf Eye pointed out what I consider to be a reasonably eventual outcome… where legally, every couple has the same rights, but religous people can still choose to keep their bigotry (which, even though I strongly disagree with them, it is their right to believe the way they do… and stopping them would require chipping away everybody’s rights… something that I’m more strongly against).

  21. #21 TWood
    May 30, 2007

    In the US, in this modern age, the religious part of the ceremony has absolutely no standing under the law. None. The marriage certificate issued by the governing authority is what ‘marries’ anyone together. Most religious figures won’t even perform the ceremony without the government certificate in hand. They may have to affirm that the couple voiced the required oath, but a secular authority can do that part too. It’s that certificate and all the benefits that come with it that are under contention.

  22. #22 Eamon Knight
    June 1, 2007

    doctorgoo wrote: So if, from the government’s perspective, there are only civil unions that everybody has (homosexual AND heterosexual), then worries about ‘separate but equal’ not really being equal are unfounded.

    Under some proposals that I’ve heard (in Canada), same-sex couples would have “civil unions”, while opposite-sex couples would still have “marriage”. I’m not sure what difference the name makes, except possibly to placate the type of conservative who gets bent out of shape about words rather than substance. However, given that they are legally distinct (the term “apartheid” rears its ugly head) raises the concerns I outline above. Therefore (and I think you agree), I would prefer to see the same legal umbrella (under whatever name) applied to all unions, irrespective of sex.

    Obviously churches (synagogues/mosques/temples….) will still be able to hold whatever passage rites they wish, including refusing to grant such rites to whomever they choose (it is already the case that some churches won’t marry couples who are not members in good standing, which is their right under the rubric of freedom of religion). The only remaing question is whether the church should still have the power to administer the legal aspect, ie. issuing the marriage certificate (as well as minor matters like “publishing of the banns”). I have no strong opinion either way — having the church handle it means one less thing for the couple to worry about during a week which is frequently pretty busy, while couples who (for whatever reason) aren’t having a religious ceremony can still get the paperwork done at City Hall.

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