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The Good Society 14.1-2 (2005) 1-6

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The Case Against Gay Marriage

While opinion polls have consistently shown most Americans in favor of maintaining current marriage laws, two-thirds of high school seniors and a majority of those in their twenties favor gay marriage. The reason for this divergence is clear. There has been less public argument against gay marriage than in favor of it. While older people nonetheless tend to retain an older view of marriage, many young people have concluded that opposition to change merely reflects prejudice or squeamishness. Moreover, the case for gay marriage largely boils down to the simple claim that everybody should be treated the same way. This is always a powerful claim in a democracy, especially among the young. Clearly it's just a matter of time before gay marriage becomes the law of the land, unless supporters of traditional marriage begin to make their case — and make it well.

Before we rush to radically change an institution as old as our oldest records, or to passively allow such changes to be made for us by lawyers and judges, surely we have an obligation to ourselves and to future generations to seek out and carefully consider all the reasons for marriage as we have received it, under whose success or failure we have been raised, as have our parents and their parents and so on back in time. We have a lot to answer for if we get this wrong; whatever happens, with so much at stake, we want to be able to say that we were not frivolous and that we tried our best to do the right thing.

The most effective advocates of gay marriage have been a small number of self-styled gay conservatives, most prominently Andrew Sullivan, former editor of The New Republic and author of Virtually Normal and other books. While many gay authors treat marriage (and other institutions) with derision, and therefore appeal only to a small audience, Sullivan is in some ways genuinely moderate or conservative, which enables him to speak effectively to a large number of readers. Nonetheless, his argument for gay marriage is neither conservative nor sound.

Sullivan demands "public equality" for homosexuals. He doesn't seek to outlaw private disapproval or even discrimination; he simply wants homosexuals to receive what he considers equal treatment by the state, including the right to (civil) marriage. He views marriage as a "social and public recognition of private commitment," and as a contract which constitutes "an emotional, financial, and psychological bond between two people." In these matters "heterosexuals and homosexuals are identical," so there is no reason to prevent people of the same sex from marrying.1

Sullivan's case boils down to a demand for equal rights — a liberal argument, which obviously doesn't in itself mean an inadequate one. Jonathan Rauch, another gay writer on the subject, makes a more conservative case. He argues that if marriage is good both for individuals and for society, as most people think it is, then there is no good reason to prevent gays from marrying. [End Page 1][Begin Page 4]

The problem is that Rauch and Sullivan both fail to grasp what marriage means in most people's lives. They are not alone. Marriage is so much a part of our world that we have trouble imagining how things would look without it. Sullivan concedes that some people think marriage "is by definition between a man and a woman," and rightly adds that "it is difficult to argue with a definition."2 However, he doesn't seriously consider what stands behind this definition, or why people are so attached to it.

For the record, I myself am a gay man, and have been attracted to men for as long as I can remember. Nonetheless, it seems to me undeniable that the potential for reproduction constitutes something unique about the union of one man and one woman. Science may eventually change that; but sexual reproduction is sure to remain the easiest and manifestly most...


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