A week ago I asked for the best arguments against same-sex marriage. No takers so far, so I thought I’d go to straight to the donkey’s mouth: the National Organization for Marriage recently started sponsoring political advertising, outreach, and action all aimed at “defending marriage.” I had hoped that in visiting their site that I would uncover some substantial arguments about why gay marriage should stay, or now become, outlawed. Instead, on their Marriage Talking Points page I found… a bunch of fish… in a barrel.
Answering the Toughest Questions
Oh, goodie, because I’ve got some tough questions.
Strong majorities of Americans oppose gay marriage.
And we’re off, with argumentum ad populum (I can hear them now! “He’s usin’ ferrin’ language on us— must be a godless ferriner!”) But get this: even if you’re right about having a majority of bigots in some places, you’re on the wrong side of history— just like slavers and racial seperatists, who were once in the majority, and who as a matter of fact used the Bible to back up their position.
Supporters of SSM therefore seek to change the subject to just about anything: discrimination, benefits, homosexuality, gay rights, federalism, our sacred constitution.
These are indeed elements from the substance of the argument for same-sex marriage, that you attempt to dismiss in one sentence by citing it like a laundry list. Unfortunately for you, human rights issues do not get swept under the rug so easily.
Our goal is simple: Shift the conversation rapidly back to marriage. Don’t get sidetracked. Marriage is the issue. Marriage is what we care about. Marriage really matters. It’s just common sense.
Where have I heard an argument like this before? Oh right: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” Right, one wouldn’t want the conversation to get too focused on icky things like discrimination and our Constitution.
I. THE MOST EFFECTIVE SINGLE SENTENCE:
Extensive and repeated polling agrees that the single most effective message is:
“Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose,
they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us.”
This allows people to express support for tolerance while opposing gay marriage. Some modify it to “People have a right to live as they choose, they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us.”
So here we have… not the most truthful, meaningful, or fact-based sentence, but the most effective. Effective at what? Instilling fear. Fear that what someone else does in the name of love will somehow “redefine” your marriage. As if that were even possible.
Language to avoid at all costs: “Ban same-sex marriage.” Our base loves this wording. So do supporters of SSM. They know it causes us to lose about ten percentage points in polls. Don’t use it. Say we’re against “redefining marriage” or in favor or “marriage as the union of husband and wife” NEVER “banning same-sex marriage.”
OK, so you are for banning gay marriage, but you openly acknowledge that it’s not in your interests to say so. You attempt to distance yourselves from your “base,” but in fact, you represent your base: you know, the ones who want something banned.
II. MAIN MESSAGE THE 3X5 CARD.
So here are the big talking points.
• Marriage is between a husband and wife. The people of [this state] do not want marriage to be anything but that. We do not want government or judges changing that definition for us today or our children tomorrow.
This is the fait accompli argument: As the song goes, “That’s just the way it is, Some things will never change, That’s just the way it is…”
But boy, don’t you believe it.
The government is our elected representatives. The judges are the defenders of our state and federal constitutions— you know, those old rags containing words like “equality” and “justice.” I’m sorry, but these principles easily trump “that’s just the way it is.”
• We need a marriage amendment to settle the gay marriage issue once and for all, so we don’t have it in our face every day for the next ten years.
Yeah, we civil rights activists are really “in your face” aren’t we? We’re pesky bastards that way. You think all you need is a Constitutional amendment and we all go away, right? Wishful thinking. Only one amendment ever got repealed: the 18th, “Prohibition.” Yep, the only amendment to ever get repealed was the one that took away the rights of citizens. And now you want to follow the same path to get us out of your faces? Heh.
• Marriage is about bringing together men and women so children can have mothers and fathers.
As I previously wrote, “marriage can be about many things that may (or may not) include love, companionship, division of responsibilities, legal benefits, and yes, even children.” Your religion may tell you why you can or can’t get married, but it can’t tell anyone else why they can or can’t get married. That is freedom of religion.
• Do we want to teach the next generation that one-half of humanity—either mothers or fathers—are dispensable, unimportant? Children are confused enough right now with sexual messages. Let’s not confuse them further.
You fail to state any reasonable connection between your cause (legal gay marriage) and your expected effect (children learning that mothers or fathers are dispensable.) Many single-parent families already raise healthy kids. Many divorced couples already raise healthy kids. Many extended families already raise healthy kids. Many same-sex couples already raise healthy kids. And: many abusive husbands and wives raise abused kids. You are essentially saying that some family structures are inherently more harmful than others, without taking into account the myriad other (and often much more important) factors that enter into how kids are raised. And even if you want to argue that single mother and father parenting is “the best, all things being equal, “then I would just point out: all things are never equal.
You then quickly attempt to cover your shameful “argument” by throwing mud into the water and switching to talk about “kids confusion over sexual messages.” This issue is not about sexual messages, or even about what sort of family structure is best for children: it is about civil rights.
• Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose; they don’t have a right to redefine marriage for the rest of us.
There’s that “most-effective” sentence again. Not honest. Not fact-based. Just effective. Plus, you’re clearly stating here that it’s the gays and lesbians who are trying to do the redefining. You want to play this as “gays against the rest of us.” But I’m not homosexual— I’m a human rights advocate. And I’m not one of “the rest of us,” if that means you bigots.
III. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. Are you a bigot? “Why do you want to take away people’s rights?”
“Isn’t it wrong to write discrimination into the constitution?”
A: “Do you really believe people like me who believe mothers and fathers both matter to kids are like bigots and racists? I think that’s pretty offensive, don’t you? Particularly to the 60 percent of African-Americans who oppose same-sex marriage. Marriage as the union of husband and wife isn’t new; it’s not taking away anyone’s rights. It’s common sense.”
Rebuttal: I do say that people like you, who claim to focus on the welfare of children, but who in reality are relying on a few scriptures of your holy text— the one that your historical progenitors used to defend slavery, racism, and sexism— and who use the “think of the children” argument as a shameful and unsupportable rhetorical fig leaf, are in fact bigots. Slavery wasn’t “new” when it was abolished. Discrimination against women wasn’t “new” when suffrage was finally granted. How long something has been around is never an argument for keeping it around.
2. Isn’t the ban on gay marriage like bans on interracial marriage?
A: “Bans on interracial marriage were about keeping two races apart so that one race could oppress the other. Marriage is about bringing two sexes together, so that children get the love of their own mom and a dad, and women don’t get stuck with the enormous disadvantages of parenting alone.” “Having a parent of two different races is just not the same as being deprived of your mother—or your father.”
Rebuttal: Bans on same-sex marriage are just as much about oppression as slavery and segregation. The privileged majority are attempting to keep a historically disadvantaged minority from achieving true equality under the law.
Marriage is about many things, and you oversimplify by trying to make it about one thing. But still, we do not force unwed mothers to get married to avoid single parenthood— why do we keep same-sex couples apart? Can a child raised by a same-sex couple be any worse off than one raised by a single parent? Here are two people, who happen to be of the same gender, and who are raising a child— on average as caring and attentive as any other parents, and with just as good outcomes for the child.
And no, children do not catch “the gay” from their same-sex parents.
3. Why do we need a constitutional amendment? “Isn’t DOMA enough?”
A: “Lawsuits like the one that imposed gay marriage in Massachusetts now threaten marriage in at least 12 other states so far. We need a marriage amendment to settle the issue once and for all, so we don’t have this debate in our face every day. The people get to decide what marriage means. No-end run around the rules by activist judges or grandstanding San-Francisco-style politicians.”
Again with the “get out of our face” argument. And what exactly is a “San Francisco-style” politician— one who likes Rice-A-Roni?
4. What’s the harm from SSM? “How can Adam and Steve hurt your marriage?”
A: “Who gets harmed? The people of this state who lose our right to define marriage as the union of husband and wife, that’s who. That is just not right.”
Rebuttal: The people of “this state” once prevented mixed race marriage. Were they “harmed” when that was overturned? Is there now State-mandated miscegenation?
A: “If courts rule that same-sex marriage is a civil right, then, people like you and me who believe children need moms and dads will be treated like bigots and racists.”
Children need loving parents or guardians, period. If you want to be a loving mom or dad, then by all means go ahead. Why are you against other people from becoming loving moms or dads too? Whether they be single, parts of extended families, or homosexual: I’ll tell you why: you are bigots and you’re no better than racists.
“Religious groups like Catholic Charities or the Salvation Army may lose their tax exemptions, or be denied the use of parks and other public facilities, unless they endorse gay marriage.”
Religious groups should lose their tax exemptions when they cross the line from being advocates for their metaphysical viewpoints and turn into political action committees. No religion has to “endorse” gay marriage. No church can be forced to admit members, or perform religious rites on people they deem unqualified to receive them. But legal marriage is granted by the State, not by a church, and you are conflating the two in an attempt to promote your bigotry.
“Public schools will teach young children that two men being intimate are just the same as a husband and wife, even when it comes to raising kids.”
This isn’t about teaching children of adult intimacy. Children want reassurance that they are normal, good kids. In a classroom full of kids, there are bound to be many different family structures represented: kids of married hetero parents, kids of divorced parents, kids raised by aunts, uncles, or grandparents, orphans, adopted kids, and kids raised by same-sex parents. And let me get this straight… you want to tell them, a priori, without any knowledge of their individual circumstances, that any of them are less loved, or in a less-favorable position to make it through life merely due to their family structure?
“When the idea that children need moms and dads get legally stigmatized as bigotry, the job of parents and faith communities trying to transmit a marriage culture to their kids is going to get a lot harder.”
We’re not stigmatizing moms and dads: we’re stigmatizing bigotry. If you want to teach your kids your notions of God-ordained marriage, then go ahead: that’s your right. But public schoolrooms are not your private seminaries.
“One thing is for sure: The people of this state will lose our right to keep marriage as the union of a husband and wife. That’s not right.”
Slavery was never a “right.” Discrimination against women was never a “right.” History has shown us that. Your definition of marriage is something you apply to yourselves— you do not have the “right” to impose it on others.
5. Why do you want to interfere with love?
A: “Love is a great thing. But marriage isn’t just any kind of love; it’s the special love of husband and wife for each other and their children.”
Rebuttal: I would love my children whether I was married or not. I find insulting your insinuation that I would love them less were I unmarried: due to death, divorce, never having married, or any other reason.
6. What about benefits? Don’t gay couples and their kids need the benefits and protections of marriage?”
A: “If medical proxies aren’t working, let’s fix that problem. If people need health care, let’s get them health care. Don’t mess with marriage.”
When a couple signs a marriage certificate, a whole plethora of complex laws begins to govern their lives. You are proposing an identical, parallel set of laws governing civil unions. Separate but equal, anyone? How about separate drinking fountains, restrooms, and public service entrances for gay couples too?
A: “The issue isn’t benefits, it is marriage. Local folks can decide benefits. This is about the meaning of marriage, our most basic social institution for protecting children. “
As I have said above, the meaning of marriage close to your heart is a religious definition. The State does not mandate religion— the First Amendment prohibits that. You are trying to do an end-run around the First Amendment by establishing your religiously-based idealization of marriage, and your religiously-based discrimination against homosexuals, using the force of law.
7. Isn’t divorce the real threat to marriage?
A: “High rates of divorce are one more reason we should be strengthening marriage, not conducting radical social experiments on it.”
Rebuttal: Gays are not causing the high divorce rate: unhappy heterosexual couples, religious and non-religious, are causing the high divorce rate. Letting gays get married will neither help nor hurt the divorce rate.
8. Are you saying gays cannot be good parents?
A: “Two men might each be a good father, but neither can be a mom. The ideal for children is the love of their own mom and dad. No same-sex couple can provide that.”
Rebuttal: Whatever you count as “ideal” all other things being equal ( and recall, they are never equal) the fact is, many kids will never have moms. Many kids will never have dads. This is not necessarily a tragedy: many of those same kids who lack moms or dads will naturally have “mom” or “dad” people in their lives. The fact is: family life is often messy. But it’s also a fact that kids are resilient, and if they are loved by all the people around them, they will grow up healthy and happy, and that’s really all that matters.
9. What about older or infertile couples? If they marry why not same-sex couples?
A: “Every man and woman who marries is capable of giving any child they create (or adopt) a mother and a father. No same-sex couple can do this. It’s apples and oranges.”
Rebuttal: The State has an interest in protecting children. But unless and until there there are children, this interest does not apply— the State has no interest in protecting marriage for its own sake. The mere “capability” of a couple to be a “mother and father” does not trigger the right to marry— the request by two unmarried adults of legal age is what triggers that right. When you try to separate older and infertile couples (or couples who maybe are young and fertile but who choose not to have children) from other couples who differ only in having the same gender, you are merely showing the depth of your religiously-inspired ignorance and bigotry.
Like I said: fish in a barrel.