In many years of asking, I have never gotten a satisfactory answer to this question: Can you give me *one* good reason that is *not* based in the dogma of some religion or another why one loving committed couple should be allowed the legal rights of marriage and another shouldn't, based solely on the relative genders of the people involved?
Here are some of the "nice try" answers:
- "Marriage is for the procreation and rearing of children."
- By this reasoning, only fertile couples should be allowed to legally wed. Infertile men and women, and couples who've chosen not to have children, shouldn't be allowed to marry. Ask any childless married couple what they think of this idea.
- "Homosexuality is unnatural."
- Nope. "The Love That Dare Not Squeak It's Name in the NY Times, for example. Short version: "Indeed, scientists have found homosexual behavior throughout the animal world." Drop "gay animals" into your favorite search engine for more examples.
- "It's a threat to marriage."
- Whose? Not mine, nor those of any married couples of my acquaintance I know of. To borrow a phrase from Tom Jefferson (though he was talking about government regulation of religion), "It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." If you want to remove threats to marriage, start with the tax penalty. If you feel like your marriage is threatened, then you have other problems. If you can provide some concrete examples of how letting another couple get married is a big enough threat to require legislation, then maybe we can debate further. This excuse is just too vague.
- "Marriage is a sacred covenant with God."
- Maybe yours is, and more power to you. Mine is a commitment to my partner. We could have just made our vows with each other (and kept the tax advantages of our unmarried status), but we wanted the legal protections of being able to be on each other's insurance, visit each other in the hospital, etc. etc. etc. By this argument, atheists, agnostics, and others who don't belive in the "right" God shouldn't be allowed to have the legal rights of the marriage contract, either. But that would be unconstitutional, wouldn't it? But the question was for reasons that were *not* based in religious belief, so this isn't even a "nice try."
- "It violates the sanctity of marriage."
- Reasons "*not* based in religious belief," remember? But OK, first let's settle "sanctity." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines it as "something considered sacred." Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary says "the state or quality of being sacred or holy; holiness; saintliness; moral purity; godliness," and "sacredness; solemnity; inviolability; religious binding force; as, the sanctity of an oath." Sounds religious to me.
- The *legal* state of marriage is a *civil* contract, like you might make with a tradesperson or business partner. The *religious* contract, if the couple chooses to make one, is a separate issue. Any church would still be able to refuse to marry anyone they who doesn't fit their requirements, as they do now. Many gay couples are already getting the religious sacrament from understanding clergy-I've been to such a ceremony myself, in the late 70's. These couples just want the same legal options we straight folks have.
- And this doesn't even get into how perfectly legal, heterosexual, celebrity weekend marriage/annulment flings affect this "sanctity."
- "It encourages children to experiment with homosexuality."
- Based on what? If anything, youths tend to be attracted to that which will shock and annoy their elders. Language, smoking, clothing, hair styles-need I go on? Once something is no big deal anymore, they find no further point.
- Besides, the only reason children experimenting with something is bad is if the thing is bad. And whether or not homosexuality is "bad" is, again, based in religious belief. Just because something is "bad" doesn't mean we need laws, let along Constitutional amendments, against it. Sitting in front of the TV all day eating junk food is "bad." Lots of music and other art is "bad" (subject to personal opinion, of course). Sometimes the weather is "bad." Yet we don't have laws against many bad things, *unless* they harm others (playing music loud enough to bother your neighbors is "disturbing the peace," whether it's the worst rap or the best classic rock). Letting the loving couple down the block have marital rights causes no direct harm to anyone. *Denying* a couple those rights, on the other hand, has the potential to cause them all sorts of harm.
- "It creates grounds for further attacks on the freedoms of speech, religion and association."
- I can't even begin to describe how back-arsed and Orwellian this argument is. Laws restricting which consenting loving adult couples can marry promote freedom? The only "freedom" I see threatened here is the freedom to enforce one's bigoted ideas on others.
- "It's a slippery slope that will lead to the legalization of (fill in the blank with some horrendous thing)."
- Most of these arguments are specious. Enabling two consenting adults to enter into a legal relationship isn't going to lead to the legalization of relationships that are non-consenting, or with non-adults (like the oft-mentioned dogs). You could, in fact, argue the other way: restricting the rights of gay people to marry could lead to marriage restrictions based on fertility, religion, race, economic or educational status, or some other difference that can cause "failed" marriages.
It comes down to this: The legal contract we call marriage is a separate (though related) relationship from the religious sacrament. People get legally married without the blessing of a clergyperson all the time. Any law that says "You two lovers can enter into that legal status, but *you* two can't because it offends some people's religious sensibilities" is just plain wrong.
Few reasonable people still believe that rights to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" should be restricted by race or gender as they once were. Interracial marriages were once illegal in many states, too. Then the Supreme Court ruled (Loving v. Virginia, 1967): "Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State." The substitution of "either gender" for "another race" is not an unreasonable one. Eventually, the restriction of rights based only on sexual orientation will relegated to the same place as legal restrictions based on race or gender or religious belief: historical oddities.
(Previously published in Democracy Means You