Gay marriage has recently become increasingly prominent. There have been many commentators, describing themselves as reasonable, who have talked and written about all the different points in opposition to gay marriage, and in doing so have lent these arguments undeserved credence and respectability. Homophobia is the last form of institutionalised discrimination. I believe in a world consisting of shades of gray, this is one of the few issues that are black and white. You may not agree with me, so here I will run through a, hopefully, comprehensive list of the common points put forward in defence of the so called “sanctity of marriage”, expose that none of them stand up to inquiry or rational investigation, and show that, ultimately, any opposition to gay marriage is based only upon prejudice.
The Argument from Tradition
"The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men."
This is not a recent quote about legalising gay marriage from Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or David Cameron. This is from a Lyndon B. Johnson speech about black and white integration on the 6th August 1965. See how easily interchangeable they are. This is the last major battle of a centuries long Civil Rights struggle across the Western world, for women, for different ethnicities, and now for the LGBT community. At every stage it has encountered cries that change is against traditional values and lifestyles. From human sacrifices to slavery, from burning witches to votes for women, tradition has been no defence against the advancement of human rights and human dignity.
In 1948, while running for President, Strom Thurmond said ''all the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement.'' Think how heinous that sounds to the modern ear. That is how many comments now being made about gay marriage will sound in 65 years.
The Argument from Scripture
“And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.” 1 Kings 11:3
All too often I hear about biblical family values. As Solomon above shows, these are often pretty skewed. As for the sacred nature of marriage, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 tells us that in the case of rape then the victim must marry her rapist, who in turn must pay the victim’s father fifty shekels of silver for the inconvenience is. This all only if the rape is discovered, of course. In the genocidal massacre of the Midianites, Moses gives instructions to kill all the men, women and children, apart from the virgin girls, who are taken as spoils of war, and forced to submit sexually to their new Israelite husbands. O, and if “thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will” (Deuteronomy 21:14).
It must be admitted in the New Testament things are better (whoever made the decision to make the Old Testament part of the Bible really blundered...), but only because marriage is so seldom mentioned. You can’t follow Jesus the bachelors example, and in 1 Corinthians 7:27, Paul actively discourages marriage. The lines from 1 Corinthians 13 that have graced countless marriage ceremonies; Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, etc, are not about marriage but about a split of the believers of Corinth into warring factions.
It must be seen that the marital values being invoked are not Biblical, but Victorian. Christianity is at its best when it focuses on the values of peace and love that are the main tenants of Jesus’ message. Those who identify as Christians should focus on extending these ideals universally.
I would also argue that no one should be living their lives, or forcing others to live, according to ancient anthologies of apocryphal anecdotes detailing the questionable ethics and traditions of ignorant Stone Age shepherds scrabbling to survive in the desert, but that is a whole different article by itself.
This section has, unfairly, focused on Judaism and Christianity, as these are the most familiar. However nearly all major religions are bigoted in this regard.
The Argument from Unnaturalness
Homosexual behaviour has been recorded in thousands of animal species, homophobia in only one. For the sake of brevity I will refer you to this article on Roy and Silo;
Two male penguins that successfully raised a chick, and provide a nice segue to the next section.
The Argument from Propagation
A common argument is that marriages’ main aim is for reproduction, which disqualifies homosexual couples. There is a simple refutation to this; the first is that by this logic you must also ban marriages for heterosexual couples who are unable to have a child.
The next point then tends to be adoption. There is no independent research that shows children raised by homosexual couples fare any worse than those with heterosexual parents. In many cases they are better off, due to homosexual parents always deliberately choosing to be parents, making them, on average, more committed and better able to meet the needs of having a child. In the States 60% of gay and lesbian couples adopted across races, which is important given that minority children in the foster system tend to linger. More than half of the kids adopted by gays and lesbians had special needs.
There is always a voice that shouts from the back “it’s unfair on the child, they will be bullied by their peers!” To this I ask you, is that the fault of the homosexual parents, or the fault of the culture and the parents of those bullies who raise them to treat gay people with suspicion and as second class citizens?
The Argument from Anything Goes
“If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything... In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing.”
It is terrifying to think the comment above came from a man – Rick Santorum – who had a realistic chance of becoming the most powerful man on Earth. If we, somehow, ignore the equating of homosexuality with bestiality and paedophilia, then the argument runs that if you redefine marriage then you can have any form of union; man with fence, woman with avocado, man with sweater vest.
The definition that is being sought is simple, marriage to be a union between two consenting adults. To suggest that gay marriage would make everything permissible is deliberate fear mongering and shows an utter disconnect with reality. But then Mr Santorum’s Roman Catholic Church is already having real trouble with the meaning of the words “consenting adults” at the moment, so probably they don’t want to confuse the situation any further.
The Argument from Threatening Heterosexual Marriage
I cannot see any possible way that gay couples being allowed to marry even affect, let alone threaten those couples with traditional marriages. If two guys getting married seriously affect your own marriage, I suspect you have much more pressing issues.
The Argument from Civil Partnerships
This is the argument most symbolic of society’s institutionalised homophobia, to the extent that people, who are rational, open minded and fair in every other way often put it forward as an argument. Civil partnerships may be equal in law, but they are not equal in stature or image. It is similar to taking a train with two carriages, identical in every way, but the first carriage has always been higher thought of because it is older. When people turn up the station, only, for example, people wearing black are allowed in the first, and people in white (it’s a very monochromatic town) have to make do with the second. No one is technically being discriminated against, their conditions are identical, but those in the first carriage – shall we call it the marriage carriage? – feel slightly superior to their Persil using brethren in the second. If there is no difference between the carriages, why bother having rules about who can use which carriage? Civil partnerships currently suggest homosexual relationships are not as loving and caring as heterosexual ones, that they are not worthy of marriage, and are simply politicians pandering to societal homophobia
There are many people I have talked to who are uncomfortable with gay marriage, but can’t really explain why, and fall back on the arguments arrayed above. I suggest to these people that they take a deep look at themselves, and perhaps admit that their culture or their upbringing have made them prejudiced against homosexuals, perhaps without even realising. This is not to call them bigoted, but merely to put it to someone that the first step of solving a problem is admitting they have one. I would urge them to read around the subject, particularly the stories of the couples who are fighting for equality, and realise that this is not an abstract concept, but the systematic denial of equal human rights to real flesh and blood human beings, who they probably share so much in common with apart from one particular outlook on life.
There is no rational reason to deny gay marriage. To oppose it is to be on the wrong side of history. It is high time this particular battle is won.