|Because marriage is a basic human right and an individual
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Beyond Gay Marriage
From the August 4 / August 11, 2003 issue: The road to polyamory.
by Stanley Kurtz
08/04/2003, Volume 008, Issue 45
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AFTER GAY MARRIAGE, what will become of marriage itself? Will same-sex matrimony extend marriage's stabilizing effects to homosexuals? Will gay marriage undermine family life? A lot is riding on the answers to these questions. But the media's reflexive labeling of doubts about gay marriage as homophobia has made it almost impossible to debate the social effects of this reform. Now with the Supreme Court's ringing affirmation of sexual liberty in Lawrence v. Texas, that debate is unavoidable.
Among the likeliest effects of gay marriage is to take us down a slippery slope to legalized polygamy and "polyamory" (group marriage). Marriage will be transformed into a variety of relationship contracts, linking two, three, or more individuals (however weakly and temporarily) in every conceivable combination of male and female. A scare scenario? Hardly. The bottom of this slope is visible from where we stand. Advocacy of legalized polygamy is growing. A network of grass-roots organizations seeking legal recognition for group marriage already exists. The cause of legalized group marriage is championed by a powerful faction of family law specialists. Influential legal bodies in both the United States and Canada have presented radical programs of marital reform. Some of these quasi-governmental proposals go so far as to suggest the abolition of marriage. The ideas behind this movement have already achieved surprising influence with a prominent American politician.
None of this is well known. Both the media and public spokesmen for the gay marriage movement treat the issue as an unproblematic advance for civil rights. True, a
small number of relatively conservative gay spokesmen do consider the social effects of gay matrimony, insisting that they will be beneficent, that homosexual unions will become more stable. Yet another faction of gay rights advocates actually favors gay marriage as a step toward the abolition of marriage itself. This group agrees that there is a slippery slope, and wants to hasten the slide down.
To consider what comes after gay marriage is not to say that gay marriage itself poses no danger to the institution of marriage. Quite apart from the likelihood that it will usher in legalized polygamy and polyamory, gay marriage will almost certainly weaken the belief that monogamy lies at the heart of marriage. But to see why this is so, we will first need to reconnoiter the slippery slope.
DURING THE 1996 congressional debate on the Defense of Marriage Act, which affirmed the ability of the states and the federal government to withhold recognition from same-sex marriages, gay marriage advocates were put on the defensive by the polygamy question. If gays had a right to marry, why not polygamists? Andrew Sullivan, one of gay marriage's most intelligent defenders, labeled the question fear-mongering--akin to the discredited belief that interracial marriage would lead to birth defects. "To the best of my knowledge," said Sullivan, "there is no polygamists' rights organization poised to exploit same-sex marriage and return the republic to polygamous abandon." Actually, there are now many such organizations. And their strategy--even their existence--owes much to the movement for gay marriage.
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A personal essay in hypertext by Scott Bidstrup
|"We cannot accept the view that Amendment 2's prohibition on specific
legal protections does no more than deprive homosexuals of special rights.
To the contrary, the amendment imposes a special disability on those persons
alone. Homosexuals are forbidden the safeguards that others enjoy or may
seek without constraint"
-Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court in the decision overturning Colorado's Amendment 2 referendum
Ask just about anyone. They'll all tell you they're in favor of equal rights for homosexuals. Just name the situation, and ask. They'll all say, yes, gays should have the same rights in housing, jobs, public accomodations, and should have equal access to government benefits, equal protection of the law, etcetera, etcetera.
Then you get to gay marriage.
And that's when all this talk of equality stops dead cold.
Nearly three people in four in the U.S. oppose gay marriage, almost the same proportion as are otherwise supportive of gay rights. This means that many of the same people who are even passionately in favor of gay rights oppose gays on this one issue.
Why all the passion?
It's because there is a lot of misunderstanding about what homosexuality really is, the erroneous assumption that gay people enjoy the same civil rights protections as everyone else. There are also a lot of stereotypes about gay relationships, and even a great deal of misunderstanding of what marriage itself is all about.
The purpose of this essay is to clear up a few of these misunderstandings and discuss some of facts surrounding gay relationships and marriage, gay and straight.
First, lets discuss what gay relationships are really all about. The stereotype has it that gays are promiscuous, unable to form lasting relationships, and the relationships that do form are shallow and uncommitted. And gays do have such relationships!
But the important fact to note is that just like in straight society, where such relationships also exist, they are a small minority, and exist primarily among the very young. Indeed, one of the most frequent complaints of older gay men is that it is almost impossible to find quality single men to get into a relationship with, because they're already all 'taken!'
If you attend any gay event, such as a Pride festival or a PFLAG convention, you'll find this to be true. As gays age and mature, just like their straight cohorts, they begin to appreciate and find their way into long-term committed relationships.
The values that such gay couples exhibit in their daily lives are often indistinguishable from those of their straight neighbors. They're loyal to their mates, are monogamous, devoted partners. They value and participate in family life, are committed to making their neighborhoods and communities safer and better places to live, and honor and abide by the law. Many make valuable contributions to their communities, serving on school boards, volunteering in community charities, and trying to be good citizens. In doing so, they take full advantage of their relationship to make not only their own lives better, but those of their neighbors as well.
A benefit to heterosexual society of gay marriage is the fact that the commitment of a marriage means the participants are discouraged from promiscous sex. This has the advantage of slowing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, which know no sexual orientation and are equal opportunity destroyers.
These benefits of gay marriage have changed the attitudes of the majority of people in Denmark and other countries where various forms of gay marriage have been legal for years. Indeed, in 1989, when the proposal to legalize marriage between gays first was proposed in Denmark, the majority of the clergy were opposed. Now, after having seen the benefits to the partners and to society, they are overwhelmingly in favor, according to the surveys done then and now.
So, having established the value of gay marriage, why are people so opposed to it?
Many of the reasons offered for opposing gay marriage are based on the assumption that gays have a choice in who they can feel attracted to, and the reality is quite different. Many people actually believe that gays could simply choose to be heterosexual if they wished. But the reality is that very few do have a choice -- any more than very few heterosexuals could choose which sex to find themselves attracted to.
Additionally, many people continue to believe that homosexuality is about nothing but sex, considering it to be merely a sexual perversion. The reality is that homosexuality is multidimensional, and is much more about love and affection than it is about sex. And this is what gay relationships are based on -- mutual attraction, love and affection. Sex is a means of expressing that love, just the same as it is for heterosexuals. Being gay is much more profound than simply a sexual relationship; being gay is part of that person's core indentity, and goes right the very center of his being. It's like being black in a society of whites, or a blonde European in a nation of black-haired Asians. Yes, being gay is just that profound to the person who is. This is something that few heterosexuals can understand unless they are a minority themselves.
Well, of course there are a lot of reasons being offered these days for opposing gay marriage, and they are usually variations on a few well-established themes. Interestingly, a court in Hawaii has recently heard them all. And it found, after due deliberation, that they didn't hold water.
Here's a summary:
1. Marriage is an institution between one man and one woman. Well, that's the most often heard argument, one even codified in a recently passed U.S. federal law. Yet it is easily the weakest. Who says who marriage is to be defined by? The married? The marriable? Isn't that kind of like allowing a banker to decide who is going to own the money in stored in his vaults? It seems to me that if the straight community cannot show a compelling reason to deny the institution of marriage to gay people, it shouldn't be denied. And such simple, nebulous declarations are hardly a compelling reason. They're really more like an expression of prejudce than any kind of a real argument. The concept of not denying people their rights unless you can show a compelling reason to do so is the very basis of the American ideal of human rights.
2. Marriage is for procreation. The proponents of that argument are really hard pressed to explain why, if that's the case, that infertile couples are allowed to marry. I, for one, would love to be there when the proponent of such an argument is to explain to his post-menopausal mother or impotent father that since they cannot procreate, they must now surrender their wedding rings! That would be fun to watch! Again, such an argument fails to persuade based on the marriages society does allow routinely, without even a second thought.
3. Same-sex couples aren't the optimum environment in which to raise children. That's an interesting one, in light of who society does allow to get married and bring children into their marriage. Check it out: murderers, convicted felons of all sorts, even known child molesters are all allowed to freely marry and procreate, and do so every day, with hardly a second thought by these same critics. So if children are truly the priority here, why is this allowed? The fact is that many gay couples raise children, adopted and occasionally their own from failed attempts at heterosexual marriages. Lots and lots of scientific studies have shown that the outcomes of the children raised in the homes of gay and lesbian couples are just as good as those of straight couples. The differences have been shown again and again to be insignificant. Psychologists tell us that what makes the difference is the love of the parents, not their gender. The studies are very clear about that. And gay people are as capable of loving children as fully as anyone else.
4. Gay relationships are immoral. Says who? The Bible? Somehow, I always thought that freedom of religion implied the right to freedom from religion as well. The Bible has absolutely no standing in American law, and because it doesn't, no one has the right to impose rules anyone else simply because of something they percieve to be mandated by the Bible. Not all world religions have a problem with homosexuality; many sects of Buddhism, for example, celebrate gay relationships freely and would like to have the authority to make them legal marriages. In that sense, their religious freedom is being infringed. If one believes in religious freedom, the recognition that opposition to gay marriage is based on religious arguments is reason enough to discount this argument.
5. Marriages are for ensuring the continuation of the species. The proponents of such an argument are going to have a really hard time persuading me that the human species is in any real danger of dying out through lack of procreation. If ten percent of all the human race were to suddenly refrain from procreation, I think it is safe to say that the world would probably be better off. One of the world's most serious problems is overpopulation and the increasing anarchy that is resulting from it. Seems to me that gays would be doing the world a favor by not bringing more hungry mouths into an already overburdened world. So why encourage them?
6. Same-sex marriage would threaten the institution of marriage. That one's contradictory right on the face of it. Threaten marriage? By allowing people to marry? That doesn't sound very logical to me. If you allow gay people to marry each other, you no longer encourage them to marry people to whom they feel little attraction, with whom they most often cannot relate sexually, and thereby reduce the number of supposed heterosexual marriages that end up in the divorce courts. If it is the institution of heterosexual marriage that worries you, then consider that no one would require you or anyone else to participate in a gay marriage. So you would have freedom of choice, of choosing what kind of marriage to participate in -- something more than what you have now. And speaking of divorce -- to argue that the institution of marriage is worth preserving at the cost of requiring involuntary participants to remain in it is a better argument for tightening divorce laws than proscribing gay marriage.
7. Marriage is traditionally a heterosexual institution. This is morally the weakest argument. Slavery was also a traditional institution, based on traditions that went back to the very beginnings of human history. But by the 19th century, humankind had realized the evils of that institution, and has since largely abolished it. Why not recognize the truth -- that there is no moral ground on which to support the tradition of marriage as a strictly heterosexual institution, and remove the restriction?
8. Same-sex marriage is an untried social experiment. The American critics of same-sex marriage betray their provincialism with this argument. The fact is that a form of gay marriage has been legal in Denmark since 1989 (full marriage rights except for adoption rights and church weddings, and a proposal now exists in the Danish parliament to allow both of those rights as well), and most of the rest of Scandinavia from not long after. Full marriage rights have existed in many Dutch cities for several years, and it was recently made legal nationwide, including the word "marriage" to describe it. In other words, we have a long-running "experiment" to examine for its results -- which have uniformly been positive. Opposition to the Danish law was led by the clergy (much the same as in the States). A survey conducted at the time revealed that 72 percent of Danish clergy were opposed to the law. It was passed anyway, and the change in the attitude of the clergy there has been dramatic -- a survey conducted in 1995 indicated that 89 percent of the Danish clergy now admit that the law is a good one and has had many beneficial effects, including a reduction in suicide, a reduction in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and in promiscuity and infidelity among gays. Far from leading to the "destruction of Western civilization" as some critics (including the Mormon and Catholic churches among others) have warned, the result of the "experiment" has actually been civilizing and strengthening, not just to the institution of marriage, but to society as a whole. So perhaps we should accept the fact that someone else has already done the "experiment" and accept the results as positive. The fact that many churches are not willing to accept this evidence says more about the churches than it does about gay marriage.
9. Same-sex marriage would start us down a "slippery slope" towards legalized incest, bestial marriage, polygamy and all kinds of other horrible consequences. A classic example of the reductio ad absurdum fallacy, it is calculated to create fear in the mind of anyone hearing the argument. It is, of course, absolutely without any merit based on experience. If the argument were true, wouldn't that have already happened in countries where forms of legalized gay marriage already exist? Wouldn't they have 'slid' towards legalized incest and bestial marriage? The reality is that a form of gay marriage has been legal in Scandinavian countries for over many years, and no such legalization has happened, nor has there been a clamor for it. It's a classic scare tactic - making the end scenario so scary and so horrible that the first step should never be taken. Such are the tactics of the fear and hatemongers.
If concern over the "slippery slope" were the real motive behind this argument, the advocate of this line of reasoning would be equally vocal about the fact that today, even as you read this, convicted murderers, child molesters, known pedophiles, drug pushers, pimps, black market gun dealers, etc., are quite free to marry, and are doing so. Where's the outrage? Of course there isn't any, and that lack of outrage betrays their real motives. This is an anti-gay issue and not a pro marriage issue.
10. Granting gays the right to marry is a "special" right. Since ninety percent of the population already have the right to marry the informed, consenting adult of their choice, and would even consider that right a fundamental, constitutionally protected right, since when does extending it to the remaining ten percent constitute a "special" right to that remaining ten percent? As Justice Kennedy observed in his opinion overturning Colorado's infamous Amendment 2 (Roemer vs. Evans), many gay and lesbian Americans are, under current law, denied civil rights protections that others either don't need or assume that everyone else along with themselves, already have. The problem with all that special rights talk is that it proceeds from that very assumption, that because of all the civil rights laws in this country that everyone is already equal, so therefore any rights gay people are being granted must therefore be special. That is most assuredly not the case, especially regarding marriage and all the legal protections that go along with it.
11. Sodomy is illegal. Ah, the ol' sodomy law argument! Why is sodomy still illegal in many states? Because conservative religionists (at whose behest those laws were enacted) have blocked attempts to repeal them in every state where sodomy laws are still on the books. Indeed, those laws are very rarely enforced (though it does happen), yet there is very stiff opposition to their repeal. Why? Because they're a great tool for a homophobe to use as a basis of legalized discrimination. "Why should I rent an apartment to an unconvicted felon?" "I can't have an admitted criminal on my staff." "You're an unconvicted felon. I want you out of my restarurant and off my property." "I don't want you around my children. You're a criminal!" These are very real, actual arguments used in states where sodomy laws remain on the books. So even though the moral crusades of the religionists using the power of the police have largely ended, the sodomy laws that made them possible remain, and likely will for as long as conservative religionists have their way. Indeed, some state legislatures have even tried to reenact sodomy statutes!
Heterosexuals would never allow such intrusion into their private sex lives, of course, but the homophobes among them see nothing wrong in using the power of the state to enforce their prejudices. State court systems, however, have begun to see the violation of the Fourth Amendment in such laws, and nearly as many state sodomy laws have been overturned as unconstitutional as have been repealed by state legislatures.
So far, we've examined the reasons everyone give for opposing gay marriage. Let's examine now the real reasons people oppose it, even fear it:
Just not comfortable with the idea. The fact the people aren't comfortable with the idea stems primarily from the fact that for many years, society has promoted the idea that a marriage between members of the same sex is ludicrous, mainly because of the objections raised above. But if those objections don't make sense, neither does the idea that gay marriage is neccessarily ludicrous. Societies have long recognized that allowing civil rights to certain groups may offend some, and at times, even the majority. But that is why constitutional government was established -- to ensure that powerless, unpopular minorities are still protected from the tyranny of the majority.
It offends everything religion stands for. Whose religion? Many mainstream Christian denominations, to be sure, and definitely most branches of Islam and Orthodox Judaism, but outside those, most religions are unopposed to gay marriage, and many actually favor it. When the Mormon church arrogantly claimed to represent all religions in the Baehr vs. Lewin trial in Hawaii, the principal Buddhist sect in that state made it very clear that the Mormon church didn't represent them, and made it very clear that they support the right of gay couples to marry. That particular Buddhist sect claims many more members in Hawaii than does the Mormon church. In a society that claims to offer religious freedom, the use of the power of the state to enforce private religious sensibilities is an affront to all who would claim the right to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience.
Marriage is a sacred institution. This is, of course, related to the motive above. But it is really subtly different. It's based on the assumption that the state has the responsibility to "sanctify" marriages - a fundamentally religious idea. Here we're dealing with people trying to enforce their religious doctrines on someone else, but by doing it through weakening the separation of church and state, by undermining the Bill of Rights. Not that there's anything new about this, of course. But the attempt itself runs against the grain of everything the First Amendment stands for - one does not truly have freedom of religion if one does not have the right to freedom from religion as well. It would seem to me that anyone who feels that the sanctity of their marriage is threatened by a gay couple down the street having the right to marry, is mighty insecure about their religion anyway.
Gay sex is unnatural. This argument, often encoded in the very name of sodomy statutes, betrays a considerable ignorance of behavior in the animal kingdom. The fact is that among the approximately 1500 animal species whose behavior has been extensively studied, homosexual behavior in animals has been described in at least 450 of those species. It runs the gamut, too, ranging from occasional displays of affection to life-long pair bonding including sex and even adopting and raising orphans, going so far as the rejection by force of potential heterosexual partners. The reality is that it is so common that it begs for an explanation, and sociobiologists have proposed a wide variety of explanations to account for it. The fact that it is so common also means that it has evolutionary significance, which applies as much to humans as it does to other animal species.
Making love to another man betrays everything that is masculine. Well, I've known (and dated) plenty of very masculine gay men in my day, including bull-riding rodeo cowboys and a Hell's Angel biker type, who, if you suggested he is a limp-wristed fairy, would likely rip your head off and hand it to you. There was a long-honored tradition of gay relationships among the tough and macho cowboys of the Old West, and many diaries exist detailing their relationships. Plenty of masculine, respected movies stars are gay. Indeed, Rock Hudson was considered the very archtype of a masculine man. Came as quite a shock to a lot of macho-men to find out he was gay! So what's wrong with all these kinds of men expressing love for each other? Why is that so wrong? A society that devalues love devalues that upon which civilized society itself is based. Should any form of that love for one another be discouraged?
The base fear here is that of rape and a loss of control or status. This is instinctual and goes right to the core of our being as primates. If you examine what happens in many animal species, especially displays of dominance in other primate species, dominance displays often have sexual overtones. When, for example, in many species of primates, a subordinate male is faced with aggression by a dominant male, the dominant male will bite the subordinate, causing him to squeal in pain, drop the food (or the female) and present his rump. This is an act of submission, and it is saying to the whole troupe that the subordinate is just that - subordinate.
It has been suggested that homophobia is an instinctual fear of being raped by someone that the homophobe regards as lower than him in status. And the notion that a gay man might rape him is an instinctual fear.
This happens in humans just as it does in other primates. It is the cause of homosexual rape in prisons. Prison rape is not an act of sex as much as it is an expression of dominance and a means of control. Nearly all of the men who aggressively rape other men in a prison setting actually revert to promiscuous heterosexual sex once they're on the outside.
So is this something straight men should fear from gay men? Well, relax, all you straight guys. You've nothing to worry about. The vast majority of gay men prefer sex in the same emotional setting you do as a straight man with a woman - as a part of the expression of love, affection and commitment. We're not out to rape you or force you into a subordinate position. The majority of gay men don't want sex with you because we're looking for the same thing in a sexual relationship that you do - the love and affection of a partner. Since we're not likely to get that from you, you're not desirable to us and you have nothing to fear from us. The small minority of us (and it's a very small minority) who enjoy sex with straight men understand your fears and are not going to have sex with you unless it's clearly and completely on a peer-to-peer basis and your requirement for full and complete consent and need for discretion is honored.
The thought of gay sex is repulsive. Well, it will come as some surprise to a lot of heterosexuals to find out that, to a lot of gays, the thought of heterosexual sex is repulsive! But does that mean the discomfort of some gays to heterosexual couples should be a reason to deny heterosexuals the right to marry? I don't think so, even though the thought of a man kissing a woman is rather repulsive to many homosexuals! Well then, why should it work the other way? Besides, the same sexual practices that gays engage in are often engaged in by heterosexual couples anyway. Prompting the ever-popular gay T-shirt: "SO-DO-MY -- SO DO MY neighbors, SO DO MY friends."
They might recruit. The core cause of this fear is the result of the fact that most virulent, even violent homophobes are themselves repressed sexually, often with same sex attractions. One of the recent studies done at the University of Georgia among convicted killers of gay men has shown that the overwhelmingly large percentage of them exhibit sexual arousal when shown scenes of gay sex. The fear, then, for the homophobe is that he himself might be gay, and might be forced to face that fact. The homophobia is as internalized as it is externalized - bash the queer and you don't have to worry about being aroused by him.
The fear of recruitment is baseless because it is based on a false premise - that gay people recruit. We don't. We don't recruit because we know from our own experience that sexual orientation is inborn, and can't be changed. Indeed, the attempts by psychologists, counselors and religious therapy and support groups to change sexual orientation have all uniformly met with failure - the studies that have been done of these therapies have never shown any significant results. So the notion that someone can be changed from straight to gay is quite unlikely. Yet there remains that deep, dark fear that somehow, someone might be.
Gay marriage would undermine sodomy laws. Many conservative religionists privately oppose gay marriage in part because it would undermine the legal basis for sodomy laws. It would be hard to justify, before a court, allowing a couple to marry and then legally bar them from having sexual relations. So the integrity of the sodomy laws, which almost everyone, publicly at least, says are silly and puritanical, become a reason to oppose gay marriage! The fact is that most people really would like to see an end to sodomy laws, which they view as an example of a harsh, repressive, religiously motivated law from a bygone era, and gay marriage would help do that.
The opposition to gay marriage stems ultimately from a deep-seated homophobia in American culture, borne out of religious prejudice. While many Americans do not realize that that homophobia exists to the extent that it does, it is a very real part of every gay person's life, just like racism is a very real part of every black person's life. It is there, it is pervasive, and it has far more serious consequences for American society than most Americans realize, not just for gay people, but for society in general.
When gay people say that this is a civil rights issue, we are referring to matters like the fact that we cannot make medical decisions for our partners in an emergency. Instead, the hospitals are usually forced by state laws to go to the families who may be estranged from us for decades, who are often hostile to us, and totally ignore our wishes for the treatment of our partners. If that hostile family wishes to exclude us from the hospital room, they may legally do so in nearly all cases. It is even not uncommon for hostile families to make decisions based on their hostility -- with results actually intended to be inimical to the interests of the patient! One couple I know uses the following line in the "sig" lines on their email: "...partners and lovers for 40 years, yet still strangers before the law." Is this fair?
If our partners are arrested, we can be compelled to testify against them or provide evidence against them, which legally married couples are not forced to do. Is this fair?
In many cases, even carefully drawn wills and durable powers of attorney have proven to not be enough if a family wishes to challenge a will, overturn a custody decision, or exclude us from a funeral or deny us the right to visit a partner's grave. As survivors, they can even sieze a real estate property that we may have been buying together for years, quickly sell it at a huge loss and stick us with the remaining debt on a property we no longer own. Is this fair?
These aren't just theoretical issues, either; they happen with surprising frequency. Almost any older gay couple can tell you horror stories of friends who have been victimized in such ways.
These are all civil rights issues that have nothing whatever to do with the ecclesiastical origins of marriage; they are matters that have become enshrined in state laws over the years in many ways that exclude us from the rights that legally married couples enjoy and consider their constitutional right. This is why we say it is very much a civil rights issue; it has nothing to do with who performs the ceremony or whether an announcement is accepted for publication in the local paper. It is not a matter of "special rights" to ask for the same rights that other couples enjoy by law, even by constitutional mandate.
As we have seen, the arguments against gay marriage don't hold up to close scrutiny. Neither the arguments traditionally raised nor the real feelings of the opponents make much sense when held up to the light of reason.
So let's get on with it. Let's get over our aversion to what we oppose for silly, irrational reasons, based on ignorance and faulty assumptions, and make ours a more just and honorable society, finally honoring that last phrase from the Pledge of Allegance; "With liberty and justice for all."