Two Arguments Against Legalizing Gay Marriage (That I’m Ignoring)

My personal views on the legalization of gay marriage have “evolved” somewhat, but I think it’s worth respectfully considering all sides of an issue, even (especially) issues as controversial as this.  A friend recently issued a challenge, asking for one valid argument against gay marriage.  I offered two, but then explained why I’m not personally griping about Prop 8 and DOMA being overturned.

hiding in the closet

No… that’s not why…

I decided to expound upon this topic further here. As a disclaimer, these are what I consider two valid arguments, not necessarily correct arguments. Whether you or I disagree with them does not necessarily make them invalid. My goal here is to present some context under which a completely reasonable person might vote for Prop 8 or DOMA. In doing so, I hope to get past the labels of “bigotry” and “hate” and other slanderous terms that only serve to hinder productive conversation regarding what is a very sensitive discussion for many.

Oh come on, this is funny.

Oh come on, this is funny.

I have friends, family and co-workers on both sides of this issue who feel very strongly about this issue. My hope here is to remain sensitive to them without compromising my own beliefs.

 

ARGUMENT 1: THE DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE
For a long time, and in many cultures, marriage has been understood to be between a man and a woman. When prop 8 initially passed, Elton John said, “If gay people want to get married, or get together, they should have a civil partnership. The word ‘marriage,’ I think, puts a lot of people off.” He has since changed his tune, but the fact that a man in a long-time gay relationship could have felt that way gives at least some credibility to the argument that the issue is simply a matter of defining (or redefining) the word “marriage.”

I tried looking it up in the dictionary, but it was kind of confusing...

I tried looking it up in the dictionary, but it was kind of confusing…

Rebuttal 1: What about polygamy?
Well, it’s true many cultures have accepted polygamy as a valid form of marriage. Most Christians/Jews would probably say that when polygamy happened within their religion, it was done in spite of the religion. However, polygamy still usually concurs with the heterosexual joining of two genders (usually 1 man to multiple women).

...Note the lack of any mention of mormons...

…Note that Mormons were not mentioned…

More relevant, I think, is that since this is a decision that we seem to be making as a nation (or at least as states), it should be seen in the historical context of our country. For the past 200+ years, marriage within our country has been universally legally recognized as 1 man plus 1 woman. Yes, there were certain parts of the country that added restrictions of race, and that is unfortunate. However, this was not the case for ALL parts of the country. What WAS consistent is that in every state, the commonality was that legal marriage was the union of 1 man to 1 woman.

...And occasionally one man to himself...

…And occasionally one man to himself…

If we acknowledge that the historical precedent within our nation’s history is that marriage has been universally understood as being a man and a woman, then we must also acknowledge that marriage between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is a new precedent. If this is the case, then the argument that this is changing the definition of marriage is not invalid. Whether or not it’s okay to change the definition of marriage would, of course, be a different question.

Rebuttal 2: What about the divorce rates, the affairs, and all the different ways that the value and meaning of marriage has already been diminished?
These are all serious concerns, but they’re also separate issues. This rebuttal is akin to saying, “Well, I’ve already served you a dinner with some moldy potato salad and stale toast, why not throw some foul-smelling beef on there, too?”

Now, we can argue about whether or not that beef actually smells foul, but that’s a distinctly different discussion. The fact that other parts of the dinner have issues doesn’t automatically justify this particular issue. Each issue should be addressed individually, and either pass or fail on it’s own merits.

...Though I suspect celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay would throw the whole plate out, followed by a lot of bleeping.

Celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay says, “[bleep]ing throw out the whole [bleep]ing plate, you [bleep]ing [bleep]!”

What I think:
You may agree or disagree with the reasoning above, but I think it’s credible. And I think it allows for a less-emotional context for discussing whether the legal definition of marriage should include any two people, regardless of gender. It also opens up the discussion of, if we expand the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, should we not use the same reasoning to expand it to include polygamists? What is the problem with using a different word for the relationship between same-sex couples?

In the end, the legal definition of marriage is not something I currently feel strongly about, because it is ultimately always going to fall short of God’s true intention for marriage. Marriage to me is a man and woman selflessly and faithfully dedicated first to Christ and secondly to each other, committed to loving and forgiving each other, with divorce never even being a consideration. This ultimate definition of a perfect marriage is something that cannot and should not be enforced by the legal system. The legal definition others wish to apply to their own relationships is not of great concern to me, as long as I’m allowed to freely hold and celebrate my own beliefs on the matter without government interference. Which leads to the second argument.

 

At this point, my true bigoted nature has been revealed, so you can just picture me like this from now on.

At this point, my true bigoted nature has been revealed, so you can just picture me like this from now on.

ARGUMENT 2: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

If gay marriage is legalized, could religious leaders who do not believe in gay marriage be sued for refusing to officiate gay weddings? This is not only a probability, but is something that has actually already happened* in states where gay marriage has been legalized. If gay marriage is legalized more broadly, then it’s unfortunately very likely that these sorts of suits would increase.

"Plus, what's next --marrying dogs?"

“Plus, what’s next –marrying dogs?”

Rebuttal 1: Well, if a religious bigot is going to discriminate, they’re opening themselves up to legal suits, right?
Actually, no. If we’re going to make gay marriage legal on the basis that it is the right of each individual to live in the way they see fit despite those who disagree with their lifestyle, then those same rights must be granted equally to those who want to exercise their religious right to not participate in activities that go against their personal beliefs!

Rebuttal 2: If we allow religious clergy to pick and choose whose wedding they’ll personally officiate, doesn’t that mean they would also be allowed to discriminate against multi-racial marriages, as well?
Yes, it absolutely does mean that. And as disgustingly bigoted as that would be, it is their unalienable right to be a disgusting bigot. There are plenty of other ways for a multi-racial couple to get married. There’s no reason to force people to feign a blessing on something with which they disagree.

What I think:
This is a valid concern, but ultimately a separate one.

 

You may notice that the “the Bible says…” argument against gay marriage is nowhere to be found. This is because it should be common sense that one’s religious beliefs hold no sway to someone who doesn’t share that religion. Expecting people outside of Christianity to follow all the same rules without following Jesus is like expecting a vegan to follow instructions for eating a cheeseburger.

"Eat it! Eat the cheeseburger, you dirty vegan!"

“Eat it! Eat the cheeseburger, you dirty vegan!”

My Christian faith teaches that freedom of choice is something that God valued enough to grant to everyone. He has given us guidelines for living a life of obedience to Him, but in most cases, these guidelines cannot/should not be made into law.

I don’t believe in sex outside of marriage. I don’t believe in gluttony. I don’t believe in most justifications for divorce. I don’t believe in atheism or Buddhism. But I also don’t believe that asking a secular government to put legal restrictions on these things will help anyone.

"Begging your pardon, but... I disagree."

This guy might disagree.

This country was founded first and foremost on the principles of liberty and freedom. Freedom means that the bulk of the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the free individual. Freedom means allowing people to do some things with which you disagree, so that you too may be free to do the things with which others disagree.

"Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it." - George Bernard Shaw

Preach it, George!

Does the religious conservative want everyone to follow his beliefs? Of course. Does the gay rights activist want everyone to be okay with gay marriage? Of course. But that’s ultimately a personal matter. Forcing others to comply to my standards does not change their beliefs. If anything, it will only solidify their opposition to those standards.

 

For me, it comes down to this: I want my focus to be less about trying to define love through legislation, and more about defining love by example. Law conquers actions, but love conquers hearts.

"Hey, that's pretty good. I'm gonna tweet that."

“Hey, that’s pretty good. I’m gonna tweet that.”

I’m interested in your thoughts. Please feel free to comment. I’m sure I haven’t thought this thing through from every angle, so respectful disagreements/challenges are welcome. It’s very possible that I’m wrong about something; there’s a first time for everything. 🙂

 

*NOTE: It appears I may have been incorrect there. I’m not sure if there actually is a case where a religious leader was sued for not officiating a gay marriage ceremony, but there have been cases where religiously-affiliated organizations were required to make their facilities available to a gay wedding, despite it going against their beliefs. Even without these stories, it’s very likely that these sorts of legal suits will occur more frequently and more pointedly at the church… but, as stated above, that’s really a separate issue. Fear of frivolous lawsuits is not in itself a good reason to take a legal stand against something.
  • Michael Prince

    I couldn’t agree more. I have an ever increasing concern with “Christians” focusing on legislation more than living for Christ. I have often said that we need to stop acting like the constitution is the word of God and like our “forefathers” are the same as the apostles. It’s been a slippery slope for Christians and it isn’t getting any better.

  • Duncan Benney

    First off, great post Chris, i honestly always enjoy your writing. Although we may be on different “sides” of this “debate” slightly, I respect your approach and thoughtful insights. So in the spirit of healthy discussion which you appropriately welcomed, I thought I’d put in a brief 2 cents.

    On argument 1: I take issue with equating gay marriage to polygamy. Over time society agreed that certain cultural/religious traditions actually harm society, and so(very slowly) things like slavery, segregation, inter-racial marriage, and polygamy were gradually outlawed, and everyone(for the most part) eventually agreed. To my knowledge, everything that I have read (admittedly selective) and have experienced first hand tells me of no detriments to society caused by gay couples(other than making people feel icky). And yes, even children of gay couples have been shown to do just fine. The reason support has grown so rapidly(i think) is that no one can find anything wrong with it, and everyone has gay friends, and realizes that there’s nothing wrong with them. and so society has agreed that gay marriage in no way can be detrimental to society.

    Also, im trying hard not to bring religion into the discussion, but if divorce is just as bad (as stated in your rotten food analogy), why aren’t there demonstrations to outlaw divorce?

    Anyway, argument 2 I cant help but completely disagree with. I actually had never even heard that argument before reading this. I understand that worry, and am totally with you. Citizens should not be forced to do things that are against their religion. Freedom. Liberty. Again, we’re probably reading from different sources, so I would love to be shown yours. But without getting into it, please at least skim through this:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2012/12/gay_marriage_churches_synagogues_and_mosques_won_t_be_forced_to_conduct.html

    Im certain that the gay movement isnt about gay marriage. They really dont care about having a wedding, or being ordained by a priest. All they want is to be considered the same as everyone else. Marriage was just the largest symbol that kept them separate at the moment.

    So maybe I havent thought out this response enough, and maybe didnt read your blog carefully enough, but I hope ill prompt a response or two..

    Well, a rare political response by me on the internet. That felt good. not really.

    • Hey Duncan, thanks very much for the great thoughts.

      >”I take issue with equating gay marriage to polygamy.”

      I didn’t mean to equate polygamy with gay marriage. The first mention of polygamy was because it’s something people will commonly (and understandably) point to: “You say your religion is against gay marriage, but people in the Bible often practiced polygamy.” So, I was mainly trying to address that issue.

      I mentioned polygamy again to pose the question, “If we no longer define it under the parameters of man and woman, what exactly are the new limitations we will use… and why draw the line THERE and not FURTHER?” In other words, are we drawing the line arbitrarily because “that’s what societies currently okay with,” or is there a more tangible reason for those parameters? In this case, I’m using polygamy to raise questions, not to provide answers.

      Since we are comparing (not equating) polygamy and gay marriage, I suppose more questions could be posed: Does the fact that polygamy was at some point deemed unacceptable mean we can’t reopen the books on that? After all, gay marriage was deemed unacceptable at some point, and is only just now becoming acceptable. Is there any evidence to support the idea that polygamy is harmful to society? A more succinct question is probably this: “What reasons for expanding the definition of marriage to include man & man or woman & woman could not also be used to expand it to polygamy?”

      >”why aren’t there demonstrations to outlaw divorce?”

      To be completely honest, I have the same question!

      Perhaps it is because divorce is more of a gray area? I mean, there’s justification for getting a divorce if there’s been unfaithfulness, or abuse, etc. So maybe people aren’t as inclined to protest it because it doesn’t fit neatly in a box like gay marriage does.

      What is more likely (and more unfortunate) is that divorce hits too close to home. Having to object to divorce would mean giving up my freedom to keep the divorce option in my back pocket when things go south. With gay marriage, it’s easy to just point the finger at what those gays are doing!

      Frankly, it’s just so much more comfortable to point out the offenses of others than it is to take a good hard look in the mirror. Jesus gave a humorous analogy of a guy with a huge log stuck in his head pointing out the speck of dust in someone else’s eye.

      In other words? Human nature. We are judgmental, hypocritical jerks. We are all-to-eager to point out when non-christians are breaching the guidelines that were meant for christians, and all-to-hesitatnt to follow what Jesus said were the most important commandments: Love God and love others.

      >”Again, we’re probably reading from different sources, so I would love to be shown yours.”

      Here’s one: http://bit.ly/13bntlG

      Now, to clarify, these examples are technically mandating the use of religious property, and not forcing the religious leader to conduct the ceremony. However, it is still forcing the religious leader to use their organization’s property for something that goes against their religion. It’s like telling a vegan restaurant, “you must allow us to cook meat here.” Just live and let live and cook your burgers on your own grill!

      Just as a reminder, the two arguments in this blog are ones that I think are valid, in that they present some good points. At the same time, I’m also stating that I don’t personally believe that they justify taking a stand against the legalization of gay marriage.

      Thanks again for the thoughts, Duncan.

  • Juan Sarmiento

    Actually, it was a very friendly article. You discussed both sides rather well. But I’m still a bit curious. As your title suggests, you are choosing to ignore your beliefs in this matter and you are agreeing with Prop 8 going back to the states and DOMA being struck down, correct? I guess I didn’t see the WHY you were choosing to ignore them. However, I understand your point about loving others and pointing them towards Christ v. using law to force them to ‘behave’ like Christians. But what I’m wondering is, when Prop 8 was put up for public vote, did you vote for it/against it, or simply skipped over it completely?

    I know for me, as it probably is for you too, forcing my religious beliefs/ideas is not the answer, but being quiet when a matter is up for public vote shouldn’t be an option either. It is a hard line to walk. Just wondering what your thoughts are on that.

    • Hey Juan,

      Sorry if I didn’t clarify the “why” enough.

      I think it comes down to this: when determining laws that govern ALL people, the decision for me comes down to whether I think liberty or my own moral/religious standards should be the deciding factor. At one point, I would have said “my own moral standards.” However, I have since backed off on that a little bit.

      We live in a country founded on the principle of freedom; specifically, freedom from tyrannical, overreaching government. To me, the biggest concern when I consider my vote is no longer, “Do I want this sort of thing to be legal in my country?” Instead, my concern is, “Do I want to give that much authority to my government?”

      In cases such as murder, abuse or theft, where there is a clear victim, then my moral code is the determining factor. Then again, those cases imply an imbalance in liberty anyway, so really it comes back to liberty. allowing people to do things with which I disagree, so that I may do the things with which they disagree.

      It’s a very tricky line to walk, but I guess I basically feel like the government is like a big tank, taking up the entire road, and we’re all standing in it’s path. Some of us are trying to tug it one way, and some are tugging it to the other, but the more we tug at it, the more it encroaches on us, until at some point we all just get run over. The only way to avoid this is to say, “let’s give each other space, share the road, and stop trying to run over each other with the government.”

  • salami76

    Great thoughts, Chris. Several people I know have recently expressed their opinions/beliefs/arguments on this topic, and it’s really got me thinking… Anyway, I agree with all of your points and appreciate you sharing them!

  • strange123

    I absolutely agree that legalizing gay marriage should not equate to forcing those who oppose gay marriage to wed gay couples. One thing that you did not address, however, with the definition of marriage is hermaphrodites. Although there is still discussion as to whether homosexuality is a choice or not, no one can claim that you can choose to not be a hermaphrodite (at least not without surgery) but the 1 man + 1 woman definition of marriage does not account for them. Also, I think it a stretch to say that allowing gay marriage could lead to legalizing polygamy or bestiality marriages, simply defining marriage as between 2 people does not open the door to people pushing for them any more than people would anyways.

    • Thanks for the thoughts, Strange!

      You make a great point. I’ve wondered about that, myself. I suppose one could make the argument that since an hermaphrodite technically has both parts, the relationship could still qualify as heterosexual in nature. But it definitely becomes less cut and dry at that point.

      Speaking of making things cut and dry, I think the whole discussion of whether homosexuality is a choice or not is a bit silly. Sure, any actions or behaviors are a choice, but in terms of just having that orientation… sometimes it IS a choice, but more often I think it is not. There are lots of different reasons people are homosexual. I’ve known people who demonstrated that tendency from their youth; I don’t think they CHOSE it. On the other hand, I’ve known people who have admitted to choosing to be gay (and even some who have chosen to be straight, for that matter). It could be attributed to hormonal levels for some, gradual fostering of certain desires over time for others, or even a desire to get attention or “be cool” as homosexuality has become more widely accepted (though I suspect those are more temporary).

      I don’t believe it’s as cut and dry as some Christians like to make it, and I think that’s why Jesus emphasized love and grace over laws and condemnation. We have no business going around telling people outside of our faith that they should be required to live according to OUR beliefs.

      …Since you mentioned the polygamy and bestiality, I’d just like to say I hope everyone realizes the “marrying dogs” image was a joke.

      I’ve seen a quote a couple times that I like: “A truly free people do not need the government to define their relationships.” I think that’s true, and I think that’s what this discussion comes down to. Frankly, I think that principle could lead to legalized polygamy (especially since “open relationships” are becoming more of a thing), and frankly, I wouldn’t like that. But that might just be part of allowing people to live how they want to live, and would fall inline with decreasing the power of a government that is, in my opinion, already way overstepping its boundaries.

  • Alden

    I just want you guys to know that Mormons don’t practice polygamy