I’m about 2 months behind on writing about what’s actually going on in my life, but I felt this burning desire to write this post instead…
It’s election season, and that means gay marriage is again a hot topic in the media and cultural conversation. We have politicians for & against and state laws & referendums about it. I feel like there is never enough rational, reasonable discussion of the issue. Proponents of gay marriage throw around ideas like “equality” while opponents rely on phrases like “family values” and “sanctity of marriage” — and no one really talks about the nitty-gritty details. At least not in a calm, reasonable fashion.
That’s what I want to do here.
Now before I get started, it’s important to realize that I’m not going to change anyone’s mind with this article. Issues like gay marriage (and other hot-button topics, like abortion), are very often rooted in beliefs & emotions, not logical & rational thinking. So this reasonable, rational discourse is not going to change someone’s heart. But I hope it gives someone pause for a moment to say “Wait a minute, my heart says this but my head says that — I gotta think about this for a bit.” And then they start looking at the situation with new eyes. And THAT is where change BEGINS. It’s a long process — but everyone has to start somewhere.
I was motivated to write this article after reading Chris Kluwe’s, ahem, “colorful” response to a Maryland state government official. I smiled at his unreserved language, but deep down I knew it wasn’t going to be effective — it was too inflammatory. The first comment on the article was a reasonable guy who wanted a real discussion. So this was inspired by that comment (although this is not a direct response to it).
Without further ado…
Argument 1. Homosexuality is not biologically normal – you can’t produce children this way.
At first pass, this seems like a reasonable argument — it’s factual, it seems logical. But it actually breaks down in a couple of different ways. Let’s split it out:
1. Human sexuality has two purposes. The first is procreation – having children, propagating your genes & continuing the species. Homosexuality does not directly assist this purpose. But sexuality also has another purpose — pleasure. Sex feels good. It’s good for your health. Our bodies were clearly made (or evolved – pick your preferred language) to have sex. And having children is not necessary for sex to feel good. So the fact that two consenting adult men want to have sex with each other because it feels good to them is still quite natural, even if they are not physically capable of producing a child from the event. Men and women can’t get pregnant from kissing, and yet straight couples still do it. Masturbation does not propagate the species, but plenty of people engage in it (and the medical community regards it as a generally normal and healthy sexual activity).
Extending this further, Wikipedia has an excellent in-depth article on the question of if animals have sex for pleasure. To quote the Danish Animal Ethics Council:
Even though the evolution-related purpose of mating can be said to be reproduction, it is not actually the creating of offspring which originally causes them to mate. It is probable that they mate because they are motivated for the actual copulation, and because this is connected with a positive experience.
So it is reasonable to accept that animals have sex because it feels good (“positive experience”), and evolution uses pleasure to drive the production of offspring. But there is no reason to assume that just because the production of offspring is impossible, that a pleasurable sexual encounter is not “natural”.
2. The other primary fallacy of this argument is — very little about the modern Western lifestyle is “natural”. Our bodies are not designed to eat meat that is 93% corn, nor modern wheat in its hybridized, scientifically-engineered form. I’m pretty sure my hamstrings weren’t optimized for me to sit at a computer all day, and then come home and sit at the computer (or on the couch) even more. Women take man-made hormones to suppress their natural ovulation cycle to avoid pregnancy. We communicate using highly-unnatural technology & devices.
And none of this is illegal. Most of it isn’t even frowned upon. We just do it.
So if gay marriage really is “unnatural” — so what? It’s a drop in the bucket of everything unnatural about modern life, and there’s really no merit to singling it out. Society would likely reap much greater benefit from making large, unnatural sodas illegal.
Argument 2. Marriage is one man and one woman – that’s how it has always been.
This is generally true, although there is ambiguity in the historical records; according to Wikipedia not many cultures have historically recognized same-sex relationships with the same formality & legality as traditional marriage. This article is extensively researched and details the general acceptance of same-sex relationships in early Greek & Roman civilizations, declining with the rise of the Christian church and it’s emphasis on procreation-based sexuality. Eastern civilizations were generally quite a bit more neutral throughout history, neither explicitly supporting not condemning it.
It raises a larger question, however — what is the governmental function of marriage? Wikipedia notes that until about the 16th century, governments in Europe had no real involvement in “marriage” — it was strictly a local and/or religious custom. The Protestant Reformation encouraged the state to define & record marriages; meanwhile the Roman Catholic church required religious marriage ceremonies officiated by a priest. So we have very different opinions on who should set the rules for marriage.
In the interest of separation of church & state, I would like to see a formal distinction between “civil marriages” (or “civil unions”, if you rather), and “religious marriages”. All of the laws and legal benefits & restrictions would be applied to the “civil marriages”, which would be open to two consenting, unrelated adults. Religious marriages would have their rules set by their religious governing body, and would be strictly ceremonial and convey no legal rights (although they can easily incorporate the requirements to file a “civil marriage”, just as they do today by signing the marriage license at some point during the ceremony).
Argument 3. Gay marriage destroys the sanctity of marriage.
Sanctity is defined as
- The state or quality of being holy, sacred, or saintly.
- Ultimate importance and inviolability.
The first definition is fairly religious, so in a country where we have the freedom of religion, we really can’t make laws based on one religion’s version of “holy, sacred, or saintly”. Otherwise we couldn’t eat beef (cows are sacred to Hindus), cook on Saturdays (Jewish Shabbat), and we’d have to all wear special underwear (sacred garments for Mormons).
But the second definition we can use. And if we want marriage to have this “ultimate importance and inviolability”, then we must look at what violates marriage today. As you’ve probably heard, about 50% of marriages end in divorce. Certainly there are plenty of divorce cases where one spouse cheats, or is abusive, or otherwise betrays the trust of the other. But as my ex and I can attest, there are also relationships where it just didn’t work out the way you thought it would. I had a keen insight as we went through the divorce process — it was way harder to get divorced than it was to get married! If that burden had been reversed, we might have never bothered to get married in the first place (and thus wouldn’t have needed to get the divorce later). Let’s look at the unbalanced burden:
To get married (in Dane County, WI), you must:
- Pay $120 in cash
- Wait 6 days between application and license issuance
- Have a date set, with a wedding officiant, within 30 days of issuance
- Provide photo ID and Social Security Number
- Proof of address (utility bill, etc)
- Certified, govt-issued birth certificate
- Be 18 years of age (or 16-17 with consent form signed by parents)
Not too difficult. To get divorced (in Dane County, WI), however, you must:
- Read a 7-page “Basic Guide to Divorce & Legal Separation” (complete with “10 Basic Steps” and a flow chart!)
- Fill out a 3 page Joint Petition form (7 page form if there are children)
- Fill out a separate Confidential Petition Addendum (to keep your SSN out of the public record)
- Fill out a 6 page Stipulation for Temporary Order (9 pages if there are children)
- File the forms with the court
- Pay $184.50 filing fee
- Serve the other party — more paperwork to fill out
- Wait mandatory 120 day waiting period
- Wait for court hearing to be scheduled
- Fill out a 12 page Marital Settlement Agreement listing all your assets, personal property, debts, and liabilities
- Fill out an 8 page Financial Disclosure Statement (listing all income, categorized expenses, insurance, debts, liabilities, assets, etc)
- Fill out a 5 page Findings of Fact & Judgement form
- Attend the court divorce trial/hearing
And that’s an EASY divorce! No children, no alimony, agreement on division of assets & liabilities. It only gets more complicated from here.
So in my opinion, if you want to lower the divorce rate — stop making it so easy for people to get married! If people had to wait 4 months, fill out 40 pages of legal forms, and sit before a court judge in order to get a marriage license, then only those who are REALLY SERIOUS about getting married would do it — and they would be a lot less likely to get divorced later.
That’s my soapbox for today. I hope you enjoyed reading and maybe I gave you some new perspectives to think about.