The Arguments and Motives
Equality but not in
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 often 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.
What are gay relationships
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. Indeed, one of the most frequent complaints of older gay people is that it is almost impossible to find quality single people to get into a relationship with, because they're already all 'taken!'
If you attend any gay event, such as a Pride festival, 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.
Benefit of gay marriage to
a heterosexual society
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.
So 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. Here's a summary:
1. Marriage is an institution between one man and one woman. Well, that's the most often heard argument. 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 prejudice 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 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 killers 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. Many 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. 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 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 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 for example in the Netherlands? 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.
9. The Bible is against it.
We know now that the vast majority of adults are either heterosexual or homosexual. Also, a small minority are bisexual. However the authors of the Bible seem quite unaware that some persons had a homosexual orientation. The authors knew of certain forms of same-sex behavior that they considered ritually unclean, degenerate, and/or harmful. But they seem to have been totally unaware of loving, supportive, same-sex committed relationships. The authors did condemn what they regarded as sinful of sexual activities -- both opposite sex (between a man and a woman) and same-sex (between two men or between two women).
Since the authors of the Bible were unaware of homosexual orientation, they could not conceive of loving and committed gay or lesbian relationships (i.e. same-sex marriage or SSM). Thus, the Bible is silent on same-sex marriage. All positive references to human sexuality relate only to heterosexual sex. All committed sexual relationships discussed in the Bible are heterosexual.
We can derive a Christian policy towards SSM for the 21st century by studying those positive passages that describe human sexuality and heterosexual marriage. We may then be able to infer what the Bible writers would have said about same-sex marriages, if they had known about them. This is not a unique process. Christians have to develop policies about other matters that were not mentioned specifically in the Bible: Contraceptives, movies, and abortion are examples.
According to Genesis 2:18, God said: "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him." This applied only to one man, Adam. However, we might infer that it is a general rule that most men should not to go through life alone. By extension, we can infer that the rule also holds for women. Since gays and lesbians seem to have the same capacity and need to love, one could conclude from this verse that homosexuals should also form loving couples
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. 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. Not that there's anything new about this, of course. But the attempt itself runs against the grain of everything the law 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. Plenty of masculine, respected movies stars are gay. Indeed, Rock Hudson was considered the very archetype 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 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.
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 with liberty and justice for all.
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