Why I’m coming out… against gay marriage
A New York progressive braves the opprobrium of his peers by questioning same-sex marriage.
‘I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.’ With those words, President Barack Obama ‘came out’ last week, and changed his position on gay marriage. While Obama is limited in what he can do to promote this cause, his announcement was of great symbolic importance, since he is the first president ever to endorse gay marriage.
The growing clamour in favour of gay marriage has led me to recognise that it is important to speak out and be counted – against the gay-marriage campaign. This is not because I am a Christian or anti-gay, but because…
1) The gay-marriage campaign is elitist and believes its opponents are ‘bigots’
Anyone who is against gay marriage is immediately considered to be someone who denies gay people’s humanity, does not believe in civil rights, is on the wrong side of history, is living in the past, is a ‘homophobe’ and – most of all – is a bigot. As Brendan O’Neill highlighted last week, there was a tremendous amount of abuse hurled at the 61 per cent of people in North Carolina who voted for Amendment 1, which states that ‘marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognised in this state’.
New York Times’ editorials routinely refer to opposition to gay marriage as ‘bigotry’. Well, they must see a nation of bigots, because about half of America opposes gay marriages according to polls, and even a majority of Californians in 2008 voted for Proposition 8, which restricted the recognition of marriage to opposite-sex couples.
The campaign for gay marriage is being used by the elites for a broader purpose: as a tool for indicating moral superiority over the supposedly backward masses. I refuse to join in the demonisation of working-class people, many of whom quite understandably don’t see why the institution of marriage should be reformed.
2) Same-sex marriage is not a civil right
Homosexuals should be treated fairly in society, but it does not automatically follow that fair treatment requires a change in the definition of marriage. Many same-sex marriage advocates claim that the issue is one of civil rights, and they often deploy the argument that gay marriage is similar to the case for interracial marriage in the past. But this is a false analogy.
The concept of marriage throughout history has been the union of one man and one woman for the purpose of procreation and the raising of a family. The fact that some couples do not have children does not invalidate the fundamental basis of this institution. The binding of the family to the larger community over generations has led marriage to be considered a public good worthy of state recognition and support. This definition clearly sets marriage apart from other bonds in society.
Laws prohibiting interracial marriage were a denial of the original promise of a union between one man and one woman, and thus represented a violation of that civil right. In contrast, same-sex marriage is ruled out in the inherent definition of marriage; there is no promise of allowing marriage for same-sex couples that is being denied in practice by societal discrimination. ‘Including’ gays and lesbians in marriage actually means revising the basis of marriage: it would then become the union of two people who are committed romantically. You can argue that such a change would be for the better, but it would not be the realisation of a civil right; it would represent a fundamental change in our concept of marriage.
3) Traditional marriage and the family are worth defending from state intrusion
Today, it appears that only a conservative – most likely a Christian – would put the case for defending marriage. Liberals don’t want to be caught dead lining up on the same side of this social issue.
Since the 1960s, most liberals and progressives vacated the defence of marriage and the family, increasingly portraying them as sites of oppression for women. In its place, an individualistic and therapeutic emphasis on self-fulfillment and romance in marriage emerged. This represented a shift away from the traditional ideological conception of marriage tied to procreation and the family, although in practice the focus on childrearing continued. Today there is no doubt that the current gay-marriage campaign uses the narrower understanding of marriage as being the romantic attachment of two people to argue that life after gay marriage would not be that different. In reality, however, it would make explicit and fixed what is today only implicit and fluid.
But marriage and the family were not always considered one-sidedly in negative terms by those on the left. For centuries, marriage and the family were conceived of as a sphere independent of the sovereign and the state, institutions in which people could forge relationships free from outside interference. The family represented a bulwark against the vicissitudes of capitalism, a ‘haven in a heartless world’, in Christopher Lasch’s terms. Even today, the authorities hesitate to intrude too deeply into family life.
There is a serious risk that this could change with the introduction of gay marriage, because it puts the state much more in the driver’s seat. Even though the state recognises and, to a certain extent, regulates traditional marriage relationships, this would be much more directly the case under a regime that allowed gay marriage. For example, in Canada, where gay marriage became legal in 2005, in some official documentation terms like ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ have been replaced with ‘Spouse’ or ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’, thus exchanging terms with rich moral obligations for bureaucratic-sounding words that the state can define to suit its own purpose. Changing the definition of marriage will invite greater state interference in our private lives.
4) The question of gay marriage has yet to be fully decided
The trend in America has been towards greater acceptance of same-sex marriage: according to Gallup, acceptance has risen from 27 percent in 1996 to 42 per cent in 2004 and 50 percent in 2012. Younger people are more likely than older people to view gay marriage as valid, which suggests a generational shift that will grow over time. However, right now, America remains divided: 48 percent oppose gay marriage. A majority of the states – 31 – have voted to restrict marriage to one woman and one man, while only six plus Washington DC recognise same-sex marriages. The percentage in favour of same-sex marriage is typically higher in polls than in actual voting (for example in Maine in 2009, when gay marriage failed to gain a majority despite favourable polling beforehand).
What remains to be seen is whether the politicisation of gay marriage will lead to a strong reaction against it. The meaning of marriage, and the question of whether it should be changed to include gays and lesbians, should be a matter for public debate. For that reason, it is worth calling for state ballots: this is a social issue that should be decided democratically, not in courtrooms.
Today there is great moral pressure to fall in line behind the introduction of same-sex marriage. This is not due to the power of a relatively small number of gay activists; it is because the entire cultural elite – Democrats and increasingly Republicans – have thrown their collective weight behind gay marriage. In doing so, they are trying to assert their moral superiority by distinguishing themselves from so-called ‘bigots’.
In this environment, those who disagree with, or have questions about, gay marriage will feel tremendous pressure to start conforming. Opposing gay marriage has become a view that ‘dare not speak its name’. Following Obama, expect more public figures to be called upon to recant and say ‘I now believe’.
Well, count me out. I will not join the cultural elite’s bandwagon, a bandwagon that runs on self-flattery and the demonisation of ‘backward’ voters. Critics of the same-sex marriage campaign are here, and we’re not all bible-thumping Christians – get used to it.
Sean Collins is a writer based in New York. Visit his blog, The American Situation.
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