The Very Worst Argument Against Same-Sex Marriage

There are some weak arguments against marriage equality. Then there's this one. 

Two weeks from Tuesday, on April 28, the Supreme Court will hear arguments over whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional right that should be extended to every American in all 50 states. In the two years since the Court struck down the provision in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defining marriage along strictly heterosexual lines, the number of states where gays may marry has risen from 10 to 37. Here is the national picture:


Few could have expected the marriage-equality movement to spread so widely, so fast, after the Court’s 2013 ruling. Popular sentiment on the question has flipped in a single generation: In 1994, only 27 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage; today, 55 percent do. But do not expect defenders of state bans on same-sex marriage to go down without a fight. Marriage-equality opponents have a portfolio full of arguments at the ready. The traditional claims have been largely abandoned in favor of new, less moralistic, contentions. Some of those are, in my view, wrong but plausible. But as gay marriage opponents have evolved to be less preachy and dogmatic in their tone, some of their arguments have veered into the realm of the truly bizarre.

So I present you with what seems to me, on my admittedly still-incomplete reading of the 30-odd anti-same-sex-marriage amicus (or “friend-of-the-court””) briefs, with the loopiest, craziest, pull-out-all-the-stops worst argument for insisting that marriage remain a heterosexuals-only club. It comes from two “marriage scholars,” Jason Carroll and Walter Schumm:

Yet a definition of marriage that focuses solely on ... adult-centric interests is incomplete and denies the Court’s decisions affirming the states’ interests in procreation. However compelling such a definition might be, it is fatally defective if its adoption brings about conditions such that our society fails to reproduce itself over time, or fails to produce enough posterity to sustain existing intergenerational welfare programs.

The “adult-centric interests” the brief writers are referring to include trifles like finding a “soulmate” with whom to share an “intensely private, spiritualized union, combining sexual fidelity, romantic love, emotional intimacy, and togetherness.” Bah humbug! the brief sniffs. These features of a marriage are mere ancillary benefits. The real reason states are in the marriage business is to regulate procreation. And opening marriage to same-sex couples, profs. Carroll and Schumm aver, undermines that goal by sending a dangerous message to would-be marrieds that the institution isn’t necessarily about having kids. Once that sentiment gets out, it’s doomsday. Fewer people will marry. And those who do decide to marry will tie the knot for will-o-the-wisp, flighty reasons like “intimacy” and “togetherness” (and even, horrors, for “romance”). But that’s no way to propagate the human race. Gay marriage isn’t just a bad idea; it might lead to the extinction of the species. And if that’s not enough of a reason to deny gays a constitutional right to marry, there are those “intergenerational welfare programs” to worry about. Yes, you heard it here first: Your gay uncle can get married OR your kids can get their Social Security checks. A troubling trade-off. But of course even that problem will likely prove moot, as gay marriage will mean there won’t even be enough kids to ensure “the survival of the society itself.”

A less nightmarish but perhaps even screwier cousin of this procreation argument has popped up in several states’ defenses of their prohibitions on same-sex marriage. Indiana made the claim in Baskin v. Bogan, and Michigan develops a version of it in its brief to the justices. The argument is this: When heterosexual people have sex, they might conceive and bear children accidentally, and marriage gives them a sanctuary for making their accidents kosher. But homosexuals can’t knock up one another by mistake. Biology militates against that kind of thing. So they don’t need marriage.

New York State’s highest court relied upon just this argument in a 2006 case. Homosexual couples “can become parents by adoption, or by artificial insemination ... but they do not become parents as a result of accident or impulse.” By contrast, straight couples have relationships that are “all too often casual or temporary” and therefore need marriage “to create more stability and permanence in the relationships that cause children to be born.” Because they do not have kids willy-nilly, gays and lesbians already have more stable relationships, the Court reasoned; they don’t need the civilizing institution of marriage as much as heterosexual couples do.   

As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick explains, the contention sits in distinct tension with the reasoning behind recent state efforts to protect religious liberty as a pretext for permitting discrimination against gays and lesbians. But that hypocrisy isn’t the argument’s worst feature. The trouble with the procreation claim is plain as day: While not all gay couples will choose to have children (just as some straight couples do not), these individuals will not have a deflating effect on the United States population. There are plenty of people, gay and straight, who are happy to have children, whether they are conceived by mistake or not.

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.

Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.