Friday, 14 September 2012

The Same-Sex Marriage Controversy

This week, I participated in a debate on the subject of same-sex marriage before an audience at the University of Glasgow. The motion was "Politics, Religion and Expression: This House Supports Gay Marriage." The format took a parliamentary style, with teams of three representing each side. Representing traditional marriage were myself, Father John Keenan (Catholic Chaplin of the University of Glasgow) and John Deighan (Parliamentary Officer of the Scottish Catholic Church). Representing the proposed re-definition of marriage were Clare Marsh (Scottish Humanist Association), Ross Mitchell (1st Class LLB, University of Glasgow), and John McKee (LGBT & Labour activist). 

The venue was a pack-out, with likely at least 150 people present. Unfortunately, however, most people had seemingly not come for a rational dialogue and to be edified by hearing a view that they do not hold (which should be your attitude taken when you attend a debate). The audience was more hostile than even I had envisioned, and many people had come just came to heckle and poke fun during the presentations that they disagreed with.

The other side made use of the usual vacuous rhetoric and emotional appeal that one has come to be accustomed to in this debate. Their side was clearly favoured by the format since the audience was already heavily biased against us -- and 7 minutes (the time permitted for each speech) isn't nearly enough time to unpack the issues that need to be explored. The speeches were followed by a Q&A, in which almost all of the questions were directed at us, and I thought the debate would have benefitted from a formal cross-examination.

The same-sex marriage proponents perpetuated the common  strawman that those of us who oppose SSM are anti gay-rights. Not so. As I pointed out in the debate, homosexuals have just as much right as anybody else to get married. The problem is that they don't want to get married to the kind of people to whom they could get married. Marriage is a social ideal recognised by the government for good reasons. Marriage has an essence. When I made this point during my presentation, John McKee raised a point of information, making the argument that "Men have the right to marry a woman. But a woman does not have the right to marry a woman. Therefore, it's inequality," (my paraphrase). The problem with this objection is that men and women both have equal access to the institution of marriage, which is defined as a union between a man and a woman. I further pointed out that this debate is not about homophobia or bigotry. A phobia is defined as a strong irrational aversion or dislike, and that certainly doesn't apply to me with respect to homosexuals since I have several friends who are homosexual and we can disagree respectfully.

As I pointed out in my presentation (and I didn't receive an answer to this during the debate), the trouble with the same-sex marriage lobby is that they're very good at telling us what marriage isn't. But they're not very good at telling us what marriage positively is. The reason? As soon as they offer a definition, they exclude and discriminate -- thereby undercutting their primary argument. Without an intrinsic essence of marriage, marriage can mean whatever you want it to mean -- including polygamy and inter-generational relationships. Are we practicing "bigotry" by opposing those kinds of "marriages"?

If the definition of marriage is fundamentally malleable, then are we to expect to hear next from those seeking “equal rights” for polygamous marriage (as is already seen in Canada)? How can you grant legitimacy to one and not the other? After all, they use essentially the same arguments. Indeed, The Guardian recently published an interesting article entitled “Polygamy in Canada: A Case of Double Standards”, observing,

"What the polygamists argued is that this new definition discriminates against them because it continues to insist on monogamy in the same way that the previous definition insisted on both monogamy and heterosexuality. It was a logical argument that was rejected by Bauman who in his judgment gave a spirited defence of the virtues of monogamy as being a fundamental principle of western civilisation.
Bauman said that the preservation of monogamous marriage "represents a pressing and substantial objective for all of the reasons that have seen the ascendance of monogamous marriage as a norm in the west," and that "the law seeks to advance the institution of monogamous marriage, a fundamental value in western society from the earliest of times." He also launched an all-out attack on the concept of polygamy, which he said "has been condemned throughout history because of the harms consistently associated with its practice". "There is no such thing as so-called 'good polygamy'," he added.
Now, I agree with Bauman in his defence of the importance of monogamous marriage to society. But I find it difficult to see the logic of defending monogamous marriage as the historic norm in the west when the laws of Canada have already departed from the principle that it is heterosexual, monogamous marriage that is essential to social stability. Put bluntly, if heterosexuality is no longer legally, morally or socially relevant to marriage, why should monogamy continue to be so important?"
I also pointed out that people are equal -- behaviours are not. There is a fundamental difference between discrimination against persons and discrimination against behaviours. The audience, strangely, found this statement to be hilariously funny. But all laws, by their very nature, discriminate against behaviours.

Our side of the discussion dealt with three major issues.
  1. Why should the government recognise and endorse marriage at all?
  2. Morality and ethics.
  3. The implications for religious liberties.
I dealt with the first, and John Keenan and John Deighan dealt with the second and third respectively. Frankly, I was quite shocked by the approach of some audience members and speakers on the subject of religious liberty. When Clare Marsh commented during her presentation (she was first speaker for the other side) that no religious institution would be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages, I raised a point of information enquiring about the religious liberties of those in public sector jobs such as social workers, teachers, B&B owners, etc. She responded by saying that those in public sector jobs need to obey the laws of the land -- as if that was an adequate resolution to the problem. I guess, according to her, same-sex marriage trumps all other liberties, including freedom of conscience. This issue was raised several times in the debate, and I was surprised at how many in attendance had no regard for such liberties.

My own presentation argued that the government recognises marriage because it provides the most stable and nurturing environment for the raising of the next generation. Same-sex marriage, by its very nature, denies children either a mother or a father. I argued that both the father and the mother play unique and complementary roles in the raising of a child. I quoted NARTH's amicus brief to the Hawaiian Supreme Court (1997), which stated that

"It must be noted that if a move to create an entire class of permanently fatherless or motherless children were nto attached to the issue of homosexual marriage, it is doubtful that there would be a controversy, so overwhelming is the evidence of detrimental effect."
The emotional bond that children develop with their mothers helps them to develop their conscience and a sense of self-worth, as well as develop capacities for empathy and intimacy. In fact, a study published in 1998 found that adults who thought their mothers were devoted to them and available during their childhood were significantly less likely to have low self-esteem and depression during adulthood (Mohammadreza, 1998).

Children raised in homes associated with involved fathers generally do better academically and achieve a higher job status in adulthood. Fathers teach children qualities of independence, empathy and assertiveness. They teach sons how to be a man and handle male responsibilities. Indeed, a review published in 1999 looked at studies published since 1980 and concluded that 82% of these papers found "significant associations between positive father involvement and offspring well-being," (Amato and Rivera, 1998).

Another point I made in the debate was that the law is a powerful teacher. There is a demonstrable correlation between changes in law and the subsequent evolution of people's moral perceptions. For example, 150 years ago, people generally thought slavery was okay. With a change in the law to outlaw slavery, people's moral perceptions have evolved and people no longer regard slavery as a moral practice. By legalising, and thereby endorsing, same-sex marriage, the government would "teach" that marriage is not about children, but merely about coupling, which results in people no longer getting married to have children. As Frank Turek explains in his book Correct, Not Politically Correct: How Same-Sex Marriage Hurts Everyone,

“We can see the connection between same-sex marriage and illegitimacy in Scandinavian countries. Norway, for example, has had de-facto same-sex marriage since the early nineties. In Nordland, the most liberal county of Norway, where they fly “gay” rainbow flags over their churches, out-of-wedlock births have soared—more than 80 percent of women giving birth for the first time, and nearly 70 percent of all children, are born out of wedlock! Across all of Norway, illegitimacy rose from 39 percent to 50 percent in the first decade of same-sex marriage.

Anthropologist Stanley Kurtz writes, “When we look at Nordland and Nord-Troendelag — the Vermont and Massachusetts of Norway — we are peering as far as we can into the future of marriage in a world where gay marriage is almost totally accepted. What we see is a place where marriage itself has almost totally disappeared.” He asserts that “Scandinavian gay marriage has driven home the message that marriage itself is outdated, and that virtually any family form, including out-of-wedlock parenthood, is acceptable.””
I also made the point that there is a significantly greater level of promiscuity among the homosexual community relative to the heterosexual community. I cited one of the most prominant defenders of same-sex marriage, Andrew Sullivan, who wrote in his book Virtually Normal, that sex with multiple partners is a good thing, and that it enhances the connection between gays. He writes that "there is more likely to be greater understanding of the need for extra-marital outlets between two men than between a man and a woman." One realizes intuitively how destabilising and damaging this can be for a child's development. 

One could continue for a long time, and there is much more that could be discussed. For those who want to read more, I recommend the following resources:

Correct Not Politically Correct: How Same Sex Hurts Everyone (Dr. Frank Turek) — Persuasively argues that same-sex-marriage is not conducive to the best interests of society. This is also the book which recently cost Dr. Frank Turek his employment with Cisco and Bank of America!
Marriage on Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting (Glenn T. Stanton and Dr. Bill Maier) — Convincingly defends the traditional view of marriage and parenting.
What is Marriage? (Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George & Ryan T. Anderson) — A paper in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy (43 pages in length) which builds a powerful secular case against same-sex-marriage based not on religious tradition or ‘holy writ’, but on publically accessible argumentation.
Christianity Today: Same Sex Marriage -- A compilation of lots of interesting articles on this subject.
The Christian Institute --  Lots of Excellent Resources.

Literature Cited

Amato, P., & Rivera, F. (1998). Paternal Involvement and Children’s Behavior Problems. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61(375-384).

Mohammadreza, H. (1998). Satisfaction with Early Relationships with Parents and Psychosocial Attributes in Adulthood: Which Parent Contributes More? The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 159, 203-220.


  1. To be honest, this post looks a bit weak and vacuous-rhetoric-like - perhaps you did better in the debate.

    1) It seems the 'equal access' point of discrimination is pretty easy to reductio: we all have equal access to marriage, just that marriage is essentially about same-race relationships, so people wanting to marry people of other races just get this wrong, etc. So an argument should be made about why marriage should be (legally) taken as essentially this or that, as opposed to some legal construction aimed at benefit.

    2) I don't see what is so problematic as marriage being some consentual contract that is contingently linked up to things like sex. I don't see any problem with (for example) similar accommodations for polyamory, and 'inter-generational' relationships would also be okay (unless you mean relationships involving people too young to consent, which are obvs. ruled out).

    3) You choose the data on fatherlessness whilst ignoring the much more relevant research that directly compares gay and straight couples (and avoids obvious confounds like family disruption). This data shows that gay couples are in broad equipoise with straight couples when raising children, and certainly support a weaker claim that *some* gay couples can make excellent parents - so the 'necessity' for there to be parents of both genders does not seem to be true (and indeed is explicitly denied by bodies of relevant experts, cf. APA, RCPsych, etc.). So there seems little motivating the claim that legal recognition of gay unions will harm straight families.

  2. Hi Thrasymachus. Let me respond to your points.

    1)Race isn't a fundamental quality of marriage and has never been regarded as such. Gender is, though -- there is a complementarity between the male and the female in a whole range of respects (most obviously anatomically)

    2)On polygamy, see

    3) All of the studies I've seen (almost all of them, curiously enough, are on lesbians) fall down at a methodological level. E.g. they are not longitudinal, they have a very selective sample and the sample sizes are very small. I might write a follow-up post reviewing some of this literature.



    1. "complementarity between the male and the female in a whole range of respects (most obviously anatomically)"

      This is the usual dirty-minded obsession of those opposed to same-sex marriage with organs and orifices.

  3. Hello Jonathan,

    1) Bracketing the issues about whether there are relevant distinctions along gender but not race (or whether historically this distinction was practiced), my remark was simply that the 'you aren't discriminated against, as you can marry someone (just not of the same sex)' line doesn't fly, as no one would take 'you aren't discriminated against, as you can marry someone (just not of a different race' as non-discriminatory. It may be that there are reasons for the former but not for the latter, but that's irrelevant for the reductio.

    2) Interesting, thanks. Although I don't see how the suggestive social benefits of monogamy warrants legal discrimination against polygamy (on which see, later).

    3) Some data (albeit imperfect) is better than no data (or data about something basically unrelated, like comparing disrupted to undisrupted families as your citated research does), and the data available is enough to convince the majority of relevant domain experts.

    More importantly, even a very small, very selective and non-longitudinal study should be sufficient to demonstrate the weaker claim that some gay couples raise children well, which as far as I can see is all the gay marriage advocate would need to show (although parity would be nice).

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