By Steven B. Cowan – On September 7, 2005, the California legislature passed a bill allowing same-sex marriages in that state.1 It is the first state legislature to do so. Governor Schwarzenegger has vowed to veto the bill, but it seems that a dangerous trend is in the making. The passage of this bill was precipitated a few months ago by the ruling of the California Supreme Court that the states popular ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, a decision that opened a floodgate of homosexual unions.2 Last year, over 1,000 gay and lesbian couples were legally wed in Massachusetts soon after the state Supreme Court had ruled that such unions were permissible.3 Several other states, though not allowing same-sex marriage per se, have legislated civil unions and domestic partnership laws that provide legal protections similar to marriage.
The push is on all across the nation to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States. If that happens, the U.S. would join the four other nations of the world (Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain) who have already legalized such unions. In light of these developments, President Bush has called for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. At present the fate of such an amendment is uncertain.
We are experiencing a cultural crisis that calls for an informed Christian response. Many people in our society cannot understand why anyone would be opposed to homosexual marriage. They think it hateful, even ludicrous, that in our enlightened age anyone would deny to loving homosexual couples the same rights and privileges that others enjoy. How should we respond? What can we do to prevent the cultural slide to same-sex marriage other than quoting a few Bible verses? In this article, I will spell out four reasons why same-sex marriage is a bad idea and respond to a few objections. It is my hope that the reader will be able to use the argument s in this article to be salt and light during this cultural crisis.
Four Reasons Why Same-Sex Marriage Is A Bad Idea
- It would require the state to sanction an immoral practice. When we speak about homosexuality we are primarily discussing people’s behavior. We are not talking about innate or inherited traits like skin color, height, intelligence, etc. – traits over which a person has no control and which are the legitimate targets of anti-discrimination laws. Despite the rhetoric of the homosexual community, there is no proof for a biological basis for homosexuality.4 Moreover, there are good reasons (in addition to biblical teaching) to consider homosexual behavior as positively immoral.5 For one thing, homosexual behavior is contrary to the obvious design of our Creator for human sexuality . The human body has a natural, self-evident teleology (purpose). The fact that male sexual organs fit with female sexual organs is no accident – they were made that way. This tells us that heterosexuality is the intent of God (otherwise he would not have made two sexes).
For another thing, homosexuality fails to satisfy the ethical principle of universalizability. A practice that cannot be rationally universalized to all people (i.e., a practice that all people cannot rationally perform) is shown to be immoral. For example, if everyone habitually told lies, then no one could tell lies successfully -because we would always know that whatever another person was telling us is a lie. Lying is not universalizable. Thus, we know that lying is generally wrong. Likewise, homosexuality is not universalizable. If everyone opted for homosexuality, then pretty soon there would be no homosexuals or anyone else!
Now given that homosexuality is morally wrong, what exactly is the government being asked to do when it is asked to legalize same-sex marriage? It is being asked to give approval and commendation to an immoral lifestyle. It is being asked to say, in effect, that what is immoral is to be looked upon favorably, even celebrated.
It is one thing for the government to say that it is not going to prohibit or punish some immoral behavior (after all, not everything that is immoral should be illegal), but it is quite another thing for the government to institutionalize and call “good” that which is bad. For example, it is one thing for the government to decide not to punish a soldier who displays cowardice in battle, but it is quite another thing to give him a medal for it! If the state legalizes homosexual marriage, it will be doing just this – it will be calling good that which is evil.
There is another point worth making here. If the state gives its approval to same-sex marriage, it is inevitable that dissenters will be persecuted. If homosexual marriage is recognized by the state as something good, something that deserves the protection of the law, then those who protest and refuse to follow along will be subject to government sanctions. As Francis Beckwith explains,
For example. . .a philosophy department at an Evangelical Christian college that refuses to hire “married” same-sex couples while receiving federal funds, may, according to this moral logic, have its government funding withdrawn because it would be engaging in unlawful discrimination based on marital status. . . .Imagine if “same-sex marriage” were to become legal in every jurisdiction in the United States. Does anybody seriously doubt that recalcitrant social conservatives, serious Christians, Jews, and Muslims, who resist this change in any public way, would receive the swift and certain punishment of the law?6
We do not have to speculate about this. Beckwith’s “prophecy” has already become a reality in places where homosexuality has gained a favorable status in the law. He cites, for example, the case of a woman in Boulder, Colorado who gave a pamphlet critical of homosexuality to one of her husband’s employees. She was charged with violating the local gay rights ordinance and forced to undergo counseling.7 In Sweden, a pastor of a Pentecostal church was sentenced to one month in prison for preaching a sermon, based on biblical texts, against homosexuality. His sermon was said to have violated Swedish laws that make it a hate crime to speak critically of homosexuals.8
2. It will undermine traditional marriage. Marriage is an institution that predates the existence of the state. Men and women have been entering into marital unions for millenia for love, companionship, security, and the raising of children. And these marital unions existed independently of any state sanction, probably before any recognizable civil governments existed anywhere on the planet. Certainly this is the testimony of Scripture in which we learn that God established the institution of marriage in the Garden long before there were any civil governments (Gen. 2:18-25).
The fact that marriage was established independently of the state and is as old as the human race reveals that marriage has its own intrinsic nature or essence. Marriage is, as J. Budziszewski explains, “a mutual and binding promise between one man and one woman, before God, to enter into a procreative and unitive bond, with each other alone, for life.”9 Until very recently, no human being on the planet has been in doubt as to the nature of marriage. Even in ancient societies like Greece or Rome, where homosexual behavior was seen as permissible under some circumstances, no one would have considered a homosexual “marriage” conceivable.
If the state were to legalize same-sex marriage, it would be making two completely unwarranted assumptions about the nature of marriage. First, it would be assuming (as many homosexual activists assume) that marriage does not have an intrinsic essence after all. It would be assuming, that is, that the definition of marriage is simply a social convention that society may change and mold at will. But, as Budziszewski argues,
Things do not change natures just because we change the words by which we refer to them. We might decide to call dogs “cats,” but we would not thereby succeed in turning dogs into cats. . . .In the same way, we might decide to call same-sex liaisons “marriages,” but we would not thereby succeed in turning these liaisons into marriages…10
Marriage, by definition, is between a man and a woman. It is not a mere social construct whose nature is subject to the shifting whims of society. Yet, by sanctioning same-sex marriage, the government would be treating marriage as a social construct.
Second, by legalizing same-sex marriages, the state will assume to itself the power to tell us what marriage is – the state, that is, would arbitrarily assume that the institution of marriage is dependent for its very existence upon the states endorsement and approval. Traditionally, marriage and family were considered a separate sphere of society that, as noted above, came into being and existed independently of the state. And it was, in fact, part of the state’s God-given role to protect the institution of marriage because the state was/is dependent for its own proper functioning upon healthy families. But, not any more. Now, marriage is seen by many nations and states as owing its very definition to the whims of the state.
This change in relationship between family and state can lead only to the destruction of traditional marriage. This is ironic in one sense because many who tout the virtues of same-sex marriage claim that they intend no harm to traditional marriage. Rather, they simply seek to expand the scope of those who may participate in its benefits.11 However, the redefinition of marriage entailed by the prospect of same-sex marriage, will inevitably undermine traditional marriage in at least two ways.
First, it will demolish the foundation of the right of parents to raise and educate their own children. Think about it. The idea that parents have a natural right to raise and educate their children and that parents have a legitimate authority over their children presupposes that marriage has a definable, intrinsic nature. But, if marriage (and family) is a social construction that may be defined lead to the devaluing of and redefined by the state at will, then parents simply do not have these natural rights regarding their children. Whatever authority parents have over their children is given them by the state and may be taken away by the state whenever the state thinks that some other “family” arrangement is more useful. Thus, with Michael Pakaluk, we must conclude that “laws recognizing gay marriage imply. . .that parents have no objective and natural authority over their children, prior to that of the state.”12
Second, same-sex “marriage” will lead to the de-valuing (if not elimination) of marital sexual fidelity. Sociological studies have shown that the idea of a monogamous sexual commitment among homosexuals is largely a myth.13 Sue Bohlin cites studies which show that, on average, homosexual relationships last no more than two years, and that even when living in “committed’ relationships, homosexual men have an average of eight additional sexual partners.14 These statistics are no accident. According to homosexual writer Gabriel Rotello, many homosexuals believe that ‘[g]ay liberation was founded…on a ‘sexual brotherhood of promiscuity,’ and any abandonment of that promiscuity would amount to a ‘communal betrayal of gargantuan proportions.’”15 For reasons like these, Camille Paglia, a lesbian, honestly refers to so-called committed homosexual relationships as ‘monogamy without fidelity.”16
Some homosexual advocates, such as Andrew Sullivan, have claimed that such promiscuity is the result of the cultural stigma still attached to homosexuality and would be greatly curtailed if same-sex marriage were legally recognized.17 However, Budziszewski aptly replies that no one really believes this, including gay activists themselves. In the final chapter of his book Virtually Normal, even Sullivan let s the cat out of the bag. It turns out that he doesn’t expect so-called gay marriage to change homosexual behavior so much as to change heterosexual behavior. According to Sullivan, social approval of homosexual liaisons would be good for straight culture because gays can teach straights something. And what can they teach them? There is “more likely to be a greater understanding of the need for extramarital outlets between two men,” says Sullivan, “than between a man and a woman.” Recognition of the need for extramarital “outlets” is supposed to be something good.18
Of course, the idea is that if all people come to sympathize with the need for two men to have extramarital sexual outlets, then they will soon have sympathy for the need for heterosexual couples to have extramarital outlet s. This suspicion is confirmed by homosexual activist Ronald Long who states, “I cannot but think that it might be a gain if marital infidelity ceased to be. . .the ‘deal breaker’ it so often is.’19 If and when sexual fidelity ceases to be valued within marriage – as it surely will if same-sex marriage is legalized – then traditional marriage is history.
3. It would open the door to other perversions of marriage. Redefining marriage to go beyond the union of one man and one woman to include same-sex unions will inevitably lead to further redefinitions of marriage. The logic behind the push for same-sex marriage – that marriage is a social convention and society can and should redefine marriage to suit current cultural beliefs about sexuality, family, etc. – can be used to justify other non-traditional unions. Only pure arbitrariness can limit the redefinition of marriage only to homosexuals. As Albert Mohler puts it, “Once marriage is no longer ‘one thing,’ but now ‘another thing,’ there is nothing to stop marriage from becoming virtually ‘everything.’”20
If same-sex marriages are legalized, there is nothing but emotion to prevent the legalization of polygamous marriages, incestuous marriages, group marriages, bestial marriages, or worse. And lest the reader thinks that this is pure speculation, take note of the fact that polygamists are already filing lawsuits for the recognition of their “marriages” in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down the anti-sodomy laws.21
4. It would require the state to adopt a non-neutral, relativistic perspective. One of the strongest and most persistent claims of the homosexual agenda is that legalizing same-sex marriage is the only way to keep the state morally and religiously neutral on matters of sexuality. In other words, it is argued that the government ought not to side with one camp (the religious right) in the culture war by defining “marriage” in such a way as to preclude homosexual marriage. The state ought to remain neutral on the definition of “marriage.” And the only way to remain neutral is to allow same-sex marriage.
The first thing to be said in reply is, again, that the same logic will justify other, even more radical, forms of “marriage.” If the state ought to be completely neutral on what marriage is, then how can it prohibit polygamy or beastial unions? If the state limits marriage to two people, then isn’t the state taking sides against those who believe in polygamy and beastialty?
More directly to the point, however, is the fact that the state would not be maintaining neutrality if it legalizes same-sex marriage. Those who oppose homosexuality and same-sex marriage believe that there is such a thing as “disordered” or “deviant” sexual practice. This belief arises from the more fundament al belief that there is, as noted earlier, a natural teleology or purpose for human sexuality that implies that marriage is essentially heterosexual. If the state, then, legalizes same-sex marriage, it would be saying in no uncertain terms that this traditional view of sex and marriage is mistaken! And it would likewise be substituting for that traditional view the alternative perspective that marriage does not have a definable essence and that the limits of human sexual behavior are purely conventional. As Francis Beckwith points out, “[I]t is that premise – that there is no disordered sexual practice as long as all the participant adults consent – that is a necessary condition for the state treating same-sex marriage as morally indistinguishable from traditional marriage.”22
Far from remaining neutral, the government would, if it sanctions same-sex marriage, be adopting a particular view of human nature, a particular view of human sexuality, and a particular view of marriage. The view it would adopt is the relativistic view that sexuality and marriage are whatever two consenting adults want them to be.
Two Objections To Banning Same-Sex Marriage
Having spelled out the major argument s against it, it is important that we respond to some of the objections raised by supporters of same-sex marriage.
1. Isn’t banning same-sex marriage a form of discrimination? It is a common part of the pro-homosexual rhetoric that the homosexual community is a persecuted minority group that is simply attempting to secure it s civil rights against a homophobic majority. They present their case as analogous to the fight of African-Americans to secure their rights during the Civil Rights Movement. To ban same-sex marriage is a form of discrimination just as wrong as racism.
Two things should be said in response. First, the discrimination argument presupposes two things that we have already seen to be false: (1) that homosexuality is an inherited biological trait just like skin color, and (2) that homosexual behavior is moral. Since homosexuality is neither inherited nor moral, the analogy with racism and the Civil Rights Movement falls flat.
The previous point leads to a second. The question before us is whether denying homosexuals the right to marry is discriminatory. In one sense, the answer is yes – it is discriminatory. We are judging or discriminating with regard to who has the right to marry. But, not all discrimination is unjust. What the homosexual activist has to show is not simply that homosexuals are being discriminated against, but also that the discrimination in this case is unjust. In other words, they have to show one or both of the following: (1) that they are entitled to what they are being denied (i.e., marriage), and (2) that the basis for discrimination is arbitrarily based upon irrelevant factors.
We know that the Jim Crow laws that discriminated against African-Americans were unjust because they violated both of these factors. For example, African-Americans were entitled to sit anywhere on a public bus they liked because they were no less human beings and no less tax-paying American citizens than the white folks on the bus. And the fact that their skin color differed from that of whites – the basis of discrimination – had no bearing on their entitlement.
Imagine, however, a clear case of just discrimination. W omen are generally precluded from playing college football. Is this discrimination? Of course. Is it unjust? Not at all. It might be unjust if the only basis for precluding them was that they possessed different reproductive organs than the male players. Perhaps we can grant that women have a prima facie entitlement to play college football (i.e., they meet criterion (1) above), but most women are justly precluded from playing college football because they fail criterion (2) there are relevant factors that provide a just basis of discrimination (e.g., women are generally smaller and physically weaker than the men who play football, and a large physique is a requirement for playing the game). This basis for discrimination is clearly not unjust because even small, weak men would be precluded for the same reason.
Banning same-sex marriage is not unjust discrimination because, first of all, homosexuals are not entitled to what they are being denied. As we have seen, marriage is, by definition, between a man and a woman. Therefore, it is logically impossible for homosexuals to be entitled to marriage. Even if we granted them the legal right to marry, as was pointed out earlier, they would not really be married!
Secondly, the basis for discriminating against homosexuals on this issue is not arbitrary. Homosexuality is not like skin color and other inherited trait s. It is the result, in part, of ones up-bringing and the choices one has made. Thus, no one has to be a homosexual. Moreover, homosexuality is immoral and, as we have seen, legalizing same-sex marriage would have devastating societal consequences.
2. Shouldn’t homosexual couples be afforded some of the same social privileges that married couples have such as inheritance rights, hospital visitation rights, marriage tax deductions, etc.? We have all heard the stories. A homosexual person is hospitalized and his “partner” with whom he has lived in a caring relationship for twenty years is not allowed the same visitation and decision-making privileges that a spouse would have. Or suppose that the homosexual person dies. The partner would not be heir to the deceased person s estate even though, say, his family members who disowned and hated him for years would get everything. Is this right? Should not long-time committed homosexual partners be allowed to marry so that these kinds of unfortunate circumstances can be avoided?
I think that these kinds of stories are indeed tragic. And those of us who believe that same-sex marriage is a mistake need not deny that homosexual couples can have a real and deep affection for each other – an affection that is not entirely bad. The question, though, is whether or not the existence of such affection justifies same-sex marriage. It does not.
It may be possible to make a case that the rules and policies that create these tragic stories should be left exactly as they are. Because homosexuality is immoral, perhaps we should not “reward” such behavior by creating tax loopholes for homosexual couples or allowing them to inherit the estates of their illicit lovers. I will not make that case here. I am willing to grant, at least for the sake of argument, that there is something wrong with not allowing a person to visit someone he loves in the hospital and participate in decision-making regarding his care. I am willing to grant – again, for the sake of argument – that the inheritance and tax laws unfairly favor the married. But what follows from this?
It does not follow that same-sex marriage (or even some crypto-marriage provision like civil unions) should be legalized. All that follows is that the policies and laws that lead to such tragedy should be modified or repealed. After all, the precise contours of inheritance laws, hospital visitation policies, and the tax code, are largely social conventions. No inalienable right would be violated if married couples had to pay more taxes or if long-time same-sex friends (or lovers!) were given a role in deciding hospital care. And inheritance laws might even be modified to make provisions in these areas too. (By the way, inheritance issues can usually be settled by the writing of a will.)
Same-sex marriage is a bad idea. All citizens who care about the common good and the institution of marriage should oppose the push in our society to legalize homosexual unions. They should oppose it, first of all, by presenting strong argument s like those outlined in this article. They should oppose it, secondly, by writing their senators and congressmen and letting them know why same-sex marriage is a bad idea. Thirdly, they should vote their consciences on this issue when the opportunity arises. By God’s grace we may yet survive this cultural crisis.
Steven B. Cowan (Ph.D.) is Associate Director of the Apologetics Resource Center and editor of Areopagus Journal.
1 See Associated Press internet article “Calif. lawmakers pass gay marriage bill” at https://msnbc.msn.com/id/9234556.
2 See Bob Egelko, “Judge Strikes Down Ban on Same-sex Marriage,” San Francisco Chronicle (March 15, 2005).
3 See Yvonne Abraham and Michael Paulsen, “Wedding Day,”The Boston Globe (May 18, 2004).
4 For a detailed discussion of the lack of evidence for the biological basis of homosexuality see Jeffrey Satinover’s article in this Areopagus Journal, The Gay Gene,” pp.10-17.
5 For a more detailed discussion of the following case for the immorality of homosexuality, see my “Abandoning Nature: An Argument Against Homosexuality,” Areopagus Journal 1:4 (October 2001): 33-36.
6 Francis J. Beckwith, “Legal Neutrality and Same-Sex Marriage,” Philosophia Christi 7:1 (2005): 24-25.
7 Ibid., 25. The original report of this case was made by Hadley Arkes, “A Corrupted Culture,” First Things 67 (November 1996): 30-33. Internet version can be found at www .firstthings.com/ f tissues/ft9611/articles/arkes.html.
8 See story at www.lifesite.net/ldn/2004/jul/04070505.html.
9 J. Budziszewski, “The Illusion of Gay Marriage,” Philosophia Christi 7:1 (2005): 46.
10 Ibid., 45.
11 See, e.g., Richard D. Mohr, “Homosexuality and the Morality of Discrimination,” in Do the Right Thing: Readings in Applied Ethics , 2nded., ed. Francis J. Beckwith (Belmont, CA: W adsworth, 2002), 629-636; Angela Bolte, “Do Wedding Dresses Come in Lavender?: The Prospects and Implications of Same-Sex Marriage,” in Ibid., 656-670; and Ronald E. Long, “In Support of Same-Sex Marriage,” Philosophia Christi 7:1 (2005): 29-39.
12 Michael Pakaluk, “Homosexuality and the Common Good,” in Do the Right Thing, 643.
13 See the report of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), Psych Association Promotes Misinformation (Sept. 30, 2002) at www.narth.com/ docs/bulletin01/05.html; and Louis Bergman, “Long-term Gay Relationships,” NARTH Collected Papers (Encino, CA: NARTH, 1996).
14 Sue Bohlin, ‘Same Sex Marriage: A Facade of Normalcy,” Probe Ministries website article at
www.probe.org/content/view /1118/140. The study she cites is Maria Xiridou, et al, The Contribution of Steady and Casual Partnerships to the Incidence of HIV Infection among Homosexual Men in Amsterdam, AIDS 17 (2003): 1031.
15 Gabriel Rotello, Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men (New York: Penguin, 1998), 112.
16 Camille Paglia, “I’ll take religion over gay culture,” Salon.com (June 1998) online article at www.frontpagemag.com/archives/ guest_column/paglia/gayculture.htm.
17 Andrew Sullivan, Virtually Normal: An Argument about Homosexuality (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).
18 J. Budziszewski, “The Illusion of Gay Marriage,” 51-52.
19 Ronald E. Long, “In Support of Same-Sex Marriage,” 36. Long does go on to argue that homosexual men can be monogamous, though, interestingly, he does so by pointing out that homosexual men who choose to “play around” may do so by “establishing rules so that such ‘playing around’ does not threaten the relationship itself” (ibid.). It is mysterious at the very least as to how one can defend the ability of homosexuals to be faithful by showing how they can be “responsibly” unfaithful!
20 Albert Mohler, “The Case Against Homosexual Marriage,” Crosswalk.com (January 15, 2004) internet article at www.crosswalk.ccom/news/weblogs/mohler/121113.html?view=point
21 See Anne F. Downey, “Utah Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Polygamy Case,” internet article at www.cwfa.org/articles/7448/LEGAL/family
22 Francis Beckwith, “Legal Neutrality and Same-Sex Marriage,” 23.