One argument comes from the political right; the other, from the left.
While support for gay marriage is steadily increasing, and Rhode Island having just become the 10th state to approve the practice, opposition to it has certainly not gone away. While there can be legitimate issues about when and how to talk to children about it in the schools and what private organizations must or can allow, there have also been two strands of arguments against gay marriage that are worth examining and rejecting. One argument is from the right, and one is from the left.
Offended beyond endurance
One strand of right-wing opposition to gay marriage is that its existence is offensive and restricts the religious freedom of people opposed to homosexuality. They point to a string of cases in which businesses have declined to serve gay people and have then been prosecuted. A Washington florist, for example, declined the request of a gay couple to provide flowers for their wedding and is being sued under the anti-discrimination statute.
On the one hand, the argument goes, if you are open for business, you are open for business to all equally. That is our law — public enterprises must be available to all, regardless of race or disability (and now) sexual orientation.
On the other hand, the florist argues, there are plenty of florists out there and she isn’t attacking the gay couple or trying to stop them from getting married and living their lives. To her mind, her shop is not a corporate entity, but an extension of herself, her passions and her beliefs.
While the florist seems rather gentle (especially compared with the string of comments on that thread wishing her life would be destroyed), there is a less benign line of reasoning that suggests an excuse for violence against gays.
At times, the “gay panic” defense has been used as a claim of justification for murder. The theory goes that a fine upstanding heterosexual (usually male) is approached or hit upon by a gay person, and finds this so offensive, so insulting, so demeaning that the resulting violence is “understandable,” indeed, almost required by honor.
It’s sort of like some 19th century duel, where a person’s honor was insulted beyond endurance and they demand “satisfaction.”
We usually claim that people are free to worship as they see fit, and free to have private views. But can you be free to dislike gay marriage? Conservatives sometimes express fear that the government is out to suppress such views. “The end point of liberalism is a coercive secular state in which the religious have no meaningful rights,” writes George Neumayr in The American Spectator, a leading conservative magazine. It’s not just about allowing gay marriage, he argues, soon it will be a requirement for churches, who will gradually be shoved out of civic life if they don’t comply.
Others point to a “conspiracy” in which crimes against gays (such as Matthew Shepard, tortured and murdered in 1998) get massive attention, but similar crimes committed by homosexuals (such as the murder of Jesse Dirkhising) receive almost no coverage in the media.
Individual cases in a nation of 300 million generally prove less than people think they do. And guilt by association (“A disgusting person used the argument you are using, so that proves you are disgusting.”) can be a weak argument, and a reference to Hitler is almost a cliché of bad arguments, but similar reasoning was used to justify attacks on Jews.
Aryans were so offended by Jews, so appalled by their very existence, the story went, that violence against Jews was understandable, excusable, even proof that the Aryan was somehow exemplary.
Even if that comparison is a bit much, the notion that your behavior, what you do in private, is so offensive to me that I cannot survive simply knowing you exist – that argument seems to open the door to my taking action against you, and violent action at that.
In a democracy, mere views of another, or what they do in private, cannot form a justification for violence.
The left is not united
It is generally assumed that gay marriage is a “left issue,” but that is not universally true. There is opposition to gay marriage from the liberal end of the political spectrum. This is based on the idea that by desiring the same thing as a heterosexual couple, homosexuals are accepting that heterosexuality is good. The term is “heteronormal,” meaning an implicit acceptance that the practices and institutions of heterosexuals are the “normal” thing to do. Gay marriage then, is simply trying to be like straights.
This leads to questioning marriage entirely. As one writer put it, summarizing the views of Michael Warner, “the crux of the argument is that marriage itself is an exclusive and discriminatory institution.” This writer went on to say that “I feel like the whole idea of marriage should just be demolished with a jackhammer and chalked up as a really bad phase that humanity went through.”
This movement is sometimes termed “the queer critique of marriage” and a number of writings are collected at the website, Against Equality:
“Gay marriage apes hetero privilege and allows everyone to forget that marriage ought not to be the guarantor of rights like health care … They claim that they simply want the famous 1000-plus benefits but all of these … can be made available to non-marital relationships … [G]ay marriage increases economic inequality by perpetuating a system which deems married beings more worthy of the basics like health care and economic rights.”
In this view, any notion that one relationship should have priority over others and that you should get benefits (such as health care) for being in such a relationship is itself bad.
This does highlight that being married brings not just protection (such as allowing you to make decisions for a dying partner) but also benefits (such as access to a partner’s health care). Once again, the real issue is why we don’t have universal health insurance. But will allowing gays to marry really change the overall political dynamics on this issue? It seems unlikely.
More fundamentally, this critique seems to ignore the reality that humans get together with others. Our relationships are not all equal, we are closer to some than to others. We make business associations, join hobby groups, find those who worship as we do, associate ourselves with sports teams and many other things.
At a personal level, people do pair up. And even if that pairing is fraught with failures and inconsistencies, and is not for everyone, the human desire to share all the dimensions of your life, including your finances, with another seems very strong and persistent. That desire has motivated people to spend their fortunes, to risk social ostracism and even to risk their lives.
We don’t really get the chance to create perfect societies, we take what we get and we find a way to be authentic within that framework. And for many, perhaps millions, of homosexuals, that means that getting married is very important.
There is another perspective on this issue, but one that doesn’t have fancy terminology. In this view, existing together on the same planet, the same city, the same floor of our business requires us to not to react to some things we don’t like and requires us to forgive the minor bumps and scrapes of walking through life together, understanding that they are inevitable.
In this view, a person can absolutely hate homosexuality, but is required to do no more than politely decline if approached by one. A person can associate with whomever they like, but out in public has to extend courtesy to all. Perhaps we might even allow those sole proprietorship businesses that are not providing life and death services, to discriminate a little and just say it’s their loss. Perhaps we really should let people pair up with whomever they like, and just accept that quirky aspect of life, even if we don’t get it or don’t understand their choices.
That’s freedom and democracy.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Mint Press News’ editorial policy.