Dafydd ab Hugh has a column up on his Big Lizards site offering a secular argument against gay marriage. Long-time Patterico readers know that I do not oppose gay marriage; Dafydd’s piece, while it makes for entertaining reading, does not persuade me that my position is wrong.
Dafydd makes two main points: 1) marriage between a man and a woman is a civilizing influence on society, and should be encouraged; and 2) therefore, society should not recognize gay marriage, because that societal recognition undercuts traditional marriage.
Point #1, the argument in favor of heterosexual marriage as a civilizing influence, has much to recommend it. True, it resorts to stereotypes of men as aggressive hunters and women as nurturers. True, these stereotypes sometimes lead to conclusions I find comical (such as the assertion that lesbians are rarely aggressive or career-oriented). But Dafydd acknowledges that there are exceptions to his stereotypes, and I think that there is a central truth in much of what he says.
Where I disagree with Dafydd is his point #2: that society should therefore ban gay marriage as a way to encourage marriage. I come to this conclusion by comparing the pros and cons of banning gay marriage.
First, the cons. The downside of banning gay marriage is that homosexuals are made to feel that they are second-class citizens. I don’t know whether being gay is genetic, a learned behavior, or some combination of the two — but I am confident that it is something that people do not consciously choose. I certainly did not consciously choose to be sexually attracted to women; that is hard-wired into me somehow. I can’t imagine it’s different for gay men.
Since gays do not consciously choose their sexual orientation, refusing to give them access to an institution available to heterosexuals is discrimination. The policy question is whether this discrimination is justified on a societal level. Dafydd argues that it is. So I turn to the alleged pros of banning gay marriage. I’ll let Dafydd speak for himself on this point:
We live in a society that prizes liberty and individual choice. To me, it betrays Americanism to forbid people the right to live as they want to live — even if that means two gay men or four lesbians making a household together. But we’re not talking about what is merely allowed; when the subject is marriage, we are talking about what is applauded.
I don’t believe we have the right to forbid gay relationships… but surely we have no obligation whatsoever to pretend they are as important to society as traditional marriage.
Marriage is a definition, and definitions are based on distinctions, on discrimination: society defines “marriage” in the way that is most valuable to society. That is the only standard to use when what you’re seeking is not individual liberty or freedom, but rather society’s seal of approval.
For its entire existence, the core of Western civilization has been the union of the male and female principles into a family that transcends the limitations of each. In deciding what relationships we, as a society, shall privilege, it is imperative that we recognize the fundamental nature of that decision: it’s not unreasonable to insist that the “norm” actually be what is normal and traditional.
So let gays shack up; let swingers have their orgies; let two aging sisters live together for companionship. But as General Honore said, “don’t get stuck on ‘stupid!’” However valuable such relationships may be to the individuals involved, we cannot pretend that every imaginable relationship is a marriage, or else the word “marriage” loses all meaning.
I just don’t buy this. People get married for all sorts of reasons: love, companionship, stability, raising a family, and financial reasons, just to name a few. People stay married for a similarly wide variety of reasons. I don’t think that, for heterosexuals, the availability of marriage to homosexuals plays any part in the calculus of whether they get married, or whether they stay married. At all. And Dafydd has not explained to me how it does.
UPDATE: Dafydd has a further post on the issue in which he purports to bust three “myths” that he has seen in the comments here. I think his post is completely illogical. I explain why here.