Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Deconstructing "Minnesota for Marriage"

The battle over marriage equality in Minnesota is heating up, and the anti-equality coalition Minnesota for Marriage has launched it's web site. I'd like to take a minute to go through some of their main talking points and deconstruct them. Under the section "Why Preserving Marriage Matters" is the following:
Many people mistakenly believe that proposals to allow so-called “same-sex” marriage are about allowing a new, different and separate form of marriage to coexist alongside traditional man/woman marriage. They envision it as a different expression of the same marriage institution they have always known. 
However, that is a fundamental misunderstanding of the legal issues involved in the debate, and with the proposed constitutional amendment in Minnesota. 
What is at stake in this debate are two competing definitions of marriage. One definition – advocated by gay “marriage” activists – would define marriage as the union of any two people regardless of gender, with the law treating the parties’ genders as irrelevant to the meaning of marriage. The other definition, contained in the proposed constitutional amendment and reflective of the collective understanding of virtually every nation throughout recorded history, is that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
First of all, gotta love the typical scare quotes around marriage in the phrase "gay marriage". Because of course gay couples who have been married by a church (which in my mind is what really makes a marriage), lived together their entire lives, raised children together and built a family aren't really married, they're just pretending at best, mocking God at worst.

But on to the meat of the argument here, "generless marriage".  The anti-equality crowd loves to use this term because it seems to imply that if marriage equality is achieved all married couples will suddenly become androgynous, or maybe it's because it terrifies misogynists who can see their privileged role as "the man of the family" (i.e. the one who doesn't have to cook, clean, take care of kids etc.) slipping away along with antiquated gender roles. Either way the term is a bit disingenuous. I think gender-neutral would be a better term. What marriage equality will do is not make gender irrelevant so much as recognize that same-gender couples are equal to opposite-gender couples. And, as my Christian complementarian friends well know, equal doesn't necessarily mean the same (though I do think there are far more similarities than differences).

The page keeps up the "genderless marriage" meme further on.
Under the law, one definition of marriage would not exist alongside the other. Only one of the competing definitions of marriage would legally exist. As noted in a scholarly review published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, “…once the judiciary or legislature adopts ‘the union of any two persons’ as the legal definition of civil marriage, that conception becomes the sole definitional basis for the only law-sanctioned marriage that any couple can enter, whether same-sex or man-woman. Therefore, legally sanctioned genderless marriage, rather than peacefully coexisting with the contemporary men-woman marriage institution, actually displaces and replaces it.”
This quote expresses essentially the same concerns as the one above. What I find interesting though is the fact that they fail to mention that the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy that they are citing is a decidedly conservative organization with a strong bias on this issue. And while I again take exception to the term "genderless marriage", I more or less agree with the idea stated.
Why has virtually every society throughout history defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman?
Gotta love this one. No matter how often the anti-equality folks are corrected on this idea, they just keep using it. The notion that "virtually every society throughout history defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman" is laughable. Not only has polygamy been the norm for much of history, but there actually are quite a few societies, though mostly tribal, who have recognized some form of same-sex marriage.
Protecting the interests of children is the primary reason that government regulates and licenses marriage in the first instance. After all, government does not license or regulate any other form of intimate relationship – not friendship, or dating, or cohabitation. People are free, under the law, to live as they choose, cohabitate with whomever they choose and engage in sexually intimate relationships with whomever they choose – all without any governmental recognition or regulation.
While the idea that "children [are] the primary reason that government regulates and licenses marriage in the first instance" is debatable, I think children certainly are an important component of marriage and marriage law. But what does this have to do with same-sex couples?
But marriage is a special relationship reserved exclusively for heterosexual unions because only the intimate relationship between men and women has the ability to produce children as a result of that sexual union.
Ah of course! Marriage is about children, and banning any marriage that couldn't or wouldn't produce them is totally the best way to protect the children! Of course we don't deny marriage licences to the elderly, infertile or those who refuse to have children. And of course same-sex couples are perfectly capable of adopting and caring for children (you know, the ones that heterosexuals have abandoned), but whatever.
Marriage serves a vital and universal societal purpose – to channel biological drive and sexual passion that might otherwise become socially destructive into enduring family units that have the best opportunity to ensure the care and education of any children produced by that biological drive and sexual passion.
I totally agree! Sex is powerful and potentially destructive. Heterosexual sex in particular carries the risk of pregnancy. And hey, homosexual sex has its own risks as well. We all, every one of us, do better in a society that encourages us to channel our sexuality into healthy and safe intimate relationships. And society does better as a whole when those relationships are strong and capable of caring for children. But yet again I'm left asking what this has to do with same-sex couples.
By encouraging men and women to marry, society helps ensure that children will be known by and cared for by their biological parents. Whenever a child is born, her mother will almost always be nearby. But the same cannot always be said of her father. Men, especially, are encouraged to take responsibility for their children through the institution of marriage. Marriage is society’s mechanism of increasing the likelihood that children will be born and raised by the two people responsible for bringing them into the world – their mother and father.
While I see what they are getting at here, and I certainly agree that absentee fathers (or mothers for that matter) are, in general, a bad thing, I have to wonder if the anti-equality crown realizes how offensive this idea is to so many. And no, I'm actually not talking about gay people here, I'm talking about those who are adopted or who have adopted. Are these families somehow inferior to "natural" families because they are not tied together by biology? What a slap in the face such rhetoric is to those from adopted families.

I would also like to point out that legally recognizing same-sex couples in no way, shape or form effects the stability of the heterosexual family unit. Are the authors trying to imply gay couples getting married somehow forces or encourages men to abandon their children? Or are they simply trying to demean gay couples by pointing out the fact that the formation of our families often involves adoption? That would demean adoption itself of course, but as I mentioned above it would seem that the authors have no problem with such rhetoric.
While death and divorce too often prevent it, the overwhelming body of social science evidence establishes that children do best when raised by their married mother and father. Simply stated, children need both a mother and a father. No matter one’s view of homosexual “marriage,” it is undeniable that every child born into a same-sex relationship is intentionally denied the love and affection of one of her biological parents.
Actually  "the overwhelming body of social science evidence" shows that children do better with two married parents. Yes for much of history that has de facto meant heterosexual couples, but the research that has been done on same-sex families shows that the children of those families fare just as well as, if not better than, the children of heterosexual families. This is why every major medical and mental health organization in the country supports marriage equality.
Fundamentally, same-sex marriage advocates propose to shift the marriage paradigm away from what definition of marriage is best for society – especially for children – and squarely onto the desires of the individual adults who seek to marry. Under a genderless definition of marriage, the interests of children – and therefore society’s intrinsic interest in marriage – is eliminated entirely. Only the wishes of the two adults in question matter.
This one is an oldie but a goody, the idea that marriage equality is essentially a selfish endeavor on the part of LGBT people that diminishes the importance of children in the marriage covenant. First off, given that the elderly and sterile can marry, I think we can all agree that the desires of adults already (and justifiably) play a significant role in marriage. Secondly this line of argumentation ignores the millions of same-sex couples who are de facto married (that is they live as a married couple) and raising children. For these couples one would imagine that marriage equality is just as much about strengthening the legal bond between them and their children as it is about the legal bond between them and their spouse. This raises a familiar question for me, if it really is all about the children for the anti-equality crowd, why do they seem to care so little for the legal fate of the millions of children being raised by same-sex couples?
When a court or a legislature adopts a genderless definition of marriage, legal experts warn (and actual experience from other states and countries confirms) that there will be profound consequences for society. Those people who refuse to accept this redefinition of marriage will be punished by the law. Churches and religious organizations can lose their tax exemptions and be forced to abandon their core moral principles or face punishment. Individuals, small businesses and groups will be subjected to lawsuits and regulatory action if they refuse to condone the “new” understanding of marriage. Perhaps most profoundly, children at a very young age will be taught in school that marriage is between any two adults, no matter what they have been taught at home, in church or in their ethnic traditions. Under the law, those who believe otherwise will be treated as the legal and moral equivalent of bigots.
First of all I would like to point out how incredibly ridiculous this whole line of reasoning is. I could make the same argument as a racist that these heterosexists are making. Do not anti-discrimination laws based in race make those who "refuse to accept [the] redefinition" of racial norms into bigots? Why is no one fretting over the legal rights of white supremacists who draw their values from the Bible (as virtually all racists did in the past) being trampled? Why is no one concerned that "children at a very young age will be taught" that all races are equal, "no matter what they have been taught at home, in church or in their ethnic traditions"? This whole argument is silly.

Nevertheless, even if it wasn't ridiculous, it is still misleading. There is absolutely no evidence or reason to believe that "[t]hose people who refuse to accept this redefinition of marriage will be punished by the law." Nor is there any reason to believe that, "[c]hurches and religious organizations can lose their tax exemptions and be forced to abandon their core moral principles or face punishment." Religious institutions and individuals have the right to free speech under the First Amendment and marriage equality won't change that. Don't want to perform same-sex marriages at your church? Then don't! And hell while your at it feel free to ban interracial marriages, interfaith marriages or whatever else you want. It's a free country and you are welcome to be as prejudiced and/or bigoted as you'd like. The only area in which an individuals personal opinion on this matter could possibly be an issue is in public office and public accommodation. If you run a business that is subject to anti-discrimination law then you probably won't be able to get away with discriminating against gay people. Sorry 'bout ya.

The only part of this with any grain of truth is the idea that "children at a very young age will be taught in school that marriage is between any two adults", and even that is a stretch. Certainly public schools would be required to treat all students and faculty equally, whether gay or straight. And as society further comes to accept gay people we will see more about them in our history books (just look at California). But so what? This just brings me back to what I said earlier about the rights of racists. If the anti-gay crowd has the right to ensure that their kids never hear anything (particularly anything positive) about gay people in public schools then do not racists have the same right? If I, using the Bible (or any other holy book) teach my children that God created all the races separately, meant for them to remain separate and even made some better than others, are my rights not being "violated" in exactly the same way as the heterosexists are when a public school teacher tells my children that actually all people are equal irrespective of race?

Finally I'd like to take a look at a claim made on their "The Threat to Marriage" page.
Right now, attempts are being made in Minnesota’s courts and in the Legislature to redefine marriage or eliminate it altogether. If activist judges or politicians were to succeed in redefining marriage in Minnesota in the future, there would be profound consequences for religious organizations, individuals, and small businesses—and for society itself.
This is just ridiculous. The Minnesota legislature already passed a bill banning same-sex marriage. The idea that the state is somehow on the precipice of being "forced" to accept marriage equality is laughable on its face to anyone aware of the situation there.

Further down that page there is a litany of misleading "consequences" of marriage equality that I will be looking at some other time, as this post has already gone on much longer than expected.

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