Social & Domestic Issues

Why Gay Marriage Doesn’t Measure Up

If any man can show any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.

Book of Common Prayer

Not very long ago, ordained ministers posed this proposition to congregations early in weddings just before addressing the bride and groom about their intentions of becoming husband and wife. That most clergy today leave it out of wedding liturgies is unfortunate, as the question reflects a critical understanding of marriage largely lost on Americans today and especially upon those seeking civil recognition of same-sex couples.

The fact that a minister, functioning as an agent of the state, would seek approval of a marriage from parties other than the couple is revealing. That solicited confirmation expresses the reality that marriage is not just a legal contract between two individuals but also a dynamic relationship that, according to social historian Allan C. Carlson, stands at the core of a complex web of social bonds that begins with the couple, finds support from their respective families and extended kin, and extends to society at large. When family and friends assent to a marriage, they are judging the union good for society, not just good for the couple. In fact, this approbation is also granted on behalf of the future children that all related parties anticipate will naturally flow from such union.

This communal dimension is virtually nonexistent when it comes to same-sex relationships, evidence that such relationships should never be deemed equivalent to, or even an alternative to, marriage. Unlike marriage, same-sex relationships are static, self-focused, and center almost exclusively on what the relationship delivers for the two partners, not what it represents to the supportive families or to society. Does a homosexual partner even solicit the blessing of his prospective partner’s family? Do his aunts and uncles travel cross-country to celebrate the occasion? Who are the third parties to these pairings? Rarely conducted in a community setting like a church or synagogue, these new-fangled arrangements are essentially private affairs with no organic ties to anything. Ironically, this private identity is praised by advocates like Andrew Sullivan who assert that gay marriage can’t possibly impact the traditional marriages of others because it concerns only the two persons involved.

This narrow focus on the couple dominates even the campaign for legal recognition of gay marriage or civil unions. It’s all about them. The stated justifications for same-sex marriage have nothing to do with how this approach to mating can contribute to the common good, but everything to do with what society can, or must, do for the couple. They seek health insurance, survivor benefits, and hospital visitation rights (even though no law prevents these things now). They demand these “benefits” and other “rights,” the legal side effects that accrue to marriage that are rarely on the table when a man and woman decide to wed.

As every husband and wife knows, the real benefits of marriage are not technical legalities conferred upon it by an outside party, in this case the state, but are generated from within the institution itself–children, and eventually grandchildren. Nevertheless, because homosexual relationships are by definition sterile–because they cannot produce what really matters–their demands extend to finagling with biology or exploiting the brokenness of failed heterosexual relationships to “have” children, again at the expense of others.

The tragedy of the celebrated Episcopal bishop, Eugene Robinson, vividly illustrates how homosexual relationships fall short of common good. His decision more than ten years ago to enter into a “relationship” with another man may be looked upon by some as what justice and compassion require, but it exacted a huge toll on his family, as well as those close to his family. Robinson had to violate his marriage vows, divorce his wife, and desert his children–all so that he could fool around with his boyfriend. How do his children defend their father to their peers? Is this behavior that the state wants to encourage and uphold as virtuous? Is it good for the families involved, good for the Episcopal communion that Robinson represents, good for society?

Granted, some married, heterosexual men do the same and run off with their girlfriends, which is why the states need to repeal no-fault divorce and hold men (and women) accountable to the promises they make, without any coercion, to their families and to society on their wedding day. But just because no-fault has wreaked havoc on a generation of American children is no excuse for state legislatures to sanction (or for courts to decree) more social pathology with another dubious experiment that, like divorce, treats women and children as disposable.

That not all homosexual debuts are as messy as Robinson’s may suggest that women are not always casualties. Nevertheless, being twice as prevalent among males than females, homosexual behavior ends up excluding a portion of women from the sexual equation, not to mention marriage, an injustice that feminists overlook. In other words, homosexuality is mostly about men, who are sexually wrapped up in themselves, directing their passions toward other men who are also wrapped up in themselves.

This is not to suggest that gays are self-centered in all aspects of life, as individuals surely make contributions to society that transcend their sexual behavior. But even here, the aggregate contribution of gay couples are muted relative to husband-wife couples. Building upon the insights of Nobel Laureate Gary Becker, who has argued that homosexual couples do not specialize their economic roles as efficiently as do heterosexual couples, economist John Mueller has calculated that average life-time earnings for married heterosexual couples are significantly higher than all other comparable household arrangements, including a divorced husband and wife in separate households, a cohabiting heterosexual couple, and two same-sex individuals in the same household. The reason: Mueller points to the social science literature that finds, confirming Becker’s theory of comparative advantage and the sexual division of labor, that the economic behavior of men changes for the better when they have a wife and children to support, a dynamic missing from same-sex arrangements.

What this comes down to should be obvious: Gay marriage, like all the liberal ideas of the 1970s–including no-fault divorce, abortion on demand, cohabitation, and daycare–does not and cannot serve the common good. When elected officials, like the minister in a wedding ceremony, ask whether the public objects to what is being proposed in Massachusetts and San Francisco, the American people need to rise up and speak their minds for the sake of the children, for the sake of women, and for the sake of the Republic.


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