This afternoon our classmates will have the opportunity to hear experts on both sides of the issue debate same-sex marriage. While this discussion plays out in the Slowinski Courtroom, a similar debate has unfolded in the commentary pages of The Redirect, where Michael Blissenbach (‘15) recently explored whether marriage should remain “the union of one man and one woman” or “be transformed into the union of any two consenting adults.”
In his Nov. 3 article “In Defense of Traditional Marriage,” Michael argues that same-sex marriage should not be allowed because it’s contrary to the purpose of marriage (procreation), it severs the link between marriage and child, and it has “devastating consequences” for religious communities. But ahead of this afternoon’s debate, I’d like to consider Michael’s arguments against same-sex marriage, show why they are insufficient, and explain that the better view is to allow state-issued marriage licenses regardless of the parties’ genders.
First, I do not agree with Michael that procreation has any place in a discussion about legally defining marriage, given that we allow infertile women, impotent men, and mentally and physically handicapped people to marry. Gay couples cannot biologically create children through sex, but we have never conditioned marriage licenses on a physical ability to procreate, nor do we inquire into the procreative capacity of those seeking to marry. As Michael points out, marriage is based on love and commitment, which are not restricted by the gender of the parties involved. Therefore, the law should adapt to this reality and protect loving and committed relationships between two consenting adults of the same gender.
Michael argues that the government enacted marriage laws to bind husband, wife and any of their offspring. Whatever the merits of his point are, cherry-picking one version of history is slippery: In the not-so-distant past, women were property and interracial marriage was illegal. I would suggest the possibility that our definition of marriage over time may be influenced by social perceptions of who is equal and deserving of legal recognition. Today, same-sex relationships deserve the same legal protections as opposite-sex relationships.
Michael claims it’s a scientific fact that mom-dad parenting is better than mom-mom or dad-dad parenting. But it is impossible that enough reliable evidence could exist on the subject to draw such a bold conclusion. On the contrary, some recent data suggests same-sex couples may make better parents. But more importantly, this is a non-comparison. The two groups of parents are unequal precisely because laws that deny marriage licenses to gay couples are the very acts of government that relegate gay Americans to second class citizen status. Recognizing the validity of same-sex marriage gives gay couples equal legal rights and is one step towards eradicating the perception that gay people are inferior human beings, incapable of having a family or raising children.
Michael lastly argues that same-sex marriage has “devastating consequences” for religious communities. But, for example, under Maryland’s marriage law, a religious organization is allowed to exclude or refuse services to anyone in violation of its religion. Thus I fail to see what has been devastated. Let it be known that gay couples who are legally married in their states face their own “devastating consequences.” According to a study in the New York Times, a gay couple will pay between $28,000 and $210,000 more than a straight couple over the course of their lifetime once you factor the relative financial advantages straight couples enjoy with regard to Social Security, taxes and other critical expenses.
Another “devastating consequence” Michael offers has to do with shielding public school children from the mere idea of same-sex relationships. That is an unpersuasive reason to deny gay Americans the right to marry because science (and my experience) shows that openly gay children and children of gay parents are in public schools at this very moment, and social trends show we are growing more open to same-sex marriage as a country. Today, the better view is that public schools should promote tolerance.
To put it in perspective: consider that a third of LGBT teens in America attempt suicide and many gay people in other countries face the death penalty for being gay. Perhaps where you come down on the issue of the “devastating consequences” flowing from gay marriage in America depends firstly on whether you are able to respect and accept people who are gay, and secondly on what you consider “devastating.”
“DOMA in 2012: A Discussion on Marriage Equality” will be held in the Slowinski Courtroom on CUA Law’s campus at 4pm today