In Defense of Same-Sex Marriage: A Reply to Michael Blissenbach (’15) (Commentary)

By Christine Flack ‘14

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

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6 comments

  1. VERY well written. A perfect response to Blissenbach’s narrow-minded views.

  2. Anonymous · · Reply

    Your arguments are compelling! Persons your age will largely agree with you as they have lived in a more progressive, thinking world. Those who have experienced LGBT in their families, friendships or workplace will also agree. The challenge is to convince older persons who have had no exposure to LGBT in their families or their world.

  3. Anonymous · · Reply

    Great article. Thank you for addressing (and dismissing) the baseless claims presented in Blissenbach’s article.

  4. The threshold issue is determining what the issue is. Marriage “equality” is quite a misnomer. The real contention is the effort (by a remarkably powerful minority) to redefine the oldest institution in human history. Overstatement? Probably not, considering that from time immemorial, marriage has maintained its “traditional” definition. Marriage laws don’t relegate gay individuals to second-class status. On the contrary, homosexuals may exercise their right to marry, just like their heterosexual counterparts. But that’s just it, they have a right to marry, not to change the nature of marriage.

    Society does have an important policy interest in the preservation of traditional marriage, particularly because it provides the only avenue of reproduction, and it provides the best setting for child-rearing and development. While all studies in this area are young, recent findings from the University of Texas (by no means a conservative institution) find that children raised by same-sex parents fare worse across a wide swathe of measures: including criminal behavior, psychological and emotional problems, proclivity to be sexually abusive, and the list goes on. Heterosexual families are by no means perfect, nor always procreative, but they do provide, overwhelmingly, the best situation for children. But that assertion is obvious from common experience and sense. Children deserve the love and presence of their father and mother. Regardless of how well a single parent or two gay parents love their children, the absence of the missing parent is profound, and potentially damaging. The procreation argument may not be dismissed by simply observing that many heterosexual marriages don’t produce children.
    Hence, the benefits government bestows on marriage…

    The fact that LGBT individuals feel drawn toward suicide is horrible. That ought not be so. No one should be killed or victimized for being gay. Any acts of violence or harassment in such a situation are evil. As a conservative, I have no patience for such attitudes and behavior. But the link between that and radically altering the nature of marriage is rather attenuated. Like I stated above, no one is denied the right to marry. They are denied the right to redefine marriage.

    I echo the thoughts above, Ms. Flack. This is well-written. But not all opponents of marriage redefinition are narrow-minded, unthinking, ignorant, and totally unaffected by LGBT relationships. The premise that only old people–patently unfamiliar with gayness–oppose this social change is offensive. I am very glad that you, Ms. Flack, and not the second commenter, wrote this article.

    Let the respectful exchange continue!

  5. @ D_ how does traditional marriage provide the “only avenue” for reproduction when more and more people have children out of wedlock? Children born to unmarried parents, statistically speaking, don’t fare as well as those born to married parents. If the government has a duty to equal the playing field for children, as your comment seems to suggest, then what can be done for those kids?

    and are there any studies on children being raised in orphanages vs with 2 loving same-sex parents?

  6. Good comment. But carefully notice that the argument for state support of traditional marriage is two-pronged: it facilitates procreation AND it provides the best (or ideal) environment for optimal child development. Traditional mariage does both. Your point is well taken, though, regarding children of unmarried parents. Those children, statistically, may very well be disadvantaged in a number of ways. Those problems are obvious and widely publicized. President Obama, for instance, has often spoken about the link between negligent fatherhood and a plethora of social issues affecting poverty, crime, and education. But that point simply reinforces the conclusion above. There is a societal interest in the creation of untroubled and law-abiding people, optimally accomplished by heterosexual parents within the traditional marriage setting. But there is also a (fundamental) right of children at play. Children have the right to know and derive support, love, and interest from their parents–mother and father. For liberty reasons, the government cannot confine procreation to marriage, but it can encourage procreation within marriage, to the exclusion of less-productive alternatives. And, while there are abundant government programs designed and implemented to provide for the needs of children born to unmarried parents (needs produced by the absence of a parent), those children still face disadvantages. This should encourage civil society to mount a sufficient response to properly address those needs. That issue, though, is fundamentally different from the one I addressed.

    I don’t know of studies comparing the outcomes of children raised in orphanages v. those raised by same-sex couples. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. But, you said “loving.” How would a study even measure that? I don’t dispute that orphanages may be undesirable compared to an environment with two same-sex parents. But as a matter of child policy, society should promote the best possible environment for child development. It should encourage adoption, encourage healthy marriage, and encourage responsibility and commitment. The only reason, then, for government to endorse redefining marriage is to gratify homosexuals, or to open the door for homosexual couples to adopt children. No one has a right to a child, but every child has a right to its parents. See http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/01/7601/ for more. If the policy concern is children, society should demand the highest standards of care to ensure that they have the optimal chance to be successful and valuable contributors to the public good. It doesn’t make sense to lower, as a matter of decisive government policy, that standard.

    I speak in general terms. Undoubtedly there are specific instances where children of married parents have fared horribly and where those parents have been criminally abusive and negligent. There are, likewise, examples of homosexuals raising healthy and well-rounded children. But these are exceptions, according to emerging sociological study, not the rule. Social policy should be based on the rule, on what is generally true and observable. Science is now confirming what is intuitively obvious: traditional marriage provides the stability and structure in which children optimally thrive. Additionally, it provides for the fundamental right of a children to be raised by the parents who made them.

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