Civil Rights and Family Values: Defending Homosexual (and Heterosexual) Marriage

This essay was originally written as an argumentative paper for tenth grade English, and was revived and significantly edited for part of my English composition class at Auburn University during Winter quarter 1999. To be frank, the argument herein is silly, and the conclusion no longer represents my priorities or my basic beliefs. I have left the essay online for two reasons: (1) so as not to break the links of those who have linked to it, and (2) to take the opportunity to apply the criticism that it deserves. A further discussion can be found in my commentary in the Talk Back section. —C.J. 2004

A few years ago, many would have predicted that a final decision on homosexual marriage in the United States would have been rendered by today. It seemed that we were at a breaking point. But despite the legal wrangling of the mid-1990s in Hawaii, gay marriage has somehow been swept under the carpet as an issue. However, it can still spark violent argument when mentioned in mixed ideological company. The vehemence which it provokes speaks to its importance as an issue, and it is indeed an issue which goes to the heart of one of our most revered institutions. Should marriage licenses be granted to partners regardless of their respective genders? For those who are truly concerned with civil rights and the preservation of the family unit, the answer should come back a resounding Yes! The rights and responsibilities of marriage are not only a civil right, but benefit society as a whole as well; they should be conveyed to both heterosexual and homosexual couples. (1)

The debate here should not be framed in terms of why marriage privileges should be granted to homosexuals. In the United States, the Ninth and Tenth Amendments establish a precedent of implicit rights: what is not explicitly forbidden, is implicitly protected. Unless the government can give some positive reason for the prohibition, it should not interfere with the private contracts of its citizens; the onus is on the state. If no … societal interest can be shown, if the sanction is based only on custom or convention, then it’s not clear what business it is of the law (Coyne). Thus, the better question is why we should reserve the privileges of marriage to heterosexuals. And, if we cannot find a good objection to the extension of these rights, then perhaps the issue should be considered closed. (2)

Social conservatives are often quick to answer that homosexuality is immoral and the government should not recognize homosexual partnerships as legitimate. However, this argument is usually based in religious principles, in which the government has no part. Churches would not be required to perform or recognize homosexual marriages, and so the only body that must recognize them is the government. Further, American ideals of liberty are rooted firmly in freedom of conscience; the government’s role is not to regulate the moral status of our nation, but rather to grant rights and enforce obligations. Law exists to protect the individual’s freedoms, not to mollycoddle his moral sensibilities. (3)

Moving beyond purely moralistic grounds, some contend that what is distinctive about marriage is that it is an institution created to sustain child-rearing (Wilson), and that since Neither a gay nor a lesbian couple can of its own resources produce a child (Wilson), government should not extend the privilege of marriage to same-sex partners. However, in excluding homosexual marriages over the issue of children, it simultaneously removes the justification for many heterosexual marriages, in which a partner is sterile or in which the couple chooses to have no children. Indeed, if one follows this line of reasoning ad absurdum, one should argue that post-menopausal couples with only adult children left should be forcibly divorced, as they can no longer have children and there are none left for them to raise. This argument is also vulnerable to the objection that homosexuals could have children through previous heterosexual relationships, adoption, or modern reproductive technology. Wilson considers this possibility, but simply discards it, saying that Hardly any research has been done on children acquired at the outset by a homosexual couple. We therefore have no way of knowing how they would behave. (Wilson) But Wilson cannot rely on a negative argument; because the question is not Why homosexual marriage? but rather Why not? he has not sufficiently answered Coyne’s challenge to show such societal interest. (4)

A final, particularly powerful objection, arising in the wake of the 1992 Presidential campaign, is the argument that homosexual marriage is contrary to family values, that it would weaken the family and thus the very fabric of civil society. It dresses an essentially moral argument in secular appeals to social interest: homosexual marriage would seem a mere parody … that could weaken an already strained institution (Wilson). From this weakening would come the destabilization and atrophy of marriage, and the loss of its crucial role in stabilizing society through the raising of young children and the settling of males. From this would come further descents into crime, promiscuity, and dysfunction. Thus, they argue, homosexual marriage emphatically must not be sanctioned by government. (5)

However, the phrase family values as it is used here is nothing more than a pernicious and empty reference to the conservative social agenda. It does not refer to any actual promotion of the family unit: homosexual marriages can only promote real family values. To understand this, we must consider why the state sanctions marriage at all—either heterosexual or homosexual. Who benefits from it, and how? By answering this we will see how extending marriage will strengthen society. (6)

Marriage, perhaps more than any other single institution, acts as bulwark of stable, productive society. It benefits the partners individually by granting legal privileges and by improving their economic, emotional, and physical health. Married couples are granted the right to file joint tax returns, notification and powers of decision in life-or-death situations for the other, shares of pensions and medical benefits, and extensive visitation in hospitals and jails. Studies show that marriage can act as a form of insurance against economic crises (Becker 1076), as well as improving the health and happiness of the partners involved (The Economist). The partners are also matured and tamed by the experience, especially the males: there is no longer merely some abstract sense of duty and good behavior, but rather a concrete unit to which they are (by their own pledge) committed, and for whom they must care. Gay activist Jonathan Rauch underlines the importance of this taming with the problems of having large numbers of uncommitted males: Whenever unattached males gather in packs, you see no end of trouble: wildings in Central Park, gangs in Los Angeles, . . . grope-lines in the military, and, in a different but ultimately no less tragic way, the bathhouses and wanton sex of gay San Francisco or New York in the 1970s (Rauch). (7)

There are also a few benefits particular to homosexuals. For gays who may have been viciously rejected by family and friends because of their sexual orientation, having legally and socially legitimate kin would have psychological benefits which cannot be ignored. Also, allowing gays to marry would help encourage stable, married life while discouraging the flamboyant and often promiscuous fringe lifestyle of some of the most vocal homosexual activists. Thus, gay marriage would not only bring the social benefits of stabler relationships to gays; it would also help end much of the ignorance, confrontationalism, and social stigmata—and thus the ostracism, brutal violence, and self-loathing—associated with homosexuality today. (8)

By improving the lives of individuals and reducing conflict, marriage has a cumulative benefit that reverberates throughout society. The stabilizing effects of marriage help to control crime, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, suicide rates, and generally provides a safer and more comfortable society in which to pursue our goals. The best evidence for its importance is the havok that the modern debasement of the family unit has wrought: in the United Kingdom, divorces—with their catastrophic effects on the psychology of any children involved—increased sixfold from 1960 to 1985 (The Economist); dysfunctional relationships are rampant; sexually-transmitted diseases are spiralling out of control. This societal breakdown is due to the breakdown in family commitment. (9)

James Q. Wilson, like many, alleges that homosexual marriages would only worsen this breakdown; he writes, that marriage would have the same, domesticating effect on homosexual members as it has on heterosexuals, while leaving the latter unaffected . . . are very large assumptions that no modern society has ever tested. Not only is this blind homophobia and an inadequate answer to Coyne’s challenge of Why not? but it is also patently untrue. Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands have all experimented with allowing homosexual couples "domestic partner" privileges under the law, with no averse effects (The Economist). As Rauch points out, Even without marriage, coupled gay men have steady sex partners and relationships which they value and therefore tend to be less wanton. Add marriage and you bring a further array of stabilizing influences. More than anything, it is by re-invigorating the institution of marriage that we will re-invigorate family values, and we can begin by allowing homosexuals who desperately want to marry, to do so. (10)

In the final analysis, we find compelling reasons to allow homosexual marriages and none to ban them. Allowing them would benefit homosexuals, the homosexual community, and society in general. It would improve problems with homophobia, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and the decay of the family unit. Finally, it would extend to homosexuals the same basic civil rights of private contract granted to heterosexuals. Marriage should not only be allowed, but encouraged, for homosexuals in the same way that it is for heterosexuals. (11)

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4 replies to Civil Rights and Family Values: Defending Homosexual (and Heterosexual) Marriage Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Charles W. Johnson

    This article represents an earlier period in my thought on cultural politics, when I was very concerned with issues of the decaying family and the abdication of personal responsibility in our culture. I think that these are still important issues, but as I’ve become a radical feminist and much more militant on gay liberation, I’ve been forced to acknowledge troubling flaws both in the political presumptions of the paper and also in the specific arguments used.

    One friend of mine pointed out that the paper was an extremely strong example of how to respond rhetorically to pro-family conservatives on the gay marriage issue, but that the core of the argument was fundamentally assimilationist and heterosexist, since the Jonathan Rauch style of argument is based on the presupposition that the ideal for gay unions ought to be to act just like good little straight unions, except for the genders of the partners. And when I go back and read some of my sources - Jonathan Rauch and Andrew Coyne - it screams at me how much they come out insisting that justice for queers be dependent on them assimilating into the heterosexual/heterosexist mainstream and become Soccer Mom Queens. They completely refuse to even question how we form sexual and romantic relationships in a male supremacist, heterosexist society. They completely refuse to acknowledge the possibility of non-marital queer relationships to challenge the malestream, to force us to rethink and recreate the ways in which we live and love together.

    Another friend pointed out how the paper simply takes it for granted that aggression by single males is like some kind of unconscious force of nature rather than consciously chosen actions learned in a culture permeated with violence by men against women - and how shady that assumption is. She also pointed out how questionable it is to glorify the institution of marriage, an institution which both in the law and in the practice of domestic violence, is intimately connected with - even premised on - men’s violent subjugation of women and children.

    Another took up the bloody history of the patriarchal nuclear family and described the liberal equal-access argument that I had laid out as fighting for "an equal piece of a rotten pie," and argued that many regards the privileges accorded to married couples ought to be completely abolished and replaced with a more sane system.

    I agree with all three critiques. I suppose that, as long as marriage as we currently know it is going to be around, couples ought to have equal access to the State-sanctioned aspect of marriage regardless of the sexes or gender identities of the partners. However, what I really want is a sort of a truce with the homopobes: we’ll stop demanding the privilege of marriage for same-sex or transgendered couples, IF y’all stop demanding it for heterosexual couples. That is to say, legal marriage-privilege is itself an illegitimate form of privilege, and it ought to be abolished. This doesn’t mean that people can’t have wedding ceremonies of course; people can have parties to celebrate relationships whenever they feel like it. Legitimate functions which are carried out through marriage - delegating inheritance, visitation and decision-making rights, etc. - can be carried out through private agreements designating anyone that the person wants to designate (whether a romantic partner, a best friend, a family member, whatever). Other functions - such as extending health insurance or immigration status - would be better handled by addressing the underlying problem, and making sure that everyone has adequate medical care, freedom of movement, etc. as an individual. And the illegitimate functions - such as special access to government programs or special tax status - should be left in the dustbin of history.

    For more on the points raised in this essay and my criticism of it, you may want to read my newer essay, The Cake is Rotten.

· October 2002 ·

  1. Adrian Russell

    I just wanted to say thank you so much for keeping this article avi. I work for a Non-Profit call Equality Florida we fight and advocate for gay rights. our web site is http://www.eqfl.org I think you would really enjoy it. I am doing research for my sociology class. Homosexuals vs. Heterosexuals Values and Moralities. This article has helped me so much I just wanted to say thank you. Fell free to write back anytime..

    Sincerely Adrian Russell

— 2004 —

  1. Angela Fankhauser

    I am writing a paper on gay marriage and after days of digging through piles of articles—most of which are written by caucasion men— this is one of the best articles I’ve read. I’ll be sure to forward it to my peers and fellow students.
    Regards,Angela

  2. Discussed at www.radgeek.com

    Geekery Today:

    Civic religion

    (Link thanks to bean at Alas, a Blog 2004/10/15) I don’t care about winning same-sex marriage privileges (for feminist reasons that I’ve laid out…

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