Danger, Danger; Gay Marriage

In an opinion piece for the Star Tribune this past weekend, columnist Katherine Kersten posed the question, “How will same-sex marriage harm the institution of marriage — and in the long run, all of us?”

As Ms Kersten rightly points out in her piece, gay marriage won’t make your marriage any weaker, John and Mary. Some opponents of marriage equality have seriously posited that, if we let men marry other men, they’ll all leave their wives, but that speaks to issues that those folks are just going to have to work out in their own lives. Like Ms Kersten, most conservatives concede that gay marriage will not cancel, weaken or destroy any specific straight marriages. (Mrs Haggard, your husband is gay whether he can marry his masseur or not.)

No, the danger is not to individual marriages, but to the whole institution of marriage. As Ms Kersten tells us, “Marriage is a universal human institution. Across the world and throughout history, it’s been exclusively male-female.”


Well, actually, that’s not true. Just as they used to say that there are no gay animals because no-one had bothered to check, so they say there’s no historical record of gay marriage because no-one’s doing their homework. The first recorded incidence of gay marriage goes back to the early days of the Roman Empire, but it almost certainly occurred throughout the ancient world, from China to America. It’s only our modern post-Christian bias that makes us think otherwise.

Just as we now find gay animals everywhere we look for them, so we find evidence of gay marriage wherever the historical record allows us to look, except where it has been outlawed by zealots. The Christian laws of the Theodosian Code of the fourth and fifth centuries AD give us perhaps the earliest known record of someone banning same-sex marriage, which had until that time been legal in the Roman Empire. It was the DOMA of Roma.

Then there’s the small matter of gay marriage having existed in the Netherlands since 2001, Belgium since 2003, Spain and Canada since 2005, South Africa since 2006, and Sweden and Norway since earlier this year. Those are all places in the world, and those are all years in history, so on that basis alone, even discounting more ancient records, I think we can say that marriage has not in fact been “exclusively male-female” across the world and throughout history, unless we’re also discounting recent history, in which case there has never been an internet.

But, Katherine, do please carry on.

“The primary purpose of marriage is to ensure the best environment for rearing the children born of male-female sexual acts,” she claims. “Marriage channels men’s and women’s sexual attraction into productive ends, and harnesses the male sex drive by binding men to the mothers of their children. The evidence is overwhelming: Boys and girls flourish best with a married mother and father, who perform different and complementary roles in preparing them to deal with the world and the opposite sex.”


And here’s the rub. Actually, there’s quite a lot of rubbing going on here (and she rubs rather furiously), but in this one paragraph, Ms Kersten neatly encapsulates most of the myths of the ‘protect marriage’ argument into a bitesize nugget of bile. Let’s look at them one by one.

“The primary purpose of marriage is to ensure the best environment for rearing the children born of male-female sexual acts”. I suppose this isn’t a lie so much as an evasion. You’ll note she says, ‘primary purpose’, so she’s cognizant of there being other purposes to marriage. She is perhaps aware that some people get married with no intention of rearing children, and that some people rear children without any intention of getting married. There can be no absolute presumption that all unmarried parents are creating a worse environment for their children than all married parents. (In fact, looked at statistically, the divorce rate for unmarried parents is nil!)

Marriage and childrearing are demonstrably separate concepts, so there is no need for a law to ‘protect’ the false presumption of an indivisible link between them. You might as plausibly argue for a law that says girls should not eat bread crusts because eating crusts puts hairs on your chest.

The advantage of marriage in childrearing comes not from the fact of marriage, but from the rights and benefits that the contract of marriage allows. If our concern is for the children, then those rights and benefits should of course be extended to children being raised by gay couples, so that they are not disadvantaged. Ms Kersten, won’t you please think of the children?

(Incidentally, the children of gay parents are also frequently born of male-female sexual acts, though I see no reason to treat children conceived artificially as second-class citizens.)

Next. “Marriage channels men’s and women’s sexual attraction into productive ends, and harnesses the male sex drive by binding men to the mothers of their children.” I’m not sure, but I think the argument here is that, without marriage, all men are rapists. How does gay marriage undermine the need to shackle straight men to their wives? It doesn’t. If gays can get married, Ms Kersten, it will not make anyone’s husband more rapey.


Sidenote: If marriage is a binding harness, an awful lot of marriages end in escapology.

And then: “Boys and girls flourish best with a married mother and father, who perform different and complementary roles in preparing them to deal with the world and the opposite sex.”

Children must have a mother and a father! If a boy is raised by two women, how will he learn to wire a plug? We all know lesbians can’t handle home maintenance! And if a girl is raised by two men, where will she learn to cook? It is established fact that you can’t trust a gay man with a soufflé!

No, I’ve got this backwards. If a boy is raised by two men, how will he learn to wire a plug? True fact: In gay households, all light is provided by candles, because when a fuse goes, gay men run around flapping their arms and squealing until finally fatigue overcomes them and they collapse into a heap of warm male sodomite flesh. In the morning, there is sunlight, and that’s when they go out and buy candles. The fuse is never replaced. Their children will never learn how to change a tyre, whittle a stick, or shoot a caribou, but they will know all the words to Don’t Rain On My Parade, and you will just die when you see what they’ve done to the guest bedroom.

Or, Ms Kersten got it wrong again, because she can hardly think with all those stereotypes swishing around in her head. Boys and girls flourish best when they are loved and supported by their parents, regardless of how many parents they have or what their sexual proclivities are. Fathers and mothers do not slot into pre-set roles, any more than their sons and daughters do. Anyone who tries to impose quota-based parenting models is concerned about tradition to the detriment of the children’s welfare and development.

As for the children’s ability to deal with the opposite sex (or with the same sex - we gays are mostly created from out of straight people’s bodies, you know), I think that can best be supported by parents who don’t impose outmoded sexual hang-ups on their kids.

Straight parenting ain’t all that anyway. Look how many messed up children it’s managed to produce so far! By the ‘one man, one woman’ standard, serial killers Fred and Rose West are exemplary parents. And it’s pure supposition on my part, but I really do think that Adolf Hitler would have turned out better if he’d been raised by Alois and Klaus instead of Alois and Klara.

child-pageantStraight parenting.

Our friend KK isn’t done yet. “Same-sex marriage would not — as advocates claim — merely extend the benefits of marriage to more people,” she says. That’s an interesting bit of perspective. From where she’s sitting, that’s a “merely”. When you don’t have those benefits, that’s not really a “merely”. That merely is sought rather dearly by those feeling queerly. The fact that same-sex marriage would extend additional benefits is kind of a big deal. It’s kind of the whole deal. You’d think so too, if you didn’t have those rights.

But, go on.

“It would gut marriage of its fundamental meaning and transform it from an institution centered on children and the mother/father nuclear family to one centered on adults. Marriage would become an artificial institution, bestowing state approval on any adult relationship based on affection and interdependence.”

I hate to have to go here, but; Ms Kersten, I do not think that word means what you think it means. Marriage is an artificial institution bestowing state approval on adult relationships based on affection and interdependence. That’s why marriages need to be validated by state officials.

Ms Kersten’s ‘fundamental’ definition of marriage is not the legal definition of marriage, and as such it should not be used to dictate the law on marriage. We do not decide property laws by reading the inside of a Monopoly box.

Ms Kersten continues; “Once marriage is stripped of its organic purpose, why restrict it to two people? Two lesbians and the sperm donor for their child, polygamists, bisexuals: All will want society to recognize and respect their relationships.”

Quite apart from the fact that she hasn’t grasped how bisexuality works (have the traditional marriage side really not worked out that their gay-proofed holy institution has already been infiltrated by the bisexuals?), and that she seems a little shaky on lesbianism as well (I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but I think most lesbians would rather not have to see a sperm donor at breakfast every morning), this panicky paragraph shows Ms Kersten’s misapprehension in a nutshell. “Once marriage is stripped of its organic purpose”? If reproduction was ever fundamental to the institution of marriage, it isn’t now. She’s locking the stable door after the groom has bolted.

“And why should marriage be open only to people with a sexual relationship?” she adds. “That discriminates against two female friends who want to share the burdens of rearing their kids, or a disabled brother and sister who live together.”

Yes. Why should it? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could allow those people in those situations to choose to enjoy certain legal benefits with each other? That Ms Kersten thinks we should respond to this suggestion with spluttering outrage shows us the sickly pallor of her soul. These ultra-liberal marriage laws she posits would allow people to help each other in difficult situations. We must nip this in the bud at once!

On she goes.

“It’s ironic that in other realms of life, Americans are very aware of the risks of tampering excessively with nature.”


Here we learn that Ms Kersten thinks that marriage grows on trees. Marriage is the vegetable lamb of Tartary, and it blossom with little three-tier cakes that imbue the eater with fidelity, parenting skills, and the ability to change a fuse. The problem, it seems, is that Ms Kersten genuinely believes that marriage and reproduction are interchangeable concepts. She must think all rabbits are Mormons.

Ms Kersten ends with a flourish. “We understand little about how marriage has undergirded the order and prosperity we take for granted. We tamper with marriage at our peril.”

I have no idea what this is supposed to mean, except that I think it was lifted from a 1953 issue of Tales From The Crypt, and she’s put in the word ‘marriage’ where it used to say ‘the jewelled death mask of Chandragupta’.

Still, if marriage is so important in preventing the coming apocalypse, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have more of them? Even if the gay ones only count for, say, half a normal marriage, that’s still a net gain, isn’t it?

Here’s my counter-argument in favour of gay marriage. Marriage is a legal institution that confers special benefits that everyone is entitled to, and couples should be free to share those benefits as they see fit. Whether or not they intend to raise children is no-one’s business. Their religious beliefs are no-one’s business. Their sexual attitudes are no-one’s business. None of these things are a qualifying bar to marriage; they should not be treated as such, especially not for an isolated minority.

Ms Kersten; Ms Gallagher; Bishop Malone; President Obama;  There is no single model for marriage. If you insist that there is, and if you allow the people to vote out anyone who does not fit that model, then you are not protecting the institution of marriage; you are destroying it.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Give: If you are a supporter of America’s Democratic party, please consider supporting this call to suspend all donations to the DNC until they enact the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act.

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38 Responses to “Danger, Danger; Gay Marriage”

  1. Jesse Says:

    I enjoyed your poking holes in her logic. I wish that people would wise up and realize nothing on the anti-marriage equality argument makes any sense.

  2. Al Kennedy Says:

    Are you still doing AudioBoo? I think a regular audio thing (podcast maybe?) from you would be a valuable exercise, particularly when you’re writing pieces that are this excellent. Off to spread the link to this piece…

  3. nigeltde Says:

    very nicely done. It’s astonishing and disgusting that sentences like “marriage… harnesses the male sex drive by binding men to the mothers of their children” are still being written and published, not to mention that hoary old sex roles goat. Lord, I don’t know how you thought so much about this piece without exploding in rage.

  4. Alex de Campi Says:


    It sickens me how so many people consider this issue even something worth debating. Gay relationships should be equal in the eyes of the law with straight ones. This is America, not Animal Farm.

  5. Helen Says:

    Hear Hear! It’s bizarre reading all that tripe in 2009, it sounds so olde worlde. And so infuriating.

  6. Hugh Hancock Says:

    You utterly, utterly rock. I’ve spent the last five minutes reading bits of this out to my girlfriend.

    Truly fantastic writing.

  7. Harris O'Malley Says:

    Well said sir!

    The more the absurdities of the “logic” behind restricting civil rights in this manner are pointed out the better.

  8. Emily Says:

    Just brilliant! Beautifully argued and a lovely way of putting it!

  9. Just so perfectly written Says:

    [...] Danger, Danger; Gay Marriage [...]

  10. Kita Says:

    Hello internet stranger.

    I love you.

    I don’t want to marry you, as I am already married. But I do love you.

    Rock on.

  11. Shirley Anne Says:

    Very well put and quite convincing but the whole arguement is flawed. Nobody is disputing that homosexuality has been going on foe centuries or that it has been accepted and legalised by different cultures. You quoted something about there being objections by Christians in the third and fourth century AD and that that was the earliest written record. I am afraid you miss the point which is your prerogative. If you don’t believe in God or His written word then of course you’ll think it absurd to object. However if you do believe in God then you will know that homosexuality is totally against His Law. There is nothing wrong with being homosexual but there is in practicing it. Gos has given you free will so what do you do? Follow in His ways or in the ways of the world. Just because you don’t think that something is wrong or that you don’t believe in God doesn’t mean that it isn’t wrong or that God doesn’t exsist. If you don’t know Him now, if you don’t know Jesus as your saviour then I urgently ask you to reconsider. Seventy years on earth is nothing compared to eternity. It’s up to you of course. Do what you will. Love one another by all means which is a command but love them in the right way. Love to you all.

    Shirley Anne xxx

  12. Shirley Anne Says:

    Sorry about the odd spelling mistake (typographical errors). Please correct foe and Gos to for and God. Thank you

    Shirley Anne x

  13. Andrew Says:

    Hi Shirley Anne,

    Thanks for your comments. I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood parts of my post, so perhaps I wasn’t clear. The Theodosian Code is the earliest record of a ban on gay marriage; it’s not the earliest mention of gay marriage. Not only has homosexuality been going on for centuries, but gay marriage has been going on for centuries as well.

    As to your other key point; in fact I do believe in God, and I know that homosexuality is not against His law. People who believe that are sadly the victims of a selective interpretation of the Bible based on prejudice, not love.

    However, even if we were to believe that homosexuality is against the law of the Christian God, that is entirely beside the point. In a diverse non-theocratic society, man’s law and God’s law should be separate. Even if you believe that your faith tells you that homosexuality is wrong, you should not expect people who do not believe that to have to abide by your faith. If people follow God’s law because they are forced to, rather than because they want to, that is worthless. The law should not ‘protect’ marriage.

  14. Shirley Anne Says:

    Thank you Andrew. No, I do not expect people to believe in God, me or anything. That is up to them. In a non-theocratic society, to quote your words, man’s laws are not entirely different from God’s laws. For instance the Ten Commandments are still upheld are they not? No in fact they are not but only some of them. That is my point. Non-believers will make their own rules and their own laws and think it right because they don’t know God. It is a matter of belief that’s all. I am simply pointing out that fact. By the way, nowhere in the Bible does God condone homosexuality. If you think it does then show me the scripture. The Bible does speak about how God hates it. Try Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:18-32
    Shirley Anne x

  15. Andrew Says:

    Hi Shirley Anne,

    You need to look deeper into your scripture. The passages you cite are not condemnations of homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 refers specifically to a code of proper ceremonial conduct at the temples of a religion that you do not follow, in ceremonies that you do not participate in. In common with all the other prohibitions in Leviticus, it is not an article of the Christian faith. Additionally, the specific phrase you cite is fragmentary, so we actually cannot know the extent of the author’s intentions.

    Romans is an attack on Paganism, and the passage you cite is not a condemnation of homosexuality, but of Pagan orgiastic rites. You have to understand the context before you try to understand the message. Paul is a difficult authority to cite, though; he condoned slavery, and you presumably do not.

    As for condoning homosexuality; the Bible authors did not have a scientific understanding of homosexuality, but they certainly portray same sex relationships in a positive light, though you’ll never hear that in a sermon. In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus himself healed the male ‘beloved’ of a Centurion, and in Matthew he showed an understanding that we should not condemn men who are born without an interest in women.

    Man’s laws in the West are indeed grounded in Christian tradition, but they do not adhere to it. More applicable is ‘the Golden Rule’, which you will find in all major religions; treat others as you wish to be treated. When the law contradicts that rule, you’ll usually find the interfering hand of intolerant faith.

  16. Shirley Anne Says:

    Ok Andrew you seem to have answers to my arguments but I am in no way convinced by them because I have studied the Scriptures for too long and have been shown otherwise and understand otherwise. We can make all sorts of interpretations if we really try but I cannot argue further. You have to believe what you believe. I will say though that the whole Bible is relevant to Christians. The Old Testament is a mirror of the New and depicts , in practical terms what is to come in spiritual terms. It prophesies things which have happened and will happen in the future. No Andrew, the whole Bible is absolutely relevant to a Christian. Jesus said ‘I have not come to do away with the Scriptures (The Old Testament) but have come to fulfill them’ (paraphrased). We have to agree to disagree. Love

    Shirley Anne x

  17. Andrew Says:

    Thanks for stopping by to debate these questions, Shirley Anne. I appreciate the effort and the consideration, and I’m sorry that I couldn’t convince you!

  18. The Sunday Papers | Rock, Paper, Shotgun Says:

    [...] comrade Andrew Wheeler writes ascerbically and brilliantly about the issue of Gay Marriage. The historical notes are particularly worth [...]

  19. Nezz Says:

    I don’t know your sources for that strange comment about the Theodosian Code as you didn’t cite them, but please verify your facts before spreading them. It’s not difficult, the whole code is online (http://ancientrome.ru/ius/library/codex/theod/liber09.htm), and no. 9.7.3 is quite obviously NOT talking about marriage, but merely about sodomy.

  20. futage Says:

    I don’t know who you are or where this is, I followed a link, but I feel compelled pipe up and say: Beautifully put.

    Your response to Shirley Anne is fascinating too, I wish that stuff was discussed more often/broadly.

  21. sinister agent Says:

    Come over to england and marry me, please. I’ll buy you so many candles your head will spin.

    It amazes and saddens me that this whole thing is actually an issue in the US. I don’t even live there, and I’ve been hearing about it frequently for a couple of years now. We’re by no means perfect here, of course, and have our share of panicking reactionaries, but America’s a great enough country to be doing better than this.

  22. Tom Kenny Says:

    Incredibly awesome article, well done!

  23. Sadie Says:

    This is amazing writing, and I love every bit of it. There are no words to describe how much I enjoyed this. :)

  24. Jon Says:

    I found that your debate in the comments to be more intellectually stimulating than the article(which is by no means a slam against a well written article). It’s very refreshing to see a mature debate in a public forum of this sort.

  25. TeeJay Says:

    I support gay marriage *but*…

    …I am interested in knowing if you think marriage should be limited, for example:

    * only between two non-related adults *

    For example how about extending the legal and financial benefits to everyone by allowing people to nominate a single ‘next-of-kin’ or ‘best-friend’ - for example two elderly siblings who had never married could nominate each other.

    Other people might believe in ’shared marriages’ with a whole combination of men/women being married to each other at the same time. Should this be “outlawed”? Woud this undermine “marriage” as being about ‘couples’ only?

    In fact why should ‘couples’ get *any* kind of special legal or financial rights or benefits that are not extended to ‘non-couples’ or any other citizen and their friends/family/etc?

  26. lee lee Says:

    very well-written piece, andrew. i love the ’sarcasm with a punch’ angle. and it (seems) good that you can see through the lens of humor so as to keep yourself from going bonkers on the shirley-anne’s of the world. i’m all for “the gays” having anything they damn well please; i’ll just never figure out why marriage would be one of those things. i know, i know…Legal Rights. but why not fight for something, less weighted down with The Big H{eteronormative}, like redefining what a civil union means and could get us/everyone, legally speaking…???

  27. Saul Says:

    Brilliant stuff, Andrew! You’ve covered all the bases, and with a deft touch.

  28. Jamison Dance Says:

    I disagree with you Andrew, but I just wanted to say that it was great to see you argue with Shirley in such a constructive manner. This issue has so much hate and negative emotion on both sides. Thanks for not stoking the flames.

  29. Andrew Says:

    Nezz: My main source is John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality. However, there seems to be broad agreement on the Theodosian Code’s intepretation in other sources. If it doesn’t ban gay marriage, then, awesome, gay marriage was legal in the Christian Roman Empire!

    TeeJay: I think you raise a fascinating question, and one that I can’t fully answer. As I said in the piece above, I think if two people are in dire straits and would be greatly helped by being able to nominate each other as beneficiaries, it would be great if the law could allow that. On the other hand, if we impose no limits on those types of arrangement, I suspect it would create an overcomplicated network of benefit fraud. Perhaps what we need is ‘benefit contracts’ that could be extended to family or friends. Those would in effect be civil unions, while marriage would be a specific type of civil union reserved for romantically involved adults. (The reason for giving couples special legal rights, as I see it, largely centres on matters of property, inheritance, citizenship, medical access and parenting.)

  30. Nezz Says:

    “If it doesn’t ban gay marriage, then, awesome, gay marriage was legal in the Christian Roman Empire!”

    Yeah, and so was building a thermonuclear bomb in your backyard.

  31. Andrew Says:

    De facto, yes, building a thermonuclear bomb in your backyard was also legal in the Christian Roman Empire, as were online music piracy and operating a speedboat while drunk. Laws regarding these things only tend to arise when the things themselves are invented.

    I hope I won’t scandalise your sense of propriety too greatly when I point out that the desire for formalised same-sex relationships crops up in different cultures throughout history without need of invention. There is no patent on homosexual love.

  32. Rory Says:

    “Yeah, and so was building a thermonuclear bomb in your backyard.”

    And nowadays you can’t even get an assault rifle without it being refitted for civilian use. Man, those citizens of the Roman Empire really had it made. How dare the government regulate the private property and meddle in the private affairs of its citizens!

    Oh, except for that gay marriage thing.

  33. Tacroy Says:

    Personally, I think Mrs Kersten has a point; if the motivation behind the governmental influence in marriage is to encourage people to rear children, then gay marriage is a bad idea. Of course, so is heterosexual marriage. It’s like one of those Rube Goldberg machines - the government provides benefits and tax subsidies to encourage two people to get married, balls fly, toast pops, somewhere something goes up in flames, and then twenty years later a fully functional adult pops out somehow. The cause is entirely unrelated to to the result.

    I think there shouldn’t be anything like marriage in the legal system. If the goal is to help people raise children, then create a legal structure that helps people raise children. Don’t use some roundabout Rube Goldberg legal machine that may, hopefully, at some point in the future, help people raise children.

  34. her divine shadow - all in one place » My del.icio.us bookmarks for November 2nd through November 18th Says:

    [...] The Post-Game Show – tags: marriage [...]

  35. Bradley Traynor Says:

    you had me at ‘rapey.’ absolutely brilliant piece.

  36. Tom Says:

    I whole-heartedly agree! To add a little truth to Kersten’s falsity pie, it’s been scientifically validated in numerous studies that same-sex parents are just as good IF NOT BETTER parents than heterosexual parents.

  37. Alex Brathwaite Says:

    I’ve supported gay marriage ever since I found out people had a problem with it. I just don’t get it. I’m not exactly sure how they think it will effect them, and think if their stupid arguments were relevant in any way then divorce should never have been permitted. This said as an atheist.
    And I have no problems being quoted as such.
    Signed the petition, sent it to my friends. Fight on!

  38. Alex Brathwaite Says:

    @Shirley Anne
    “[...]the whole Bible is absolutely relevant to a Christian.”
    One thing that needs to be realised is that the American government is no longer an institution that only supports Christians. Your country is full of intelligent, wonderful people who are no different from you in their acts, and yet you deal with the country as a whole as if it is based on the bible itself.
    America is no longer a Judo/Christian country, but a multicultural community, and even if it was, religion and the state are and should be separate entities.

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