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.
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.
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