Why the Debate over Same-Sex Marriage Matters

Jason Dulle

When it comes to debate, usually objections to some position X are espoused by those holding to the contrary position Y.  The cogency of some objections is so strong, however, that occasionally those holding to position X cede the merits of their opponents’ objection without ceding the merit of their opponents’ position.  I have found this to be the case with the debate over same-sex marriage.  Many same-sex marriage opponents accept some of their opponents’ objections to prohibiting the legal recognition of same-sex partnerships as “marriage.”  While several come to mind, the one I want to discuss is what I call the irrelevancy objection: recognizing same-sex relationships as “marriage” will not affect your marriage or society-at-large, so why make a big deal about it?  

Is the debate over same-sex marriage irrelevant?  What do we stand to gain or lose in this cultural/moral/political battle?  What would the fallout be if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land?  I think we would feel the effects in two main areas:

#1  It would sever the connection between marriage and procreation/child rearing.  

Marriage has always been limited to a union of two persons of the opposite sex because it has been universally understood that procreation was the primary purpose for marriage.  Since only two persons of the opposite sex are capable of procreation, this form of human relationship alone has been recognized as marriage.  To recognize same-sex relationships as valid marriages one must jettison the notion that procreation is the primary purpose of marriage, seeing that same-sex couples cannot procreate.  One cannot consistently send the message to society that marriage is first and foremost about procreation, and at the same time recognize an entire group of relationships as marriages when those relationships are known to be biologically incapable of procreation.  

Once sexual dimorphism is abandoned as a criterion for marriage, the institution of marriage will no longer be understood as an institution for the sake of children, but an institution for affirming adult relationships.  Once this happens, two things will follow.  First, the door will be opened for all sort of “progressive” relationships (such as polygamy) to be recognized as marriage.  How so?  Once sexual dimorphism is rejected as the basis for marriage, we have no principled basis on which to deny other kinds of relationships access to the institution of marriage.  After all, if marriage is about affirming adult relationships, then on what basis can we deny a man to marry three women if all parties involved believe marriage would affirm their relationships?  As Robert Gagnon writes:

There is…an obvious logical link between homosexuality…and polyamory. The principle of monogamy, restricting a sexual relationship to two persons at a time, is predicated on the…binary character of the sexes. Because there are essentially two and only two sexes, the presence of a male and female in a sexual relationship is necessary and sufficient for reconstituting a sexual whole, so far as the number of persons in the union is concerned. A third party is neither needed nor desirable. If society repeals a male-female prerequisite, there no longer remains any logical or nature-based reason for society to withhold approval from multiple-partner sexual unions, whether fashioned in the mold of traditional polygyny or in a form characterized by greater egalitarianism and/or bisexuality.1

If we dismiss the male-female requisite for marriage, and erect in its place love and commitment, we will destroy the basis for limiting relationships to two partners, and thus open the door to allow any combination of people/things to participate in the institution of marriage. 

Secondly, it will reduce the number of people who marry after having children (as we have witnessed in Scandinavian countries), which will increase the number of children raised in single-parent homes since the dissolution rate of cohabiters with children is 75%, compared to married couples whose dissolution rate is 33%.  A Norwegian study found that children born to cohabiting parents were 2 ½ times more likely to see their parents split than the children of married couples.  A British study reported that half of cohabiting parents will split up by their child’s 5th birthday, compared to 1 out of 12 married parents.  The effects of parental dissolution and single parenthood on children have been well-documented, and are grave. 

#2  It will open the door to discrimination against Christians et al who have moral objections to same-sex marriage.

Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2004.  In a very short period of time we have already seen the cultural and legal ramifications of this societal change.  Massresistance.org has chronicled some of the effects: (1) Adoption agencies are now legally required to adopt children out to same-sex couples, which caused Catholic Charities adoption agency to close their doors; (2) People in the wedding industry must serve same-sex couples if requested; (3) Books promoting the acceptability of same-sex couples have been distributed in schools to grade-school children; (4) Judges ruled that parents need not be notified when pro-gay material is going to be presented to their children, and they cannot opt their children out of such sessions; (5) Justices of the peace cannot decline to perform a same-sex wedding.

In conclusion, because marriage is a societal stamp of approval on particular relationships, recognizing same-sex relationships as marriage sends a message to society that there is no difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality—both are deserving of society’s respect.  If we think this will not affect how people view homosexuality, and how society will view those who refuse to recognize same-sex relationships as equal to opposite-sex relationships, we are deceiving ourselves.  Marriage matters, and thus the debate over and legality of same-sex marriage matters.


1. Robert Gagnon, “Why the Disagreement Over the Biblical Witness of Homosexual Practice?: A Response to Myers and Scazoni, What God Has Joined Together?”, pp. 40-41; available from http://www.westernsem.edu/files/westernsem/gagnon_autm05_0.pdf; Internet; accessed 15 December 2006.

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