Maggie Gallagher, founder of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), has answered the question:
In states where same-sex couples have been allowed to marry, what harm has been brought to individuals or society at large?
I already knocked apart a portion of her answer here. Now I’d like to deal with this bit:
I think we’re in the early stages of seeing my primary concern, which is a transformation of the public understanding of marriage and the separation of it from its roots in the natural family…Gay marriage is not just adding a couple of people onto an existing institution. It requires re-norming the whole institution and making it serve new purposes, instead of its classic purpose across time and culture and history, which is to bring together male and female so children have a mom and a dad.
In other words, same-sex marriage will obscure the purpose of marriage. She hits this theme a lot, and I’ve previously pointed out the problems that arise when you talk about the purpose of marriage. So now let me hit something else — let me point out that her answer suggests this isn’t about marriage at all. It’s about gays.
See, in 2009 over 110,000 women aged 55 and older got married. That accounted for 5.1% of all marriages that year. The birth rate of women in this group is so small that the Census Bureau and the CDC don’t even report it. For these women, “the” purpose of marriage is not procreation, not about bringing together moms and dads. And by the way, when women in this group do conceive, it’s generally through an egg donor, so even that is contrary to Maggie’s repugnant, repetitive rhetoric about marriage uniting children with “their own mother and father” (that is, repugnant to adoptive parents, at least, who apparently cannot count their children as “their own”).
Now, that 5.1% figure is a bit higher than the 4.1% of adults willing to tell the government they’re gay or bisexual (which itself is different from the fraction who actually are gay or bisexual, but we’re concerned here with people willing to go on the record, as marriage requires).
So this is what Maggie needs to resolve: We’ve got two groups, both of whom wish to marry, neither of whom can conceive on their own. According to Maggie that’s a bad combination. Yet she’s willing to let them marry as long as they’re not same-sex couples. At this point it takes some real tap dancing to avoid the idea that it’s really just all about gays.
Still, I invite Maggie to explain.
A preemptory note: Our opponents have two common responses to this:
- It would be a terrible invasion of privacy to investigate the fertility of an opposite-sex couple before granting a marriage license! If you hear this, then ask: “So if we could somehow know their fertility, you’d be fine with denying them marriage?” You’ll likely get back something about not wanting to deal in hypotheticals (which are entirely within the realm of possibility!), and that means they’re not willing to follow their reasoning to its logical conclusion.
- We don’t define laws according to the exceptions. In other words, opposite-sex infertile couples are merely “exceptions” that the law can’t be bothered to address. To begin with, what a dismissive insult! Can you imagine telling a heartbroken couple who has struggled and failed to conceive: We would take away your marriage rights but we simply can’t be bothered. Further, it’s not true; the law carves out exceptions constantly — consider killing as murder vs. self-defense. But most of all, if we don’t base laws on exceptions, then why do our opponents spend millions trying to rob one small exception — one small group of couples — of their marriage rights simply because they cannot conceive on their own?
So be ready for those responses. You’re likely to hear them, and they’re easy to deal with.
Here’s another way of seeing how ridicu-ludicrous Maggie’s statement is. She warns us away from making marriage “serve new purposes.” Presumably she means something other than just uniting two people of the same sex — something more than “just adding a couple of people onto an existing institution.” No, Maggie’s new purposes consist of that which goes beyond marriage’s “classic purpose…which is to bring together male and female so children have a mom and a dad.”
Do you believe that? If so, then imagine this conversation between Maggie and a new NOM intern:
Intern: Hey Maggie, get this: in 2009, more than 30,000 women aged 65 and older got married.
Maggie: No, that can’t be. That’s ridiculous. I should fire you.
Intern: Fire — wait — what?
Maggie: You’re trying to fool me into believing that 30,000 elderly women thought they could procreate!
Intern: But I didn’t — wait — what?
Maggie: Because that’s the only reason they would marry.
Intern: The only — wait — what?
Maggie: Why else would they marry?
Intern: Um…because that’s what people in love do? When they want to build a life together? As one?
Maggie: Nonsense. That would be an entirely new purpose for marriage!
Intern: It would?
Maggie: It’s so obvious, only a fool would need that explained.
Intern: Can you explain it?
Maggie: Oh…you are so fired!
Personally, I don’t believe this conversation would ever happen. I don’t think Maggie, confronted with a 65-year-old bride, would find herself baffled. She wouldn’t investigate whether this woman thinks she can conceive. And Maggie’s head wouldn’t explode at the prospect of a new purpose for marriage. I bet Maggie would congratulate this woman on having another go at happiness.
As long as she’s marrying a man.
Maggie also offered this as a harm of same-sex marriage:
You see the idea and the ideal that children need a mother and father beginning to be redefined as the equivalent of a racist or mean or hateful idea. That’s on top of the problem of the silencing or the — which I’ve already talked about — the way religious institutions and religious people who in good conscience can’t treat same-sex unions as marriages begin to be treated as pariahs.
As you recall, I’ve written already how Maggie herself shares responsibility for this quandary. At that time, I promised to write more on it, but others anticipated me by pointing out the circular nature of her argument: Legalizing same-sex marriage is bad because it makes people who are opposed to same-sex marriage officially bad. So let me take a moment and extend that a bit.
First, Maggie is wrong in her circular argument. Legalizing same-sex marriage doesn’t mean the government is calling opponents bigots; after all, the government hires Jewish military chaplains, but that doesn’t mean it’s designating as “bigots” anyone who thinks Christ is the only path to salvation. As I’ve written before, compare these two statements:
|The government is not taking a position on whether your religion’s view of salvation is correct when it gives equal support to multiple views.||The government is not taking a position on whether your religion’s view of marriage is correct when it gives equal support to multiple views.|
If the statement on the left is correct, then so is the one on the right. Government neutrality is not an accusation of “bigotry.”
But there’s another response to Maggie’s argument. Suppose you spin it around like a hula hoop and turn it against her. During NOM’s ill-fated bus tour across the country, Brian Brown staked NOM’s worth on the character of its supporters. These are the same supporters who have a hard time commenting on NOM’s blog without speaking of abomination and perverts. So if we hijack NOM’s reasoning, we can say that same-sex marriage must be legalized; anything else would reinforce the idea of gays as abominable perverts who shall surely be put to death.
But of course that’s ridiculous. Just as ridiculous as Maggie’s notion that we must ban same-sex marriage to keep people from saying mean things about its opponents.