I was reading an article called Dismantling the Secular Case Against Gay Marriage [broken link], which referred back to an article called The Secular Case Against Gay Marriage. I don’t think I was convinced by either argument. The arguments provided against gay marriage were not that great, but the person arguing against the secular case against gay marriage claimed contradictions where there weren’t any, made straw man arguments, and failed to recognize the harmfulness of polygamy. Instead of going back over these arguments, I will just share my own thoughts on the subject of gay marriage and see where it goes.
Let’s begin with polygamy. This is a vile institution that should be outlawed everywhere. Polygamy results in jealousy between wives, unequal relations between husband and wife, and male domination of women. Polyandry may have similar effects in the opposite direction, but it is much rarer. Polygamy has been more popular than polyandry, because marriage gives a man assurance that his wife’s children are his own, but only so long as his wife doesn’t have a second husband. Letting a woman have multiple husbands removes this benefit of marriage, but letting a man have multiple wives does not. Since a woman knows her children are hers simply by giving birth to them, marriage of any kind would not give a woman any more assurance that her children are hers than she already has. The main benefit a woman has gotten from marriage is financial support for her and her children. Although resources would be divided by polygamy, a wealthy man could give as much support to each of his multiple wives as a poorer man could give to only one wife. As long as marriage has been about (1) assuring the man that his wife’s children are his and (2) providing the wife and her children with resources, the benefit to the man has been removed by polyandry, but the benefit to the woman has not been removed by polygamy. So, polygamy has remained more popular than polyandry.
But, as I was saying, polygamy is a vile institution that should be outlawed everywhere. Although a wealthy man can more easily share resources with multiple wives, marriage is more than an economic arrangement between a man who wants to know which children are his and a woman who needs financial support. Marriage is also about love and romance. Marriage gives people a guarantee that the affections of their partners will not stray toward other people. It doesn’t always work out that way, but at least the intention is there. In polygamy, this guarantee exists in only one direction. The wife may not be with other men, but the husband is free to marry additional women. This is unfair to the wife. If marriage means that the wife will not be with other men, then it should also mean that the husband should not be with other women. So, with respect to marriage between a man and a woman, monogamy should be the norm.
But these considerations do not fully apply to gay marriage. Gay people could conceivably enter into multiple partner marriages in which each person is married to everyone else. But even this may weaken the marriage bond and result in inter-marriage jealousies. The same goes for multi-partner bisexual relationships. I once saw a National Lampoon movie about a man who was initially excited that his girlfriend was interested in threesomes with another woman, but she eventually left him for the other woman. Just because people in a group marriage are all sexually attracted to each other doesn’t mean that affections between them will remain equal. For marriage to work, it has to be between two people who are committed to a sexually exclusive relationship with each other.
If two gay people marry each other, they are committing to remain sexually faithful to one another. That means they are committing to have gay, and not heterosexual sex, for the rest of their lives, or at least the duration of the marriage. So, to legalize gay marriage is to make gay sex part of a state-sponsored institution. It is to create a situation where if a person in a gay marriage has straight sex with anyone at all, then he has violated his marriages vows and committed adultery. For people who are opposed to homosexual sex, this makes a mockery of marriage. It may seem as ludicrous as marrying someone to a monkey and charging her with adultery when she has sex with a human.
I don’t think there is anything morally wrong with homosexual sex, but as a heterosexual male, I do find the idea of sex with other men revolting. One concern I have with gay marriage is that two people of the same sex could marry each other without both of them actually being gay. Someone unsure of his sexuality could stumble into a gay marriage, then regret it later. I know the opposite thing can and has happened in straight marriages, where one spouse realizes that he or she is actually gay. But, since gays are in the minority, this is going to happen less often than the other way around. If gay marriage is legal, it will become more common for straight people to end up in gay marriages than the reverse. The problem comes in when it is considered adultery for a straight person to have straight sex with anyone at all, just because that straight person has entered into a gay marriage. At the point where a straight member of a gay marriage realizes he or she is straight, it seems like a farce to continue to recognize it as a marriage in any way.
If marriage normally lasted until death, I would consider this a good reason to ban gay marriage. Being trapped in a gay marriage would be a nightmare for a straight person. But marriages can end in divorce or annulment. So straight people don’t have to be trapped in gay marriages. I don’t know what the law is regarding divorce or annulment, and it probably varies from state to state and country to country. But I would generally recommend that divorce and annulment be easier when there are no children involved (as would normally be the case with gay marriage), and that annulment be a readily available option for ending a gay marriage when any partner realizes he is straight.
As long as two gay people love each other and want to commit to one another, I can’t think of any good reason to stop them. But perhaps there should be some checks in place to keep the wrong people from entering into gay marriages. If we’re going to allow both gay and straight marriage, then perhaps people should register their sexuality with the government and be eligible for gay marriage only if they identify as gay or bisexual. However, the idea of people registering their sexuality may have some problems. It is the same kind of problem we have when any persecuted minority group is expected to register itself, such as Jews or atheists. It can provide other people with a list of who to persecute. Since many religions remain opposed to homosexuality, I would at least recommend that no clergyman can perform a gay marriage unless his church or ruling religious body has officially recognized gay marriage as a holy sacrament and has registered for the right to officiate over gay marriages with the government. I would also recommend that anyone who enters into a gay marriage be required to first officially renounce membership in any religion that is opposed to gay marriage, such as Catholicism or Islam. Individual religions could take a stand for or against gay marriage by officially registering their position with the government, and their position would be binding on people who identify as members. This would not violate the separation between church and state, because it does not require anyone to be one religion or another. But it would recognize that marriage has long been a religious institution, not just a legal one, and it would let individual religious organizations choose how they will handle marriage between their members.
But there is one problem with this. Suppose two people enter into a gay marriage, and then one converts to a religion opposed to homosexuality. Should this change in religion annul the marriage or provide grounds for divorce? Or perhaps a religious organization may choose to open membership only to people who are not in gay marriages, so that anyone in a gay marriage must first end his marriage before joining the religious organization. That seems fair. I don’t really expect many people in gay marriages to become Catholics, for example, but a process should be in place for handling this kind of thing.
I think many of the people opposed to gay marriage are opposed to it on religious grounds. They regard marriage as a religious institution, and they fear that legalizing gay marriage takes the authority over marriage away from religion and plants it squarely with the government, making it a secular, legal arrangement instead of a religious one. There is a reason why people normally get married in churches and do it “before God.” The arguments for gay marriage have normally characterized marriage as a legal arrangement, arguing that gay couples should be able to have the same rights as straight married couples. Government may have the final authority over who can get married, but this doesn’t mean that government should strip religion of all its authority over marriage and make it entirely a secular institution. That might be what people really fear when they speak of gay marriage destroying marriage. Religious people should be allowed to continue to treat marriage as a sacrament before God, and no religion should be forced to extend this sacrament to people it does not believe should be married. With respect to marriage, I think state and church should share authority, as I’ve already described. Each should have veto power over who it allows to be married, but the state, not having any religious concerns of its own, should allow marriages between homosexuals who are not members of objecting religious organizations.