Lately I have seen a lot of activity in blog comments and social websites where people who are promoting California’s Proposition 8, which will amend the state constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman, are being called bigots, homophobes, and fools, and their arguments dismissed as irrational, ignorant, and unfounded.
While there are certain to be fools and bigots among the opponents of same-sex marriage, just as there are among its proponents, opposition to same-sex marriage is not irrational. It is not ignorant or uninformed.
Just as those in favor of same-sex marriage have legitimate concerns and rational arguments for their stance on the subject, so do those of us who oppose it. Going around trolling the blogs and facebook walls of those who support the traditional definition of marriage and describing their position as irrational and ignorant certainly isn’t going to win you many converts.
So rather than shut down constructive conversation by treating those with whom you disagree as idiots, why not acknowledge that at least some of their points are valid concerns; that you can see how they would be concerned, even if you think that other considerations should overrule that concern.
Same-sex marriage advocates certainly have some strong arguments in their favor. So do opponents. That fact should be acknowledged.
Those who oppose Proposition 8 frequently like to claim that the concerns of those who want to preserve traditional marriage are all hypothetical slippery-slope arguments based on fear. Just because something is hypothetical does not mean it is irrational. While slippery slope arguments are often dismissed, there are plenty of historical examples of slippery slope hypotheticals that ended up being accurate. Just because you cannot conceive of any immediate consequences to allowing same-sex marriage, doesn’t mean that there wont be unintended consequences that emerge later. Reality is not limited by your ability to imagine consequences. Just look at the current financial crisis.
As Jane Galt has argued so well, the history of the U.S. Income Tax, or extending government welfare to unwed mothers, or easing the access to no-fault divorce are all examples of slippery slopes. In complex systems, even small changes can have large, unexpected consequences.
It is like adjusting the water temperature in the shower. The full effect of increasing the hot water isn’t immediately felt. So you can’t judge the effect until you wait long enough or else you might get burned because while the immediate temperature felt fine, the water hadn’t made it through the pipes yet. It is not irrational to be concerned about flippantly changing something so central to society as marriage to a definition that it has never had in all of history. While there may not be an immediate effect, we are likely to get burned down the road, once the water has made it through the pipes.
Proponents of Proposition 8 say that allowing same-sex marriage could lead to an abridgment of their religious freedoms and parental rights, and already see signs of this happening. Opponents dismiss this concern as a lie used to promote fear. California law already allows parents to opt their children out of sex education, they argue, and religious freedom is guaranteed by both the U.S. Constitution and California state law.
However, a simple assertion of freedom of religion is an oversimplification of the complexity of religious freedom and law in the U.S. When the LDS church was persecuted for polygamy in the late 1800s’, the Supreme Court ruled that the freedom of religion extended only to religious belief, not to religious action or practice. So, while the Latter-day Saints were free to believe in polygamy, they were forbidden to practice it. The government confiscated the property of the Church and revoked the right to vote of many of the members.
In other words, people in the U.S. are free to believe whatever they want, but if they act on beliefs that the Government deems immoral, the government can restrict and punish their religious actions.
So churches who teach that homosexual behavior is a sin and that same-sex marriage is inferior or wrong have a legitimate concern that the legalization of gay-marriage could effect their freedom of religion down the road. Their beliefs are protected, but any attempt to act on that belief could be conceivably restricted or punished. Labeling their concerns as discrimination and bigotry only reinforces that concern.
[For those of you who scoff at what you consider the hypocrisy of the LDS church’s resistance to government proscription of polygamy in the face of its support for the proscription of same-sex marriage, see my previous article here .]
While it is true that California law allows parents to opt out of the sex-education section of the curriculum, the fact is that laws are not static. They change all the time in subtle ways. Just because religious parents will not face an immediate threat that their children will be required to be taught about same-sex marriages, doesn’t mean that they are not justified in being worried that once same-sex marriage is established, the laws will change. As a current example, while the ADL, the ACLU, and HRC are in California saying that it is a lie that parents will have to let their children be educated about same-sex marriage, those same groups are in Massachusetts filing amicus briefs arguing parents don’t have any right to opt their children out of the pro-gay marriage curriculum (see here= ).
It’s like chess: just because your King is not in immediate danger doesn’t mean that your opponent’s current move wont set up a check-mate scenario. Parents and Churches are looking a couple of moves ahead and rightly worried. That is very rational and wise, not irrational.
In addition to these concerns, the manner in which same-sex marriage has been foisted on our nation through judicial overreach should be a major concern for those who support our constitutional, democratic republic. The California supreme court went well beyond its power and created ex-nihilo a fundamental right to marriage that has never before existed. In doing so they have usurped the democratic process and unconstitutionally claimed powers that they do not have. Even those who support same-sex marriage should be very concerned about the way in which it is being forced upon the nation and destroying our constitution. (See Orson Scott Card’s recent article)
The concerns of those of us who oppose same-sex marriage are not inherently irrational or fundamentally bigoted. They are legitimate concerns. I hope that some of you who want same-sex marriage to be legal will at least acknowledge that fact, even if in your mind your rational concerns about discrimination and rights trump ours.
If you live in California, Vote “Yes” on Proposition 8 to keep the traditional definition of marriage.