In a recent column at The American Conservative, former Governor Jon Huntsman (R-UT) proposed that it is time conservatives embrace same-sex marriage. Others have argued the same. Conservatives support same-sex marriage, although one may not realize it given the misrepresentation of the issue by the media, the left, academia, and now Jon Hunstman, who have succeeded in framing–or misframing–the debate. The real issue is not about denying same-sex couples the privilege to marry; it is about the role of government distinguishing between relationships.
Governor Hunstman writes:
Conservatives should start to lead again and push their states to join the nine others that allow all their citizens to marry. I’ve been married for 29 years. My marriage has been the greatest joy of my life. There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love [Emphasis added].
He is of course right about that. But it is also moot. Despite portrayals to the contrary, nowhere are people currently denied the privilege of marrying the person he or she loves (notwithstanding those already married, underage, immediate family, etc. More on that below), not under Proposition 8 in California or in any other state. Proposition 8, for instance, does not ban homosexual marriage. It merely declares that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” This means that if a same-sex couple wishes to get married in a local church or other institution and live a happy and fulfilling life together, they have the right to do so. The proposition simply makes clear that government will not endorse that marriage. It will instead remain neutral.
So why does government recognize heterosexual marriage?
As the governor’s quote above illustrates, it is commonly believed today that the only requisite for state-recognized marriage is love. This poses difficulties. If love is the only criterion, then on what grounds could the State deny recognition to any arrangement established on that basis–including incestuous, polygamous, and underage relationships? (In case one thinks suggestions of polygamy is fear-mongering, read this.) Nick Cassavetes, filmmaker and advocate of state-sponsored same-sex marriage, acknowledges as much:
Love who you want. Isn’t that what we say? … Gay marriage – love who you want? If it’s your brother or sister it’s super-weird, but if you look at it, you’re not hurting anybody except every single person who freaks out because you’re in love with one another.
For thousands of years and in virtually every society, however, love was never considered enough for State endorsement of marriage. Rather, State sponsorship was predicated upon two ideas: 1) That a man and a woman united through marriage are ideal for child development; and 2) that gender distinction matters for society.
Research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage. Children in single-parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in stepfamilies or cohabiting relationships face higher risks of poor outcomes than do children in intact families headed by two biological parents. Parental divorce is also linked to a range of poorer academic and behavioral outcomes among children. There is thus value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents.
More, sex distinction is important for society, as each gender has a unique biological nature, which manifests different behaviors, such as male aggression and female nurturance. Eroding these distinctions damages both men and women by creating confusion. Yet in recent decades this is precisely what has happened. Consider what Shulamith Firestone, a prominent early feminist, wrote in 1970:
Just as the end goal of socialist revolution was not only the elimination of the economic class privilege but of the economic class distinction itself, so the end goal of feminist revolution must be … not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally.
Her vision has made serious progress. Dennis Prager highlights some examples of how far it has advanced:
–This year Harvard University appointed its first permanent director of bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, and queer student life. The individual, Vanidy Bailey, has asked that he/she never be referred to as he or she, male or female. Harvard has agreed.
–In 2010 eHarmony, for years the country’s largest online dating service, was sued for only matching men and women. Its lack of same-sex matchmaking meant that it violated anti-discrimination laws in some states. As a result, eHarmony was forced to begin a same-sex online service.
–Each year more and more American high schools elect girls as homecoming kings and boys as homecoming queens. Students have been taught to regard restricting kings to males or queens to females as (gender-based) discrimination.
–When you sign up for the new social networking site, Google Plus, you are asked to identify your gender. Three choices are offered: Male, Female, Other.
–Catholic Charities, which operates the oldest ongoing adoption services in America, has had to end its adoption work in Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington, DC because the governments there regard placing children with married man-woman couples before same-sex couples as discriminatory.
–The socialist French government has just announced that in the future no government issued document will be allowed to use the words “mother” or “father.” Only the gender-neutral term “parent” will be acceptable in France.
–And in Rhode Island this year, one school district cancelled its father-daughter dance after the ACLU threatened to sue the district for gender discrimination. Only parent-child events, not father-daughter dances or mother-son ballgames, will be allowed.
Although not the intent of many proponents, government promotion of same-sex marriage would further dissolve gender distinction by declaring whom one marries irrelevant. Would such a message make a better society?
The Proper Government Role
None of what is written is to suggest that gay couples shouldn’t receive equal marriage benefits, or that they cannot be great parents and couples. They should receive the former, and only ignorance would argue the latter. Passing legislation that extends the same benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples to same-sex couples need not redefine the age-old State role in marriage, however.
Conservatives support gay partners choosing to unite their lives together at a local church or other institution, but by recognizing that union government shifts its policy from neutrality to sponsorship, which redefines the purpose of state-recognized marriage, and promotes the idea that male-female distinction is inconsequential.
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