"Marriage. It just doesn't seem worth it anymore,"
and other crazy ideas from the radical right.

So in the past couple weeks, people have been going seriously nuts about gay marriage. And by "people," I mean "homophobic demagogues like George Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Rick Santorum." As the Bush (re-)election campaign gears up, the Republican party has decided that this is Their Big Issue, hoping that it will galvanize voters and distract everyone from the economy, Iraq, Halliburton, Plame, missing National Guard records, and the various other screw-ups and scandals the administration is famous for.

I personally believe this is going to come around and bite the Republicans on the ass big-time. They're seriously misjudging the electorate. While I don't think the majority of voters are big-time supporters of gay rights, I think there is a large silent majority out there who just don't care. They're willing to live and let live, and making a huge deal about this isn't going to get these folks on your side.

But let's take a look at these arguments, shall we, and see just how nuts they are?

1. This will devalue marriage as a whole.

This is by far the most frequent argument, and also by far the most confusing. Why does anyone else getting married affect your own marriage? I mean, I've met some serious idiots with high school diplomas, but that didn't make me want to toss mine in the trash. And if Newt Gingrich's marital infidelities don't devalue marriage, how does a committed gay couple do it? More importantly, where are these folks getting the crack they're smoking?

Really, this argument just makes me sad for the people making it. Because it means that their relationships are less about their love for each other, and more about their love of being in an elite club that other people can't join. I mean, seriously, folks. If a couple of lesbians getting married in San Francisco is all it takes to destabilize your marriage, you have way more problems than I can address here, and I don't think any of them actually have to do with those lesbians.

2. It's not what the Bible says.

Unlike most of these arguments, this one is true as far as it goes. Yep, the Bible really doesn't come down in favor of same-sex marriage.

But you know what? Who cares? That's a religious argument; this is a political issue. Last I checked, we still have the separation of church and state (though Christian fundamentalists keep trying to erode it).

So this argument? It doesn't matter! Because our country's guiding document ain't the Bible. It's that Constitution thing the kids are all talking about these days. And the Constitution actually has an interesting thing to say about the church and the state, which is that they are separate. Hey, that's our word for the day. Can you say it at home? Se-pa-rate. You know what that means? It means they're not together. Different. Don't have anything to do with each other. Mm hm. So whether the Bible says that gay people can't marry, or that you should throw your virgin daughters to an angry crowd to protect the sanctity of your hospitality, it really should not affect how we conduct our politics and make our laws. This is not a religious state, and I for one would like to keep it that way.

3. The state is getting mixed up in religion by forcing churches to marry gay people.

First off, oddly enough, people who argue #2 also tend to argue #3, and I'm sorry, but you just can't have it both ways. And among ridiculous arguments, this is one of the most ridiculous. Just because the state allows it doesn't mean someone's going to come to your local Baptist Church and start bustin' heads if they don't marry gay people. (I mean, to each other. I'm guessing that gay people get married in the Baptist Church all the time…just not to other gay people.) The state allows divorced people to marry, too, but that doesn't mean anyone ever forced the Catholic Church to give its blessings to second and third marriages.

I'd also like to point out what my friend Cindy - a Unitarian Universalist minister and the person who's going to officiate at our own wedding - had to say about this when she testified in front of the Massachusetts legislature. She pointed out that it is her religious belief that same-sex couples should be able to marry, and should have the same rights as other couples. The fact that the state does not allow such marriages means that the state is actually infringing on her right to freely exercise her religious beliefs.

Go chew on that, Pat Robertson!

4. Marriage is all about having kids.

This is an interesting one if you actually follow the logic through. The only gay couples that would be categorically excluded here are gay men, because I think we're all pretty clear that lesbians + sperm donor = baby. But there are other couples out there, couples who aren't gay but who also aren't having kids, and this argument means we'd need to exclude them, too. By this logic, infertile men and women, women over 50, and any couples not intending to have children should also not be allowed to marry.

This argument raises so many more questions than it answers, really. Following it through to its logical end puts you well in the realm of fascism, since you end up setting up mandatory fertility checks for anyone applying for a marriage license. And boy, that sounds like the kind of state we'd all just love to live in.

5. Homosexuality is inherently unhealthy and so the state should not sanction this kind of behavior.

This is Governor Terminator's argument, in brief: "In the next city it'll be handing out licenses for assault weapons. In the next it'll be someone handing them out to sell drugs." Wha huh? (And isn't he in favor of assault weapons? Or is that just onscreen?) This argument is one of the most offensive (and in this bunch, that takes doing). It links homosexuality and disease, and as such is a cousin to the argument that (male) homosexual sex, rather than risky sexual behavior of all stripes, causes AIDS. Which, for one, is patently false; it's unsafe sex, not sexual partner choice, that puts you at risk for AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. For another, if you're basing "right to marry" on "risk group statistics," this argument seems to completely ignore the existence of lesbians, who are in pretty much the lowest risk group for any kind of STD. And as Josh Marshall points out, heterosexuals are also at a pretty high risk for AIDS and STDs, so if you're going to make this argument, you'll probably need to outlaw male-female and male-male marriages, and "more or less [let] the lesbians just run wild."

Which, as he also notes, may be the stuff of secret late-night conservative fantasy, but it's not what they're saying in public…

6. Well, gay people are promiscuous. That's not what marriage is about!

OK, to look at some prominent right-wing lives, you'd think marriage was all about promiscuity and infidelity. (This hypocrisy is the target of the "Fidelity Pledge," which asks supporters of the "Defense of Marriage Amendment" to pledge that they will uphold their own rhetoric and not commit adultery… let's see how many signatories they get…) Secondly, there are plenty of people, gay, straight, and bi, who prefer not to commit to a single partner. Bully for them, if they can pull it off and be honest about it. But you know what? For fairly obvious reasons, these are not the ones lining up outside the judges' office in San Francisco. The ones getting married are committed to their long-term relationship.


7. This is activist judges legislating against the will of the people.

First of all, when I think "activist judges legislating against the will of the people," the first thing that springs to my mind is not Massachusetts or San Francisco, but the Supremes' decision (legally shaky at best) to halt the Florida recount and install George Bush as president. But maybe that's just me.

Secondly, a lot of these decisions are being made by legislative or executive decisions, not judicial decisions. It was the San Francisco mayor who gave the go-ahead to the city, and it was the California legislature that adopted civil unions.

Finally, lest we forget, there was a similar outcry in 1967, when the Supreme Court declared that anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional. Yes, that's right: until 1967, there were many states in this country where marriage between a white person and an African American person could get them both thrown in jail. The Supreme Court put an end to this, and yes, some people got very, very angry about that decision. But it was the right thing to do. That's part of the job of the judiciary - figuring out what's right, whether we the people like it or not. Sometimes that makes them activists. That's what the Constitution calls on them to do.

8. This will cause serious civil unrest.

If we'd let that stop us, we never would have passed any civil rights bills in this country. Remember how the end of "separate but equal" schooling caused serious rioting and unrest among racist whites? Do we let right-wing radicals who're willing to take to the streets to voice their intolerance dictate what we can and cannot do? This is the argument of the coward who's unwilling to stand behind what's right, because maybe someone will disagree.

And finally, to get back to my original point, Republicans are seriously overestimating how much people generally care about this. I don't think that most people are going to be willing to riot in the streets just because Adam and Steve are getting married down at the courthouse. They may complain about it with their buddies at the local church and/or bar, and if they're really motivated they may write to their congressperson, but in the end, I think most Americans are considerably more interested in whether they'll have a job next year than in whether that nice gay couple down the street can file their taxes jointly this year.

28. February 2004

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