The recent sea change regarding social acceptance of the idea of same-sex marriage (SSM) — and the influence this increasingly has had on a good number of active LDS members’ views — has inspired me to commit a few thoughts to paper. I do not profess to be either an intellectual or an expert on issues surrounding homosexuality, but I have studied the question of the meaning of marriage over several years, and therefore I can only hope that what I write will advance the (hopefully civil) discussion of this very sensitive topic: How does SSM hurt traditional marriage?
How does SSM hurt traditional marriage? I have heard or seen in print this question (phrased in sundry ways) at least a hundred (if not a thousand) times. The current intellectual bias appears to me to be so strongly on the side of this new view of marriage that people who 20-30 years ago (if they were alive, that is) presumably would have supported upholding the more traditional marital model are now both confidently and somewhat gleefully hurling this question at their more conservative peers, apparently hoping and probably expecting that no logical (likely meaning, at least in some of their minds, “secular”/not “tainted” by religious dictates) response to this question is possible. My readers will decide if what follows is logical; in any case, it is a sincere attempt at spelling out what I believe is at stake.
1. SSM cannot be adopted across the board in the United States without establishing a new norm and changing the status quo; in other words, if the Supreme Court were to rule this summer (or whenever) that same-sex marriage is, for example, a constitutional “right” that therefore will become available to all interested parties in all states, then it also follows that it will become a societal good slated to be viewed as being on par with the good that is the traditional (male-female) marital model. If this is correct, then we are clearly out of the realm of tolerance (MW: “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own”) and into that of promotion, as same-sex marriage will be elevated to the same societal good status currently afforded (in most states) only to traditional marriage. Why is this an issue? In economic terms, because of the principle of scarcity: there are a limited number of resources and benefits to go round, and we cannot presume to be able to bless one group without simultaneously hurting its “competitor(s),” which in this case is traditional marriage, or those who are traditionally married. If today we as a Federal Government can afford to offer traditional families a certain benefit package in terms of tax breaks, etc., and tomorrow we define a new category as being perfectly equatable with the former, then necessarily we will be dividing the benefit pie up into smaller slices for all to enjoy more or less of. That said, the economic aspect in my view is less significant than SSM’s other potential impacts.
2. Elevating SSM to the status of traditional marriage would introduce (or further solidify, if you prefer) a quasi-requirement to respect this new “civil right” in much the same sense that reasonable citizens eventually had to respect those rights afforded to African Americans after the successful civil rights movement of the 1960′s. Despite the current lip service being offered to the generally more religiously-minded Americans whose views happen to include a negative vision of homosexual activity (seeing it as a sin, or as being wrong, or immoral, or what have you) that their religious liberties will be protected and that they have nothing to lose in this battle over SSM, the realities on the ground are already proving otherwise. For me, the rejection of Peter Vidmar as Head of Mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team was the perfect example of how one’s views on traditional marriage are already putting (sometimes model, in my view) citizens at risk in terms of their jobs, social acceptance, promotions, possibilities, etc. Vidmar’s crime, for those unfamiliar with the episode, was to have donated $2k to the successful 2008 Proposition 8 ballot initiative in California and to have marched in two rallies in favor of upholding traditional marriage as the standard for society. In essence, Vidmar’s vocal detractors’ (figure skater Johnny Weir and former President of the Women’s Sport Foundation Aimee Mullins, among others) claims that having someone like Vidmar at the head of the U.S. Olympic Team was “disgraceful,” were readily embraced; conversely, I am confident that, if a person who had actively lobbied against Proposition 8 (or pick-your-proposition, depending on the state) had been designated leader of the U.S. Olympic Team, no one would have batted an eye at the prospect of having an American athlete (say, an active Catholic or a pro-Proposition 8 Mormon) feel less-than-included or “in a hostile environment” due to the choice. In essence, we as a society already have transitioned from a people characterized by varying degrees of homophobia (MW: “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals”) to one that is increasingly hostile to those who (mainly for religious reasons) view homosexuality as a sin and not a societal good. Ergo, Mormon-o-phobia and Catholic-o-phobia increasingly are becoming en vogue, at least in regards to this hot-button issue (just ask those whose businesses were boycotted because of their contributions to Proposition 8). So in sum, yes, those who support traditional marriage are hurt by the acceptance and trivialization of SSM: they are seen as helplessly irrational, dogmatic, and bigoted.
3. Replacing the male-female marital paradigm with the person-person model means — and there is no way around this point, so far as I can tell — that both fathers and mothers are unnecessary in any given marriage, since the roles of one are said to be able to be assumed by the other sex (and just as well, some argue). In a society where both motherhood and fatherhood have been increasingly devalued in recent decades, this is another (very large) step down that devaluation path. Now, gender roles and innate gender characteristics are definitely complicated and variable, but I nevertheless feel in my gut (“irrational!”, my critics will be quick to state) that equating male to female and female to male goes against both Nature and logic. I cannot in good conscience claim to uphold a marriage model that relegates either mother or father (and yes, I recognize I have just delved into the posterity question) to “optional” status. Embracing this new paradigm, which adopting SSM would entail, would absolutely hurt traditional marriage, as the roles of its members would have taken yet another blow (and a much more significant one than past blows, in my view).
(It is shocking to me that the vast majority of feminists – virtually all, probably – are ardent supporters of SSM. On the one hand, they seek to empower women and to further enable the modern woman to define and pursue her own destiny, especially in relation to the historically more powerful sex; on the other (in this case), they immediately concede basically that a man can do just as well as a woman — even in the most womanly roles of wife and mother. This is a sort of welded dichotomy that I find utterly illogical, as it undermines and marginalizes women in a major way. For this reason, feminists should in fact be on the front lines of those who support the traditional family, yet the exact opposite is our post-modern reality.)
4. and 5. Speaking of children, the new marriage model would be a radical departure from the previous paradigm which might be characterized as “marriage equals not a personal affair but a for-the-good-of-society matter, as well as the ideal place for children to be raised.” SSM is an outgrowth of the “rights” (versus “goods” and “the Good”) generations and the push towards defining one’s own happiness and truth (moral relativism). In other words, we are no longer asking the question, “What is best for children in terms of family situation?”; instead, we are asking, “Why should my desires be subsumed and sometimes suppressed within society?” In light of this, traditional marriage is hurt by SSM in two ways: children are regarded de facto as a lesser priority than ensuring adults’ wishes are satisfied, and moral relativism scores a potential knock-out punch which threatens not just traditional marriage but also the very belief system of the vast majority of its proponents, who to a great extent tend to believe in some version of transcendence and in eternal truths.
To summarize, SSM hurts traditional marriage by: (1) taking financial benefits from its proponents to share with the new neighbors, (2) increasing the backing for and the perceived reasonable-ness of attacking religious freedoms and benefits, (3) relegating mother or father to “optional” status, (4) shifting the focus from selflessness (the good of the children and of society at large) to selfishness (the desires of the parents), and (5) attacking the “eternal truths” paradigm — which is upheld by most proponents of traditional marriage — by promoting moral relativism. (Reason number five is directly tied to reason number two, and the end result is that obstacles to undermining religious liberties are removed wholesale instead of piecemeal.)
Certainly many of my more left-leaning readers will be asking at this point, “But what about the pursuit of happiness of our homosexual brothers and sisters?” I am infinitely sensitive to this question, as I have both homosexual family members and friends. But compassion to me does not mean losing sight of greater goods (for both the individuals involved and society at large), which in this case are — I deeply believe — wound up in the model that is traditional marriage. I am a proponent of tolerance but not promotion in the case of homosexual lifestyles; those who live them are to be loved and served as much (or more?) than other citizens whose lives (in that one regard, at least) might more closely correspond to what I view as righteous/just/good, yet this sincere love and outreach need not imply an outright dismissal of foundational principles like chastity and virtue because “it just isn’t fair” for people to be asked to remain celibate (or else to marry someone of a sex that does not attract them). Each of us encounters challenges in this life that, frankly, are not fair — at least for the time being (the afterlife is another discussion). In stating this I wish to strongly stress that my intention is not to diminish in the least the struggles of others; I have no doubt they are not only great but in some cases close to unbearable. It truly is sobering to me to ponder such trials. But I trust in the Lord and in his Word, and I believe Him when He says we will not be tempted beyond what we can bear. My fellow citizens obviously are free to believe that or not, and to believe that homosexuality (meaning engaging in explicitly homosexual activity and not merely experiencing homosexual attraction) is a sin or is not. It is the Savior’s role to judge the righteousness of mankind, but each of us on the Earth must constantly make judgments on what actions are good for our families and for society as a whole. And in my case, as I have attempted to convey above, I believe that supporting the traditional family is an action worthy of even great sacrifices.