The decision by federal judge Vaughan Walker to invalidate California’s Proposition 8 both recycles and revives some of the tired, misleading clichés regarding the same sex marriage controversy. These distortions demand direct, concise correction and rebuttal.
1. “Proposition 8 was a mean-spirited ban on gay marriage.”
TRUTH: Proposition 8 banned nothing. The ubiquitous headlines describing this voter-mandated change in the California constitution as a “gay marriage ban” amount to the worst example of journalistic malpractice in recent years. The entire proposition consisted of only fourteen words: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” This simple statement imposes no restrictions and issues no commands regarding the behavior of private citizens: it merely demands a change in the actions of government. Proposition 8 did nothing to interfere with gay couples in registering for state-recognized civil unions, participating in church or civil ceremonies consecrating their love, forming life-time commitments, raising children, or concluding comprehensive contractual arrangements to share all aspects of life and property. The proposition simply says that government will not get involved in any of these private or public processes by calling such relationships a marriage.
2. “Proposition 8 singled out gays and lesbians for discriminatory treatment.”
TRUTH: The proposition never mentioned gays, lesbians or any other individuals, whatever their sexual orientation. It didn’t discriminate among individuals; it drew distinctions among relationships. Under the proposition, a gay male and a straight male would face exactly the same options in marriage—free to choose any woman who is not already married or a blood relative. The fact that the gay man won’t want to marry any of the women available to him doesn’t change the fact that he and his straight neighbor face precisely the same opportunities and restrictions in their marital choices. .
3. ”Failure to sanction gay marriage is based on the assumption that “same sex couples simply are not as good as opposite sex couples.” (This language appears verbatim in the judge’s decision).
TRUTH: Opposition to government sanction of gay marriages isn’t based on the notion that opposite sex couples are “better,” but on the idea that they are more consequential, and serve an important social purpose more effectively. Laws in every state recognize the desirability that children should be raised by their biological parents, wherever possible. This is based on the universal, common sense assumption that a child generally will fare best if it is raised by both its birth mother and birth father. Laws on divorce, child custody, adoption and foster-parenting all display this general preference for birth parents to involve themselves in a child’s life. Traditional opposite sex marriage generally produces a situation where both birth parents will participate in parenting – and this shared responsibility even survives divorce in most cases. There is no chance--none—that a same sex marriage can produce a child who will be raised by both birth parents. This doesn’t make that same sex marriage hateful or immoral, but it does make it somewhat less desirable and less significant for society.
TRUTH: The problem with government endorsement of same sex marriage isn’t damage it would do to current heterosexual couples, but the profound change it would bring to the institution of marriage itself. In every civilization known to historians and anthropologists, marriage involves the union of man and woman—and the recognition that combining the two genders produces a durable unit that is very different from any all-male or all-female combination. The argument for gay marriage depends on the discredited and destructive idea that men and women are identical—that your marriage will be the same whether you select a male or female partner. Gay marriage also separates the institution of marriage from the process of childbearing, at a time when we need to reaffirm that children fare best within a marriage, and marriage becomes more significant when it produces children.
5. “Denying marriage rights to same sex couples is the equivalent of denying marriage rights to inter-racial couples before 1967.”
TRUTH: The old and hateful laws barring interracial marriage directly discriminated against individuals based on their race—a discrimination explicitly prohibited by the Constitution. The language of the Constitution never mentions (or even hints at) similar protection for sexual orientation. Before Loving v. Virginia struck down the evil anti-miscegenation laws, such legislation treated a black man and a white man completely differently: the African-American couldn’t marry a white woman, but the white guy could. As noted above, under Proposition 8 a lesbian woman got exactly the same marriage options as a heterosexual woman; there was no potential mate that the straight woman could choose, but the gay woman couldn’t.
6. “Any gay marriage ban is an invasion of privacy.”
TRUTH: Actually, opposition to gay marriage involves the defense of privacy from governmental intrusion, not any sort of intimate assault. The drive to mandate gay marriage demands a vast expansion of governmental involvement into same sex relationships – relationships in which the right bureaucratic policy would be strict neutrality. Proposition 8 mandated no change in private relationships and only an alteration in public policy.
7. “Governmental recognition for gay marriage is necessary to end oppression of gay people.”
TRUTH: All Studies and surveys indicate that gay people in America hardly constitute an oppressed minority; on average, they enjoy higher levels of education and income than the heterosexual majority. Even in the federal trial just concluded, the plaintiffs’ attorneys presented abundant evidence of the remarkable success and eminence of homosexual couples in the United States. The undeniable fact that gay people have achieved these personal and communal victories even without gay marriage, is an indication that the traditionally privileged position for heterosexual marriage hasn’t blocked homosexuals from successful participation in every aspect of American life.
With Judge Walker’s decision, the debate about re-defining marriage will once again intensify as the case works its way through the system to the Supreme Court of the United States. No effort at logical argument can halt the hysterical distortions that erupt periodically on both sides but the integrity of public discourse requires at least an honest attempt to clear away mistakes, irrational claims and outright smears.