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John McCain’s Disappointing Defense of Marriage

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Just how low do presidential candidates have to go to win votes? Is there historical precedent for debasing oneself in pursuit of the nation’s highest office? I only ask the question while wondering aloud why presidential candidates in the current campaign find it necessary to make appearances on the basest of television venues. In recent weeks John McCain has ventured into the hostile environs of Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” Stephen Colbert’s “Colbert Report,” and now in what must confirm McCain’s insatiable appetite for self-flagellation, McCain has made a very painful appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” where he endured a verbal flogging around the issue of traditional vs. homosexual marriage, with DeGeneres telling the senator that in the wake of the California Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision she can “now legally get married, like everyone else.” Ellen then opened the door wide for Senator McCain to defend traditional marriage. McCain basically punted.


Rather than defend marriage on moral principle as the union of a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation, the establishment of the home as the basis of a civil society, and as a union entered “before God” in accordance with His laws, McCain offered a compromise, emphasizing that, “people should be able to enter into legal agreements” for the purpose of sharing insurance and decision-making. He pointed out that same-sex couples are not denied such legal benefits and should be content with the legal status of civil unions. Such a position leaves unstated all of the conservative principles relative to the defense of traditional marriage, the first principle being that marriage is not primarily a legal contract, but is fundamentally about reproduction, valued by the state because it provides a context for the rearing of children who have been birthed as a result of the sexual union of a man and a woman, thus securing the future for a stable and free society.

Ellen denies these fundamental principles of marriage, arguing for same-sex marriage on the basis of erotic love, grounding her argument in the mistaken idea that marriage is a civil right denied to gays and lesbians in the same way this country denied the freedom of slaves and the suffrage of blacks and women:

I think that it is looked at—and some people are saying the same—that blacks and women did not have the right to vote. I mean, women just got the right to vote in 1920. Blacks didn't have the right to vote until 1870, and it just feels like there is this old way of thinking that we are not all the same. We are all the same people—all of us. You’re no different than I am. Our love is the same.


There is absolutely no correlation between the equality denied blacks and women and marriage being denied to gays and lesbians. All humans, regardless of ethnic or gender differences, have been endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights on the basis of their common humanity. When Ellen argues that “we are all the same people” she is absolutely correct that, in terms of our humanity, we are all equal. But she misapplies the equality standard to sexuality, insisting that there is no difference between the erotic love and relational commitment of homosexual persons versus that of heterosexual persons. She couldn’t be more wrong.

Love-making for same-sex couples results only in physical and emotional satisfaction while the same cannot be said of heterosexual love-making, which carries with it the possibility of procreation. No such possibility exists in a homo-sexual union.

Ellen is equal to me in terms of personhood and the individual human rights that accompany personhood. It is a fundamental denial of the human person to deny blacks and women equal status. But no one is denying Ellen and her lover status as persons or the rights that inure to them as human persons by denying a right to marriage. The rights of marriage are granted to those who can meet the biological standard necessary for entering a physical union that, all things being equal, can produce offspring. This is the fundamental nature of marriage. Any other benefits of marriage are subordinate.


To say that because we share the same rights as human persons we are the same in nature, physicality and even sexuality is to deny reality. I am not the same as Ellen in terms of human biology. She is a female and I am a male, and as such there are fundamental differences between us that are naturally innate which, even with radical surgery, cannot be changed. As Michael Medved has said, “‘Sex change’ procedures do nothing to alter the most important distinctions between males and females, and blur only a few external characteristics.” Even advances in biotechnology have not succeeded in changing the basic fact that the female body is capable of carrying and bringing to life the seeds of reproduction, a feat the male body cannot accomplish.

To argue that marriage for those of same-sex attraction is a fundamental human right in the same way as suffrage is nothing more than changing the subject. John McCain allowed Ellen to change the subject and in doing so demonstrated that he is a poor apologist for conservatism on one of the key issues that really, really matters.

How is it possible that the “conservative” presidential candidate makes an appearance on a television program hosted by a wildly popular, openly lesbian comedienne one week after a landmark California Supreme Court decision on gay marriage and is unprepared to rigorously defend the conservative position on traditional marriage? McCain was clear, however, when he congratulated Ellen on articulating her position in a very eloquent fashion.


Let’s hope for more boldness and clarity from the only candidate who has at least a chance of being a standard-bearer for traditional marriage in the next presidential term.


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