July 8, 2004
Same-Sex Marriage Poses Key Questions
I can't prove that allowing same-sex marriage would be bad for society.
Of course, people terrified of global warming can't even prove it exists, but that doesn't stop former Vice President Al Gore from delivering a grave warning on the coldest day of the year.
If he can speculate, so can I. So why might someone oppose same-sex marriage?
My first question would be, is marriage important? Important, that is, to society. Most proponents of same-sex marriage seem to think it's not, that it's the grownup equivalent of going to the prom -- if boy-girl couples can go, why not boy-boy or girl-girl couples?
To them, marriage is just another form of self-expression. This is evident in the overused question: How does so-and-so's same-sex relationship threaten your marriage?
That question regards marriage as purely personal: You've got yours and I've got mine. What's missing is any sense of marriage as a social institution.
Because if marriage isn't important, if it's just a way for couples to show their love to the world, then denying it to anyone would be cruel and pointless. So how do we answer the question? How do we know if marriage is important?
Because every human society, ancient or modern, religious or secular, Jewish or Christian or secular has had the institution of marriage. I guess I'm a Darwinist: If every society has evolved an institution, then I'm reluctant to tamper with it, just as even if I had no idea what the heart did, just the fact that every animal has one would make me very, very cautious about cutting into it.
A society's evolution is for survival just as much as an organism's is. Compare marriage to friendship, for example. Society lets us form friendship without a ceremony and dissolve it without going to court. Why? Because while my relationship with my buddy may be very important to the two of us, it's just not all that important to society, unlike my marriage to my wife.
What does marriage do for a society? I can think of two things.
The first benefit is often discussed: Marriage seeks to provide the ideal situation for raising children, a stable household with a father and a mother. To say that two men -- or two women - can raise a child just as well is to say that mothers -- or fathers -- are irrelevant, a dangerous message when studies suggest that boys raised without a father are more than twice as likely to end up in prison, and girls raised without a father are more than four times as likely to get pregnant as teens.
The other benefit of traditional marriage, little-discussed even by opponents of same-sex marriage, is society's huge interest in curbing the aggressive energy of men and channeling it into productive activities. In segments of society with an overabundance of unattached men, we see crime, promiscuous sex and fatherless children.
Marriage channels male energy into things like raising children and supporting families and away from things like crime: Unmarried (heterosexual) men are more than five times as likely to end up in prison as married men.
Maybe allowing men to form marriages with other men could help society by stabilizing their relationships. But why, then, didn't marriage evolve that way in the first place, as a union of any two people?
Because society's idea of marriage has always been to tame men, not by hooking them up with someone but by hooking them up with women. Women bring a different energy, a different point of view to marriage, and it's their energy that tames men, domesticates them, if you will. Without that domestication, society is in big trouble.
Finally, advocates argue that allowing same-sex marriage might not help society, but it would leave the benefits of opposite-sex marriage in place. After all, the vast majority of men will still marry women, excepting only gay men who -- in this day and age -- wouldn't marry women anyway. I don't think so.
Allowing the unimportant will dilute the important. Allowing men to marry men and women to marry women will make marriage more like simple friendship. Because of the importance or raising children and taming men, society is wounded whenever a traditional marriage breaks up. But if two married men were to divorce, society would suffer no more than when two friends call it quits.
If we allow same-sex marriage, there won't be two sets of rules: All marriages will have to be treated the same. The traditional marriages that are so vital to society will be treated like the same-sex marriages that are not. It would become less important.
We didn't build our society. We're like people who have inherited a house built long before we were born, and every now and then we walk around and decide we want to change something -- the décor is old-fashioned or it fails to reflect our unique style.
Right now we're thinking about working on the wall called marriage, but before we do we should ask an important question: Are we just repainting or are we tearing down a structural wall that's holding the building up?
Sandy Frank, a former Wall Street lawyer and Emmy-winning comedy writer, is still waiting for his invitation to join the vast right-wing conspiracy.