Next week voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington will vote on whether to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.
Given that there are good people on both sides of this issue, how are we to explain their opposing views?
The primary explanation is this: Proponents and opponents ask two different questions.
Proponents of same-sex marriage ask: Is keeping the definition of marriage as man-woman fair to gays? Opponents of same-sex marriage ask: Is same-sex marriage good for society?
Few on either side honestly address the question of the other side. Opponents of same-sex marriage rarely acknowledge how unfair the age-old man-woman definition is to gay couples. And proponents rarely, if ever, acknowledge that this unprecedented redefinition of marriage may not be good for society.
That is why proponents have it much easier. All they need to do is to focus the public’s attention on individual gay people, show wonderful gay individuals who love each other, and ask the American public: Is it fair to continue to deprive these people of the right to marry one another?
When added to Americans’ aversion to discrimination, to the elevation of compassion to perhaps the highest national value, and to the equating of opposition to same-sex marriage with opposition to interracial marriage, it is no wonder that many Americans have been persuaded that opposition to same-sex marriage is hateful, backwards, and the moral equivalent of racism.
Is there any argument that can compete with the emotionally compelling fairness argument?
The answer is that one can — namely, the answer to the second question, Is it good for society?
Before answering that question, however, it is necessary to respond to the charge that opposition to same-sex marriage is morally equivalent to opposition to interracial marriage and, therefore, the moral equivalent of racism.
There are two responses:
First, this charge is predicated on the profoundly false premise that race and sex (or “gender” as it is now referred to) are analogous.
They are not.
While there are no differences between black and white human beings, there are enormous differences between male and female human beings. That is why sports events, clothing, public restrooms, and (often) schools are routinely divided by sex. But black sporting events and white sporting events, black restrooms and white restrooms, black schools and white schools, or black clothing stores and white clothing stores would be considered immoral.
Because racial differences are insignificant and gender differences are hugely significant, there is no moral equivalence between opposition to interracial marriage and opposition to same-sex marriage.
Second, if opposition to same-sex marriage is as immoral as racism, why did no great moral thinker, in all of history, ever advocate male-male or female-female marriage? Opposition to racism was advocated by every great moral thinker. Moses, for example, married a black woman, the very definition of Catholic is “universal” and therefore diverse and has always included every race, and the equality of human beings of every race was a central tenet of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other world religions. But no one — not Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, Aquinas, Gandhi, not the Bible or the Koran or any other sacred text, nor even a single anti-religious secular thinker of the Enlightenment — ever advocated redefining marriage to include members of the same sex.
To argue that opposition to same-sex marriage is immoral is to argue that every moral thinker, and every religion and social movement in the history of mankind prior to the last 20 years in America and Europe was immoral. About no other issue could this be said. Every moral advance has been rooted in prior moral thinking. The anti-slavery movement was based on the Bible. Martin Luther King Jr. was first and foremost the “Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.,” and he regularly appealed to the moral authority of the scriptures when making his appeals on behalf of racial equality. Same-sex marriage is the only social movement to break entirely with the past, to create a moral ideal never before conceived. It might be right, but it might also be an example of the moral hubris of the present generation, the generation that created the self-esteem movement: After all, you need a lot of self-esteem to hold yourself morally superior to all those who preceded you.
We now return to our two primary questions.
Is the man-woman definition of marriage fair to gays who wish to marry? No, it isn’t. And those of us opposed to same-sex marriage need to be honest about this, to confront the human price paid by some people through no fault of their own and figure out ways to offer gay couples basic rights associated with marriage.