Still searching for serious secular arguments against gay marriage

By Matt Barnum

Rod Dreher suggests that it’s a ‘myth’ that all opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in religion, pointing to Shirif Girgis’, Ryan Anderson’s, and Robert George’s essay-turned-book ‘What is Marriage?’ (I’ve read the essay, but not the book.) Dreher marvels:

The very best non-religious argument is made by Robert George, Sherif Girgis, and Ryan T. Anderson in their short book What Is Marriage? This book has the hard clarity of a diamond. Having interviewed Anderson recently for an article, I bought his book on Kindle over the weekend to help clarify my own thoughts. I was taken aback by how terrific it is, and how it challenged some of my own assumptions, even as a supporter of privileging traditional marriage. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough for thoughtful people on both sides of the marriage debate. SSM backers ought to read it to know the depth and seriousness of non-religious arguments against gay marriage, and to grasp a point that eludes the US Supreme Court: there really are reasons to oppose gay marriage that do not rely on irrational animus. Religious SSM opponents should read it for the same reason: to understand how they can defend through philosophy what they take on faith.

First, it must be said that simply because an argument proclaims itself secular, scholarly, or intellectual, does not make it so. Many arguments against racial equality were dressed in the guise of science and scholarship, and now we look at those arguments as the pseudoscience they are. It’s worth noting that Jim Demint, the president of the Heritage Foundation, is an unabashed anti-gay bigot. And wouldn’t you know it – Ryan Anderson works at Heritage. Here’s a man in Demint who would ban gays from teaching in public schools (and, for good measure, non-married women who have sex); who would find a gay president ‘bothersome’; and who campaigned against and lied about the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I’m sure there are terrific secular arguments for all these positions! I usually hate this sort of guilty by association, but when the president of one of your author’s organization is open in his prejudice, it’s reasonable to wonder whether such a book is hiding a more insidious agenda than its scholarly pretenses suggest.

Second, there is nothing new here. The trio argues that the purpose of government-sanctioned marriage is the promotion of children’s welfare, and that children do best when raised by their biological mother and father. This is precisely what David Blankenhorn (who now backs marriage equality) argued several years ago in his book The Future of Marriage, and his arguments were charitably eviscerated by Jonathan Rauch at the time.

Third, crucial premises of the authors’ argument cannot be supported without reference to religion. Marriage has many purposes, not simply as a vehicle for raising children – even many social conservatives acknowledge as much. On what basis do the authors reject the many other functions of marriage? Just as problematic is the refusal to engage in abundant social science suggesting that same-sex parents are just good as opposite-sex parents. And though Anderson, et al. try to distinguish between same-sex couples and infertile or elderly straight couples, they fail miserably. They write:

Again, this is not to say that the marriages of infertile couples are not true marriages. Consider this analogy: A baseball team has its characteristic structure largely because of its orientation to winning games; it involves developing and sharing one’s athletic skills in the way best suited for honorably winning (among other things, with assiduous practice and good sportsmanship). But such development and sharing are possible and inherently valuable for teammates even when they lose their games.

But of course a losing baseball team is still trying to win, whereas two seventy-year-olds having sex are presumably not trying to produce offspring.

Anderson, Girgis, and George are not engaging in intellectual honesty, but intellectual sophistry. Whether they realize it or not, they are providing ammunition to those who seek to deny equal rights to gays. Try as they might, they will never provide secular justification for this view because there is none.


3 thoughts on “Still searching for serious secular arguments against gay marriage

  1. Pingback: Gay Marriage: A Serious Family Issue |

  2. Pingback: NOM and the ‘homosexual lifestyle’ | The Purple Elephant

  3. Pingback: Matt’s new piece at Slate: “I’m a Republican — and “social conservatism” must be stopped” | The Purple Elephant

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