Against Gay Marriage
April 5, 2011
I am not a big believer in people making arguments on the back of who or what they happen to be. When I last made the case in these pages against gay marriage, about a year ago, I didn’t feel the need to mention that I am gay myself. Arguments stand on their own two feet, or don’t, but not on the strength of who happens to be making them. Nor, I don’t mind adding, did I particularly want to drag my own life into what is often a bad-tempered debate. But I am concerned enough about the way things are going to make an exception.
Explaining that you oppose gay marriage as a gay man tends to get a baffled response at first. This is understandable given how quickly the debate on gay marriage can collapse into allegations of homophobia. The message, explicit or implicit, is often that being anti-gay marriage means being in some way anti-gay.
I have watched with growing irritation as principled opponents of gay marriage have put up with a stream of abuse for explaining their position. Public figures who try to do so routinely have to contend with the charge that they are bigoted or homophobic. When Fine Gael’s Lucinda Creighton confirmed her opposition to same-sex marriage during the general election campaign, there were calls for Enda Kenny to sack her. David Quinn of the pro-marriage Iona Institute is regularly abused in sometimes extraordinary terms for making similar arguments. They’re not the only ones. The reflex response from many gay marriage advocates is to paint all dissent as prejudice, as if the only reason for defending marriage as it has existed to date is some variety of bigotry or psychological imbalance.
Actually, gay people should defend the traditional understanding of marriage as strongly as everyone else. Given that it is being undermined in the name of gay people, with consequences for future generations, it is all the more important that gay people who are opposed to gay marriage speak up.
This week sees the first civil partnerships between same-sex couples becoming official under legislation passed last year. That provides gay couples with nearly all necessary legal provisions. Many of us know people who are benefitting from this, or may well in the future. To borrow a cliché, this would be a good time to declare victory and go home.
Instead, the demand now is for gay marriage on top of this, which the Programme for Government commits to exploring. This is not only unnecessary, but verges on selfishness.
The support and status that marriage entails is not a societal bonus for falling in love and agreeing to make a relationship lasting. That is not, of course, to say that love and romance are not an important part of marriage. But they are not the reason it has special status. If romance were the reason for supporting marriage, there would be no grounds for differentiating which relationships should be included and which should not. But that is not and never has been the nature of marriage.
Marriage is vital as a framework within which children can be brought up by a man and woman. Not all marriages, of course, involve child-raising. And there are also, for that matter, same-sex couples already raising children. But the reality is that marriages tend towards child-raising and same-sex partnerships do not.
I am conscious of this when considering my own circle of friends, quite a few of whom have recently married or will soon do so in the future. Many, if not most or all of them, will raise children. If, however, I or gay friends form civil partnerships, those are much more unlikely to involve raising children. So the question that matters is this: Why should a gay relationship be treated the same way as a marriage, despite this fundamental difference?
A wealth of research demonstrates the marriage of a man and a woman provides children with the best life outcomes, that children raised in marriages that stay together do best across a whole range of measures. This is certainly not to cast aspersions on other families, but it does underscore the importance of marriage as an institution.
This is why the demand for gay marriage goes doubly wrong. It is not a demand for marriage to be extended to gay people – it is a demand for marriage to be redefined. The understanding of marriage as an institution that exists and is supported for the sake of strong families changes to an understanding of marriage as merely the end-point of romance. If gay couples are considered equally eligible for marriage, even though gay relationships do not tend towards child-raising and cannot by definition give a child a mother and a father, the crucial understanding of what marriage is actually mainly for has been discarded.
What that amounts to is the kind of marriage that puts adults before children. That, in my opinion, is ultimately selfish, and far too high a price to pay simply for the token gesture of treating opposite-sex relationships and same-sex relationships identically. And it is a token gesture. Isn’t it common sense, after all, to treat different situations differently? To put it personally, I do not feel in the least bit discriminated against by the fact that I cannot marry someone of the same-sex. I understand and accept that there are good reasons for this.
Although gay people and gay relationships have been rapidly becoming more visible, I would not be surprised if the case for gay marriage actually weakens in the future. Much of the support for gay marriage that exists today is instinctive, stemming from the fact that people do not want to be thought of as anti-gay. But that impulse itself only exists because we are still living in the shadow of the recent past. In the already foreseeable future, anti-gay attitudes as such will be all but unthinkable, in the way that actual homophobia already has a scarcely-threatening, almost antique quality to it.
Surely it’s time to have a proper conversation about gay marriage, a conversation where people are no longer made to feel that if they do not offer knee-jerk support to it, they will be branded anti-gay. Only then will the essence and the real reason for supporting traditional marriage be allowed to come to the fore again. The best interests of the children of the nation must always come first.
Published in the Irish Daily Mail