So far the gay marriage debate has generated more heat than light.
Defiant homosexuals and their allies insist that marriage is a fundamental right, and to deprive them of this right to practice the most invidious form of discrimination and make homosexuals into second-class citizens.
On the other side, religious activists spurn homosexuality as an illness or a sin, and they warn that a society that condones homosexual marriage is destroying the family and sending our culture the way of Sodom and Gomorrah. In this acrimonious cultural clash, several simple truths have been lost.
Today homosexuality is more about ideology than sex. This distinguishes today’s homosexuals from homosexuals in the past. Among the ancient Greeks, for example, there were lots of homosexuals. Socrates, I suppose, was a homosexual. But this fact tells us nothing about what Socrates thought about democracy, about poverty, or about how Greeks should treat Persians. Now, by contrast, homosexuality has become a political philosophy and a worldview.
Homosexuals are claiming to be “the new blacks” who are merely demanding their civil rights. Thus gay activism is following the discernible pattern of the civil rights movement. The first step is Tolerance, and the basic argument is, “You may disagree with us, but put up with us.” The second step is Neutrality, and it involves a stronger claim: “Make no distinctions between you and us.” Thus if heterosexuals are allowed to marry each other, homosexuals should be allowed to do the same. The third step—pushed when the first two have been granted—is Subsidy: “We have been discriminated against for centuries, so now we want justice.” Thus the military could be required to hire a certain percentage of homosexuals each year.
Gays are not the “new blacks.” Homosexuals are pushing marriage at a time when American society does not support the concept. Essentially gay activists are using the courts to trump American democracy.
But, you may say, isn’t this exactly what Martin Luther King and the civil rights activists did?
Actually, no. Blacks were effectively disenfranchised prior to the civil rights movement. Thus they were demanding something that majorities do not have the right to withhold: the right to participate in the political system.
By contrast, gays have never been prohibited from participating in the political system. Unlike blacks, gays have always had the right to vote. The failure of society to approve gay marriage doesn’t show that gays are disenfranchised; it simply shows that gays have not been able to carry the majority.
To deny “gay marriage” is not to deny homosexuals their civil rights. Homosexual activists and their legal supporters say that, far from being enemies of democracy, they are merely agitating for a basic civil right: the right to marry. But homosexuals today do have the right to marry. They have the right to marry adult members of the opposite sex. Now gay people may not avail themselves of that right, in the same way that people who have the right to vote may choose not to vote. But one’s refusal to exercise a right, for whatever reason, does not mean that one does not possess the right.
Gay activists say, “Homosexuality is simply a form of love. Why should we prevent two people who love each other from getting married?” Here is the problem. Marriage is defined as the legal union of two adults of the opposite sex who are unrelated to each other. This is the basic definition as it has evolved through the centuries.
First, marriage requires two people: polygamy is forbidden, even though historically polygamy has been permitted by many cultures, in contrast with gay marriage, which has been permitted by none.
Second, marriage must be between unrelated persons: I cannot marry my sister, or (for that matter) my dog.
Third, marriage is between adults: you can’t legally marry a 10 year old, although again child-marriage has been permitted, at least under certain circumstances, in both Western and non-Western cultures.
Finally marriage involves persons of the opposite sex.
The point is that love is a desirable but not sufficient condition for marriage. Marriage is a social institution, and society has good reasons for defining marriage in the way that it has, reasons that I intend to explore in future articles. What’s interesting is that gay activists aren’t saying, “Let’s get rid of all these definitional constraints. Let’s legalize polygamy, incest, bestiality, and gay marriage.” Rather, gay activists want to take down one of the fence-posts defining marriage, while keeping all the others.
I suppose to polygamists these gay activist must sound like bigots and polygaphobes.