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On same-sex marriage, the times they are a changin’ — or are they?

David Morris

The colorful tirade by Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe against a legislator who demanded the Baltimore Ravens owner fire linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo for supporting gay marriage and the overwhelmingly positive response to it by football fans and players alike are heartwarming developments. It shows how far we’ve come. 

But the fact that voters in four states — Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, Washington — will have an opportunity this November to ban same sex marriage, and voters in 31 states have already approved constitutional amendments to that effect, usually by wide margins, shows how far we have to go.

The path from prejudice to understanding and acceptance has been much smoother in other countries. Eight European countries have legalized same sex marriage, including predominantly Catholic countries like Portugal and Spain. In Europe this is not a left-right issue. The new Socialist-led government in France promises to legalize same-sex marriage next year. The Conservative-led government in Britain will introduce similar legislation.

On this continent, in 2000 the Canadian Parliament, by a wide margin, banned same-sex marriage. Five years later, after a series of court decisions overturned bans on same-sex marriage in several Canadian provinces, the nation’s legislators revisited the issue, reversed themselves and legalized same-sex marriage.

A very different reaction here

In this country, by contrast, when state courts have overturned a ban on same-sex marriage as a violation of state constitutions, Americans often have reacted by changing state constitutions or enacting federal laws that devalue same-sex marriage in those states that do legalize it. In 1996, for example, after a Hawaiian court concluded that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated the equal-rights provision of its constitution, Congress quickly passed the Defense of Marriage Act, denying federal benefits to same-sex couples even if they are legally married under state law. And Hawaiians promptly changed their constitution to allow their legislature to ban gay marriages, which it just as promptly did.

As I was doing research for my recently published book, The Thoughtful Voter’s Guide to Same Sex Marriage:  A Tool for the Decided, the Undecided and the Genuinely Perplexed, I was struck by how many times we’ve addressed and changed the institution of marriage.  We’ve upgraded the status of wives (originally subordinate to their husbands in the eyes of the law), enabled no-fault divorce (initially a spouse had to prove adultery), permitted family planning (initially in many states the sale of contraceptives was illegal), and overturned bans on interracial marriage.

I was also reminded of how often scripture was used to justify opposition to change. Believe that wives must be subservient? Cite Genesis 2:24. Oppose allowing divorce simply when both parties want one? Cite  Matthew 19:3-9. Oppose contraception? Cite Genesis 1:28. Oppose interracial marriage? Cite Acts 17:24-26.

Opponents of same-sex marriage argue they are defending the institution of marriage, but their arguments have little to do with marriage. After all, the institution of marriage has suffered grievously in the only-heterosexuals-can-marry era. The percentage of households composed of married couples plunged from 78 percent in 1950 to just 48 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, the 2010 Census reported about 600,000 same-sex households in this country. Allowing those among them who want to abandon cohabitation and choose marriage to do so can only strengthen the institution of marriage.

Nor does the argument opponents make that they are defending the psyche and safety of children have anything to do with marriage. Same-sex couples already parent 115,000 children, and study after study after study finds them at least as well-adjusted as children of heterosexual couples. In 2008 a Florida Circuit Court judge, after taking voluminous testimony from both sides on whether to overturn that state’s ban on adoption by same-sex couples flatly concluded, “… based on the robust nature of the evidence available in the field, this Court is satisfied that the issue is so far beyond dispute that it would be irrational to hold otherwise; the best interests of children are not preserved by prohibiting homosexual adoption.”

Indeed, as psychologist Abbie Goldberg points out, the fact that gays and lesbians do not become parents by accident, compared to almost 50 percent accidental pregnancy rates among heterosexuals “translates to greater commitment on average and more involvement.” And allowing same sex couples with children to marry can only benefit the child.

Arguments are not really about marriage

No, the arguments against same-sex marriage are not about marriage;  they’re about homosexuality. We should remember that only a generation ago an admission of homosexuality could not only get one fired but arrested. In 1970 the IRS rejected the application of The Pride Foundation for a nonprofit tax exemption by declaring the organization’s goal of “advanc(ing) the welfare of the homosexual community” to be “perverted or deviate behavior … contrary to public policy and therefore not ‘charitable.’ “

We’ve come a long way since then, but the road has been bumpy and we have yet to arrive at our destination. In a cover story, Entertainment Weekly noted that just 15 years ago, when Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet, the story became the cover of Time magazine, a major story on “Oprah” and the subject of an editorial in the New York Times.  Today TV and movie actors come out with little publicity. “What was impossible 60s year ago and dangerous 40 years ago and difficult 20 years ago is now becoming no big deal.”

Nevertheless, prejudice against homosexuals is still widespread. In 34 states it is still legal for lesbian and gay employees to be fired simply because their employers disapprove of their sexual orientation. And the vitriol of opponents of same-sex marriage, especially among the clergy, has lent legitimacy to that prejudice. The FBI reports a significant increase in hate crimes directed at gays and lesbians.

In several states the Catholic Church is leading the fight against legal recognition of same-sex couples. In Minnesota virtually all funding for the opposition to same-sex marriage has come from the Catholic Church. Earlier this year the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis declared the banning of same-sex marriage one of the most important ambitions of the church and made clear he would brook no dissent on this issue from any member of the clergy.  He then ordered priests to sermonize on the sins of same-sex marriage and say a prayer for its prohibition every Sunday and began sending teams to high schools to tutor seniors on the definition of marriage.

Two pieces of biblical evidence

The archbishop has had trouble finding scriptural justification for his frenetic campaign. In a letter to the clergy early this year he offered two pieces of biblical evidence to support his crusade: a passage in Genesis that says Adam was lonely so God made Eve and they, the only two people on earth, had sex (even though they weren’t married.); and a passage from Matthew that contains Jesus’ opposition to divorce and has nothing to do with homosexuality, which Jesus never condemns, nor same-sex marriage.

The Catholic Church, regrettably, doesn’t point to the part of the New Testament that conveys the essence of the values that Jesus hoped would be the foundation of Christianity. Matthew relates the story of a Pharisee asking Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” His answer is both instructive and revealing as to which side of the debate He might take.

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (22:36-40)

I suspect that for Jesus what is important is not a family structure based on biology or even heterosexual relationships but the quality of love exhibited in relationships.  Unfortunately, those who oppose the right of loving, committed individuals to become married often seem driven more by hate than love.

Voters’ choices ‘must find at least some support in evidence’

In 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the constitutional amendment approved by California voters that banned same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution. After taking weeks of testimony from both sides it concluded, “The considered views and opinions of even the most highly qualified scholars and experts seldom outweigh the determinations of the voters.  When challenged, however, the voters’ determinations must find at least some support in evidence. … Conjecture, speculation and fears are not enough.  Still less will the moral disapprobation of a group or class of citizens suffice, no matter how large the majority that shares that view. The evidence demonstrated beyond serious reckoning that Proposition 8 finds support only in such disapproval.”

To date no ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage has been defeated.  We will see in November whether that string continues or whether we will be able to say we have turned a corner and are willing to join the increasing part of the rest of the western world that accepts the diversity of the human condition and truly honors the precept, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

David Morris is vice president of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Paul Landskroener on 10/08/2012 - 09:38 am.

    Well said.

    That’s all I have to comment: Well said.

  2. Submitted by Pat Berg on 10/08/2012 - 11:30 am.

    The money quote from this article

    “No, the arguments against same-sex marriage are not about marriage; they’re about homosexuality. We should remember that only a generation ago an admission of homosexuality could not only get one fired but arrested.”

    This is a very important piece of history to keep in mind as the same old posters keep trotting out the same old invalid arguments as to why same sex marriage is “wrong”.

    Because ultimately, they’re not actually arguing about marriage at all.

    • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 10/11/2012 - 02:00 am.

      You have certainly nailed it with this comment, Pat

      Most of the nay-sayers to same sex marriage keep harping away about human biology and the scientific logic behind prohibiting same sex marriage. Morality, too. And the children… Why even the sand is food crowd is up in arms.

      But in reality same sex marriage is already practiced, legally, all over the world.

      What this is actually all about is homophobia.

      And within a few years the Supreme Court, yes even packed as it may be, will not be able to escape the trap. Same sex marriage is legal in some states and the federal government will have to recognize it in such matters as social security benefits. The equal protection clause and all that. Cases are percolating up from the states. Justice Ginsberg is already on record that the matter will be teed up within a year or two.

      So let the nay-sayers rant on. Their days – on this matter – are numbered.

  3. Submitted by Nikki Strandskov on 10/08/2012 - 12:15 pm.

    Maine Election Correction

    As a Maine resident, I’d like to post a small correction. The ballot initiative we’ll be voting on does “not” give voters the opportunity to ban same-sex marriage; in fact it is a positive initiative which, if passed, would make same-sex marriage legal in Maine. We definitely are hopeful it could pass. If it doesn’t, it would still not be any more of a ban than now exists and would not amend the state constitution. Just sayin’…good luck to the Vote No forces in Minnesota, but in Maine it’s Vote Yes! for marriage equality.

  4. Submitted by Emily Sojourn on 10/08/2012 - 01:18 pm.

    Oh, I get it.

    The entire gist of this article seems to be “We’ve come a long way but we still have a distance to travel.” Okay… Not only does this thesis not match the ridiculously misleading headline, it also could be filed nicely under: “Utterly Obvious Observations.”

    What Mr. Morris (or his headline writer) seems to equate with stagnating viewpoints is nothing more than predictable push-back to a major cultural shift. He actually appears to be surprised that there are still people who wish to abolish homosexuality. (Does he really believe that there will be a 100% changeover on this topic? If he does, can he answer why there are still many people in this country who view women as second-class citizens and who view non-whites to be inferior?)

    So, without bothering to read the article, one can answer: Yes, times are changing. The majority and minority opinions are switching places but the changeover will take time and not be completely linear in nature.

    That leaves my with the question: why did MinnPost bother publishing this piece on non-article in the first place?

    Oh, I get it.

    The author is shilling a book.

    [insert eye-roll here]

  5. Submitted by jody rooney on 10/08/2012 - 06:49 pm.

    Ms. Sojourn it is a free book for download

    Other than proving Mr. Morris’s point on supporters of the amendment perhaps you might want to review your history.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/08/2012 - 08:06 pm.

    So, all it takes these days to be an author

    …is to compile specious talking points memos into chapters, add a snappy cover photo and *boom*, I’m one of ’em?

  7. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 10/11/2012 - 02:36 am.

    The book (or pamphlet) is quite

    good. Although there is a link in the article, I give it here again:

    http://bit.ly/OgVpCz
    The Thoughtful Voter’s Guide to Same-Sex Marriage

    At this site interested readers will find a place to download – free- a pdf version of the book, or perhaps a less intimidating description is a pamphlet.

    56 pages
    164 extensive references and notes

    The document can also be downloaded in e-pub or Kindle format.

    Highly recommended for those with a serious interest in this topic. This is far from a compilation of specious talking point memos.

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