In my recent defense of Iowa Family Policy Center, I was asked a question that really deflected from the topic of that post. I wanted to provide a more detailed answer in a separate blog post as this type of question I one I’ve gotten more than a few times.
Erich asked, “how (does) hating gays preserve opposite marriage?”
I reject the premise of the question that defending the traditional definition of marriage is “hating gays.” I could flip that around and ask why do those who disagree with my and others defense of that definition demonstrate intolerance toward my position and hatred toward me? So let’s drop the rhetorical nonsense and get to the heart of the issue.
I’ve also been asked before how letting homosexuals marry impacts my marriage. It doesn’t. That’s not the point. My defense of the traditional definition of marriage isn’t about me. It’s about my kids, my grandkids and society in general.
I’d like to look back at an excellent article written in 2003 by Maggie Gallagher for The Weekly Standard that addresses this very issue, looking at the purpose of marriage as far as the State is concerned. Though this was written prior to any state officially having same-sex marriage (this was at the cusp of the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling) I believe that the points made still apply.
Marriage is the fundamental, cross-cultural institution for bridging the male-female divide so that children have loving, committed mothers and fathers. Marriage is inherently normative: It is about holding out a certain kind of relationship as a social ideal, especially when there are children involved. Marriage is not simply an artifact of law; neither is it a mere delivery mechanism for a set of legal benefits that might as well be shared more broadly. The laws of marriage do not create marriage, but in societies ruled by law they help trace the boundaries and sustain the public meanings of marriage.
In other words, while individuals freely choose to enter marriage, society upholds the marriage option, formalizes its definition, and surrounds it with norms and reinforcements, so we can raise boys and girls who aspire to become the kind of men and women who can make successful marriages. Without this shared, public aspect, perpetuated generation after generation, marriage becomes what its critics say it is: a mere contract, a vessel with no particular content, one of a menu of sexual lifestyles, of no fundamental importance to anyone outside a given relationship.
The marriage idea is that children need mothers and fathers, that societies need babies, and that adults have an obligation to shape their sexual behavior so as to give their children stable families in which to grow up.
Essentially – all kids deserve a mom and a dad, and Gallagher notes that, “Marriage is the place where having children is not only tolerated but welcomed and encouraged, because it gives children mothers and fathers.” She notes that there are couples who fail to live up to this ideal, but that shouldn’t mean we chuck the ideal. She then goes on to say:
If marriage is just a way of publicly celebrating private love, then there is no need to encourage couples to stick it out for the sake of the children. If family structure does not matter, why have marriage laws at all? Do adults, or do they not, have a basic obligation to control their desires so that children can have mothers and fathers?
What will the passage of same-sex marriage do in the long-term? Polls that have asked Iowans whether they have been impacted by the recent Iowa Supreme Court decision are terribly short-sighted.
Ways in which same-sex marriage will negatively impact society and the family are ultimately for the protection of children.
It would enshrine in public judgment that the desire of adults for families of choice outweighs the need of children for mothers and fathers.
It would give sanction and approval to the creation of a motherless or fatherless family as a deliberately chosen "good."
What about marriages that are childless? I’m sure somebody will ask that question, and Gallagher answers:
It is also true, as gay-marriage advocates note, that we impose no fertility tests for marriage: Infertile and older couples marry, and not every fertile couple chooses procreation. But every marriage between a man and a woman is capable of giving any child they create or adopt a mother and a father. Every marriage between a man and a woman discourages either from creating fatherless children outside the marriage vow. In this sense, neither older married couples nor childless husbands and wives publicly challenge or dilute the core meaning of marriage. Even when a man marries an older woman and they do not adopt, his marriage helps protect children. How? His marriage means, if he keeps his vows, that he will not produce out-of-wedlock children.
She also addresses those who liken laws that ban same-sex marriage to laws that banned interracial marriage:
Some who criticize the refusal to embrace gay marriage liken it to the outlawing of interracial marriage, but the analogy is woefully false. The Supreme Court overturned anti-miscegenation laws because they frustrated the core purpose of marriage in order to sustain a racist legal order. Marriage laws, by contrast, were not invented to express animus toward homosexuals or anyone else. Their purpose is not negative, but positive: They uphold an institution that developed, over thousands of years, in thousands of cultures, to help direct the erotic desires of men and women into a relatively narrow but indispensably fruitful channel. We need men and women to marry and make babies for our society to survive. We have no similar public stake in any other family form–in the union of same-sex couples or the singleness of single moms.
The institution of marriage from a secular perspective, and the laws that surround it are ultimately for the protection of children. To undermine it because of the sexual interests of adults is not only selfish, but as Gallagher notes, would be “morally callous and socially irresponsible.”