One of the more prevalent attitudes today about marriage equality is that people should just mind their own business and not get into legislating religious beliefs in the bed room. This stance is obviously a good step to take towards living at peace with people that disagree with one’s personal beliefs. However, one of the problems with the whole issue of marriage equality is that this compromise is not enough for one side of the debate.
James S. Spiegel has published an article titled “Why Same-Sex Marriage is Unjust” in the Cambridge Journal. I have tried to get a copy of the full-text through the two top-tier research University libraries that I work with, to no avail. This really means that: 1) I can’t comment on the full article without reading it; and 2) It’s not a widely read journal, so the impact will probably be minimal. However, the abstract is being circulated on social media because it represents a widely-held set of beliefs within evangelical circles:
Proponents of same-sex marriage often defend their view by appealing to the concept of justice. But a significant argument from justice against same-sex marriage can be made also, as follows. Heterosexual union has special social value because it is the indispensable means by which humans come into existence. What has special social value deserves special recognition and sanction. Civil ordinances that recognize same-sex marriage as comparable to heterosexual marriage constitute a rejection of the special social value of heterosexual unions, and to deny such special social value is unjust.
These thoughts represent a major logical failure on (at least) three fronts, all of which I will touch on here. Maybe Speigel deals with these in the article, maybe not. However, all of the points below would still stand even if they were dealt with in any manner.
First of all, not all heterosexual unions produce children. I’m not just referring to those that choose not to have kids. Many people know that they are not able to produce children before they even get married. Other people get married after they are too old to have children. There are many heterosexual marriages between people that biologically can not produce children from that union. Some know before hand, others don’t find out until after they are married. If the special social value of heterosexual marriage is that they can produce children, then allowing people that can’t have children to get married is also a rejection of the special social value of heterosexual unions. But if one allows exceptions for heterosexual people just because their attractions could have led them to kids if they were born differently…. that is pretty much the same logic for allowing marriage equality. The same logic that would allow for an infertile or older couple to be an exception to this special social value would also apply to same sex marriages.
Second of all, someone being born with a certain ability does not automatically give it “special social value.” I was born a tall person. Every where I go, I am asked by strangers to get various items off the top self. I provide a special social value in that aspect, but that doesn’t make it unjust to equalize the reach of others. I could fight against laws that require stores to have step ladders in all aisles, claiming my height is a special social value that should be protected. But its just silly to think that because I am born in a way that makes me able to do things a certain way, than this is special social value of some kind. “But wait”, you might say, “we are talking about having kids here! That is not reaching a can of soup on the top shelf at the grocery store!” Well, of course. I am making an exaggerated example to show how you can’t just say “this is special, so we must keep others that are different from having it!” You see, the thought represented in the abstract above conflates two things that I will deal with in the next point: it confuses producing kids with raising kids, as well as confusing being pro-marriage equality with being anti-traditional marriage.
The third and final point is that support for marriage equality is not a rejection of the “special social value of heterosexual unions.” No one is trying to stop heterosexuals from getting married and having kids. Being pro-marriage equality is not the same as being anti-traditional marriage. Its is only adding to those that can already get married and raise kids. It is expanding the other social values that marriage brings (security, shelter, belonging, etc) to people in society that desperately want them (recognizing, of course, that not everyone needs marriage to find those – there are just many that do). It is also not about producing children, or making it so that heterosexuals can not have children. That is paranoid extreme right-wing weirdness. The world population is still increasing, and marriage equality is not slowing it down.
The special social value in heterosexual union is producing children. That is happening at such a rampant rate that thinking that producing babies needs some kind of protection is ludicrous at best. We need more people (single and married) to raise the number of children our world already can’t keep up with. The reality is that the “special social value” in marriage equality is creating thousands of more families that can legally adopt and raise all of the kids that heterosexual unions are producing. To me (and most people), raising children trumps having them, therefore in any case same-sex marriages have more of a special social value that heterosexual ones because they actually meet a real need. Producing children is not a social need at this point in time. Raising them is.