Why Same-Sex Marriage Should Be Legal

The NZ Herald has published an article about the result of an unscientific internet poll on whether or not same-sex marriage should be legalised. Ignoring the obvious issues with lending credence to the results of a self-selecting internet poll, I’d like to focus on one quote from the article in particular:

Opponents of gay marriage say the jump shows people are waking up to the negative social effects of changing the Marriage Act.

In typical Herald style, no source is given for this assertion, but I’ll be nice and not dwell on that failure either.

What I’d like to talk about is that there are no “negative social effects” of allowing same-sex marriage. In fact, many states around the world have legalised same-sex marriage and the very fabric of their society disappointingly failed to unravel in the aftermath.

To the great surprise of homophobes everywhere the only effect of legalising same-sex marriage is same-sex couples getting married. Of course, this fact is conveniently ignored when the laws of their own country are being considered; they all seem to believe that their home is the one place that finally won’t be able to handle the unending horror of some other couples getting married while happening to not be of opposing sexes.

Of course, all of the arguments against allowing same-sex marriage fall flat pretty quickly.

The claim that marriage is somehow intended to be for procreation is bizarre considering that it’s obviously not immoral for infertile people to get married, and that having menopause before you have kids doesn’t mean you also have to have a divorce.

The claim that children need a mother and a father similarly falls flat when you observe not only that single parents are commonplace but that same-sex couples seem to do just fine as parents. For example, to quote a 2008 review by Charlotte J. Patterson published in the journal Child Development1:

To date, however, there is no evidence that the development of children with lesbian or gay parents is compromised in any significant respect relative to that among children of heterosexual parents in otherwise comparable circumstances.

Opponents of marriage equality often also argue that, if a child’s parents are gay, the child might also grow up to be gay. I’m tempted to look up the evidence to see whether or not this claim is true but to be honest I don’t think it matters. So what if legalising same-sex marriage makes being openly gay more common? It’s not as though it will eventually lead to everyone being gay, just like how opposite-sex marriage being legal hasn’t made everyone straight, so we hardly need to worry about humanity dying out because no one’s making babies any more.

The claim that legalising same-sex marriage has negative effects on society in general is pretty obviously untrue when you observe the countries that have legalised same-sex marriage. For example, take a look at Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Spain, Canada, Netherlands, and Portugal. Despite having legalised same-sex marriage, these 8 countries (out of 11 which I believe have currently legalised same-sex marriage) are all in the top 20 of The Economist‘s 2005 Quality of Life Index2.

Sure, legalising same-sex marriage might piss off some homophobes, but’s that’s no more worth considering than the argument that apartheid shouldn’t have been abolished because it could piss off some racists.

Another common argument is that marriage has traditionally been defined as between a man and a woman so it can’t be changed because mumble mumble… This is quite simply trying to avoid thinking too much so you can maintain your unsupported biases. If an established idea is challenged you don’t get to ignore the challenge because the idea is already established. Instead you must re-evaluate the idea in light of the challenge in order to determine if it still appears to be worth supporting.

Ideas worth supporting must have more than just tradition to stand upon. Other traditional ideas about marriage, like a wife being her husband’s property and interracial marriage being prohibited and supposedly immoral, have previously been abandoned and now (rightly) seem abhorrent to modern society.

The typical fundamentalist rantings about homosexual behaviour being prohibited by their religious book are bizarre enough that I’d hope not to even have to bother responding to it, but I’m not quite naive enough to think that’s the case. In the words of Gregory House, “I don’t have time to talk you out of your religion”, so instead of bloating this post with anti-apologetics I’ll settle for thanking those bigots for making it so easy to point out that religion is not a reliable source of moral advice. For all I care a church can be as bigoted as it wants, but a secular government can’t.

One final argument, which I think is one that finally gets close to the real issue at hand, is that marriage is a religious institution, so it’s not a government’s business to mess with it. Honestly, I think this argument might have been enough one day, but not today. The reason it no longer holds water is that the premise on which it rests – that marriage is solely a religious institution – is no longer true. Marriage is a public service, provided by the government, and a secular government has no business telling its citizens they don’t have a right to a public service because they or their partner are the wrong sex. As I said earlier, for all I care a church can be as bigoted as it wants, but a secular government can’t.

If marriage were still solely a religious institution several aspects of modern society would be quite different. Surely people with no religion, such as myself, would not be allowed to get married. Also, a secular government would have no business giving special rights to married couples, as this would be discriminating based on religion. I also think that, were that the case, making civil unions available to all couples would be a valid approach for a government to provide equality. However, the fact that marriage is not solely a religious institution, but a social service, means this is not enough. “Separate but equal” is not equal.

It’s worth noting that, as a result of the select committee’s report, New Zealand’s Marriage Amendment Bill has been amended so that marriage celebrants will not have to conduct marriages of same-sex couples if it offends their religious sensibilities.

  1. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8624.1992.tb01679.x/abstract
  2. http://www.economist.com/media/pdf/QUALITY_OF_LIFE.pdf

5 thoughts on “Why Same-Sex Marriage Should Be Legal

  1. Here, here. New Zealand is a generally open-minded society – most people you talk to would be in support of gay marriage, wouldn’t they? Besides, if you want to stop gays marrying each other, you have to be “fair” and stop straights who don’t believe in god getting married. Some would say why not enter into a Civil Union if you didn’t have a religion, but it just isn’t the SAME. It isn’t just about having “practically the same rights anyway” – it’s about the words and the tradition. “Civil Union” will just never sound as romantic.


  2. When gay marriage becomes a constitutional ‘right’, my constitutional right to disagree with it becomes bigotry and then activist group after activist group will file lawsuits over discrimination.

    1. Ed, if you believe same-sex couples should not have the right to be married then you shouldn’t be surprised to be called a bigot regardless of any laws and constitutions. Just as you have a right to free speech but that right does not protect you from your speech revealing your character, your right to freedom of belief does not preclude your prejudices from qualifying as bigotry.

      If you would like to make a case against same-sex marriage then I would welcome you to do so here in the comments on this post. However, if you wish to not be judged for your beliefs then the only way to accomplish that would be to keep them to yourself.

    2. Ed,

      If we are going to go at it this way, you always have had a constitutional right to disagree with the practice with something. Your First Amendment rights do not deny you the right to express your opinion.

      Just like I have a right to express disagreement with your opinions. Your right to disagree, however, does not extend to you being able to deny access to privileges extended to other people on a discriminatory basis. For similar reasons, if I didn’t like Buddhists or Sikhs one bit it didn’t mean I could not forbid marriages between them. Neither could I do that to you.

      Similarly, there is a fine line where your free speech becomes hate speech or fighting words, to which your First Amendment rights no longer apply.

      See, I am perfectly within my rights here to tell you that I don’t agree with your stance. Where I am not, however, is when I tell you you’re not allowed in the Town Hall.

      1. We don’t have a constitution in NZ, so the point is moot. Free speech applies, subject to some limitations (e.g. claims against a person need to be truthful or could be considered libel/slander) and of course there is no right not to be criticised or not to have your speech labelled bigotry or even simply ignorant. You would have to actually engage in discriminatory behaviour and breach a persons rights under the Human Rights Act before anything would be done, it’s a completely bogus argument to claim merely holding an opinion would then entail being sued or otherwise have proceedings brought against you.

        It is simply discriminatory to have a section of the population denied rights that are extended to all others on such a weak basis as whom they wish to marry. End of story. It’s not a zero sum game where people that already have that right lose out in any way because someone can now exercise a right they’ve already got. I also think they shouldn’t have allowed conscience clauses because that means that because of an belief a person may not be able to access that right. There’s no real reason there why they should be refused.

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