© Josh Sager
Note — While many include gay rights and transsexual/transgendered rights in the same category, I am writing this refutation solely on the issue of arguments against gay equality. I will write a similar article in the future refuting arguments against transsexual rights, but that will be a completely separate endeavor — Note
In the following article, I will attempt to debunk all of the major anti-gay arguments which are commonly used to justify legalized bigotry. Laws which discriminate against gay people in marriage, civil protections, and parenting rights are commonly proposed at the state level, particularly in the southern USA.
Fortunately, the general trajectory of recent federal laws is towards greater equality, but we still have a good way to go before full equality is realized.
- Before 2003, states were allowed to ban gay sex. The Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas changed this and rendered all anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional.
- Before 2011, openly gay people weren’t allowed to serve in our military. The repeal of don’t ask don’t tell (the official policy of discrimination) in 2011 by the Obama administration stopped this type of discrimination.
- By the end of 2012, 9 states had legalized gay marriage.
- Current public opinion polls show that more Americans today support gay equality than discrimination—this distribution is far-improved from even a few years ago, when more people favored discrimination than equality.
While there have been numerous advances in equality, discriminatory laws still exist in most states. Currently, 41 have legal statutes in place banning gay marriage. Over the last few years, many states have gradually moved towards marriage equality, but this has been slow and there are still numerous state-level fights over gay rights.
Personally, I am straight and find myself utterly unaffected by anti-gay legislation, thus many would wonder why I would consider anti-gay legislation to be such an important issue; it is often these very same people who will stand by and let anti-gay legislation pass under the justification that it doesn’t affect them and they have no stake in stopping such discrimination. I support gay equality for three simple reasons:
1) I see it as unfair to discriminate against a minority group based upon characteristics that are absolutely harmless to society. Regardless of whether legalized discrimination is against a religious, racial, or sexual orientation minority, I will do my best to fight against it.
2) I recognize a very serious danger to equality when I see it and believe that all bigotry must be rejected, lest it set a bad precedent. Whenever a group begins to be persecuted under the law, it sets a precedent that bigotry is acceptable and invites further attacks on minority groups. Even if you don’t belong to the persecuted class, you must stand up against bigotry, if only because the next class to be persecuted may be yours. If you refuse to stand up when others are being unfairly persecuted, then you have no right to complain when it is you who is being persecuted and nobody comes to your aid.
3) In addition to the issue of bigotry, I also have a severe problem with any religious encroachment into secular policy. I am an atheist (raised Jewish) and don’t want my government to obey any religion. The law should be based upon secular morality and logic, not age-old superstations and ignorant customs from the Stone Age.
In order to combat bigotry, we must argue with the bigots and make coherent points to combat their rhetoric. While it is unlikely that we will ever sway the true-believers, the following arguments might be able to sway the marginal individuals who make up the undecided category—I would like to invite any reader to use the following refutations as their own.
1) “Being gay is a sin, thus it should be banned by law.”
Depending upon one’s religion, homosexuality may very well be a sin, but this has no bearing on the law. The United States is a secular democracy and the first Amendment to our constitution guarantees that our laws are not based in any religion’s doctrines. As such, any attempts to ban homosexuality or deny homosexuals equal rights based upon the concept of religious sin are completely unconstitutional and wrongheaded.
The entire concept of a “sin” is subjective and is based purely upon the religious beliefs of the religion that is labeling the behavior; every religion has its own set of “sins” and there is no real consensus between the religions. In essence, a “sin” is whatever a religion decides to label as a taboo action (ex. eating pork) and nothing more—just because something is a “sin” it does not mean that that action is immoral or something that can be made illegal. Some “sins” are based around secular taboos (ex. theft, rape and murder) and thus parallel the secular law, while others are based around religious taboos (ex. homosexuality, eating pork, not covering one’s head) and have no place being introduced into secular law.
Due to the highly subjective nature of the concept of sin, there is little point in arguing whether or not homosexuality is actually a sin—if a religion wants to call any action a sin under their doctrine, then that is their right. If the religion in question wants to frown on the “sin” then that is also their right, but the mere fact that some religion considers an action a sin in no way means that our secular laws should be altered to reflect this displeasure.
Our founders were intelligent enough to recognize that every religion has its own set of taboo “sins,” and that our country’s laws must be based around secular morality rather than religious taboo. To this end, they wrote the 1st Amendment to the constitution in order to prevent future generations from enshrining their personal religious ideals into the secular law.
Many religions—particularly fundamentalist Christianity and Islam—have classified homosexuality as among their most severe sins. Such religious groups often put up extreme resistance to legal equality for homosexuals in societies which they have a strong influence. In the United States, most of these anti-gay religious individuals are fundamentalist Christians.
Homosexuality may be a religious sin, but it is not immoral and has no detrimental effect on society. There is simply no real secular justification for any legal discrimination against gays, and all attempts to discriminate against gays in the law can be traced back to bigotry and religious tenants. Without a secular reason to pass laws discriminating against gays, we are left with the simple fact that anti-gay legislation is purely bigotry and has no place in the law.
If homosexuals are legally discriminated against due to purely religious reasons, what prevents other potential “sinners” from being persecuted for their “sins?” After all, a great many things that we enjoy every day are considered “sins” by one religion or another:
- According to Judaism, people must eat kosher and it is a “sin” to eat bacon, cheeseburgers, lobster and most BBQ.
- According to Christianity, all premarital sex is a “sin.”
- According to Islam, women who don’t cover their bodies are committing a “sin.”
- According to Hinduism, it is a “sin” to touch somebody of a higher caste.
Just like with homosexuality, none of these religious “sins” have a secular justification and it is insane to expect that society will conform to a religion that they don’t believe in. Unlike some countries (ex. Iran) we in the USA don’t alter the secular laws to reflect any religion’s concept of sin because we understand the idea of religious choice. The second we accept bigotry against gays, we open the door to religious laws infiltrating further into our country and attacking our religious freedoms further.
Unless somebody can point to a real victim of homosexual behavior and make a secular case for discrimination (which is impossible), it is ridiculous to legally discriminate against homosexuals. Such laws make as much sense as laws that would enforce bans on other behaviors that some religions consider sins—such as banning all seafood, or mandating that all men must grow their beards to a certain length.
Let religions keep their ideas of sin in-house, leaving secular logic to decide secular law. If religious individuals want to label homosexuality as a sin, that is there right, but their label should have no power outside of their religious faith (ex. they can refuse to marry gay people in their house of worship, but they can’t prevent gay people from getting married).
2) “Homosexuality is immoral and unnatural, thus the government has the duty to ban it.”
Those who support this argument are letting their religious ideology and personal biases overshadow their understanding of fact. In reality, homosexuality is morally identical to heterosexuality and is probably just a naturally occurring biological variant.
When all religious and social biases are taken out of the equation, we are left with the simple fact that homosexuality and heterosexuality are both morally neutral; they involve two consenting adults interacting in a way that has no effect on the wellbeing of other people. Regardless of the combination of genders involved, these relationships are only the business of those involved and there is no legitimate reason why they should be labeled as immoral.
The entire concept of homosexuality being immoral is based not in objective reality, but in a complex set of religious and societal biases. Many religious and secular codes of conduct have attached a specious label of immorality to homosexuality—from Christianity labeling homosexuality a sin to machismo labeling it as immoral and unmanly. When individuals today try to label homosexuality as immoral, it is the ingrained biases of these codes that they are referring to, not any real reason why homosexuality is immoral.
There are situation where sexual activity, both homosexual and heterosexual, can become immoral, but this has nothing to do with orientation. When sex acts are forced on unwilling participants they become immoral and criminal acts of rape. In addition to this, any sex acts forced upon people who cannot consent (ex. children or the mentally disabled) are also immoral. Neither of these immoral acts depends upon the sexual orientation or genders of those involved, but rather the concept of consent. As the only thing that separates a consensual homosexual relationship and a consensual heterosexual relationship is the gender of those involved, the moral issue of consent is equivocal. Saying that homosexual behavior should be morally equated with homosexual instances of rape is just as unfair as morally condemning heterosexuality because most rapes are perpetrated on a person of the opposite sex.
While it isn’t the predominant sexual orientation, labeling homosexuality as “unnatural” is absolutely wrong. According to numerous peer-reviewed studies on the subject, homosexual behavior has been documented in hundreds of animal species; the exact number of species documented to exhibit homosexual behavior is always growing, but the Yale Scientific newsletter has reported that at least 450 examples have been confirmed. If homosexual behavior is documented in hundreds of species—ranging in complexity from fish to human beings—then it is, by definition, a natural occurrence.
At worst, homosexuality is unusual, but not unnatural. Just as some people are born left-handed, some people are born with same sex attraction. The mere fact that an occurrence isn’t the norm, does not justify calling it unnatural, and certainly doesn’t justify banning it.
The government has no business banning homosexuality for several simple reasons:
- Homosexuals aren’t harming anybody: there is no compelling social interest that would justify our government intruding into the lives of homosexuals and regulating their behavior. As previously pointed out, homosexuality has no effect on the lives of others and isn’t something that can potentially damage the health of society.
- Just because something isn’t the norm, there is no reason for the government to ban it: Plenty of human characteristics aren’t “normal,” including being left handed (less than 30% of the population) or having green eyes (less than 5% of the population), yet homosexuality is the one which is singled out for persecution. It isn’t until a behavior is damaging to others that the government becomes able to ban it to protect the common good.
- The government is severely restricted in regulating sexual activity: according to Supreme Court decisions, the government is extremely limited in its ability to regulate certain sectors of life (ex. sex, child-raising, and religion) where there is no compelling interest.
The 2003 Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas that struck down state sodomy bans is the case that confirms the inability of state governments to regulate private sexual activity. According to the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the constitution, a state lacks any compelling interest to insert itself into the personal sex lives of consenting adults—gay of straight—and thus any bans on sexual conduct between such consenting parties is unconstitutional. This decision, in no uncertain terms, concludes that banning gay people from having sex is not within the power of the government, regardless of the stated justification. That said, this case does not prevent states from interfering with marriage (a state-sanctioned contract), or refusing to pass employer discrimination laws.
When all things are considered, the arguments that homosexuality is immoral or unnatural are simply false on their face. Such arguments are based in bigotry rather than reality and are not valid arguments for public policy. It is undeniable that homosexuality isn’t the predominant sexual orientation, but it is a natural phenomenon and has no moral component. As a morally and ethically neutral phenomenon, the government has no interest in legislating discrimination against gays and no constitutional ability to do so.
3) “Gay marriage isn’t natural marriage and is a redefinition of the term”
This argument must be broken down into two parts to refute, as it is actually half true. On one hand, expanding marriage to include gay couples would change marriage but, on other hand, there is no such thing as “natural marriage.” Just as with sin (see above section), marriage is a societal construct that has no empirical definition other than what society has decided it to be; as society changes, marriage has been redefined numerous times. There is no such thing as “natural marriage,” and there is nothing wrong with letting marriage evolve as society sheds its bigotries against minority groups.
While many religious people like to look at marriage as a static ceremony that has existed unchanged for thousands of years, this is simply not the case. The Judeo-Christian concept of marriage (when religious people talk about marriage in the United States, this is what they are talking about 99% of the time) has existed for thousands of years, but it has radically evolved during this time.
Back in biblical times, marriage was a drastically different thing then it is today. A woman had virtually no power in the relationship and was considered little more than the property of her husband. A woman was essentially sold to her husband (with a dowry price) under the expectation that she would serve him and give him children. In many cases, these marriages involved numerous women married to a single man. Fortunately, as civilization evolved over the centuries, society changed and marriage evolved to give women equality in the relationship.
Back in the era of slavery, there were several definitions of marriage. Marriage between white Americans was similar to what we now consider marriage today (although with fewer rights for the woman and less of a possibility for divorce), but marriage for the other races was radically different. Marriages between slaves, when permitted, were annullable through distance (ex. when one of them was sold) and had no legal value. Marriages between white Americans and free black Americans weren’t legal under the law at all. Eventually, slavery was abolished, and interracial marriage was legalized, but it is still important to note that marriage was changed radically within the lifespan of our relatively young civilization.
As is evident by the changes that the concept of marriage has undergone over the years, the entire idea of “traditional marriage” simply doesn’t exist in any meaningful form. Marriage is constantly changing, thus there is no real way to point to a single incarnation of the term and call it “traditional”. Less than 50 years have gone by since the radical change in marriage that was legalized interracial marriage, thus making what current religious people call “traditional marriage” very young. In reality, those who support “traditional marriage” are simply taking what they consider marriage today and asserting that that is how things have always been in order to fight reform.
Despite the mutable definition of marriage, it is true that allowing gay people to marry could realistically be considered a redefinition of the idea of marriage. Whether it is fair or not, for hundreds of years, marriage in western civilization has been exclusively between a man and a woman. Allowing gay people to marry on equal terms with straight people would be a departure from this precedent, but not one that should be feared.
The expansion of marriage to include homosexual couples changes the definition of marriage in a manner very similar to when interracial marriage was legalized in 1967. In both situations, societal bigotry prevented certain people from being married, even if they were consenting adults and in a relationship. As society changed and bigotries became less acceptable, marriage between the previously discriminated against groups became legalized. Eventually, society accepts the new definition of marriage as mainstream and any attacks on the newly accepted groups becomes socially unacceptable (ex. attacking interracial marriage today). Today, gay marriage has not hit the point where it is mainstream (although a majority of Americans believe that it should be legal), but this will come in the future—as more states accept gay marriage, it will follow interracial marriage into the mainstream and the issue will gradually fade from view.
Just as we now hear about the terrible dangers of “changing the definition of marriage” by letting gay people get married, we heard identical arguments during the push to legalize interracial marriage. For example, here is a quote from a Georgia State representative during debate over the potential legalization of interracial marriage:
“Allowing interracial marriages “necessarily involves the degradation” of conventional marriage, an institution that “deserves admiration rather than execration.”
Sound familiar to anybody?
The next time that you hear somebody try to use this argument, you can simply ask them if they support the “changing” of the definition of marriage to include interracial couples during the 1960s. If they answer this question in the affirmative, then you can simply point out that legalizing interracial marriage was demonstrably a change in the definition of marriage; as they admit to supporting a previous change in marriage, they cannot argue that marriage is has a “traditional” and immutable definition. If marriage could be changed back then to include interracial couples, then nothing but bigotry prevents it from being changed today to include gay couples.
4) “Letting gay people marry and have equal rights diminishes marriage and harms the sanctity of straight marriage.”
In many arguments about rights there is a balancing act between the rights of different groups (ex. a racist shopkeeper versus a black patron), but marriage equality is most certainly not one of these issues. Giving equal marriage rights to gay individuals has absolutely no effect on the marriages of other people.
The ability of gay people to get married under the law has simply no way of affecting the marriages of straight people other than by offending their religious moralities. Letting gay people marry will just extend the very same rights and protections enjoyed by straight couples over gay couples and will in no way reduce these rights. Marriage rights are not a negative sum situation where giving some people rights takes away from everybody else and there is no realistic justification for preventing gay couples from marrying.
In the secular law, marriage is simply a contract between two individuals that ensures certain societal and tax considerations. Married couples enjoy special tax rates, a protection against compulsory testimony in criminal proceedings (spousal privilege), and several other benefits that unmarried couples don’t get. In secular law, the sanctity of marriage is little more than a bond between two people recognized by the state and given special privileges, thus the genders of those involved really shouldn’t matter (e.g. how could the genders of those involved possible effect the process of joint asset tax filings?). Denying marriage equality is less a matter of secular policy and the integrity of the secular marriage contract, then it is religion bleeding into secular policy.
When talking about the “sanctity of marriage” in regard to gay equality, it is important to make the distinction between religious marriage and secular marriage. A religion has the 1st Amendment right not to perform gay marriages if doing so would be in violation of their religious tenants, but this is not what is at issue. What we are talking about is letting gay people be married under secular law and getting all of the benefits that come with the marriage. In short, a religion may deny the “sanctity” of gay marriages and refuse to recognize such bonds for religious reasons, but the secular government should not be able to deny the secular benefits of marriage to gay couples that wish to marry.
Personally, I have always found the idea of gay marriage attacking the sanctity of marriage to be an amusing concept, particularly considering many of the champions of such attacks. I simply need to ask, if right wing champion of the “sanctity of marriage” Newt Gingrich’s pattern of cheating on and divorcing his wife when she gets sick or too old doesn’t damage marriage, how could giving the right to marry to a committed gay couple do any harm?
Whenever somebody makes the argument that marriage equality harms straight marriage, you should challenge them to tell you exactly how. Does it make them love their spouse any less or reduce their rights as a married couple in any way? Inevitably, they will default to a religious justification where you can simply make the argument that that is an issue for their church—the secular law should be independent from theology and the secular contract that is marriage is the only thing at issue. If they want to belong to a church that refuses to acknowledge that gay people are married within their religious ceremonies, then that is their prerogative, but this is no reason to deny gay people the secular benefits of marriage.
5) “Gay marriage and equal protections for homosexuals should be left up to the states.”
This argument is wrong for the exact same reason that racial and gender discrimination protections cannot be left up to a state-level vote: in our country, rights are not up to a vote, and it is the job of the federal government to ensure that every state gives every citizen equal protections under the law.
Letting states decide on civil rights (including equal protections and marriage rights) simply allows bigoted states to legislate discrimination. Such laws create disparities in the civil rights of minority groups based upon where they live in the country. In a progressive state, gay individuals would have equal rights under the law but in a conservative state, they would be devoid of legal protections against discrimination (if not discriminated against under the law).
In addition to the issue of equal protections, such state-level legal disparities create a severe problem when people start moving. For example, if a couple is married in MA but moves to TX, what happens to their marriage? Does their marriage become annulled when they move to a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage? Do they have equal marriage privileges and ability to divorce as any other couple? What about a situation where gay couples that move into a state are allowed to stay married but gay couples who live in the state are barred from enjoying equal rights? Such situations violate the equal protections clause of the 14th Amendment and create a bizarre legal quagmire that really shows us why unequal civil rights in different states for a minority group cannot work.
It is important to note that this interpretation of the law is only my opinion and the Supreme Court is currently deciding on whether a state can ban gay marriage. The case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, where California’s “Proposition 8” gay marriage ban is being challenged, is still being decided on by the Supreme Court. As no decision has been given in this case, there is no conclusive stare decisis that would prevent states from banning gay marriage.
Until the Supreme Court rules in this case and (hopefully) interprets the constitution to render gay marriage bans unconstitutional, anybody who makes this argument should be refuted with a generalized rights argument. Do they want to live in a country where their rights may be limited by a state—or group of states—or would they like to live in a country where they have the same rights regardless of where they live? What happens when a state decides to attack them as a minority and this precedent is there to support the constitutionality of such an attack?
In numerous other situations (ex. segregation), it has been found that the federal government must ensure that states don’t infringe on a minority groups’ rights, regardless of state votes. If the Supreme Court follows the same legal reasoning as other civil rights and equal protections fights (ex. interracial marriage), they will make it unconstitutional for a state to restrict the marriage rights of homosexuals and will put this argument to bed.
6) “Gay people shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children because they are unfit parents.”
Put plainly, this argument is demonstrably false according to most of the statistical evidence that we have available. As far as we can tell, all unbiased data tells us that gay parents and straight parents of similar demographic groups have very similar results in raising children.
In general, this argument is based around the supposition that a child requires both a mother and a father to develop properly—this may appear logical on its face, but the evidence does not bear it out. Traditional gender roles (ex. father as the breadwinner and authoritarian and mother as the nurturing influence) are not as solid as many would claim, thus there is no real requirement for both a mother and a father to be present; a relationship with two women as the parents can easily provide the exact same levels of authority and nurture as a relationship between a man and a woman. It is certainly true that two-parent households often produce superior results to single-parent households, but this only support the argument for letting gay couples adopt. Regardless of what anybody says, same-sex households are demonstrably two-parent.
Numerous studies have looked at the results of stable same-sex households and have concluded that homosexual parents are just as competent as heterosexual parents. Children raised in same-sex households have no worse academic, psychological, or health results then children who grow up in demographically similar heterosexual households. In fact, many such studies have actually concluded that same-sex couples have statistically better results than the average heterosexual household.
The statistically high positive results for same-sex couples is likely due to the fact that such couples often rely on adoption for their children. Unlike straight couples, gay couples don’t accidentally have children, thus are statistically more likely to be ready to have children. The need to adopt or get in-vitro fertilization by same-sex couples completely removes the variable of unplanned parenthood and ensures that the parents are economically and psychologically prepared to raise their children. Adoption involves a vetting process before the couple is given children to raise and acts as a check to make sure that the parents are fit to raise children. While in-vitro fertilization doesn’t involve a vetting process, it is expensive and is only possible for relatively well-off couples that are highly motivated to have children—such couples are likely to take an interest in their children’s upbringing and have positive parenting results.
It is true that there are many studies which claim same-sex couples to be inferior in raising children, but most of these studies are heavily biased. Oftentimes, such studies are commissioned and paid for by anti-gay groups and have extreme methodological issues. These studies regularly claim that children raised by their biological parents in stable homes have an advantage over children raised in single parent or unmarried couple households; in a limited view, these studies are correct but they are presenting a deceptive narrative. By equating same-sex unmarried couples with single parent and unstable households, these studies skew the statistics on parenting results so that same-sex couples appear inferior. The bad results of unstable households are lumped together with the parenting statistics of stable same-sex households thus the average results appear deceptively below that of stable married couples.
When income and family stability are removed from the equation, the disparity in parenting results falls away and we see that gay couples are just as competent as straight couples. Some people may be deceived by misleading data presented by anti-gay groups (just as many are confused by oil money funded “climate studies” that reject climate change) but these people are simply wrong.
This is the first half of a two-part article. The second part will be posted tomorrow at the following link: http://theprogressivecynic.com/2013/03/21/refuting-anti-gay-arguments-part2/