What's the Threat?
Does It Really Threaten Conventional Marriage?
A great deal of highly charged
rhetoric has been unleashed regarding the presumed evils of
same-sex marriage and the threat it ostensibly poses to
heterosexual marriage. The danger seems to be a
foregone conclusion. Yet, amid all the self-righteous
furor, some of us dare to wonder aloud, exactly what threat
does same-sex marriage—or any other unconventional personal
union, for that matter—pose to established conventions, and
exactly how is that threat manifested? Let's examine
some of the challenges typically raised.
Homosexuality is inherently evil. God did not intend
people to have sex in ways incompatible with conceiving
Humans are one of only a few species in which both male and
female sexual appetites continue to be active outside the
female's normal times of fertility. If God purposely
made us this way conspicuously different from most other
species, then he obviously intended us to have sex for
reasons other than procreation. And since sex is such
a physically enjoyable activity, he evidently intended us to
derive pleasure from it, whether just physical pleasure or
the deeper kind we call love. (We can only speculate
about God's purpose for this apparently excess pleasure.
Perhaps it's to give a regular boost to the strength of a
loving bond, so it can endure for a lifetime. Or
perhaps he has a purpose for some people's lives other than
making children, yet sees no reason to deprive them of their
share of pleasure.) In any case, it's a reasonable
supposition that God intends people to have sex for pleasure
(or love) much of the time, or at least whenever the company
is agreeable and the mood strikes, since the opportunity for
conception exists for only a brief fraction of the female's
However, there's no biological reason that non-procreational
sex must entail the coupling of opposite sexes. If an
individual is more inclined to establish and nurture an
intense loving bond with someone of the same sex, then such
a bond would seem to have no less virtue than a heterosexual
couple's bond of love while using birth control. Now,
if one proposes to argue that birth control is inherently
evil on the same grounds as homosexuality, such an argument
would at least be consistent—but probably not very popular
even among the devoutly god-fearing.
justifiable purpose of marriage is to conceive, bear, and
rear children. No other form of marriage should be
If this is so, then marriage should be permitted only
to fertile couples who declare an intent to reproduce.
Marriage should be forbidden to any person determined to be physically
incapable of reproducing, and to any couples who choose not
to have children. Furthermore, any marriage which
endures beyond a couple's childbearing and child-rearing
years should be dissolved. This is where the reasoning
of the "natural purpose only" justification of marriage inevitably
For most people, there are many purposes of marriage (love,
companionship, and mutual support, for starters), regardless
of whether procreation is part of the mix—any one or any
combination of which is generally regarded as adequate
justification for interpersonal union, with or without an
intent to procreate. Those who
insist that reproduction is the alpha and omega of
marriage and that it has no other purpose are welcome to their
belief; but their practices
ought to be fully consistent with that belief, and there
should be no attempt to impose it upon those inclined to believe otherwise.
Bible defines marriage as a holy union between one man and
There are certainly many Christians who agree, and
indeed, one-man-one-woman marriage has enjoyed a long
tradition in Christian culture. But can anyone cite a
biblical passage to the effect that any other form of
interpersonal union is forbidden? Some Christian sects
have adopted a policy of tolerating same-sex marriage.
At least one (the Unitarian-Universalist Church) has
gone even further, administering the sacrament of marriage
to same-sex couples who request it. Moreover, there
are many Americans (not to mention a majority of people in
other parts of the world) who are not Christians. There are
major and minor religions which endorse forms of marriage
other than the one-man-one-woman variety. Various
forms of polygamy are acceptable in Islam and Buddhism, as
well as in assorted communal, naturist, and spiritist sects.
Furthermore, the custom of keeping concubines has been acceptable, even in
Christianity, until fairly recently. So far, there's
no evidence that the institution of so-called conventional
marriage in any of these situations is in any greater
decline than among the population in general.
environment for children is in a family with two parents,
one of each sex.
This might be an ideal standard in a world of ideal
human beings. Unfortunately, many of us, including
conventionally married people, are nowhere near to any
generally accepted notion of ideal. Children are
clearly not well off in a home in which the parents' relationship is dysfunctional, or if either or both
parents are abusive, or if they suffer from addictions that
render them ineffective or even destructive toward their
We might reasonably argue that desirable
characteristics for a child's home environment include love,
care, nurture, mature guidance, and instructive challenge. Such
positive environments can be found in non-conventional
families—including those with a single parent of either sex,
or with two parents of the same sex, or even with more than
two adults—as well as in conventional heterosexual unions.
If we seriously ask ourselves what is in the interest of
children, what matters most in their lives is not their
parents' anatomies and sexual orientations, but whether the environment the
parents supply is one that genuinely loves, cares, nurtures,
guides, and challenges. These are the qualities that make a
real difference to children. There is no sexual
that either guarantees these qualities or has a monopoly on
Homosexual marriage threatens the age-old institution of
Many people accept this as axiomatic. Indeed,
those who make this claim rarely attempt to explain it; no
information is offered about the nature of the alleged danger and
the effects it produces. The implication is that anyone who does not
agree with the claim must be stupid. But if we are
not stupid, then we ought to know as well as anyone else exactly what the danger
is. So what is it, exactly? What are its
effects, exactly? If there is a real threat, then we
ought to know precisely what it is, so we can deal with it
effectively. Thus, we ought to question the popular
assumption and demand a realistic answer. If those
making the claim cannot provide a credible answer, then we might
well assume that it is they, not we, who are stupid. It
turns out that the threat is vague and undefined. No
one seems to know exactly what terrible things are supposed to happen to conventional
marriage if same-sex marriage is allowed.
Is there a shortage of marriage licenses, such that a
gay marriage would deprive a straight couple of the right
No, we seem able to print and process all the marriage licenses
Would same-sex marriage lessen respect for
A similar claim has been made against interracial
marriage, yet there seems no loss of esteem for the
institution that can be attributed to intermarriage of
people of different skin colors.
Would the availability of gay marriage somehow cause
straight couples to divorce?
It is hard to imagine how. There is no reason
whatever to suppose that "A same-sex couple has moved in next
door" leads to "I want a divorce."
Would the availability of gay marriage cause
homosexuals who have married heterosexually (for whatever
reason) to divorce and take same-sex partners instead?
Here we might be forced to concede at least a fair chance. But we must also
ask how many such marriages actually exist, and whether
they are healthy relationships in any case. The
first answer is probably "Very few," and the second
"Probably not." In other words, banning gay marriage
would not save anything truly worth saving.
There are many causes of the dissolution of
conventional marriage—infidelity, personal abuse, addiction,
irresponsibility, poverty, and death of a spouse, to name a
few. But (to my knowledge) no one has ever listed
"homosexual marriage" as grounds for divorce, and there come
to mind no circumstances under which it might be so used.