[PLUG-TALK] By Jimmy Akin...
plug_1 at robinson-west.com
Fri Jan 2 20:45:25 PST 2009
The fight about "gay marriage" isn’t going away any time soon. Even in
an age of activist judges, it is ultimately the votes of ordinary
Americans that will determine whether "gay marriage" is forced upon the
nation. If pro-family individuals do not argue the issue well and allow
pro-homosexual rhetoric to remain effectively unchallenged, we will lose
We have lost much ground already. Homosexuality is far more accepted by
society today than it was just a few years ago. It is common for
television shows not only to have gay characters but to have gay main
characters or even to center entirely around homosexuals. There are gay
cable networks launching. Bookstores have "Gay and Lesbian" sections.
And public schools are indoctrinating a generation of American youth
with the idea that homosexuality is an acceptable "alternative
How has all this been achieved?
Basically, through a single strategy: Framing the homosexual lifestyle
as a civil rights issue. Homosexual activists observed the gains
achieved for black Americans by the civil rights movement of the 1950s
and ’60s, followed by the gains achieved for women by the women’s
liberation movement of the 1960s and ’70s. They want the similar
benefits, and so they are following the same strategy.
At the core of this strategy is portraying homosexuals as victims in
search of fairness and equality. Americans are suckers for those three
things. We loathe victimization, esteem fairness, and insist on
equality. Any group that is represented as victims in search of fairness
and equality has a recipe for achieving its goals in American society.
As long as the debate is framed in these terms, pro-family advocates
will lose. There are no two ways about it. Full acceptance of
homosexuality in American society, including "gay marriage," will be a
Reframing the Debate
The only way to avoid this defeat is to change the terms of the debate.
It doesn’t matter how many bad effects of "gay marriage" pro-family
advocates point to. Americans have shown that they will accept social
evils on the grounds that those perpetrating the evils are "hurting only
themselves." They will even allow their own self-interest to be harmed
in order to protect the goods of fairness and equality. Neither does it
matter how much human intuition tells the average voter that
homosexuality is wrong. We have seen the success of the "I’m personally
opposed, but—" strategy in our society.
A key part of getting Americans to partition their own convictions is
the victimization dynamic. We don’t want to be victimizers, and we don’t
want to be seen as victimizers. Our instincts are on the side of the
downtrodden, and we cannot allow ourselves to be portrayed as
oppressors. We cannot tolerate that as part of our self-image or our
public image, and to avoid it we will partition our personal
We are now in a time when opponents of gay marriage are being depicted
as prejudiced. This tendency will increase. Soon efforts will be made to
portray opponents of the gay agenda as the contemporary equivalent of
Klansmen and male chauvinist pigs. Once that image of pro-family
advocates can be sold to a sizeable enough chunk of the American public,
the culture war over homosexuality will be over.
Thereafter, we will enter into a dark time in American history. No
matter how much sunshine and prosperity there might be on the surface, a
corruption that strikes at the heart of society will have been
It will be a dark time for the Church as well. The Church’s influence in
American society is considerably less than it was fifty years ago. It
stood with the civil rights movement, retaining and perhaps even
enhancing its influence. But when the claims made by radical feminists
began to clash with the Christian faith, its marginalization was
Nobody wants to join or remain a member of "the Church of the Klansmen,"
and if advocates of homosexual marriage can sell the American public on
the idea that faithful Catholics are the modern equivalent of KKK
bigots, then the Church will be in for hard times.
The good news is that this eventually will pass. Though the Church may
lose many members, the core faithful will remain and—due to their
fidelity—within a few generations they will begin to outpopulate the
secular mainstream of America, including the advocates of homosexual
unions. The same will be happening to our Evangelical brethren, and
eventually there will be a Christian renaissance in America.
But it will not come in our lifetimes, and, if we lose the battle now,
we will have a long, hard row to hoe before that happens. It is
imperative, therefore, that Catholics and other persons of good will
learn to debate the homosexual issue in an effective manner. Now.
The key to this is reframing the debate as something other than a civil
rights issue, and the key to that is identifying its central issue.
The Central Issue
Here is the key point we must make: Homosexual marriage is impossible.
Over and over, pro-family debaters fail to make this point. They allow
the question to be discussed of whether society should redefine marriage
to include homosexual unions.
This concedes to the other side that society can redefine marriage if it
wants to, that it has the ability to do so, and this is a fatal
concession. As long as marriage is conceived of as a social construct
that society can redefine, the rhetoric of fairness and equal access
will ensure that pro-family debaters will lose the day.
The only way to avoid this is to refuse to make the concession, to point
out that society does not have the ability to redefine marriage because
it is not a social construct. It is something that flows from human
Society can’t enable men to marry men or women to marry women any more
than we can enable men to turn into ducks or women to turn into geese.
Denying people these abilities is not a matter of fairness or equal
access. It is not a matter of discrimination or bigotry. We simply do
not have the ability.
This can be seen by considering the nature of marriage.
You don’t have to appeal to anything religious in order to make this
point. The argument can be constructed entirely along the lines of
natural law, avoiding the "separation of Church and state" canard.
What Marriage Is
It is obvious to all that sex is about reproduction. That’s what it’s
for in animals, and that’s what it’s for in us. We may find it
enjoyable, but from a biological perspective, that is motivation to get
us to engage in it and thus reproduce our species.
Sex is about babies, and there is an important fact about babies: They
are helpless and require an enormous amount of care and attention. It’s
a full-time job more than one person can handle. Even when they grow out
of the infant stage, children still need two parents to take care of
them and provide for the family.
Children also take a long time to mature. They won’t be biologically
mature for around two decades, and they may not be socially mature and
able to serve as functioning, independent members of society for even
longer. When more children come along, that only prolongs the period of
investment parents have to make in raising their offspring.
Raising children is a multi-decade effort that needs the involvement of
both parents. The fact that human offspring require so much care and
take so long to mature means that their parents need to be joined in a
stable union. This union even extends beyond the childrearing years,
because by the time the offspring are grown the parents are in their
declining years and need to start taking care of each other (as well as
receiving help from their offspring).
Thus, as the Code of Canon Law points out, "marriage is a permanent
partnership between a man and a woman ordered to the procreation of
offspring by means of some sexual cooperation" (CIC 1096 §1). This is
the reality of what marriage is and what it has been understood to be in
all human societies in history, even those that have been otherwise
tolerant of homosexuality.
Human nature thus leads to sex, which leads to offspring, which leads to
the reality of childrearing, which leads to marriage—an institution
found in every human culture and understood in the way just described.
A Legal Fiction
Given the fact that marriage is a reality of human nature, we cannot
change it. We don’t have the ability to alter human nature.
The most society could do is institute homosexual marriage as a legal
fiction. That is to say, we could create laws requiring those in society
to treat those in homosexual unions as if they were married. People
could be required to refer to homosexual unions as "marriages," to refer
to people in such unions as "spouses," to alter forms so that people in
such unions can present themselves as such, and to give them the status
of married people regarding adoption, housing, taxes, insurance,
divorce, and inheritance.
But while the law could be rewritten to coerce society into treating
people in homosexual unions as if they were married, this would not give
them the reality of marriage. It would not change the nature of their
union to correspond to what marriage actually is. All society would be
doing is playing a word game, stretching the term marriage so that it no
longer picks out a particular human reality that has existed and will
continue to exist—unaltered—no matter what word games are played around
One might concede what we have said and yet argue that society should
stretch the term marriage in the way just described. What merit would
this argument have?
The reason that societies recognize the natural law institution of
marriage and treat it differently from other unions is that doing so is
to their benefit. Marriage alone, of all possible unions that people may
form (partnerships, friendships, tribal alliances, etc.), gives to
society the one thing it needs most to survive: new members. Marriage
alone is capable of generating and bringing to maturity productive new
members for a society and thus enabling it to continue. No other union
It is theoretically possible to sever the link between the generating of
offspring and the raising of them—the latter being something of which
those in a homosexual union would be at least semi-capable—but why
should any society want to engage in such a dubious, cumbersome
workaround? The union of marriage does both by nature. It’s the way
humans and human societies are designed to work.
Because marriage uniquely benefits societies and enables them to
continue, societies extend to marriage special recognition and benefits
in order to encourage it. The more stable and successful marriages that
exist in society, the stronger it is and the better it can survive.
What would be the effects of creating a legal fiction that forces
society to extend the same recognition and benefits to other unions—one
that, like homosexual marriage, do not contribute to society in the way
Here—in this framework—is where the negative effects of homosexuality
and homosexual unions come in.
For a start, extending recognition and benefits to homosexual unions
would encourage them, just as they do marriage. This would result in
more people engaging in a dangerous and destructive lifestyle that is a
net cost to society.
The lifespan of homosexuals is shorter than that of heterosexuals (and
it was so even before the advent of AIDS). This lifestyle results in
more diseases, more psychological problems, more suicides, and more
general misery than in heterosexuals. Increasing social acceptance of
homosexuality has not changed this; it is intrinsic to the behavior.
Further, since homosexual unions are notoriously unstable, the cost that
society already bears through divorce would increase as the courts are
flooded with cases of homosexual divorce.
The problems of homosexuals don’t just affect themselves. They affect
others, including adopted children of homosexuals and members of the
community at large. Homosexuality is a net cost to society. Like other
self-destructive lifestyles, such as alcoholism or drug addition,
homosexuality places a greater burden on the community, and it does so
without returning tangible benefit to society in the form of new
Another result of forcing society to treat homosexual unions as
marriages would be the devaluation of actual marriage. The institution
of marriage has been devalued in our culture, creating a wave of
single-parent families, unwed mothers, economic hardships, abortions,
divorces, juvenile delinquency, and misery for many. Devaluing marriage
further by detaching the term from the reality of marriage and applying
it to non-productive homosexual unions would only further these trends.
There are thus ample reasons for society not to force people to treat
homosexual unions as marriage.
For a society to be successful and function smoothly, its social policy
needs to be in line with reality, and treating homosexual unions as
something they are not will defeat that goal.
Winning the Debate
Putting matters in these terms has a much better chance of carrying the
debate over homosexual unions than strategies currently in use. It
brings the discussion back from abstract, sentimental considerations and
reminds us of why we treat marriage differently in the first place.
It also makes clear to people what is really being asked of them. We are
not talking about being nice to gay people. We are talking about forcing
people to treat homosexuals as if they were in a different kind of union
than they are, about forcing on the public a social policy that is out
of touch with reality.
People may want to be nice to gays, but they don’t want themselves and
their children to be forced to behave in a way contrary to reality.
Neither do they want themselves and their children to be forced to bear
the costs that a social policy like this would create.
It is on these terms, if any, that the debate can be won.
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