Nicky Riordan’s op-ed, “Rutgers tragedy reinforces need for change” correctly condemns any form of persecution, ridicule or bullying based upon sexual orientation; however, it unfairly generalizes those who oppose same-sex marriage as fear mongers “stoking the flames” of a “brewing culture war.” In particular, she condemns “trusted leaders who knowingly create dangerous divides in the population” as they “demean the lives of others in the defense of traditional values.”
Surely, she is not blind to the irony that it is this very type of provocative, condescending and judgmental language that creates the volatility condemned. Surely, we can express our differing opinions without resorting to name calling, hasty generalizations and inflammatory rhetoric.
For instance, the assertion that opposition to same-sex marriage is simply a form of bigotry based upon fear is demonstrably false. While there may be those who oppose same-sex marriage out of bigotry towards those who live a gay or lesbian lifestyle, it is not true that all people who oppose same-sex marriage do so because they are bigots or suffer from homophobia.
In fact, it is entirely plausible and verifiable that many who oppose same-sex marriage do so because they have cogent reasons to believe society has a compelling interest to protect the definition of marriage as a heterosexual institution.
Furthermore, the assessment that those opposed to same-sex marriage are engaging in “knee-jerk reactions” and oversimplifications of a complex issue seems to be a rather intolerant assertion. Simply because people do not share your particular view does not make them intellectual simpletons.
Tolerance demands that we take another persons’ argument seriously and actually try to understand what they are saying. We may not agree with each other but that does not mean our opposing views are without merit.
As for oversimplifications, the assertion that “the only thing that should matter in marriage is love” may qualify as such. This sentiment may work well in a Beatles’ song (“All You Need is Love”), but it does not serve the institution of marriage well. In fact, in a practical and historical context it is very misleading. There is much more to marriage than love.
As we look over the history of marriage we can identify some well established characteristics that have historically defined the institution of marriage. As we will see these intrinsic characteristics are so intimately tied together we may think of them as the unitary goods that separate marriage from all other social arrangements.
First, marriage has been fundamentally about the male/female relationship and the complementarities of men and women.
Second, it provided a socially sanctioned expression of male/female sexuality in an exclusive, monogamous relationship.
Third, it situated procreation as the ontological intent of male/female sexual intimacy. In other words, sex had a deeper purpose than mere transitory pleasure but was the fountainhead of life.
Fourth, it has encompassed the work of child rearing and therefore is our most pro-child institution. Since child rearing is so fundamental to the success of society governments have wisely demonstrated a vested interested in protecting and sustaining heterosexual marriage.
And finally, marriage has been grounded in the expectation of love and lifelong commitment. This commitment was understood to benefit both spouses and their offspring. Thus it has been on the back of this institution that civil society carried its most important work—the perpetuation of life and the preparation of the rising generation to live in civil society.
While not all marriages may have resulted in procreation or child rearing, for a variety of reasons such as infertility or disinterest, these anomalies did not negate the intrinsic, unitary goods of the institution of marriage. Consequently, while love may have been a necessary component of marriage it certainly was not sufficient to define the institution of marriage.
As a naturally occurring, pre-political union, heterosexual marriage has not only been about love but has served as the very seedbed of civil society. Life exists because of heterosexual unions. As such, governments have always had a compelling interest in providing heterosexual marriage a unique and favored status. By providing same-sex unions the legal status of marriage, the meaning and purpose of marriage is fundamentally altered.
Under the banner of same-sex marriage, gender, sexual complementaries, male/female sexual intimacy, procreation and child rearing all become incidental to marriage. Marriage is thus reduced to a unisex relationship of love and commitment.
This is a radical redefinition of marriage and throws open the door to an endless array of new social relationships that can now be legitimately defined as marriage. Thus if we accept that marriage is simply a unisex relationship of love then free love, group marriage, bisexual marriage, bigamy, polyandry all become legitimate forms of marriage.
Furthermore, if marriage is merely a unisex relationship of love then what argument will be used against the North American Man-Boy Love Association from seeking legal approbation for their particular sexual orientation?
And if age of consent can be challenged, then what argument can be used to bar pedophiles from seeking legitimization of their relationship and calling it marriage? Under Ms. Riordan’s logic this would be no great leap since she wants us to celebrate “the unrestricted equality of all ... citizens” and “put aside our convictions about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ for the sake of justice.” In point of fact, justice may be an incomprehensible concept without some notion of right and wrong.
Many of us in this country are deeply concerned about the condition of our marriages and families; our opposition to same-sex marriage has very little to do with homosexuality per se and very much to do with our concern over the vitality and viability of the institution of marriage itself. For nearly 50 years this institution has been under an aggressive assault.
Divorce, fatherlessness, out-of-wedlock childbirth and a culture of narcissism have undermined the institution of marriage. Many of us believe same-sex marriage will only further weaken this essential institution.
Thus, while same-sex marriage may appear as a politically palatable way to address the legitimate interests and sincere yearnings of same-sex couples, it so radically alters the institution of marriage that it threatens to turn the meaning of marriage on its’ head. Perhaps there is a better way (civil unions come to mind) to address the legitimate interests of same-sex couples without further eroding the institution of marriage itself.
Allan Rau is a Cedar City resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.