Assessing arguments against same-sex marriage

Further discussion is needed to advance the same-sex marriage debate in Minnesota.

by James Castle


In the 2013 Legislature, following the November defeat of a proposed amendment seeking to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage, state legislators will introduce proposals to allow same-sex marriage in Minnesota. Officials for Minnesotans United for All Families, same-sex marriage’s strongest advocate in the state, have expressed that although the people have voted, there is a continued need for discussion on the importance of marriage for same-sex couples. Minnesotans have the power to take action by urging their state legislators to vote a particular way on same-sex marriage.

The opposition, Minnesota for Marriage, makes many assertions, all of which can be summarized into three main points:

1. A rise in litigation would occur.

Opponents argue that, if same-sex marriage is legal, a flood of litigation will ensue in Minnesota. Businesses in the wedding industry, such as photographers, bakeries and ceremonial venues, will be sued for turning away same-sex couples based on their beliefs, and so will religious organizations, individuals and other businesses. What opponents fail to mention is that these lawsuits are perfectly possible even without legal same-sex marriage. State law already forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation, and same-sex couples can have weddings and other ceremonies, hire photographers, join religious organizations, etc. with or without a license to marry from the state. Moreover, even if litigation were to rise, the law doesn’t favor hindering civil rights to keep the cost of litigation down. The law seeks to balance the cost of litigation with individual rights. The right to marry is so fundamental as to outweigh the high costs of litigation that would result if same-sex marriage was legal.

Further, the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy predicts that, within just three years, in Washington, Maine and Maryland, all of which legalized same-sex marriage in the last election, will see an estimated $166 million in wedding expenditures. The economic impact in Minnesota could be similar if businesses are willing to embrace a little change.

2. Churches should inform how civil marriage is defined.

It might be persuasive to say that, although marriage is based in law, laws on marriage are heavily informed by Judeo-Christian beliefs. Religious marriages and civil marriages can’t be separate. We should be careful to change the purpose and meaning of marriage laws. Historically, many religious faiths have never allowed same-sex marriages, and changing the definition to include these unions would undermine marriage’s religious foundation.

The problem here is that religious marriage and civil marriage are already separate from one another. States have their own rules on marriage, separate from any one particular church. For example, many states allow no-fault divorce, while some churches only recognize certain types of divorce.

We also live in a multicultural society, where there are many different paths to faith, including paths that reject any faith. Even within Christianity, the nation’s dominant religion, there are many denominations, each holding various and often conflicting views on both marriage and same-sex marriage.

States shouldn’t choose which particular church or branch of a religious faith is to inform its laws. Uniformity and mutual respect for multiple faiths demands we reject the argument that marriage is a sacred institution that should be informed by only a handful of religious faiths alone.

3. Marriage is only for creating children biologically.

Opponents of same-sex marriage contend that the sole purpose of marriage is to create a stable venue through which a father and mother can raise their biological children. Same-sex marriages, therefore, undermine the purpose of marriage.

But if we adopt this reasoning, would it not then follow that we should also deny marriage to other-sex couples who do not intend to raise children, who are incapable of producing children or who choose to adopt children? Certainly policy would preclude us from holding such a narrow purpose for marriage. Opponents respond by arguing that only the potential to produce children together is what is key, not probability.

Empirical data, however, shows that point is nothing short of immaterial. It’s based on the unsupported assumption that a male and a female parent who produce children are the best environment for children. Countless studies in social welfare and psychology and the opinion of the American Psychological Association, conclude that children of same-sex couples are just as stable and happy as children of other-sex parent families. Thus, same-sex couples are just as capable of providing the stable venue for children that opponents of same-sex marriage seek to promote.

In turning to arguments in favor of same-sex marriage, it is important to look at the issue from a legal and rights-based perspective, rather than a spiritual one. Marriage is a civil action. It is the county clerk’s office that will be issuing licenses to marry, not, say, St. Monica’s Catholic Church. Opponents of same-sex marriage should consider not only the benefits same-sex marriage could have to children, but the impact on the psychological and material well-being of countless couples in Minnesota, many of them followers of different faiths who deserve mutual respect and equal rights.