Common Arguments Against Gay Marriage

Moral and Religious Arguments

Man putting wedding ring on another man's finger
Inti St. Clair

In the debate over gay marriage, opponents have many arguments that profess their belief that it should not be legal. These include many moral and religious reasons that point to a threat to the sacred institution of marriage. Yet, is a marriage a religious rite or a civil right?

This debate brings up many questions. In an attempt to understand the issue, let's examine common arguments against same-sex marriage and why they may not stand up in modern America.

What's The Point of Marriage, Gay or Straight?

Is there even a point to same-sex couples getting married? Why would they want to bother? Whether a marriage is between a man and woman or two people of the same sex, the reasons behind getting married are the same.

There are, of course, the legal, property, and financial benefits of being married. These include the right of one partner to make medical decisions for the other and the joint ownership of a home or other property. Married couples can also handle their financial affairs, from banking to taxes, jointly.

Fundamentally, the point of marriage -- whether gay or straight -- is to start a family. It may include children or be the couple on their own. Either way, a marriage certificate is the foundation of a family unit and this is extremely important to many people.

What is a Marriage Between a Man and a Woman?

Opponents of marriage equality usually insist that marriage is only legitimate when it's between a man and a woman.

Where does that leave people who are not quite either male or female - at least according to the definitions ordinarily employed?

Defining marriage in terms of sex begs the question of how we define a person's sex in the first place. What is a "man" and what is a "woman"? Using strict terminology, there are people for whom marriage to anyone might be permanently denied.

 

Marriage: Religious Rite or Civil Right?

Almost every opponent to gay marriage tends to rely on the belief that marriage is essentially and necessarily a religious rite. For them, marriage is conceived of almost exclusively in religious terms. This means that gay marriage amounts to a form a sacrilege, not to mention an intrusion of the state into a religious matter.

It's true that religion has traditionally played a role in sanctifying marriages. In the end, this belief is simply incorrect. The contract of marriage is also a compact between two individuals, a promise to care for one another.

Marriage has never been dependent on a single religion and is, instead, a result of human desire which is supported by the community as a whole. For this reason, marriage is far more a civil right than it is a religious rite.

Marriage is Sacred and a Sacrament

Closely connected with the idea that marriage is necessarily religious is the belief that marriage is sacred or even a type of sacrament. This argument is rarely made explicit.

This is perhaps one of the most important and fundamental arguments for opponents of gay marriage. It seems to lie at the heart of almost all of their other arguments.

It also motivates much of their vehemence in a way that would be hard to explain otherwise.

Indeed, if it weren't for the idea that marriage is sacred, it seems unlikely that ongoing debate would be as rancorous as it is. 

Marriage is for Raising Children

The idea that gay couples shouldn't be allowed to marry because they can't procreate is extremely popular. At the same time, it's also probably the weakest and least credible argument.

If marriage only exists for the purpose of having children, then how can infertile couples be allowed to marry? The simple fact is that this argument depends on using a standard that is not applied to straight couples. 

Gay Marriage Will Undermine the Institution of Marriage

The argument that something new or some change would undermine or destroy a valued institution is almost inevitable.

It's no surprise that opponents of gay marriage frequently complain that such marriages would undermine the institution of marriage.

A marriage between members of the same sex is a self-contradiction, according to opponents, so their unions will somehow harm marriage itself. Just how much damage could gay unions do, though? And how? 

Gay Couples are Unnatural & Unnatural Unions Cannot Be Marriage

This objection to gay marriage doesn't even try to pretend to be objective and fair. It focuses instead directly on people's animus towards gays and lesbians.

Homosexual relationships are treated explicitly as abnormal and unnatural. This easily leads to the conclusion that said relationships should not be given any sort of legal or social status. Perhaps the only good thing that can be said about this argument is that it's the most directly honest one that opponents are likely to make.

Gay Marriage is Incompatible with Religious Liberty

Opposition to equal civil rights for gays comes in many forms. When all of the arguments that gay marriage is an intrinsically bad fail, religious conservatives move to argue that such marriages will somehow infringe on their own civil rights.

It's an appealing tactic since no one wants to be tarred as an opponent of religious liberty. However, thus far conservatives have failed to explain how or why treating gays like fully equal citizens and human beings is incompatible with anyone's religious liberty. Since when did the preservation of religious rights require treating minorities like second-class citizens?

 

Gay Marriage Can't Be a Real Marriage

The most simplistic argument against gay marriage is to look at a dictionary. Many choose to marvel at the discovery that it only mentions men and women marrying, then sagely conclude that gays can't possibly marry.

This approach ignores the fact that the nature of marriage has changed in definition and make up quite often over the centuries. Marriage today isn't at all like what it was two millennia or even two centuries ago.

Given how broad and fundamental the changes in the nature of marriage have been, what exactly are traditionalists trying to defend, and why? What is truly "traditional" about modern marriage? 

Marriage as a Cultural Symbol

The debate over the legalization of gay marriage in America is about more than just the status of gay couples. It's also about the future of American civil law. Either the civil law is defined by the needs and rights of citizens and gay marriage will be legalized, or civil laws will be placed under the dominion of religious laws and gay marriage will be banned.

Opponents of gay marriage try to offer legal and social reasons for their position. Yet, it always comes back to religion and religion-based animosity towards gays. For Christian Nationalists, legalized gay marriage would represent a defeat for their religion in the fight to define the boundaries of American culture and law.

Gay marriage furthermore represents a threat to established norms of authority, identity, and power. Those who possess that authority and power and who have used them to create their identities are thereby threatened by the prospective changes.

One thing that has often puzzled many people is the argument from so many religious and political conservatives that same-sex marriages "threaten" and "undermine" traditional heterosexual marriages. The same is said even about domestic partnership laws which would give same-sex partners a few of the same basic rights as married couples.

Why is this? How can one relationship threaten or undermine someone else's?

Marriage is not just an institution, but also a symbol representing our culture's ideals about sex, sexuality, and human relationships.  Symbols are important; they are a common cultural currency which we each use to help create our sense of self. Thus, when the traditional nature of marriage is challenged in any way, so are people's basic identities.

By asking legislatures to pass "Defense of Marriage" acts, voters use the law to create the cultural equivalent of a copyright or trademark on the institution of marriage to prevent it from being challenged too much.

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Cline, Austin. "Common Arguments Against Gay Marriage." ThoughtCo, Jul. 16, 2017, thoughtco.com/moral-and-religious-arguments-250095. Cline, Austin. (2017, July 16). Common Arguments Against Gay Marriage. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/moral-and-religious-arguments-250095 Cline, Austin. "Common Arguments Against Gay Marriage." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/moral-and-religious-arguments-250095 (accessed December 17, 2017).