In Response to Ryan T. Anderson’s Case Against Same Sex Marriage

Posted: September 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

As many of you know, and as I posted about earlier this week, Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation came to Boston College to make a case against marriage equality (he doesn’t like that term; he uses the term same-sex marriage; more on that in a minute).  No longer a student, nor in the Boston area, I was unable to attend this event, so I am going to comment using the video snippets I’ve seen and the summary found in student newspapers, as well as my conversation with students who attended the lecture.

The centerpiece of Mr. Anderson’s post was not what I thought it would be: as a Ph.D candidate from Notre Dame, I expected a theological argument rooted in Catholic catechism.  Surprisingly, he chose not to go this route.  Perhaps he knew that the Boston College student body, despite being predominantly Catholic, does not buy into current Catholic social teaching in this way (just look at the overwhelming support for BCSSH, or the fact that most of the people in the audience were rocking Support Love gear or there in protest of the nature of the event).   I would have respected this argument, although I don’t agree with it, as it is a same-sex marriage as an idea is simply inconceivable under a Catholic telos.

Instead, he took a more utilitarian/instrumentalist approach, arguing that same-sex marriage would undermine what marriage is for.  He argues that the reason the government has a vested interest in promoting exclusive, permanent companionship is because of the public good served by raising children in two-parent households (specifically with male and female parents).  He claims social science (though I’ve not heard of any specific study he cited – I certainly hope he is not referring to the Regenerus study) backs up this position.

I think this is a narrow – and frankly naïve – view of the public good served by committed, exclusive, permanent relationships (one grounded in a culturally specific view of who and how children are raised).   There are certainly other public goods served by commited, exclusive, permanent relationships:

  1. Disease control: exclusive, committed relationships reduce the public health risk of STI transmission.  What would the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and early 90s have looked like if there was a mechanism – an expectation, even – of committed exclusive relationships in the gay community; if people weren’t driven into short-term, casual, sexual encounters by the stigma and underground nature of having same-sex attraction?
  2. Individual health and life expectancy: Research shows that those who are discriminated against experience an increase in negative health consequences related to stress (e.g., heart disease, decreased life expectancy).  Indeed, research shows that even the thought of the possibility of someone discriminating against you – popularly dubbed stereotype threat – results in increased anxiety and decreased health outcomes.  Studies have recently provided a correlation between marriage equality and increased life expectancy.
  3. Financial stability: a family unit comprised of two committed adults is more financially stable than a single individual.  This is especially true in families with children (indeed, he points out that children growing up with one parent is a social travesty).
  4. The adoption issue: there are hundreds of thousands of children without committed family units, under the care of foster agencies and being moved from home to home.  This instability must be worse than being raised in the care of a same-sex couple.  I think it would take a special kind of stubbornness to argue otherwise.  This puts a tax on public service programs that directly implicate the government’s interests.
  5. Equity: I think this is the strongest argument, though Mr. Anderson finds it weak (along with its complement, marriage equality).  It is simply a matter of fairness that denying federal or state benefits on the basis of an innate, generally immutable characteristic is unjust.  Perhaps he argues that this is not an innate characteristic, but I do not think he made that argument in his presentation.    This injustice runs contrary to the fundamental principles of fairness embedded in American culture.

There were other issues raised in Anderson’s responses.  He brought up some slippery-slope arguments: why not redefine it to include pedophilia (to which I would respond this is an issue of the ability to consent, which no one suggests adults with same-sex attraction do not possess), or why not “throuples” (to which I would say – indeed, why not?  Polyamory is not conventional in our society but I see no reason not to recognize permanent, exclusive partnerships of more than two persons.  Indeed, marriage historically has included these options, so I do not see why such would be problematic in this instance).

Even if I believed Anderson’s claim that children grow up best in a male-female household (which assumes an essentialist perspective of gender roles that I do not share, and I do not believe any research backs up this claim and have seen studies to the contrary), certainly two parents is better than one or no parents.  Certainly two same-sex parents is better than two opposite-sex parents who do not love each other, simply because they were pushed into a heterosexual relationship without heterosexual attraction.

There were a couple of other claims that I will not address here: one of which tried to use the fact that cheating is defined by “reproductive acts” and not, say, playing Tennis with another person, to show that marriage is really defined by reproductive acts and not just relationship/companionship.  Most people I know, however, would see romantically kissing another, or oral sex, as examples of cheating as well, and certainly gay men and women can do both of these things (with relatively impressive results), and so are just as capable of adultery as any other; another that men teach aggression and women teach nurture that ignores recent trends in sociology towards a feminist or critical theory perspective on gender.

Anderson did not argue the typical bigoted claims: that homosexuality is naturally immoral, that gay parents would corrupt children, that homosexual persons were perverts, etc.  And although he used pedophilia in a slippery-slope context, he did not directly compare gay men or women to pedophiles.  He even acknowledged that such was not his argument.  That this wasn’t about disrespecting individual persons, or arguing from a place of religious superiority.  He also did not make the Catholic argument about the natural purpose of life being reproduction and homosexual relationships being incompatible to the design of the Author of life (at least, he tried not to make it in those terms).  Both of those arguments would have been defensible intellectually (even if incompatible with separation of church and state).

Instead, he tried to make a utilitarian argument that I find wholly unconvincing and lacking in analytic rigor.  And that might be the most disappointing element of this whole fiasco.



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