October 14, 2019

The Supreme Court and gay marriage: no compelling secular reason to deny it

After taking the time to digest countless editorials, blog posts, and articles on the recent gay marriage cases argued at the Supreme Court, I remain convinced that there are valid religious reasons for opposing gay marriage, but no secular ones. While religious people should certainly be free to vote according to their deeply-held convictions, most anti-gay marriage arguments don’t adequately address the one principle that gay marriage advocates often seek to avoid when discussing marriage: its central role in the bearing and rearing of children.

The overwhelming majority of male-female married couples – I’ve seen figures as high as 80% — raise children at some point during their relationship. Attempts to deny this come across as rather silly. Yes, we all know elderly couples who marry, couples who choose not to have kids, couples who can’t have kids, etc. However, this doesn’t change the basic fact that the reason secular governments accord marriage pride of place in the hierarchy of relationships is because it is the best way we’ve found to provide stable relationships for the rearing of children.

Not only do I recognize the state’s interest in promoting marriage, but I also believe that a father-mother combination is the best one for children. That said, when it comes to kids we can’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. While I don’t think that Justice Kennedy was terribly eloquent when raising the issue of children of gays during oral arguments, he brought up a point that I have not seen successfully rebutted with secular arguments: Given that gay parents are raising tens of thousands of children nationwide, is it better for those kids for their parents to be legally bound to each other and legally responsible for the raising of their kids, or for the parents to simply shack up because they’re not allowed to marry? It’s very difficult to argue that it’s better for kids for their straight parents to be legally bound together, while kids of gay parents would be better off if their parents simply live together. In addition, dedicated stepparents and adoptive parents are proof positive that one does not have to be a blood relative of a child in order to love and raise it.

While certain sexual acts are condemned in the Bible, both modern American society and the Supreme Court are of the opinion that the government should stay out of the bedrooms of consenting adults. Moreover, gays are now pretty much fully integrated into society, including the military. In light of this, it becomes an increasingly untenable secular position to say that millions of people and their children should be denied the benefits of a privilege granted to other people in society solely because of their sexual orientation.

Whichever way the Supreme Court rules, I do hope it establishes a national standard for marriage. I’m usually in favor of states’ rights on most issues, but I do think that a national standard is needed here. It seems needlessly confusing and inconsistent for a couple to be married in one state and then lose their status as a legal couple when they cross a state line. Ditto for divorces of married gay couples if they happen to live in a state that doesn’t recognize their relationship. Until recently, marriage in our 50 states was always between men and women. Minimum ages and requirements for marriage may have differed from state to state, but the basic male-female dynamic was the same until Massachusetts legalized gay marriage nine years ago. I think that it should stay that way (again, for religious reasons.) However, if the justices want that arrangement to change, they should issue broad rulings that affect all 50 states. If you’re an adult of legal age, whether you’re married in America shouldn’t depend on where you happen to be living.

How to vote on gay marriage in the privacy of a voting booth is abundantly clear to me as a religious Mormon. However, if I were a judge ruling on the issue, I would be hard pressed to craft a ruling that affirms traditional marriage with a compelling reason that goes beyond the “it’s always been this way” stock answer. Until recently, gay couples were not having and adopting thousands of children on the scale that we see today. Many of them are anxious to have their relationship legally recognized, and I’m fairly certain that they will eventually be granted their wish. Pace Justice Scalia, the secular question is not whether it is constitutional for states to continue their centuries-old promotion of traditional marriage, but whether a compelling argument that does not violate the 14th Amendment can be made for governments to continue to make a legal distinction between straight and gay relationships. Unless a judge wants to incorporate Scripture into his ruling, the Equal Protection Clause will likely trump Leviticus every time.