Proponents of same-sex marriage typically ask a rhetorical question that serves as a simple leftist argument: “Why should people of the same sex who love each other be banned from getting married?” Conservatives at times have struggled to find a simple and cogent answer. But the true answer is simple: “Society cannot afford the culture war that would come with a new same-sex marriage entitlement.”
It is time for conservatives to expose the four underlying false assumptions buried in the leftist argument. The first false assumption is that the institution of marriage is designed for the benefit of adults rather than children and society. The second is that forcing the government to legally recognize same-sex marriage as a public good whose partners are entitled to benefits constitutes an exercise in liberty rather than a claim of entitlement. The third is that the government has the theological expertise necessary to certify who loves each other and who does not. The fourth is that government recognition of same-sex marriage would end the dispute.
Men and women have a psychological, spiritual and biological complementarity called conjugality. This conjugality can bear fruit at conception in the life of a baby and at the raising of a child in the natural and ideal launching pad for the child’s pursuit of happiness. The legal recognition of conjugal or traditional marriage (between a man and a woman) seeks to protect the likelihood that a child will be raised by his or her biological parents. In other words, conjugal marriage is designed for the benefit of children, not the benefit of adults.
Certainly, single parents make heroic efforts to raise their children and should be commended for their work. Many children lose their parents because of tragedies and end up being adopted by others. Other conjugal marriage partners for reasons of choice or for medical reasons never have children. All of this is inevitable in a free society. But none of it justifies the state creation of a same-sex-marriage institution that can never under any circumstances give children the intended benefit of being raised by a mother and a father.
Unlike conjugal marriage, which is designed to protect the rights of children, provide stability for society and propagate the future of the nation, the same-sex marriage the left wants the government to recognize would exist for the sake of the adults, an alleged issue of liberty. However, liberty constitutes government staying uninvolved and allowing people to pursue their own desires. In same-sex marriage, the government proactively creates the institution of same-sex marriage, recognizes it as a public good and confers legal benefits upon it. This is a proactive government entitlement, not a nongovernmental exercise of liberty.
Although the government has the authority and even the duty to proactively protect the stability of society and children’s rights as best it can by recognizing conjugal marriage as a voluntary institution that does not infringe on the liberty of adults, the government does not have the expertise necessary to certify that two people truly love each other. If, for example, two friends or two brothers have genuine nonsexual affection, the government has no mechanism to analyze their love to determine whether they have a genuine friendship or familial affection constituting a public good worthy of entitlement benefits. The analysis of the nature of genuine love is a theological endeavor that should be left to the nation’s churches.
More than 80 percent of Americans belong to faith traditions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, whose theology is not based on public opinion polls but instead is rooted in understanding love through understanding the unchanging God, an endeavor far outside the scope of government. The overwhelming theological consensus of these faiths is that same-sex relations are morally wrong. The vast majority of Americans entrust their consciences to faith traditions that teach that God designed sex to be an expression of the unconditional love of one man and one woman.
Governmental recognition of same-sex marriage puts government in the position of overbearing theological opposition to the very faith traditions that served as the inspiration for the founding principle that “all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Launching such a culture war infringes on the consciences of all who adhere to mainstream moral precepts. The government would attempt to compel those Americans to grant moral acceptance to same-sex relations by giving same-sex couples the benefits of marriage - from adoption to employee benefits to marriage licenses. Those unwilling to abandon their beliefs would become legally disqualified from certain jobs or fined, effectively designating heartfelt moral conviction a legal liability rather than a public good. Catholic Charities of Boston has been told to choose between its conscience and its adoption ministry. Rose Marie Belforti, a New York town clerk, has been told to choose between her conscience and her job. Society simply can’t afford to have the government launch that kind of culture war.
Andresen Blom is executive director of American Principles Project, where James Bell is a policy adviser.