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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Point/ CounterPoint: Same Sex Relationships

Category: Society
Posted: 06/03/05 15:51

by Susan Estill and Dave Mindeman

Below you will see a reprint of a column from Katherine Kersten (her words are in Bold), printed in the Star Tribune on Thursday, June 2nd. Ms. Kersten is a prominent conservative voice and will be doing regular columns at the Star Tribune. Her topic here is Same-Sex Relationships and she "enlightens" us with the standard conservative line on this matter. The point by point responses (our responses are in italics) are from Susan Estill and I (mnpACT! members). Our purpose here, is to simply voice another opinion. We have reprinted her column in its entirety so that the full impact of what she says can be discussed. That also means it may get a little long but this is an important issue and should be fully addressed.

We encourage anyone reading this to add their own ideas and thoughts on the subject. By responding in the comment section, your voice will be added to the blog.

Heterosexual Marriage: A Universal Institution

DFLers at the Legislature want us all to take a siesta on the proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Once again this year, the amendment -- which would prevent judges from redefining marriage in Minnesota -- passed the House but received no vote in the DFL-controlled Senate.

The common conservative language always wants people to believe that judges can "redefine" marriage by a court ruling. The reality is that judges can only interpret existing law. Judges do not make rulings as "pro-gay". They base their decisions on a constitutional principle--equal protection. American citizens are entitled to basic rights. To make sure those rights are applied equally to everyone without exception is the role of the courts. Conservatives fear rulings by judges because they already know the answer. Denying same-sex couples access to the rights and privileges afforded to married couples is simple discrimination.

Minnesotans' opinions on gay marriage have shifted over the past year, but not in the direction that its supporters might wish. In May, a Star Tribune poll found that 52 percent of adults oppose gay legal unions, while 38 percent favor them, an increase in opposition of 10 percentage points in the past year. Across the nation, the trend has been the same.

Equal protection can never be subject to opinion polls. The fact that a minority group needs constitutional protection to gain access to their rights and privileges indicates, by definition, that they are in danger of majority suppression. If opinion polls are the only means by which we grant rights of equal protection then we would still be waiting for equal rights for women and racial minorities. Additionally, money can buy majority opinion. Progressive voices need to be more vocal and engage this one-sided rhetoric.

Nevertheless, supporters of same-sex marriage seem to believe they're on the right side of history. They view the issue through the prism of civil rights, as the 2005 equivalent of getting black Americans out of the back of the bus.

Yes, we absolutely do view this as being on the right side of history. It is disappointing and puzzling to see some of the black churches supporting this discriminatory legislation. During the civil rights movement the "mixing of the races" was viewed as against God's law in many churches. Pastors no longer preach anti bi-racial marriage messages from the pulpit. It is very disappointing that Black Americans refuse to correlate today's problems of gays and lesbians with their own past. The right for two people to marry is a civil right, plain and simple.

Same-sex-marriage proponents employ a "commitment" definition of marriage, which sees marriage merely as society's way of giving its stamp of approval to an intimate, lasting relationship between two individuals. If this is all marriage is about, giving gays and lesbians the right to marry each other is merely extending to homosexuals a right that heterosexuals already have. It's a simple matter of justice. People who hold the commitment definition of marriage see themselves as an enlightened vanguard and reason that other folks will eventually come to accept same-sex marriage, just as they came to see the injustice of racial discrimination. But most Minnesotans don't see the marriage debate as a replay of Selma, Ala., in 1965. They understand the nature and purpose of marriage very differently than same-sex-marriage advocates do. Marriage -- the union of one man and one woman -- is about much more than individual rights, with only the happiness of two individuals at stake. It's a universal, cross-cultural social institution that is critical to the common good.

"Simply a matter of justice" is EXACTLY what this is. However, don't we as a society want to encourage commitment and monogamy? An intimate, loving, lasting, relationship between two individuals is a perfect definition for any marriage. If only our young people were given more examples of intimate, loving, lasting relationships among BOTH hetrosexual and homosexual marriages, we'd be a more solid society. Infidelity, promiscuity, and abuse within marriages is what is most damaging to the social institution of marriage. It is not WHO is in the marriage that is critical, it is HOW those in the marriage conduct their relationship that is important to the future of the institution of marriage in our society. If future generations see marriage as hypocritical and irrelevant, then marriage will not continue to thrive as a cultural institution.

Why does marriage exist? Because sex between men and women makes babies: the next generation. Getting men and women to stay together to raise these children is a tricky business, but the long-term survival of society depends on it.

Sex between men and women for the purpose of making babies does not depend on marriage. Infertility and the adoption option have made it possible for many couples to be parents. Babies are conceived out of wedlock all the time--which sparks a whole different debate! Couples bear children in wedlock and then discard the marriage relationship when the going gets tough far too often. With 50% divorce rates and complicated family units of 2 and 3 marriages, one has to wonder how same-sex unions can be any more complicated. If tolerance for love and committment between any two people is allowed to flourish, society gains much more than broken homes can accomplish.

Men and women tend to complement each other in vital ways. Both common sense and long tradition tell us that marriage is the best way of binding fathers to the mothers of their children, for the benefit of all. Social science bears out common sense here. Kids with a married mom and dad have the best chance of flourishing on every conceivable measure, from avoiding juvenile delinquency and out-of-wedlock births to forming successful marriages themselves.

There is simply no statistical social science data that supports this assertion. It has not been shown that children raised in loving, same-sex households have any less rate of life success than children raised in homes with one mom and one dad. To make this assertion is to be printing falsehoods.

Some advocates of same-sex marriage insist that family structure isn't important. So long as a child has support from two loving adults, it doesn't matter if they're a mom and a dad or two moms. Tell that to Star Parker, a black social commentator with a special interest in our ravaged inner cities, where traditional marriage has broken down. "Most children in the inner city," she says, "have two loving adults: a mom and a grandmother. Two loving adults aren't enough. Kids need a mom and a dad."

The breakdown of families among inner city black families, has little to do with marriage. It has much to do with our societies' inability and/or unwillingness to face and solve the issue of poverty of the inner-city working poor.

But how will Tom and Ed's marriage hurt Sue and Bill's? Obviously, I won't divorce my husband if same-sex marriage becomes legal. But a radical redefinition of marriage -- recasting it as a matter of "love between individuals" rather than the social institution that preserves the nuclear family -- will change what's been called our "marriage culture," with major consequences for our children and grandchildren. Society has encouraged marriage with norms and reinforcements because it's hard to do the things that men and women need to do to maintain strong, stable families. It's tough to stay faithful to a spouse, to stick together through the ups and downs of child-rearing. Married couples are much more likely to do these things if they know that society expects them, and if they see that it values their sacrifices and rewards them with unique benefits and reinforcements.

There is simply no data that supports any of these purported consequences for our children and grandchildren. There is no data that shows that children raised by same-sex couples in a committed, loving, monogamous relationship fare worse in life than those raised in "traditional marriages". All committed couples could do all of those things if society treated these committed relationships in the same non-discriminatory way. If you think it's tough for "traditional" spouses to stick together in a relationship, just think how hard it must be for all the same-sex couples who have to do it all while fighting ridicule, discrimination, and without the same legal benefits that couples in hetrosexual marriages take for granted.

If we adopt same-sex marriage, we'll be sending our children the message that "family structure doesn't matter" -- that kids can do without moms or dads. Instead of encouraging traditional marriage, we'll be offering them a smorgasbord of "life-style options," and telling them their choices are merely a matter of personal taste. Here's the message that will be reinforced in our schools, on television and in the movies: Society has no special stake in any family form. Do just as you please. And if society doesn't care what arrangements people choose, why should they strive to stay faithful to a spouse? Why should they get married at all? It's much easier not to tie yourself down. If same-sex marriage prevails, I suspect we'll see both a decline in marriage and an upsurge in out-of-wedlock births, as Scandinavia has.

If we adopt same-sex marriage we will be sending the message that loving, committed, monogamous relationships between two people matter. There are already defined social limits on the arrangements marriage can take. We certainly don't condone incest, spousal abuse, bigamy, or adults marrying minors. Scandanavia's decline in marriage is more a reflection of disdain for the legality of the entire marriage contract then about who the marriage encompasses. Marriage will continue as long as people see value in it. Do committed, loving, monogomous relationships sanctioned by marriage help society? Again, it is not WHO is in the marriage, it is HOW the marriage is conducted that will determine its relevance for future generations.

Here's what same-sex-marriage supporters should understand: Ordinary Minnesotans don't oppose same-sex marriage because they oppose civil rights. They don't think that believing children need both a mom and a dad puts them in the same category with people who believe the races should have separate bathrooms.

Ordinary Minnesotans oppose same-sex marriage because their government tells them to, their churches tell them to, and their own inability to understand or accept homosexuality tells them to. It is not innate bigotry; just a bombardment of ideologue rhetoric and bad theology. Ordinary Minnesotans who have family members or friends who are gay or lesbian understand this because they have lived it. And in addition, ordinary Minnesotans ARE members of the GLBT community. They participate in society no differently than anyone else. Knowledge is power and to know someone who is different from you is a powerful method of true understanding. And by the way, WWJD?

The agenda of traditional-marriage proponents is not negative -- fear or hatred of homosexuals. It's positive -- to protect and preserve marriage as the universal, socially supported institution that keeps mothers and fathers together to care for children. Minnesotans believe that gays and lesbians have a right to live as they please. But they don't believe that gays and lesbians have the right to redefine the institution of marriage for everyone else.

The traditional-marriage proponents do not intend to send a negative message. But its end result is still just that. Minnesotans may believe that gays and lesbians have a right to live as they please, but obstacles are placed in their path. No one is redefining marriage -- a man and a woman can continue to get married. Married couples are still encouraged to stay together and take care of their children. As a society we have a simple choice. We can give everyone the same ability to live their lives without government interference or discrimination of their basic rights, or we can take rights away from a minority who didn't ask to be singled out. The institution of marriage needs fixing, yes! But not by placing discriminatory limits on its participants!

Response to a column in the Star Tribune. The author of the original editorial is:

Katherine Kersten at kkersten@startribune.com.
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