Sexuality and Gender

When the Bride Is a Groom

Author Greg Koukl Published on 03/01/1999

Same-sex marriage is not about tolerance, freedom, or justice.  It’s about something else.

More and more, courts are considering the turbulent topic of same-sex marriage.  The fact that courts would consider such an issue shows how successful “homosexual rights” activists have been.

For many years homosexuals simply wanted the government out of their bedrooms.  They wanted freedom to do as they pleased in the privacy of their own homes.  With the exception of a few archaic, unenforced laws, homosexuals can now live without legal interference.  As one writer put it, the closet door is wide open.  Homosexual characters take the lead in TV sitcoms.  They’ve been elected to Congress and sit on the President’s cabinet.

But liberty and influence have not been enough.  Homosexuals are after bigger game.  This debate is not about hate versus tolerance.  It’s not about justice.  It’s not even about the liberty to make life-long unions.  It’s about something else.  Homosexuals want the courts to give them by force what the public would not voluntarily cede:  respect and honor.

Malice, Tolerance, and Approval

The goal is to remove any hint of social stigma attached to homosexuality.  One way to accomplish that is to depict all moral concern about the issue as malice.  If you think the behavior is wrong, then you’re guilty of spreading hatred.

News accounts speak of “hostility against gay people,” “mean-spirited efforts,” and “hate mongers.”  Activist David Mixner calls detractors “demagogues” and “morals police, who are determined to impose their values on our lives.”[1]

Malcolm Boyd, a homosexual Episcopal priest, is even more colorful.  He depicts those who oppose same-sex marriage as “religious inquisitors who quote Scripture even while they light the ’faggots’ to burn, turn the screw of the rack to draw more blood and screams, and hammer nails into countless bodies on numberless crosses in order to murder the human spirit.”[2]

Yet most who think homosexual behavior is immoral and destructive are civilized people who bear no ill-will against homosexuals personally.  They are willing to tolerate homosexuality, in the classical sense of tolerance. 

The concept of tolerance is reserved for behavior or ideas one thinks are either incorrect or immoral.  Do you tolerate homosexuality?  If so, then you must think homosexuality is morally questionable.  If you think it’s morally benign, then you don’t tolerate it.  You agree with it.  We don’t “tolerate” people who share our views.  They’re on our side. 

This essential element of tolerance--disagreement--has been completely lost in the modern distortion of the concept.  Nowadays, if you think someone is wrong, you’re called intolerant. 

No, this controversy is not about tolerance in any meaningful sense of the term. 

Homosexuals Can Already “Marry”

The same-sex marriage debate is also not about liberty to establish loving, long-term commitments.  In fact, it’s done all the time.

In San Francisco, 163 homosexual couples who registered as domestic partners at City Hall, celebrated with a mass “wedding service,” replete with flowers and gowns, in some cases.

The L.A. Times reports that “gay unions or commitment ceremonies, once an underground ritual, have blossomed in the past few years, especially in Los Angeles and New York, with a whole industry--from caterers to travel agents--rising to help out.”[3]  Mainline publishers offer books, like HarperCollins’ The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Weddings, to help plan the festivities.

Author and activist David Mixner tacitly admits that no law prevents such unions:

“As for Patrick and me, we are going to get married.  We both are blessed because our families and many or our straight friends plan to participate in the ceremony and celebrate with us.  I guess we could wait until everyone approves and the laws of the land say we can legally get married, but then I guess Rosa Parks could have waited until the laws of Alabama said she could ride in the front of the bus.  She refused to give up her dignity in the face of unjust laws--and so do Patrick and I.[4]

Mixner candidly points out that nothing stops him from such a commitment.  Any homosexual who wants to pledge to a life-long, monogamous union may do so. 

The fact is, homosexuality is already tolerated in this country.  Homosexuals are allowed to pursue their “lifestyles” without reprisal for their conduct, even to the point of forming committed, monogamous unions.[5]  Homosexuals want something more than tolerance.  Their demand is often couched in rights language.

Rights and Freedom

Mixner writes in Time, “The effort to ban same-sex marriage would deny us the basic rights accorded to our neighbors and friends.”  Later he adds, “Although I am sad that people are so frightened of Patrick’s and my love, I refuse to allow anyone’s discomfort to be the reason why we should be less free than other Americans” [emphasis added]. [6]

The claim that homosexuals don’t have the same rights as others is misleading.  Survey the Bill of Rights or any legislation that proceeds from it.  Nowhere are homosexuals excluded as beneficiaries of any right that others enjoy. 

Strictly speaking, even the right to marry is shared equally with homosexuals.  Any homosexual has the same right to an officially sanctioned marriage to an eligible member of the opposite sex of his choosing as I do.

“But I’m not interested in the opposite sex,” he responds.  “I want to marry who I want.”  Yet no citizen has the right to marry whomever he wants.  I cannot marry my daughter nor my neighbor’s wife.  If I loved two women, I couldn’t marry them both. 

The fact is, homosexuals have the same freedoms as others, but for personal reasons most don’t choose to exercise them (I say “most” because some homosexuals do exercise their right to heterosexual marriage). 

Homosexuals want an additional freedom no one else now has.  They want the legal freedom to redefine marriage to fit their own preference.

What Is Marriage?

Is the definition of marriage arbitrary, or is it fixed, grounded by some deep moral logic?  If the boundaries of the institution of family are infinitely flexible, then any definition that meets with general approval is acceptable. 

This view provides no refuge for same-sex marriage advocates, though.  On what grounds do they demand a revision?  If marriage is merely a socially constructed institution, then society may reconstruct its definition, but it has no obligation to do so.  Instead, it may continue to “arbitrarily” conclude that homosexual marriage is not a real marriage. 

Attempting to circumvent this convention with a moral appeal does no good either.  Columnist Charles Krauthammer makes the point when he asks if homosexual marriage is allowed, why not polygamy or incest (or any number of permutations, I might add)? 

“The problem here is not the slippery slope.  It is not that if society allows gay marriage, society will then allow polygamy or incest.  It won’t.  The people won’t allow polygamy or incest.  Even the gay-marriage advocates won’t allow it. 

The point is why they won’t allow it.  They won’t allow it because they think polygamy and incest wrong or unnatural or perhaps harmful.  At bottom, because they find these practices psychologically or morally abhorrent, certainly undeserving of society’s blessing.  Well, that is how most Americans feel about homosexual marriage [emphasis in the original]. [7]

Appeal to the arbitrary nature of marriage is self-defeating.  If, however, marriage is not arbitrary but fixed, tied to something beyond mere preference or opinion, there’s another obstacle.  It’s not clear, in that case, that the notion of homosexual marriage is even intelligible.

You Can’t Marry Your Canary

Let me put this question to you.  Should the government allow me to marry my canary?  Ought the courts force the public to sanction nuptials between me and my Macintosh?  The idea is bizarre, of course, but what makes it bizarre?  The answer is:  Marriage is not the kind of thing one has with animals or machines.

Marriage is something in particular.  We’ve always known that.  In Jones v. Hallahan, the U.S. Supreme Court said, “Marriage was a custom long before the state commenced to issue licenses for that purpose.  In all cases, marriage has always been considered as the union of a man and a woman, and we have been presented with no authority to the contrary.”

Black’s Law Dictionary concurs:  “Marriage is defined as the civil status, condition, or relation of one man and one woman united in law for life for the discharge to each other and the community of duties legally incumbent upon those whose association is founded on the distinction of sex.” 

Webster also agrees:

“Marriage is a state of being married or being united to a person or persons of the opposite sex as husband and wife.  Also the mutual relation of husband and wife abstractly, the institution whereby men and women are joined in a special kind of social, legal dependence for the purpose of founding and maintaining a family.”

Marriage, by definition, involves not men and machines or people and their pets, but one man and one woman.  Legally, culturally, or linguistically there is no other kind of marriage. 

Crying “discrimination” misses the point.  Of course it’s discriminatory, in the same way as denying matrimony to a man and his canary would be.  It discriminates between a proper application of an institution and an improper one.  This is not an arbitrary discrimination, but one based on the essential nature of a vital social unit--the family.

Homosexual marriage is a nonsense concept.  Some men can eat a light bulb, but that doesn’t make glass and metal food.

Natural Law

The definition of marriage is deeply grounded in natural law.  Earlier, David Mixner likened the debate about same-sex marriage to Rosa Park’s struggle for dignity as a Black human being.  The two are kin, but not in the way Mixner imagines.

Harry Jaffa, Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Natural Law, observes:

“Nature and reason tell us that a Negro is a human being, and is not to be treated like a horse or an ox or a dog, just as they tell us that a Jew is a human being, and is not to be treated as a plague-bearing bacillus.  But with the very same voice, nature and reason tell us that a man is not a woman, and that sexual friendship is properly between members of opposite sexes, not the same sex.[8]

Jaffa’s observation catches homosexual rights advocates on the horns of a dilemma.  “There is no argument by which one can condemn slavery,” he says, “that does not at the same time condemn homosexuality.  [One must] abandon the argument against slavery or the argument for homosexuality” [emphasis in the original]. [9]

Jaffa’s approach is not based on whim, convention, or theological authority.  He appeals to an obvious, self-evident order of nature--natural law--known not by divine revelation, but by reason and conscience.  This natural law informs the convention.  This is why only one concept of marriage has prevailed, universally, since time began.

Treating Equals Equally

Not all agree.  To limit marriage to members of the opposite sex is harmfully prejudicial.  One Hawaii Court ruled it was gender discrimination in violation of that state’s equal protection clause.  It’s simple injustice. 

But is it?  The basic rule of justice is that equals should be treated equally.  To claim injustice, then, is to claim equality of the parties concerned.  The debate about same-sex marriage is not about whether homosexuals, as human beings, are equal with other human beings, as was the case with Rosa Parks.  It’s about whether homosexuality is equal with heterosexuality, and therefore should receive equal legal status and equal social respect. 

It should only be given equal status if it is, in fact, equal.  This is the heart of the issue:  the equality of homosexual relationships with heterosexual relationships. 

Legal marriage does not give any liberties to a couple they could not have easily exercised without it.  Today, “living together” is as common as matrimony, maybe more so.  Couples routinely set up housekeeping, share income and expenses, share sexual favors, and even raise children, all without marriage. 

What such couples don’t enjoy is respect.  Marriage is society’s way of welcoming a couple into the community, declaring the union honorable and legitimate.  It’s the community’s official stamp of support and approval.

Legalizing homosexual marriage will not give homosexuals a new liberty.  It will give them a new social standing. 

David Link, contributor to Beyond Queer:  Challenging Gay Left Orthodoxy, laments “how hard it is for a same-sex couple to achieve the modest respectability married heterosexual couples take for granted” [emphasis added]. [10]

The courts and legislatures are being pressed into service for one purpose:  to force society, through the institution of legal marriage, to accord the same respect and acceptance to homosexual unions that heterosexual unions now enjoy.  It would force the rest of us to treat as equal those relationships we know aren’t equal.

David Mixner’s article subtitle--“I have a right to marry, even if others disapprove”--turns out to be an oxymoron.  It amounts to “I have a right to your approval, even if you don’t approve.”

When the dust settles, this whole enterprise certainly is about one group forcing it’s morality on another.  In this case, though, homosexuals are not the offended, but the offenders.

For more, read Solid Ground “Same-sex Marriage: Challenges and Responses”


[1]David Mixner, “No One Has to Send a Gift,” Time, 12/16/96, 45.

[2]Larry Stammer, “Episcopalians Focus on Church Inclusion of Gays, Lesbians,” L.A. Times, 4/12/97, B-4.

[3]Michael Quintanilla and Connie Koenenn, “Legalities Aside, Gays Still Stand on Ceremony,” L.A. Times, 12/6/96, E-1.

[4]Mixner, ibid.

[5]Of course, one can always cite exceptions, but the same could be said for any group.  Homosexuals may not be respected or admired--something classical tolerance does not require--but they have the liberty to live as they choose.

[6]Mixner, ibid.

[7]Charles Krauthammer, “When John and Jim Say, ’I Do,’” Time, 7/22/96, 76.

[8]Harry Jaffa, Homosexuality and the Natural Law (Claremont, CA:  The Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, 1990), 19.

[9]Jaffa, 29.

[10]David Link, “Gay Rights Not Just for Activists Anymore,” L.A. Times, 1/21/99