Of all the arguments against gay marriage, the religious liberties argument, the reductio absurdum argument, the better safe than sorry argument, and others, the one people have the most difficulty understanding, atleast from my experience in discussing it, is the cultural argument against gay marriage, yet it is one of the ones I find most persuasive. So here I try to give a better explanation of what I see as the cultural argument against gay marriage.
It starts with the assumption that laws shape peoples cultural mores and beliefs. It does not have to be consciously, many times it is subconsciously. Abortion is more acceptable, for example, because it is legal. Making it legal, to alot of people, gives it a stamp of approval, a cultural acceptance. The cultural argument states that if gay marriage is legalized, because gay unions are inherently unable to produce children, it will send a cultural signal that marriage and children are not tied together.
This is how Maggie Gallagher explains it:
The argument is that extending marriage to include same-sex couples would not just give rights to a small subset of the population, but would radically transform what marriage is. So long as only opposite-sex couples can marry, the thinking goes, marriage is linked to procreation; if same-sex couples can marry, too, then marriage is transformed into something else entirely. Adding same-sex marriage would ruin the old institution and create a new one, and the new institution would not longer retain a focus on having and raising children. Viewed in that light, same sex marriage is a threat to society: by redefining the institution, it will kill off its most important feature…
Sex makes babies. Society needs babies. Babies need fathers as well as mothers. That’s the heart of marriage as a universal human institution.
Please note: Procreation is not the definition of marriage. It is the reason for marriage’s existence as a public (and yes legal) institution. People who don’t have children can still really be married (just as people who aren’t married can and do have babies).
But if sex between men and women did not make babies, then marriage would not be a universal human institution, or a legal status in America.
In other words, people raised in a society where gay marriage is legal will view marriage differently than people raised in a society where gay marriage is banned. The former will see the link between marriage and procreation weak at best, whereas the latter will see a stronger connection between procreation and marriage (Btw, preliminary data suggests this is already happening, see here).
This is especially troubling when you consider what this cultural change would do to areas where marriage is already in a precarious position. Poor inner city neighborhoods, for example, will see a weakening of their already weak cultural mores regarding marriage and if there is one thing they need less of, it is that.
This is what Heather Mac Donald writing at the SecularRight blog referred to, though few understood her connection, when she blogged this:
The biggest social problem in the U.S. today is the crime and academic achievement gap between blacks and whites…One overpowering cause of black social failure is the breakdown of marriage in the black community. Nationally, the black illegitimacy rate is 71%; in some inner city areas, it is closer to 90%. When boys grow up without any expectation that they will have to marry the mother of their children, they fail to learn the most basic lesson of personal responsibility. A community without the marriage norm is teetering on the edge of civilizational collapse, if it has not already fallen into the abyss. Fatherless black boys, who themselves experience no pressure to become marriageable mates as they grow up, end up joining gangs, dropping out of school, and embracing a “street” lifestyle in the absence of any male authority in the home.
If the black illegitimacy rate were not nearly three times the rate of whites’, I would have few qualms about gay marriage. Or if someone can guarantee that widespread gay marriage would not further erode the expectation among blacks that marriage is the proper context for raising children, I would also not worry. But no one can make that guarantee.
In other words, gay marriage is a social experiment with an institution that has been around in every culture at almost every time period for as long as recorded history can go back, where the costs of the social experiment are borne mostly by those at the bottom of the economic ladder. This helps explain why so many of the black community, especially the inner city black community(and minority community in general), is adamantly opposed to gay marriage – gay marriage primarily hurts them!
I grant that this argument is not powerful enough to ban gay marriage – it’s ultimately a cost/benefit analysis. There may very well be scenarios where gay marriage, seen as a right issue, may outweigh the costs of further marriage breakdown in the inner cities of the United States. My point here is not to give the complete argument against gay marriage, only to show that there are trade-offs involved. Very real and important ones.