Posts Tagged ‘Same-sex marriage’

Ten Red Flags on the Mark Regnerus Study

September 7, 2012

by Frank Lozera and Doughlas Remy

Mark Regnerus, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas, Austin

In June of this year, the journal Social Science Research (henceforth: SSR) published a study by associate professor of sociology Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas. The study, titled “How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships?,” purports to show that the children raised by same-sex couples have poorer outcomes than those raised by mixed-orientation parents. The study has been widely denounced for conflicts of interest in the review process and for its flawed methodology. Among professional organizations calling for its recall are the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychoanalytic Association. The American Sociological is poised to join them. Additionally, over 200 Ph.D.s and M.D.s signed a letter to the SSR complaining about the study.

The study has been widely touted by conservative media in an apparent attempt to garner support for anti-same-sex-marriage initiatives appearing on fall ballots. Appearing as it did in June, just as the 2012 presidential campaigns were ramping up, it has had a huge impact on the national debate about same-sex marriage.

Amy Davidson, writing for The New Yorker, has this to say about the Regnerus study:

Attacking the methodology of a study whose conclusions you don’t like can be a lazy default reaction. But, in this case, the way it was conducted is so breathtakingly sloppy that it is useful only as an illustration of how you can play fast and loose with statistics.

The study’s methodological problems are indeed so glaring that they should have been red-flagged by qualified peer-reviewers. Instead, an internal SSR audit revealed a shoddy review process and egregious conflicts of interest at every step leading to the study’s publication.

Author Scott Rose of The New Civil Rights Movement has produced a prodigious amount of research on the Regnerus study and is my source for most of what follows. My account is an effort to organize the available information into a list of “red-flags” grouped under two headings: (1) Conflicts of Interest and (2) Methodological Flaws.

Conflicts of Interest

Red Flag #1: Robert P. George commissioned Mark Regnerus to conduct the study, which was to determine whether gay or lesbian parenting had any adverse effects on children. Regnerus received $785,000, which he says came “in part” from the Witherspoon Institute’s Family, Marriage, and Democracy program and from the Bradley Foundation. Regnerus reveals neither the amounts contributed by these organizations nor the source of any additional funding.

Robert P. George, author of The Manhattan Declaration and founder of the National Organization for Marriage

Red flag #2: Robert P. George (see Red Flag #1) is a senior fellow of the Witherspoon Institute and a board member of the Bradley Foundation. He is also founder of the National Organization for Marriage (this country’s largest advocacy group opposed to same-sex marriage), board member of the Family Research Council (certified as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center), and author of the Manhattan Declaration, a theoconservative document advocating civil disobedient resistance to any legislation promoting same-sex marriage.

Red flag #3: W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the Witherspoon program that provided funding for the Regnerus study, is among Mark Regnerus’s long-time personal friends and professional associates.

Red flag #4: Wilcox is also on the editorial board of SSR, which published the Regnerus study.

Red flag #5: SSR’s editorial board decided to publish the Regnerus study on a “rush schedule” (41 days from submission, compared to months for most publications). Why the rush? The most likely explanation is that the 2012 election season was ramping up and various state initiatives regarding same-sex marriage were to be on the ballots. An audit of the study supports this conclusion (see below).

In prioritizing this study, the journal violated its own peer review policy and settled for peer reviewers who possessed no expertise in same-sex parenting or LGBT issues. Three of them were known to be antipathetic toward LGBT causes, including same-sex marriage. SSR’s own auditor (Professor Darren P. Sherket, an SSR editorial board member) admitted that there was “an unseemly rush to publication … that was justified based on the attention that these studies would generate. The published [peer-review] responses were milquetoast critiques by scholars with ties to Regnerus and/or the Witherspoon Institute.”

W. Bradford Wilcox, editorial board member of Social Science Research and program director at the Witherspoon Institute

Red flag #6: Bradford Wilcox, program director at the Witherspoon Institute, member of the journal’s editorial board, personal friend of Regnerus, and paid Regnerus study consultant, was one of the peer reviewers for the study. This was an egregious violation of the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) Code of Ethics.

Red flag #7: According to Sherket, at least two of the peer reviewers had been paid consultants for the study design.

Red flag #8: Mark Regnerus violated the American Sociological Association’s Code of Ethics by recruiting Robert Oscar Lopez to write an essay—published on Witherspoon’s online publication Public Discourse-–drawing conclusions from the study. W. Bradford Wilcox is an editorial board member for that publication.

Methodological Flaws

Red flag #9: Regnerus did not control the variables in his test group (children of gay and lesbian parents) and his comparison group (children of heterosexual parents).

The alleged purpose of the study was to answer the question, “Do the children of gay and lesbian parents look comparable to those of their heterosexual counterparts?” Regnerus claims that his study proves a correlation between gay parenting and sub-standard child outcomes.

Regnerus should have eliminated any factors that might cloud the issue. If his comparison group contained only children of continuously married heterosexual parents, his test group should have contained only children of continuously “partnered” same-sex couples.

Instead, Regnerus selected children of continuously married parents for his comparison group, and children mainly from failed mixed-orientation marriages for his test group. This introduction of a third factor into the test group (but not into the comparison group) should have disqualified the study.

Because of this asymmetry, the study can only be said to show that children raised in broken homes do less well that those raised in intact homes. But, of course, this is not Regnerus’s own stated conclusion.

All respondents, who at the time of the study were adults between ages 18 and 39, were asked the following question:

From when you were born until age 18 (or until you left home to be on your own), did either of your parents ever have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?

If the answer was “yes,” the respondent was considered to have been the child of a gay or lesbian parent, whether or not the child had been raised by a same-sex couple. The “romantic relationship” of the question could have been nothing more than an infatuation or a one-night stand. A child of Larry Craig could have qualified as a respondent, though Craig was never part of a same-sex couple.

In other words, the actual parenting of that child might have been done by an opposite-sex couple. Nevertheless, Regnerus places the child into the category of “children raised by gay or lesbian parents.”

Tom Bartlett, writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, says, “In reality, only two respondents lived with a lesbian couple for their entire childhoods, and most did not live with lesbian or gay parents for long periods, if at all.”

Of the 253 respondents in the test group, 42% reported living with a gay father and his partner for at least four months, but only two percent of those reported doing so for at least three years.

Red flag #10: All the respondents were born between 1971 and 1994, a period when same-sex marriage was illegal in the U.S., there were no domestic partnership laws, and millions of gays and lesbians were trying to cope with closet issues, many of them marrying (straight partners) in a desperate effort to assimilate. Not surprisingly, many of those marriages failed. Their children’s later behavior may have been a result of family upheaval.

Fallout

Shortly after the study’s publication, over 200 Ph.D.s and M.D.s signed a letter to SSR complaining about it. Their conclusion: “There are substantial concerns about the merits of this paper, and these concerns should have been identified through a thorough and rigorous peer review process.”

Darren Sherkat, editorial board member at Social Science Research and auditor of the Regnerus study

After receiving the above letter of complaint, James Wright, SSR’s editor-in-chief, assigned Darren Sherkat (SSR editorial board member) to perform an audit of the publication process. The audit, which has already been made public, will be published in SSR’s November issue.

In the audit, Sherkat found that the Regnerus study was not scientifically valid and that the peer review had failed because of “both ideology and inattention.” He wrote that the peer-review process “failed to identify significant, disqualifying problems.” [emphasis mine] He added that SSR’s owners were more interested in the “impact factor” than in publishing reliable research: “…rigorous independent evaluation [of the Regnerus study] would have made Social Science Research a less popular but better journal.”

In a subsequent e-mail to Scott Rose, Sherkat wrote: “How did this study get through peer review? The peers are right-wing Christianists!”

Elsewhere, Sherkat described the study as “bullshit.”

“There should be reflection about a conservative scholar garnering a very large grant from exceptionally conservative foundations,” Sherkat writes in the audit, “to make incendiary arguments about the worthiness of LGBT parents—and putting this out in time to politicize it before the 2012 United States presidential election.”

Conclusion

Regnerus’s study doesn’t document the failure of same-sex parenting. Instead, it shows the harmful effects of closeting and the devastations wrought upon children by social opprobrium. The overwhelming majority of the children in the test group were raised by mixed-orientation parents, not same-orientation ones.

A society that uses stigmatization and discrimination to force its same-sex-oriented young people into marriages with opposite-sex-oriented individuals should not be surprised when those marriage fall apart, damaging children in the process. If we are to learn anything from Regnerus’s study, it is that children benefit from being raised in stable households. Not only does same-sex marriage offer such stability; it also  helps to stabilize “straight” marriages by siphoning off closeted gays and lesbians who might otherwise stay in the straight-marriage pool.

What could be more sensible?

So You Wanna Protect and Defend Marriage? Here’s a REALLY GOOD Way!

January 12, 2012

I just read some amazing figures that confirm what I have suspected for a very long time.

First let’s talk about China. Then we’ll talk about the U.S.

An article in The Economist reports that as many as 90% of gay men in China are married to heterosexual women. The figure for lesbians married to straight men is likely to be roughly the same. The population of China is about 1.33 billion, and a significant number of those (perhaps 8% to 10%) are gay or lesbian. You can do the math, factoring out children and adolescents, and the results will show that tens of millions of gay or lesbian Chinese individuals are married to heterosexuals.

Liu Dalin, a sexologist now retired from the University of Shanghai, estimates the number of women married to gay men may be as high as 25 million. Double that and you’ll have the approximate number of homosexuals married to straight partners: 50 million.

Think about it. That’s roughly the combined populations of California and Illinois.

And it’s a staggering number of potentially loveless, childless, and even miserable marriages. A Beijing-based support group called Pink Space reports women entering into deep depression when they realize their husbands do not want to get close to them or touch them. The lack of intimacy almost always leads to low self-esteem, anger, and resentment on both sides. Some of these marriages end in divorce, but most do not.

What are we to make of this miserable state of affairs, and can anything be done to remedy it?

First of all, not even a Roman Catholic would dare describe the conditions of marriage in China as “healthy.” The divorce rate may be low, but the readings for domestic misery must be off the charts. These millions of “odd couples” produce far fewer children than straight couples, and what children they have grow up in dysfunctional homes without healthy role-modeling in matters of sex and love.

Second, we must look for the causes behind this massive “warping” of marriage in China. And they are obvious. Homosexuality is not socially acceptable in China, and so it is almost universally concealed. Then, there is enormous pressure from family and friends to marry and raise children.

Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has campaigned for same-sex marriage for years, but progress is understandably slow in an authoritarian culture like China’s. Mrs. Li believes her country will continue to lag behind every other country in the world on this issue.

Finally, before leaving China, let’s consider a really stretchy hypothetical: What if the taboos around homosexuality there were lifted over the course of a few decades as they have been in the U.S. and Europe? What if China were then to legalize same-sex marriage?

Wouldn’t the outcome be better for everyone involved? Courtship would be much more natural and spontaneous, and every person could choose a spouse from the appropriate pool of candidates—even if there were family pressures to marry certain individuals from within that pool. The chances for marital happiness would be greatly enhanced, and the children of these unions—whether natural or adopted—would be better off knowing that their parents were compatible in a most fundamental way. When parents are happy together, their children have much greater chances for happiness.

Now let’s turn to the U.S., where, I think we will all agree, the problem of sexual orientation mis-matching is not nearly so great as in China. According to The Economist, about 15-20% of gay men in America marry heterosexual women. This is a far cry from the 90% estimate for China.

And what might account for this lower figure? You guessed it: many more GLBTs are now out and proud. Many of them are in domestic partnerships or marriages.

Roughly 25-30 million Americans are gay or lesbian (in a population of 309 million). So, again factoring out children and adolescents, and recognizing that only about 50% of adults are married, we can get a very rough figure of about three million marriages in which only one spouse is heterosexual—not a small number, but much better than China’s 50 million.

Now, presumably, the outcomes for these mismatches are about the same as in China: depression, low-esteem, anger, resentment, childlessness (where children are wanted), poor role-modeling for children (where they are present), and divorce.

But the divorce rate in the U.S. is much higher than in China. Let’s say that half the American “mismatch” marriages end in divorce. That still leaves well over a million mismatched married couples. Meanwhile, the divorcés have wasted years of their lives, and their prospects for re-marriage may not be particularly good.

So, what are we to conclude from all this? Even if my calculations are way wrong (always a possibility), the following conclusions are inescapable:

  1. The institution of marriage, whether in China, the U.S., or any other country, will never be healthy as long as homosexuals are forced by social opprobrium to live closeted lives.
  2. Granting full and equal rights to gays and lesbians will clear the way for them to marry partners of their own orientation.
  3. Legalization of same-sex marriage will result in more marriages, less promiscuity, more loving commitment, and less loneliness and despair.
  4. Any efforts to reverse the trends or “roll back the clock” on LGBT rights in this country will bring us closer to a situation like China’s.
  5. Politicians, preachers, and pundits who sincerely want to “protect” and strengthen the institution of marriage can best do so by supporting efforts to legalize same-sex marriage.

The National Organization for Marriage’s Branding Problem

December 11, 2011

Maggie Gallagher, NOM Co-Founder

How very bizarre that the so-called National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has spun off a project called the “Marriage Anti-Defamation Alliance” when they can’t seem to find anyone who is defaming marriage. In fact, they can’t even find anyone who is defaming people who believe in marriage.

OK, OK, survivors of failed marriages sometimes bitterly disparage it. Perverse definitions abound. Quinn’s Devious Dictionary lists hundreds of them (e.g., “Marriage: the only cure for love,” and “Marriage: the only legal means of suppressing freedom of speech”). But no one is campaigning against marriage. No political action committees are lobbying to abolish it. Not a single one of the GOP 2012 presidential candidates has denounced it. Federal and state governments provide generous incentives for couples to marry.

Despite their name, NOM’s over-arching goal is to oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S. Their mission is about opposition, not support. Support could mean encouraging more people to marry (sensibly), or it could mean providing various kinds of material and educational support for married couples and their children. But the meaning of “marry” is now so contested that NOM is compelled to begin every public debate by reiterating that “marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Not so fast! Since the term “marriage” already includes the same-sex variety in five U.S. states and 10 countries, there are no longer any grounds for restricting the definition, as NOM would like to do. The horses are out of the barn. Whether NOM likes it or not, hundreds of thousands of marriages in this world are between same-sex partners. Universal acceptance of such marriages may still be far off, but the expanded definition of the term “marriage” is a fait accompli. Language changes—sometimes very quickly—and those who cling to out-dated definitions become, well, incomprehensible old fogies.

This is why the public isn’t “getting” NOM’s branding of itself and its anti-defamation alliance.

The National Organization “for” Marriage? Huh? Is someone against marriage?

The Marriage Anti-Defamation Alliance? Huh? Who’s defaming it?

Anyone interested in buying a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist?

Other organizations with “anti-defamation” in their names—the (Jewish) Anti-Defamation League and the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, aim to protect people from harassment, discrimination, defamation, and violence inspired by hatred toward their faith or ethnicity. NOM anti-defamation alliance aims to protect those who, for religious or whatever other reasons, advocate against gay marriage by employing language that could itself be considered defamatory. Confused yet?

No one should be harassed for their beliefs. But NOM’s branding doesn’t reflect what it is really up to. If it’s “marriage” that they want to promote and protect, then they will have common cause with same-sex couples who want the legal right to marry.

So move over and make room, NOM—we’re all in this together!

I said earlier that NOM couldn’t find anyone who was defaming either marriage or people who believed in marriage. I lied. Given the more inclusive definition of “marriage” that has already taken hold, NOM needs only to hold up a mirror to find its anti-marriage culprits.

For the reality is that NOM itself is anti-marriage. Not “anti” all marriage, of course. They oppose only one kind of marriage. But in so doing, they are attempting to bar untold thousands of loving and committed couples from becoming married. Do you know of any other organization that has such an “anti-marriage” agenda?

Let NOM rebrand itself. Let’s see some names that truly reflect their agenda. Below is a short list of suggestions. Please offer your own as well.

  • The National Organization Against Same-Sex Marriage (NOASM)
  • The National Organization for Opposite-Sex Marriage (NOOSM)
  • The National Organization for Keeping Certain People From Marrying (NOKCPFM)
  • The National Organization for the Restoration of Marriage As TV Depicted it Circa 1950. (NORMTVDC1950)
  • The National Organization for Marriage for Everyone But Queers (NOMEBQ)
  • The National Organization for Particular Religious—Mostly Catholic—Models of Marriage (NOPRMCMM)
  • The National Organization for the Protection of Defamation of Same-Sex Marriage (NOPDSSM)
  • The Same-Sex Marriage Defamation Coalition (SMDC)
  • The Coalition to Portray Straight Married Couples as Victims (CPSMCV)

OK, the acronyms are a bit unwieldy, but at least the names are descriptive. Additional suggestions are welcome.

While NOM is rebranding itself, supporters of same-sex marriage can start their own national organization. Let’s see … What could they call it?

How about, “The National Organization for Marriage?”

A Gay Catholic’s Imagined “Confession” to Archbishop Dolan

July 9, 2011

Micro-credit financier John Mattras shares his fantasy of a frank conversation with Archbishop Dolan during the confessional. The subject is same-sex marriage and gay parenting.

It’s Different This Time!

January 17, 2011

Maggie Gallagher’s Ideal Marriage (3)

August 24, 2010

Maggie Gallagher

My friend Dean Hansen shares his thoughts about the Gallagher/Boies debate:

Maggie says that marriage is “fundamentally an idea.” Well, the best ideas are fluid, pliant and flexible. They accommodate change and growth. The idea that marriage should always be between a man and a women is no longer sustainable. The change she rebels against doesn’t represent a new idea, but an enlargement of the earlier one, and a necessary enlargement that honors the same commitments, passion and dignity as the prevailing concept.

Her argument rests on the belief that there’s something special about marriage that justifies its unique status. And what is this difference that she lasers in on? You can plump up your tummy and bang out your own biological children. And by doing so, add an additional burden to an already overpopulated world whose resources cannot rationally sustain them. Or, you can honor an extension of the existing ideal by acknowledging gay marriage for its complementary and equally unique status: Men cannot make babies with other men and women cannot make babies with other women. But what both can do is express the benefits of filiation and nurture by absorbing what heterosexual marriage in its illusions of uniqueness recklessly throws away: wards of the state, orphans, abandoned and homeless children. Good parenting should not be held hostage by heterosexual arrangements. David Boies, to his credit, honed in on this point right away.

Since every gay child in the world, male and female, came into the world through the union of a heterosexual couple, the marital union itself is responsible for the very diversity which its advocates find some way to be offended by. Homosexual men and women are our children. Our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. In short, they are our family, and we should honor their happiness and fulfillment as we honor our own.

Maggie says that gay marriage represents the end of the idea that traditional marriage is an important and distinctive ideal for culture. And she’s right [about the importance of traditional marriage], if we want to go on having a future on this planet. She’s wrong to suggest that marriage can legally or morally continue to ignore the needs of people who have been excluded from its benefits and blessings without any rational or reasonable cause.

Maggie Gallagher apparently doesn’t have any argument against gays being happy so long as their desire for full enfranchisement doesn’t cause her any instinctive distress.

Maggie Gallagher’s Ideal Marriage

August 20, 2010

Maggie Gallagher, President of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM)

In trying to understand Hadley Arkes’ narrow view of the “telos” of marriage (“Judge Walker and the Language of the Law,” The Catholic Thing, August 17, 2010), I decided to listen to what Maggie Gallagher, President of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), had to say about it during a podcast debate on 1/15/10 with David Boies, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case. (You’ll find the debate on FORA-TV.) 

One of her main concerns was that legalized same-sex marriage (SSM) would lead to a devaluation of the ideal of marriage as being between a man and a woman for purposes of procreation and nurturance of the young—the ideal that Arkes also supports. If SSM were legalized throughout the country, she predicted, those who believe in the sanctity of the “traditional” model (or at least the recently traditional one) would face ostracism and be labeled “bigots.” Heterosexuals might shy away from commitment under such an oppressive regime, thus leading to a higher incidence of out-of-wedlock births, single parenting, and all the other ills of a society that does not value marriage. 

This is a very fanciful scenario. There is no evidence that anything like this has occurred in countries where SSM has been legalized. While it is true that heterosexual marriage is in decline in some of these countries, there is no evidence that the declines were caused by SSM. Declines have also occurred in countries that do not allow SSM. Marriage as an institution can only be made more robust by allowing more couples to make solemn lifelong commitments to each other. 

Maggie says she has never heard a gay man or lesbian admit that marriage between one man and one woman for the purpose of procreation and nurturance of children is “the ideal.” This may be because the word “ideal” refers to something that everyone should strive to achieve. Is she suggesting that gay men should strive to marry women and raise families? The word “ideal” is much too loaded to be used in this discussion until we acknowledge that different ideals may be appropriate for different groups or individuals. An advanced degree might be an appropriate ideal for those who are academically inclined, but it is not for everyone. Maybe Maggie’s marriage is an ideal for heterosexuals, but it cannot, even logically, be one for homosexuals. 

If there is a marriage “ideal” for homosexuals, it is a loving commitment between two adult individuals who will in some cases enlarge the circle of their love and commitment to include children. 

And what of the children? What is ideal for them? Is Maggie’s “traditional” marriage the optimal scenario for bringing children into the world? 

That might have been a no-brainer until about a month ago, when the American Journal of Pediatrics published the results of a U.S. national longitudinal study measuring the psychological adjustment of 17-year-old adolescents raised by lesbian couples. 

Yep. You guessed it. Lesbians actually make better parents. Read about it here

Let’s draw out the implications of this news for Gallagher’s argument. If we accept her notion that marriage should be the special reserve of couples who can provide the ideal environment for children, then only lesbians should be allowed to marry. 

So my advice to Hadley Arkes and Maggie Gallagher would be, “Back to the drawing board.”  If the Prop 8 case goes to the Supremes, you’re going to need some better arguments to feed to the trial lawyers.

Diminishing Marriage

January 1, 2010

The only difference between a heterosexual couple and a homosexual couple is the sex part—the physical part. When people say that same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry, they tacitly admit that to them, marriage is primarily about sex—a limited and restrictive definition that actually diminishes marriage. –Lauren Becker

To listen to Lauren Becker’s entire essay on same-sex marriage, click here. (Note that her essay, broadcast on the Point of Inquiry program of June 9, 2006, precedes the program’s interview with Cathleen Falsani.)

Gay Marriage in the Manhattan Declaration: The Same Dull Edge as Before

December 7, 2009

About a month ago, a group of conservative Christian leaders penned a document identifying three main issues of concern to modern Christians: abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious liberty. The document, called “The Manhattan Declaration,” has been publicized and disseminated through conservative news and opinion media, and supporters are urged to sign on for what is hoped will be a massive display of resolve and solidarity.   

It will come as no surprise that the declaration opposes same-sex marriage. But one might expect that, after years of intense debate over this issue, opponents would finally have honed their arguments to the point of maximal clarity and persuasiveness. Instead, their case has the same dull edge as before. The only thing that has been perfected in this document is its sickening and insidious “love the sinner, hate the sin” veneer. 

Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum has been urging his site visitors to sign the declaration. “Read its carefully written and quite sober defense of traditional moral and social realities,” he writes.

I would emphatically disagree that the Manhattan Declaration is “carefully written.” In particular, the key paragraph justifying the privileging of heterosexual marriage is verbose and nearly incomprehensible. I believe it could be reduced to a single sentence. Here’s the unreduced version:

Marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman, and the comprehensive, multi-level sharing of life that marriage is includes bodily unity of the sort that unites husband and wife biologically as a reproductive unit. This is because the body is no mere extrinsic instrument of the human person, but truly part of the personal reality of the human being. Human beings are not merely centers of consciousness or emotion, or minds, or spirits, inhabiting non-personal bodies. The human person is a dynamic unity of body, mind, and spirit. Marriage is what one man and one woman establish when, forsaking all others and pledging lifelong commitment, they found a sharing of life at every level of being–the biological, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual—on a commitment that is sealed, completed and actualized by loving sexual intercourse in which the spouses become one flesh, not in some merely metaphorical sense, but by fulfilling together the behavioral conditions of procreation. That is why in the Christian tradition, and historically in Western law, consummated marriages are not dissoluble or annullable on the ground of infertility, even though the nature of the marital relationship is shaped and structured by its intrinsic orientation to the great good of procreation.

In the first sentence, we read that “marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman…” This highly subjective opinion is presented as a “given,” and the authors quickly move on, apparently in the belief that no clarification is needed. But we are entitled to point out that sexual complementarity does not always occur between men and women, and so the authors’ generalization is unwarranted. Sex is about much more than gender. It is driven by a host of psychological and hormonal factors. Therefore, any gender combination (M-F, M-M, or F-F) can experience sexual complementarity—a mutual experience of attraction that is expressed sexually. The authors are plainly wrong to assert that sexual complementarity can be experienced by only one of these combinations.

But wait, there’s more. The clause also asserts that this particular sexual complementarity (between some men and women) makes marriage possible. Well, no, it doesn’t, unless we redefine marriage to include only recognized unions between men and women who experience sexual complementarity. But marriage is not universally defined that way. Same-sex marriage is legal in many locales, including five European countries and Canada, with more to follow before long. The definition of marriage has already broadened to include same-sex unions.

The author (Chuck Colson, perhaps) appears to be expressing a belief rather than presenting an argument. His belief is that marriage should be reserved for male-female couples.

But let’s read the entire sentence to see where it takes us:

Marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman, and the comprehensive, multi-level sharing of life that marriage is includes bodily unity of the sort that unites husband and wife biologically as a reproductive unit.

So, in his view, marriage might include procreation. That’s fine. I can agree with that. (I hope he’s not suggesting that marriage must include procreation. A lot of childless couples might bristle at the suggestion that their marriage is sub-standard or inauthentic!)

And then, about mid-paragraph, there’s this gem of verbosity:

Marriage is what one man and one woman establish when, forsaking all others and pledging lifelong commitment, they found a sharing of life at every level of being—the biological, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual—on a commitment that is sealed, completed and actualized by loving sexual intercourse in which the spouses become one flesh, not in some merely metaphorical sense, but by fulfilling together the behavioral conditions of procreation.

The spouses become one flesh by fulfilling the behavioral conditions of procreation. Is that clear? They can only become one flesh when there’s some kind of underlying biological, procreative…potential? Or mimicry of procreativity? (Going through the motions? Acting “as if…”?) No, that couldn’t be it. Whatever it is, I’ve lost it. I really don’t grasp the concept.

Okay. I think I’ve got it. He seems to be saying that males and female produce babies, so only sex between males and females is good.

Again, if that’s what he’s saying, he’s not producing an argument but stating a purely subjective belief, and the entire tedious paragraph could have been reduced to a single sentence:

Marriage should be reserved for male-female couples because only males and females can make babies together.

He is of course entitled to that belief, but reader beware: If you came to the Manhattan Declaration looking for reasons, justifications, or clarification about the mysteries of matrimony, you won’t find them here. As Alice B. Toklas said of the city of Oakland, “There’s no there there.”

Why Panic Over the Changing Definition of Marriage Won’t Sell for Long

November 27, 2009
Art courtesy of “Dean”

For years, one of the major arguments used by conservative Christians to oppose same-sex marriage has been that the millennia-old definition of marriage will change, causing a near collapse of Western Civilization. Here is a reality check for them:

First of all, the definition has already changed, both in this country and elsewhere in the world. The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, Norway, and Sweden have already granted same-sex marriage (SSM) the same legal status as opposite-sex marriage. In the U.S., five states have recognized same-sex unions, classifying them as “marriage.” The list of countries poised to legalize SSM is growing. These include Nepal, Portugal, Iceland, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Argentina, Venezuela, and South Africa.  If present trends continue, we can expect to see near-universal acceptance of SSM in Western liberal democracies. Resistance will continue in cultural backwaters like Uganda, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, and Jasper, TX.

Secondly, the definition of marriage has been anything but stable over the centuries. Most people now realize that polygamy has been considered a form of marriage in some societies. What many people do not realize, however, is that SSM has been around for a very long time. It was practiced in ancient China, in the early Roman Empire, and during the early Christian era. The historian John Boswell wrote a study called “Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe” (1995).

Third, we shouldn’t be so troubled that a word’s definition has changed somewhat. It happens all the time. Since when did religious conservatives become so alarmed about semantic drift? Anyway, if I thought we could improve the lives of millions of people by changing the definition of the word “apple,” I’d be more than happy to call it a “fubble” or whatever else you like. Words are only our tools, not our masters, and they are not nearly as important as people.

Wikipedia offers the following examples of words that have undergone semantic drift:

“Mouse” was originally a rodent. Now it is also an input device.

“Guy” originally referred to any “person of grotesque appearance.” Then it just referred to any man. Now, it can also include women, as in “What do you guys think about this?”

“Democrat” had all the negative connotations of “demagogue” at the time of the American Revolution.

“Demagogue” originally meant “a popular leader.” Now it refers to a leader who panders to emotion and prejudice.

“Board” (verb) is used to mean, “enter an aircraft” as well as “walk on to a ship.”

“Broadcast” used to mean “to throw seeds out.”

“Kleenex” used to refer to a brand (only), and now it means “tissue.”

And let’s not overlook the words “gay” and “partner.” I am old enough to remember when people opposed to gay rights used to say they would never agree to using the word “gay” as a synonym for “homosexual.” But guess what! They’re doing it, all except a few die-hards who soldier on like aging hippies who swore they’d never cut their hair. As for the word “partner,” I can remember talking to my attorney fifteen years ago and referring to my “partner” in a context that should have made my meaning clear. He tried to correct me, saying, “Your boyfriend, you mean?” I replied that the individual in question was not a boy and was much more than a friend. These days, it is more likely that anyone insisting on “boyfriend” in that context would be corrected with, “Your partner, you mean?”

This panic over semantic drift of the word “marriage” is a sign that opponents of same-sex marriage are running out of arguments and know it. These efforts to stir up fear about a changing definition are doomed to fail because, basically, most people have far more serious matters to worry about. Sooner or later, even fundamentalists will realize that it takes much more than the lexical revision of a single word to bring about civilizational collapse. These days, there’s stiff competition from melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and species loss.

So, what does that leave? The slippery slope argument? Same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy and then on to bestiality and perhaps cannibalism? Apart from inherent weaknesses of the slippery slope argument (which is considered a logical fallacy), we need only look at the record of countries like Canada to realize that SSM has led to nothing else whatsoever. I was there recently and checked the newspapers in vain for any reports of increased bestiality or polygamy.

And what about the argument from Holy Scripture? Appeals to scriptural authority might stiffen the resolve of conservative Christians, but for the rest of us, such appeals are meaningless. The word on the street now is that Scripture is inconsistent and draconian, and that conservative Christians are inconsistent in their use of it. Scripture has lost too much credibility to serve as a guide for public policy concerning SSM.