Head to Head: Same-sex Marriage

Do “Children have a right to mother and Father” or should “We give equal rights to all”

“Children have a right to mother and Father”

For the debate about marriage to finish in the right place it must start in the right place. The wrong place to start is with adults and their perceived rights. The correct place to start is with children. Precisely the right place to start is by recognising the fact that children have a right to a mother and a father, when possible.
Many gay rights advocates diagree, insisting that a child has a right to loving parents, rather than a loving mother and father per se.

In this debate let us be clear where the burden of proof rests: it rests with those who would deny a child’s right to a mother and father. Every child, even those who are brought into the world via sperm or egg donation, has both a mother and father. If we deny them their right to a mother and father, then we are saying they do not have a right to be raised by the two people who brought them into existence. If this is so, then who do they have a right to be raised by, and who has a duty to raise them?

In other words, an attack on a child’s right be raised by their own mother and father, where possible, is also an attack on the notion that parents have a duty to raise their children.

If children have a right to a mother and father, and they do, what are the consequences of this? One is that we should do our utmost to ensure that this right is realised. This means developing social attitudes and policies that will encourage the mother and father of a child to commit to one another and then to commit to the raising of that child. The social attitudes and policies we have developed in order to give substance to a child’s right to a mother and father adds up to the institution we call marriage. For this reason, marriage is intrinsically heterosexual. It cannot be anything else, because if it was, it would no longer be principally about a child’s right to a mother and father.
Gay rights advocates make several objections to this line of reasoning. As mentioned, they deny a child’s right to a mother and father, without offering any justification for this. If this doesn’t wash, then they say marriage really doesn’t have anything to do with children, because lots of married couples are childless.

The first line of reasoning has already been dealt with. The second can be rebutted in two ways. The first is to point out that the vast majority of married couples do, in fact, have children and all married couples can provide a child with a mother and a father, something no same-sex couple can do, by definition.

The second is to point out that every social institution will have what social policy theorists call “free-riders”, that is, people who benefit from a particular policy without fulfilling the policy criteria. There is little or nothing that can be done about this.

In addition, gay rights advocates point out that some children are, in fact, being raised by same-sex couples and, for the sake of those children, the couples should given all the benefits of marriage. But many combinations of adults raise children. Should all those combinations be given all the benefits of marriage as well?

Gay rights advocates also claim that most heterosexual couples no longer believe marriage is primarily about children. This may or may not be true, but it isn’t relevant. No matter what motive people have for marrying, the fact remains that we give marriage special support and status for the sake of children. We didn’t make it a social institution for the sake of adults; we made it so for the sake of children.

If, indeed, there comes a time when heterosexuals want to redefine it, then we would probably be better off abolishing it altogether as a civil institution because the reason for supporting it will have largely vanished.

The main argument in favour of same-sex marriage is that it demanded by the principle of equal treatment. But this principle only applies if two situations are treated differently for no rational reason. However, heterosexuals and homosexuals are in very different situations because the the former can give a child a mother and father, while the latter cannot.

Therefore it is entirely rational to treat the two situations differently. In fact, justice demands it. Only a society in the grip of a deep ideological mania could think otherwise.

David Quinn is Director of The Iona Institute and a columnist with The Irish Independent

“We must give equal rights to all”

The 4th of November 2008 will be remembered by many as a great day in history. It is also a day, however, that saw tens of thousands of Californian residents relegated to second-class citizenship because they may no longer obtain the civic, financial, emotional, legal, and personal benefits of marriage to the person they love. Proposition 8, which was proposed in conjunction with numerous other state propositions as well as the Presidential election, passed by a margin of fifty-two to forty-eight percent, with most of the support for the measure coming from rural inland counties. An amazing $73million was spent by both sides of the proposal, setting a new record nationally for a social policy initiative and trumping every other race in the country in spending except the presidential contest.

California in often seen as a bastion of liberal social values in a nation that tends to err on a more conservative side on these matters, but Prop 8 has shown that a sharp cultural divide is present within the state itself. The Yes side was supported overwhelmingly by vocal Christian and conservative factions, who argued that the future of children was more important than the marriage aspirations of a minority of adults. A bizarre ad was shown throughout the campaign in which a girl comes home from school and happily tells her mother that she learned that she could marry a princess if she so wished. The mother then makes a shocked face and the scene is paused as a man comes on and tells us that “It’s already happened!”. I’m reminded of the Simpsons character Helen Lovejoy, who regularly implores Springfieldians to “Puh-lease think of the children!”. Veiling a dogmatic, usually religious, belief behind a secular moniker is a tactic that has often successfully been used by religious fanatics to bring liberal society closer to theocracy. Keeping in place a universal right to marry in California, as was the case prior to this proposition, did not lead to children being exposed to gay pornography or being urged to be homosexual, two arguments that were regularly put forward by the Yes campaign.

The reality is that people do not choose to be gay as an anti-establishment lifestyle choice. The thought that someone might be attracted to someone of the same sex is antithetical to many religious fundamentalists, who, when faced with an ethical conundrum, follow the “word of God” as if they were hypnotised. Faith, that most overrated of virtues, wins out over fairness and equality. Thousands of people are denied what should be a basic right, a right that needs to be recognised closer to home too.

If one adult is not allowed the same right as another, it may be said that they are not a full citizen. In that old rallying cry of the American Revolution, “No taxation without representation”, singer Melissa Etheridge has said that she will refuse to pay taxes until the decision is reversed. While it is difficult to agree with such a militant stance, it’s equally difficult to argue against the premises of that argument. Religious bodies and their adherents are perfectly within their rights to abhor homosexuality and to put forward the notion that one may be “cured” of it, but to legislate on the matter is to merge the religious and state spheres in favour of religion. A secular approach would actually benefit religion, as it would also benefit the state and the people. In such a scenario, one might say that if you don’t like same-sex marriage then don’t get one, and if you don’t like the idea of children being brought up in such a household (as many already are; same-sex marriage would not really change much), then don’t offer any children up for adoption, and urge friends and foes to do likewise. Homosexuality is not something that will, or even can, be legislated away. It seems that some people think that homosexuality was only invented in the 1960s.

Of course, I’m being unfair on the minority of people who voted for Prop 8 who are not religious. It has been said that perhaps they are not “ready” for the idea of same-sex marriage because of that word “marriage”, and so their vote may rest on a semantic point rather than an ethical or social one. Legislating on moral issues is always difficult, and many believe it should not be done at all, but I can only hope that they become ready, and that we all become ready, to give equal rights to all citizens, regardless of how we view their personal lives.

Hugo o’Doherty