Secular Arguments for Traditional Marriage

That religion should be relegated to solitude in such an age is, then, paradoxical. But it is also dangerous for two reasons. In the first place, when the modern world says to us aloud, ‘You may be religious when you are alone’, it adds under its breath, ‘and I will see to it that you never are alone.”  – CS Lewis, The Business of Heaven

As of this writing, it is looking more and more likely that the Supreme Court of the United States will order all of the states to issue marriage licenses to people of the same sex.  I am not trying to be pessimistic, but I think that I am realistic.  But who knows, God can still do anything, so I will be praying for His Wisdom to be at work.

I am sure the debate will rage until then.  And in that debate we are often told that we cannot impose our Catholic religious beliefs on others.  We are not a theocracy, but a democratic republic (which will probably decree “gay marriage” through judicial edict rather than legislation). 

We are told that bringing the Bible or Divine Revelation, we are imposing a religious standard on a secular government.  While I do not agree with this idea, let us concede the point.

If we are making an argument for traditional marriage as a standard, not just for Catholics, but for all people, then it should be able to stand solidly on human reason alone.

So let us look at some secular arguments of traditional marriage.

What are the arguments for “gay marriage?”  Under what principles are their supporters appealing?

1. Equal Protection

The main argument that has been cited in every single court case where it has been legalized is the one from Equal Protection.

The Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution states:  “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”  In other words, you cannot give some rights to some citizens and different rights to different citizens.

The argument from Equal Protection states that denying people of the same sex the right to marry each other is denying them a right given to straight couples.  This is the same argument that was used to overturn interracial marriage.  

Let me use this concrete example.  Let us image 3 people: Bob, Walter, and Wendy.  Bob is black.  Walter and Wendy are white.  Years ago, Walter had the right to marry Wendy.  But because Bob is black, he did not have the right to marry Wendy.  This gave a right to Walter (the right to marry Wendy) that Bob did not have (again, the right to marry Wendy).  And thus Equal Protection was violated and laws preventing people like Bob from marrying Wendy were overturned.

This argument is transposed to same sex couples.  Walter has the right to marry Wendy, but Bob does not have the right to marry Walter.  This gives a right to Walter (the right to marry whomever you want) that Bob does not have (the right to marry whomever you want).    And thus Equal Protection is violated and the courts have ordered laws banning “gay marriage” overturned.

That is the simple version of the Equal Protection argument.  But here is the problem with that argument: laws banning same-sex marriage don’t actually violate Equal Protection.

First, no one has the right to marry whomever they want.  You cannot marry someone is already married.  You cannot marry someone who is a close relative. 

But more importantly, gay people already have the same right that straight people have.  Let us take the above example and add a fourth person: Jack.  Now let us say that Walter wants to marry Wendy and Bob wants to marry Jack.  Denying Bob the right to marry Jack does not violate Equal Protection because he has the same rights that Walter has.  Walter has the right to marry Wendy.  So does Bob.  Bob does not have the right to marry Jack.  Neither does Walter.  They are both granted and denied the same things.

The response is usually, “But Bob doesn’t want to marry Wendy.  He wants to marry Jack.”  But that is irrelevant under the law.  It does not give the court standing to overturn legislation, which is how most “gay marriage” is legalized.

2.  Sharing of Benefits

Often it is argued that gay couples are discriminated against because marriage allows things like the sharing of health benefits.  Without marriage, it puts an undue burden on these couples.

But there are reasonable alternatives to this.  Years ago, Vermont invented the idea of a “domestic partnership” that allowed a couple to enter into a legal contract to share benefits because they share an intimate living situation.  There is even disputed story that as “gay marriage” was being legalized in Argentina, Pope Francis (then Cardinal Bergolio of Buenos Aires) suggested supporting these domestic partnership as a way to avoid the full acceptance of this social wrong.

Now, the Church is very clear that domestic partnerships should never be raised to the level of marriage.  An easy way to avoid this is to simply allow domestic partnerships for any two people who co-habitate for many years.  

For a few years, my sister and my mother were adult roommates together in their own apartment.  Shouldn’t they have been allowed to share benefits?  Should they have been denied that right because their relationship is not romantic?  Domestic partnership laws that are not predicated on romance could create a reasonable alternative to “gay marriage.”

3.  Reductio Ad Absurdum

If we can change the definition of marriage to include people of the same sex, then what is the logical reason to stop changing it to include any other type of relationship.  Polygamy and polyandry would have to be legal under these same legal principle.  This may be acceptable to some.  But “incestuous marriages” would also have to be allowed.

Is there a single principled argument for “gay marriage” that would not also allow siblings to marry?  The answer is simply “no.”  Some my point out the higher risk of birth defects in incest, but do the laws currently prevent people from marrying because of increased risk of birth defects?

If you see that the conclusion of changing the definition of marriage is a ridiculous one, then you can see why the arguments are also irrational.

As we move forward in the national debate, it is important for Catholics to remember that truth is on our side: truth from God and truth from pure reason.

Copyright 2015, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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