The Failure of Our Gay Marriage Arguments

Unless you’re willing to assert that homosexual behavior is immoral or unnatural (or both), you’ll have a hard time making an effective case against same-sex marriage (SSM). It won’t be impossible, just exceedingly difficult. Perhaps you’ll be able to reinforce the convictions of those who, like yourself, are already opposed to SSM. But you won’t change any minds among those who favor it, and you won’t win many converts among the undecided.

I say this as one who has been arguing in print against the gay movement for the past 25 years. Never have I asserted that homosexual behavior is immoral or unnatural. I set that question aside, confining myself instead to the social consequences that would follow from giving moral and social approval to homosexual behavior — from giving it, so to speak, society’s Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. My arguments, some of them overlapping with one another, have been as follows:

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  • When law and public opinion give their endorsement to homosexual behavior, they implicitly condemn those who disapprove of such behavior, namely traditional Catholics, Protestants, and Jews.
  • The push for SSM is — at least de facto, if not deliberately — an attempt to destroy traditional Christianity.
  • The drive for SSM is but the latest stage of the sexual revolution, and at every one of that revolution’s earlier stages (casual fornication, unmarried cohabitation, out-of-wedlock childbirth, abortion), it has served to undermine marriage; why would any reasonable person imagine that this latest stage will be any different?
  • SSM is the reductio ad absurdum of marriage. If persons of the same sex can get married, doesn’t marriage then mean anything — and nothing?
  • Marriage was instituted for the begetting of children, something that two persons of the same sex cannot do.
  • A growing child has a profound psychological need for a mother and father. Two mothers won’t do, and neither will two fathers.
  • The undermining of marriage has had disastrous consequences for millions of children who have grown up fatherless (and usually in poverty). These consequences, while bad among all racial groups, have been worst among African Americans — in some cases frustrating the movement toward socioeconomic parity between black and white.

Now, I happen to believe these are good arguments and that they should be persuasive, even among those who don’t feel that homosexual behavior is immoral or unnatural. But, in practice, I find that the arguments don’t persuade anyone who is not already convinced.

And no wonder: If homosexual behavior is neither immoral nor unnatural, why should anyone object to it? And if it is unobjectionable, why should persons of the same sex be banned from marrying one another? On the other hand, if homosexual behavior is immoral or unnatural, then of course it is also objectionable. It should be discouraged at least by public opinion, and perhaps also by law; and by no means should SSM be allowed.


Why have many of us in the anti-SSM camp been unwilling to deploy the argument that homosexual behavior is immoral/unnatural? For one, we have been intimidated by the gay movement’s very formidable propaganda machine. If you say — indeed, if you even hint — that there may be something wrong with homosexual behavior, you will immediately be labeled a “homophobe” and a “bigot,” guilty of “hate speech.” For another, we are reluctant to hurt the feelings of persons we know, in some cases good friends: gay persons themselves, or their parents and relatives.

Perhaps most important, we want to argue from premises shared by everyone. If we argue that homosexual behavior is sinful, we would usually be arguing from Judeo-Christian premises; and although at one time these would have been shared by most Americans, this is no longer the case.

If, on the other hand, we argue that homosexual behavior is unnatural, we are arguing from ancient philosophical premises derived from Aristotle and Stoicism. According to Aristotle, those tendencies are natural that are common to all, or almost all, members of a species; if some individual members of a species deviate from these tendencies, these deviations are considered unnatural. According to Stoicism, nature is a manifestation of God; the study of nature, therefore, will uncover the will of God. Combine those philosophies, and homosexual behavior is seen as unnatural and contrary to the will of God.

But who has time, prior to denouncing homosexual behavior as immoral/unnatural, to explain the philosophy of Aristotle and the Stoics? And even if you take the time to explain, who will listen? Who will be deterred from supporting same-sex marriage because it conflicts with the philosophy of some Greeks who lived more than two millennia ago?

And so we forgo the immoral/unnatural argument, trying instead to win the argument by focusing on the probable social-psychological consequences of SSM. But in the long run, that argument seems doomed to fail: Polls show a very clear majority of the younger generation has no objection either to homosexual behavior generally or to SSM.

We may not change many minds, regardless of which approach we take. But by focusing on the argument that homosexual behavior is immoral/unnatural, we will at least stiffen the opposition to same-sex marriage among religious and philosophical traditionalists. If we table that argument, we will have played into the hands of our opponents. By our silence, we have virtually conceded that homosexual behavior is neither immoral nor unnatural — and, by extension, we have all but conceded that same-sex marriage is appropriate, too.


  • David R. Carlin Jr.

    David R. Carlin Jr. is a politician and sociologist who served as a Democratic majority leader of the Rhode Island Senate. His books include “Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?: How the Party I Loved Became the Enemy of My Religion” and “The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America.” Carlin is a current professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island at Newport.

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