Jesurgislac’s Journal

August 13, 2010

Five ways to talk to the religious right about marriage

This post was inspired by Five Ways To Talk To The Left About Same-Sex Marriage, by Eric Pavlat, and the discussion thread that followed.

The “religious right” in this instance may be Catholic or Evangelical or Baptist… as I noted to Pavlat in his post, “the left” in his definition would include Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The post which led me to Pavlat’s had already used the title Five Ways To Talk to the Other Side About Same-sex Marriage, or I might have used that.

1. Bear in mind that pretty much everything these people know about homosexuality or transgender identity is wrong.

If you want to know the kind of stuff they’ve been told is The Truth About Homosexuality, the Friendly Atheist blog recently paid for two people to attend an AFTAH event and hear the kind of stuff being said and write an outline of it post-event: but for example: Pride events are portrayed as public orgies in which people have “dangerous sex” right on the street. (This is the kind of thing that would only make sense to people who have not only never attended a Pride rally or march as participant, but also have never had one held in their home town.) And being gay or lesbian is “caused” by having been molested by an older gay or lesbian person: for a more detailed account of how this kind of unspeakably cruel lie is promoted to the homophobic parents of LGBT children, see Love Won Out.

Also, right at the start: in eleven countries round the world same-sex couples can already marry: in about twenty more same-sex couples can register a civil union with rights equivalent to marriage: and in none of them has the freedom to marry led to any of the awful consequences which the anti-marriage activists evoke.

These people are not in a state of friendly ignorance. (We’ve all met people who ask polite, well-meaning questions that are actually taken literally very offensive, but which clearly are just coming from someone who has no idea what they’re talking about – you’re the very first out gay person they’ve ever met, and they’ve always wanted to know …. ) These people, the anti-marriage activists, have been fed a diet of lies, lies, damned lies, and homophobic crap. Some of it they’ve eaten willingly, too. They aren’t ignorant: they know a lot, and all of it is wrong.

This means that there will be stuff they come out with which they think of as “just the facts, ma’am” which is some kind of half-remembered recap of something they heard (“At gay prides they have sex on the street!”) which is so absurd and so stupid and so hateful it’s hard to believe they’re not talking bollocks on purpose to mock you. But they’re not: they’re passing on the lies and false witness they have been told by people presenting as experts. Don’t get mad: debunk and move on.

Bear in mind, they won’t listen. Fred Clark has an outline for how this works at Slacktivist: False Witnesses, with the specific example of the lies told about Proctor and Gamble, but it’s about the same for any topic. They’re committed to believing in the hateful lies they’ve been told. You cannot, by citing facts, get them to admit they’re wrong. You can sometimes, by thoroughly debunking, get them to quit bringing up that particular false argument in the same discussion thread.

2. They’re religious. There’s actually nothing intrinsically wrong with that.

Christians have claimed that in discriminating against LGBT people they’re just “Practicing their faith”. LGBT children and children of LGBT parents at faith schools and churches have been bullied, treated meanly, told they’re going to hell, made to feel that their families are inferior: all in the name of Jesus. Understandably, LGBT people are frequently passionate atheists and anti-religionists.

Nevertheless: posting cut-and-pasted mockeries of religion, or sweeping condemnations of all religious faith, does not add constructively to the argument. There’s a pop culture list cited on Snopes of all the various religious laws which Christians do not abide by: true, but dull.

If you have a working familiarity with the Bible, you can come up with your own cites. Bible Gateway is an excellent website for locating that quote you half-remember was there somewhere in Luke, or was it Matthew? …and cite it to them in the words of whatever translation best fits their own religious tradition.

But it’s generally better to avoid getting into any arguments about religion, because the point of this discussion isn’t their religious beliefs, or yours, or which of you is going to hell how fast, but civil marriage.

3. Civil marriage is a civil right, unaffected by anyone’s religious beliefs

On 12th June 1967, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unanimously that, “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness”: that is is a “basic civil right.” Mildred Loving on her marriage to Richard

Consistently, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled similiarly on Section 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights: that there is no rationale to exclude LGBT people from the basic human right “to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence”.

A rabbi has the right to refuse to allow a Jewish marriage to a Jew and a Gentile. A Catholic priest has the right to refuse a Catholic marriage to a couple if one or both have been divorced. An Anglican priest has the right to refuse an Anglican marriage to a couple if they are not communicant members of the Anglican Church. A Mormon temple has the right to refuse a Mormon marriage to a couple if they’re not wearing the right underwear. (Sorry. Cheap shot.) Not one of those religions has the right to refuse any of the couples they denied a religious marriage, the right to a civil marriage.

Any argument that is based on a religious belief that same-sex couples shouldn’t get married, is answered simply by that: religious beliefs do not affect the civil and human right to marry your chosen mate and have that marriage recognized by law, if not by God or religious people: avoid getting into arguments about whether they’re foolish to be religious or whether God exists.

4. But wait: What about the children?

This falls into two halves: they will argue first of all that only male-female couples need access to marriage because only male/female couples can have children together. This is a predictable argument and a boring one to counter, because the answer is always the same, however you dress it up: (a) civil marriage makes no requirement that the couple who marry can or intend to have children (b) if civil marriage were banned to all but interfertile couples who intended to have children together, it would ban a lot of mixed-sex couples from marriage, too. (All women past the menopause: any woman who’s had a tubal ligation or a hysterectomy: any man who’s had a vasectomy: any couple who for whatever reason do not plan ever to have children together.) Keep referring back to (a) though, and ignore attempts to start tangling arguments about theoretically-possible fertility in unlikely places, since the key point is; civil marriage makes no requirements or assumptions that the couple will, can, or do have children. Above all (speaking as someone for whom this is a strong temptation) do not get into any arguments about how a woman has a right to decide how many children she has, and when, and lead the discussion about same-sex marriage off into a discussion about abortion/contraception. You won’t achieve any comity: you’ll just discover new reasons to hate each other.

The second half is the argument that the best kind of family for children to be brought up in is one with a mother, a father, and their own biological children, and so that’s the only kind of family that the state should permit the privilege of marriage to.

This is also easily countered, though at more length: First, that there is no evidence – literally, none – that says that families with adopted children, foster children, children conceived by donor, or stepchildren, can’t also be good families: there is also an increasing body of evidence that says that not only can lesbian and gay parents be just as good as straight parents, same-sex couples make exactly as good parents as mixed-sex couples, that if anything, the statistics show a slight edge to the same-sex couples, because same-sex couples tend to have only planned and wanted children. But in any case: each family deserves to be judged on their own merits, not on a random sweeping generalisation based on the parents’ sexual orientation (or race, religion, disability, income, etc).

Second, that this argument falls over on its own terms. If marriage is beneficial to children – if children are better off having married parents – what possible justification can there be for denying married parents to children whom these people argue are already in a disadvantaged position because (whatever: their parents aren’t heterosexual, aren’t cisgendered, aren’t a mixed-sex couple, aren’t biologically related to them both)? If a person genuinely believes that having same-sex parents is a handicap to a child’s good upbringing, that cannot be a justification for arguing that those children also ought to be legally discriminated against.

Third, which is the point that it is always necessary to come back to: Being lesbian or gay, or in a same-sex relationship, neither makes a person sterile nor takes away their desire to have children. People have children because they want children: regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The only methods of stopping a lesbian from having babies are so anti-human rights I’m not going to detail them. It is of course possible to legally ban a same-sex couple from adopting or fostering children, but this only ensures that children in need of a home stay in the care system: there are always more children in need of parents than there are parents willing and able to adopt them. And it is flat impossible to prevent stepfamilies from forming, though it is possible to deny a lesbian or gay stepparent the legal and social recognition they need to do their best for their stepchild.

All the legal methods that have been used to try to prevent lesbian and gay people from having children, have in fact only prevented legal recognition of the bond between parent and child where that bond is not biological. This is damaging to the parent, but parents are generally adults who can get over emotional damage in their own time: it is far more damaging to the child, who may not only be emotionally damaged by being denied their parent, but may suffer measurable social or financial damage as a result of being denied their right to their parent’s care. All methods of trying to prevent lesbian and gay people from having legally recognised families are far more damaging to the children denied their parents than they are to the parents themselves.

This is the key point, to keep coming back to: these children exist. Children who have lesbian and gay parents, who are the children of same-sex couples, are real children – hundreds of thousands of them in the US alone – who are being ignored by those who advocate same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry “for the sake of the children”.

Four, just to wrap it up: People arguing that it’s bad for children to have lesbian or gay parents because it means the children will suffer social stigmatisation, will be bullied or teased, need to have it pointed out to them that (a) It is bad for children to be bullied or teased, and schools who work to prevent this by teachings from kindergarten on that everyone’s family is equal, are to be commended – though anti-marriage advocates are generally the first to object to this kind of anti-bullying strategy (b) If taken literally, they’re advocating that to prevent a child being bullied at school, the child should be forcibly removed from the child’s parents and placed in care or fostered or adopted out if a mixed-sex couple can be found: how can this possibly be a valid reaction to bullies at school or anywhere else? If bullies were teasing a kid because her mother was in a wheelchair, would they want the child promptly taken away from her parents and placed with a couple who were neither of them disabled?

5. Gays aren’t interested in marriage, they just want the right to have icky gay sex! Also, if gays are allowed to get married this will change marriage for EVERYONE!

The “icky gay sex” argument is best countered by pointing out, repeatedly, that it’s no one’s business but their own what two consenting adults do in reasonable privacy. You can point out that there’s pretty much nothing that a same-sex couple can do together sexually that a mixed-sex couple can’t also do, but really, getting into pornographic arguments about specific sexual acts is a waste of everyone’s time except the person who keeps bringing up the graphic sexual details of what two men like to do to each other: he’s probably getting off on it. But don’t bother saying so.

The “gays will change marriage for everyone” argument can be countered three ways;

One. The real revolution, the fundamental redefining of marriage, has already happened. The feminist revolution did it, over the past couple of centuries. In most Western countries, including the US and all of the European Union, marriage is legally an equal partnership. The two spouses have the same rights, responsibilities, and obligations. There is no such thing, legally, as the husband’s role or the wife’s role. So there is no reason, in law, that a same-sex couple can’t marry: neither one has to decide “which one is the husband, which one is the wife”: two wives or two husbands or a husband and wife, all have the same set of rights, the same responsibilities towards each other, the same obligations to and for each other.

Two: This does not lead to polygamy. Equal marriage, in fact, leads away from legal poly marriage, because giving two people a mutual set of interdependent rights and responsibilities and obligations is complex enough: trying to scale that set up to apply simultaneously to three or more people would be so legislatively difficult that no country with equal marriage has yet tried it. Poly marriage works legally in countries where a husband has a different set of rights to his wife or wives.

-Also: this does not lead to child marriage: equal marriage leads away from child marriage because equal marriage is a lifelong contract, terminable only by divorce or death, which is entered into by two adults. Allowing same-sex couples access to marriage does not affect that.

-Also, this does not lead to incestuous marriage. Incestuous civil marriage is banned because marriage creates a kinship bond which is above all kinship bonds that are recognized in law – even that of a parent to their children. Therefore no kinship-by-marriage bond can be created where a kinship bond already exists: you can’t have two kinship bonds with the same person. Allowing same-sex couples access to marriage does not affect that.

-Also, this does not lead to bestiality. Anyone who uses that comparison is claiming that having same-gendered sex is like having sex with an animal: it’s a disgustingly homophobic comparison.

Three: If a straight person claims they now feel “less married” because same-sex couples can also marry, in all honesty, this suggests that to them marriage was never a lifelong committment based on a promise to love, honour, and cherish their other half, because such a committment, and such a promise, would be unaffected by other people’s committments or promises. To such a person, marriage was never an individual committment to the person who means most to them in the world, it was a privilege which they felt set them up above other people who did not have access to that privilege. It is a naked expression of bigotry and also of lack of committment to their own marriage. It really isn’t possible to assume anything else.

In relation to this, someone is almost sure to bring up the argument that it’s not discrimination because lesbians and gays have the same freedom to marry someone of the opposite sex as straight people do. Taken literally, this says that person believes marriage isn’t about making a committment to your chosen mate: it’s about throwing any two interfertile people together. It makes marriage a zoo cage for breeding endangered species. This is an aged rotting chestnut which deserves to be batted out of the game as hard and as fast as you can as soon as it appears: to argue that a couple who have lived together for years or decades are not being discriminated against because they could just ditch each other and go wed someone from the government-approved range of partners, is a nonsense that shouldn’t even come up at this stage of play. We’ve all seen what happens when the ban on same-sex marriage is lifted, how couples who have already grown old together, who have been together for half a lifetime, come forward in the first days or weeks to finally make their partnership legally recognized as marriage. To say they should just have split up and picked a woman each, or picked a man, isn’t just wrong and hateful: it’s absurd.

Also, again, worth repeating: In eleven countries round the world same-sex couples can already marry: in about twenty more same-sex couples can register a civil union with rights equivalent to marriage: and in none of them has the freedom to marry led to any of the awful consequences which the anti-marriage activists evoke.


  1. some good points. A few stronger arguments to add in as well:

    5. Bestiality. allowing gay couples to marry does not lead to marrying your dog or a lamppost or your box turtle, for the simple reason that none of those things can give consent and sign a marriage contract. It’s a complete non-sequitor to go from discussing two women marrying to discussing a woman marrying a cat. The cat can’t say I do.

    As for the “it’s not discrimination because men and women are treated the same” this can be proven demonstrable false. Ken can marry Barbie or Ken could marry Skipper but while Barbie can marry Ken, she cannot marry Skipper. Thus Barbie is treated differently because of her gender than Ken is.

    Alternately, ask them if it is really that person’s desire for their daughter to marry a gay man since they seem to think gay men should only marry women.

    Comment by Désirée — August 13, 2010 @ 12:48 pm | Reply

  2. […] Five ways to talk to the religious right about marriage « Jesurgislac’s Journal 1. Bear in mind that pretty much everything these people know about homosexuality or transgender identity is wrong. […]

    Pingback by links for 2010-08-13 « Embololalia — August 13, 2010 @ 6:05 pm | Reply

  3. […] there’s a great post on Jesurgislac’s Journal that offer’s 5 ways to speak to the religious right about gay […]

    Pingback by Talking To the Enemy | Gay News from Gay Agenda - — August 14, 2010 @ 8:08 pm | Reply

  4. I think you got lost in the stuff about kinship bonds. For instance in the US first cousins can marry one another in some states and not in others. In those marriages two fairly close kinship bonds coexist. In Europe first cousin marriage is also legal, and tends to be very common in Pakistani communities.

    I think in response to the incest/consanguinity question the best thing to say is that countries that have allowed marriage equality have not gone on to permit brothers to marry sisters and so on. The question simply hasn’t arisen; indeed even in countries and states where first cousin marriage is legal it isn’t common except in some immigrant subcultures that have imported traditions of cousin marriage. Most people continue to find the notion of marrying a close relative rather icky.

    Overall, this is excellent stuff. Thank you.

    Comment by Tony Sidaway — August 15, 2010 @ 4:51 am | Reply

    • No: the stuff about kinship bonds is the secular/universal reason why you can’t marry where a kinship bond is recognized in law.

      Cousins is one of those odd kinship bonds that’s close enough that most people know their cousins, but distant enough that it isn’t actually a legal bond. Christian bans on cousin marriage are pretty common: but the US is unusual is having translated the religious ban on civil marriage for cousins into secular law.

      Hm, I’m beginning to see a pattern here!

      (Looking it up) It appears instigating secular bans on cousin marriage is the same kind of religiously-sourced no-secular-reason ban as the ban on same-sex couples marrying, except that it affects many fewer people, and obviously, a mixed-sex cousin couple who want to marry just go to a state (or a country) where it’s legal and then move back home: their marriage is then legally recognized.

      But you’re right that there are solid psychological barriers against feeling attracted to someone with whom you were brought up from a child – in Israeli kibbutz, kids who lived together from infancy, completely genetically unrelated, tend to think of each other as brothers/sisters and do not feel any sexual attraction. A degree of strangeness appears to be required….

      Overall, this is excellent stuff. Thank you.


      Comment by jesurgislac — August 15, 2010 @ 5:15 am | Reply

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