President’s Column: Common Secular Objections to Same-Sex Marriage Rebutted

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By August Berkshire

Headshot of August Berkshire, smiling.

Last year Minnesota Atheists participated in six Gay Pride celebrations because the attempt by religious people to deny equal rights to people based on sexual orientation is one of the most prevalent violations of separation of state and church in America.

The Republican majorities in the State Congress are trying to place a question on the November 2012 ballot to allow Minnesotans to vote to amend the State Constitution to limit civil marriage to “only one man and one woman.” 

Any religious argument for denying same-sex couples the right to a civil marriage can be dismissed out-of-hand as a violation of separation of state and church.

In an attempt to build a secular case in favor of discrimination against same-sex couples regarding civil marriage (as well as other civil rights), some people have offered the following arguments. For the following reasons, these arguments are not valid.

A) Normalcy.“Same-sex attraction is not normal, so same-sex couples should not be allowed to get married.”

If by “normal” we mean “conforming to the norm” or “common,” then there are many ways in which every person is “not normal.”  For example, left-handed or red-haired people are “not normal” in most populations; people of Icelandic ancestry are “not normal” in Alabama; etc. But prevalence of a physical attribute or characteristic should not affect a person’s rights as a citizen.

B) Nature.“Same-sex attraction is not natural, so same-sex couples should not be allowed to get married.”

If by “natural” we mean “a naturally occurring variation,” then same-sex attraction is indeed natural and is found in many species, including humans. But even if same-sex attraction was not natural, it should not affect a person’s rights.

C) Changeability.“Homosexuals have the ability to change their sexual orientation, and if they do they can be part of an opposite-sex marriage. Therefore, there is no need to offer same-sex marriage.”

Most scientists believe that, in the vast majority of cases, a person’s sexual orientation cannot be changed and that it is harmful to even try. Yet whether or not a person’s sexual orientation is changeable should not affect a person’s rights as a citizen.

D) Fertility.“Two men or two women cannot naturally produce offspring with each other. Therefore, they should not be allowed to marry each other.”

The State has never imposed fertility tests in order for couples to get married or to stay married. The production of offspring has never been a requirement for civil marriage. For example, the State does not have laws prohibiting post-menopausal heterosexual women from getting married.

E) Brothers and sisters. “If we go down this slippery slope of same-sex marriage, what’s to prevent brothers and sisters from marrying each other?”

The same law that now prevents a brother and sister from marrying each other can be applied to a brother marrying a brother or a sister marrying a sister. Such a prohibition would be Constitutional because it would be equal treatment under the law.

F) Age.“If we go down this ‘slippery slope’ of same-sex marriage, what’s to prevent an adult from marrying a child or a child from marrying a child?”

Statutory rape laws should be applied equally, regardless of people’s sexual orientation. Children should not be allowed to marry each other, regardless of sexual orientation, because children lack the maturity necessary for marriage.

G) Polygamy.“If we go down this ‘slippery slope’ of same-sex marriage, what’s to prevent polygamy from being ruled legal?”

The State may determine the number of people it wishes to recognize in civil marriage. However, it should not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation, as to who may enter into a civil marriage contract.

H) Assault on religion.“If same-sex marriage becomes legal, religions will be forced to perform same-sex marriages.”

Because of the First Amendment’s guarantee of separation of State and Church, the State is prohibited from dictating what a religion’s standards are for their religious marriage ceremonies. Thus, for example, Catholic priests may refuse to marry divorced people and Orthodox Jewish rabbis may refuse to marry interfaith couples. However, the State may not refuse to marry divorced or interfaith couples. Similarly, religions may refuse to marry same-sex couples, but the State should not be allowed to exercise such discrimination.

I) Definitions.“This will change the definition of marriage.”

Marriage, defined historically, has included polygamy. Marriage, as defined by some States in this country, used to exclude mixed-race couples. Even setting these examples aside, the State has the right to define marriage as it pleases, so long as in that definition it does not discriminate against its citizens.

Minnesota Atheists

Positive Atheism in Action Since 1991