The most prominent theme in same-sex marriage advocacy is that opposition to gay marriage is bigotry. The charge is inherent in the idea that redefining marriage is a civil rights imperative and that those who resist are on “the wrong side of history.”
The accusation is used to tar those it is directed at by comparing them to racists who opposed equal treatment of all persons regardless of race. (Interestingly, same-sex marriage has not received a uniformly warm reaction from African-Americans.)
It’s easy to see why the accusation is used. It is undeniably powerful as rhetoric.
It is also false and terrifically irresponsible.
First, it is an attempt to change the subject. The debate over the meaning of marriage is not about any individual’s “sexual orientation.” As family scholar David Blankenhorn has explained, “Marriage does not exist in order to address the problem of sexual orientation or to reduce homophobia.”
Our marriage laws do not inquire into potential spouses’ sexual feelings because our marriage laws are based on promoting a specific public purpose – channeling the potentially procreative relationship of men and women into a social institution where the children born as a result of the relationship will have ties to the child’s mother and father and the parents to one another, when it is at all possible. Men and women who experience attractions to people of the same sex may (and do sometimes) still choose to marry someone of the opposite sex in order to provide this good to their children.
The marriage debate is a debate about whether to continue to promote the social goods marriage has provided throughout time and across cultures or whether the child-centered purpose of marriage is now anachronistic and should be replaced with an adult-centered understanding of marriage.
Second, the charge of bigotry is slanderous. The vast majority of those who believe that marriage has, and should retain, a uniquely child-centered focus do not hate the people who disagree with them. Many of these people are religious and believe firmly in the teachings of their faiths that mandate love for all people. In fact, supporting marriage is a good-faith attempt to secure the public good by promoting a non-intrusive policy of encouraging stable unions for relationships that have serious implications for child well-being.
Unfortunately, the cheap and easy smear of bigotry will not disappear. But it can be treated dismissively because it is manifestly untrue.