The blind spot of same-sex-marriage advocates

Photo credit: cesarastudillo

Photo credit: cesarastudillo

The optic disc is the point at which the optic nerve enters the retina. The optic disc is insensitive to light. It has no rods or cones and, therefore, cannot detect any images. The optic disc is also called the “blind spot.” By way of analogy, we use the blind spot to describe many things in life to which we’re simply insensitive and, ironically, over-sensitive to the point at which we’re not willing to see what is real.

Parents are particularly susceptible to blind spots regarding their children. For instance, some kids just aren’t gifted athletically or in the arts despite their parents’ insistence. Politics has its blind spots, usually in the form of obligatory optimism (wherein a true believer can’t face the reality of defeat) or extreme ego (wherein an unqualified or unprepared candidate for elected office convinces himself he is ideal).

Giving others the benefit of the doubt, the debate over same-sex marriage has its blind spots too – perhaps nowhere more pronounced than the inability of many same-sex marriage supporters to see the rational basis within the state interest over the definition of marriage.

The description of this blind spot does not include willful ignorance or callous disregard motivated by ideology or even an honest disagreement about what legal arguments trump another (e.g., equal protection or a state interest). This blind spot regards the inability of same-sex-marriage advocates to even see a state interest in Utah’s marriage law.

In candor, I admit my incredulity about this blind spot. It’s increasingly hard for me to give advocates of same-sex marriage the benefit of the doubt for this blind spot when they so easily and consistently argue for the socio-psychological benefits of marriage. “We just want what you have.” “We want to be happy like you.” Frankly, it’s hard to believe that these advocates can’t see the state interest in marriage when they clamor to get married on multi-grounded justifications rooted in the general welfare of men, women and children, and exemplified, at least partially, in amicus brief after amicus brief currently filed by friends of the plaintiffs at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The state interest in the definition of marriage is otherwise self-evident and has been so, whether or not formally recognized under law, since the time families created communities that needed governing: Society has a fundamental stake in demographic progress and the welfare of men, women and children. If people aren’t reproducing or, when they do, aren’t doing so in the optimal setting to maximize the general welfare of men, women and children, state measurements of progress (economic, social, health, psychological, physical, etc.) decline. The intact, two-parent (male/female) family produces the best results in both of these criteria. The state interest is the best interest requiring, ipso facto, the adoption of policies reflecting what’s best.

But, as I mentioned, giving others the benefit of the doubt compels us to advance the idea that same-sex marriage advocates who cannot see the state interest in the current definition of marriage must have a significant blind spot. These advocates seem to have 20/20 vision for their own self-interest but suffer an insurmountable blind spot regarding the general welfare and the common good – what we refer to as the state interest.

I argue that this blind spot – their optic disc in support of same-sex marriage – is what the state of Utah calls an adult-centric view of marriage and family. I argue that these advocates can’t see the general welfare or the common good behind Utah’s definition of marriage because self-centered individualism blinds them to only see what they want personally and not what’s actually best for society. Of course, I don’t begrudge anyone adult-centric expressions. Nor do I begrudge anyone individuality. I speak only of adult centricity when that thinking is insufficient and self-centered individualism wherein personal preferences are prioritized ahead of the general welfare of men, women and children – a destructive choice if we assume that everyone benefits from the common good.

This blind spot explains many things.

This blind spot explains why these advocates can’t see the material and substantive differences between heterosexuality and homosexuality, between traditional marriage and same-sex relationships, and why men and women are not always interchangeable in familial roles.

This blind spot explains why these advocates idealize an abstract vision of equality. They narrowly view equality as sameness. People are equal under the law, but people are not the same. A women’s restroom is for women, not for men. A mother is a female. A father is a male. Males and females are not physiologically the same. And, as we know from credible social science, no amount of mothering can replace fatherlessness. With a complete and realistic understanding of equality “marriage equality” is an oxymoron – unless we believe that everything about males and females are the same.

This blind spot explains why these advocates struggle with the American founding principle of ordered liberty. The term “ordered liberty” has been referenced in at least 750 federal court cases and, yet, nary a same-sex-marriage legal mind seems to have heard of it. The term is of Aristotelian origins. Edmund Burke, arguably the father of modern conservatism, made it a fundamental aspect of conservative political philosophy. In American jurisprudence it means a “preclusion allowing every person to make his own standards on matters of conduct in which society as a whole has important interests” (Wisconsin v. Yoder, 1972). Of course, we can see why same-sex marriage advocates have a blind spot for ordered liberty – their self-centered individualism “allowing every person to make his own standards” can’t bear to suffer any limitations.

This blind spot explains why these advocates see marriage as only a “loving, committed relationship.” It doesn’t, however, explain why those two criteria even matter – surely there are many couples with marriage licenses who are not loving, committed or both. The expression “loving, committed relationship” is a meaningless token dangled by same-sex-marriage advocates to lull to sleep any federal district court judge looking for any excuse on which to hang his judicial justifications. In truth, for same-sex-marriage advocates, a marriage cannot be anything more than a loving, committed relationship for fear that physiology and biology might impose legal limits on their quest. A loving, committed relationship doesn’t require parental or intergenerational considerations – no family considerations are necessary – only the desires of what two or more consenting adults arbitrarily agree to.

This blind spot explains why these advocates embrace substantive due process, minus the substance. Substantive due process is a term championed in progressive legal circles. What many people forget is that substantive due process was born of conservatism. This legal expression pushed jurists to discover and elucidate the essential meanings of life, liberty and property in cases wherein governments sought to limit or deny these rights to individuals. It begs jurists to explain life, liberty and property in the sacred context of what it means to be a human being – a very substantive conversation that progressives often avoid because natural law (the basis of this legal expression) repulses them. The richness and depth of natural law is the enemy of self-centered individualism. Just as substantive due process has been used for 40 years to justify the killing of innocent life in the name of individual liberty, it now redefines marriage in the same way. Far from justifying same-sex marriage, a strict and authentic adherence to substantive due process requires these advocates to explain what about their relationships is inherent (not simply experienced) in terms of human dignity and potential – and this requirement is why they never respond. Their adult-centric view of life is an incomplete view.

This blind spot explains why these advocates fail to see how redefining marriage affects a culture of marriage. Advocates ask incessantly, “How does same-sex marriage hurt your marriage?” The answer is, of course, someone’s same-sex relationship, marriage or not, has zero affect on my marriage personally. But few serious people on our side argue that one private relationship directly harms another private relationship. In other words, their question zeros in on their blind spot: Everything is about them. The conservative argument is that redefining marriage hurts a culture of marriage and, hence, diminishes the state interest in marriage (i.e., marriage formation, child-bearing and child-rearing). If marriage can mean anything, it means nothing, and this absence of a culture of marriage inevitably will devalue marriage among future generations. The debate over same-sex marriage isn’t about the rights of homosexuals. It’s not about them. It’s literally about the future of society.

This blind spot explains why these advocates fail to see the self-inflicted harm they might cause to children. In every major court case of this ilk since the overturning of Proposition 8 in California, a significant factor has been the psychological welfare of children of adults who are in same-sex relationships. The predominant voice in these cases would have America believe that these children suffer immeasurable harm from external social shame and stigma. No doubt those feelings, where they exist, are very real for children. Arguable is the source of those feelings. The blind spot prevents same-sex-marriage advocates from even acknowledging that their own adult-centric decisions about their private lives could play a role in adolescent feelings of shame. Nobody forced homosexuals to enter into misguided heterosexual relationships and marriages that produced children. Nobody forced homosexuals to adopt children or carry fetuses outside of natural bonds. These adults made choices that placed their children in progressive social circumstances. But, somehow, everyone else is to blame for any psychological harm to befall these children. Only a blind spot could project such blame.

Lastly, this blind spot explains why these advocates disregard any social science that challenges their preferences. The easy evidence to explain this blind spot is found in federal district court rulings favoring same-sex marriage. Judge after judge now casts aside accurate social science as questionable or irrelevant. In fact, legal brief after legal brief in defense of marriage displays honest research that completely disassembles plaintiff briefs to the contrary. In Utah’s case before the 10th Circuit, the briefs from Dr. Paul McHugh and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality obliterate the politicized briefs from plaintiffs’ sociologists, psychiatrists and psychologists. Facts are facts and only a blind spot explains how facts honestly remain unseen.

Admittedly, an argument invoking a blind spot can be unfair. Any argument in one’s defense can be twisted into an admission of one’s guilt – the fact that you disagree is obvious proof for the accuser that the accused is guilty as charged. If we disregard politically charged motives, all that’s left is honest disagreement. But that cuts against advocates of same-sex marriage who must hold to the doctrinaire position that the views of defenders of marriage and family are “irrational.” Mere disagreement would entertain a rational basis for both sides. And that point, my friends, is non-negotiable by plaintiffs.

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  • DougEisner

    A lot of words to illustrate the author’s blind spot and deafness as well. Probably can’t smell the odor of failure nor can feel the touch on a starchy, baked dry texture of an illogical argument either. Sadly the author is no Helen Keller. No one argues against the “one man, one woman nuclear family” raising a son and a daughter. That’s a beautiful, majority ideal. Extending the benefits and responsibilities of marriage to two guys or two gals who are just made differently, and whether or not equal marriage exists in Utah, these couples – thousands of them – will still be in Utah too. Criticize “the gays” for promiscuity then forbid them the institution of society that reduces it at the same time: talk about “blind spots”!

  • Melospiza

    The state of Utah, echoing Sutherland, has based its case on the “conjugal view” of marriage, making the procreative element of marriage the sole and predominant policy purpose. The “adult-centric” view of marriage that puts a premium on the love and affection of the partners is dismissed as irrelevant, even selfish (as in this column).

    Section 30-1-1(f) of the Utah Code prohibits procreation for certain marriages. Can anyone at Sutherland answer these questions?

    1. Is there any way to interpret 30-1-1(f) as anything other than a state acceptance and endorsement of the “adult-centric” view of marriage?
    2. Would Sutherland back a repeal of 30-1-1(f) as inimical to the state’s interest in the “conjugal view”?
    3. Would Sutherland support invalidating existing marriages performed under 30-1-1(f)?
    4. If the “adult-centric” view of marriage is acceptable for first cousin couples, why isn’t it acceptable for same sex couples?
    5. Is marriage as a civil institution limited to a single public policy purpose? Can it not simultaneously promote both procreation and adult contentment?

    Mr. Mero says of gay parents, “Nobody forced homosexuals to enter into misguided heterosexual relationships and marriages that produced children.” He vastly underestimates the overwhelming social pressures on gay youth, particularly in LDS culture, to “marry away the gay.”

    • Pam Whitmore

      What the law shows is that the state assumes marriage
      has a link to procreation but makes an accommodation when marriage that would
      otherwise be procreative might lead to genetic challenges. That statute doesn’t
      so much promote an adult-centered view of marriage as it tries to prevent
      potential health harms that might come from such an approach to marriage. (I
      don’t know that the worry about genetic abnormalities is still a real concern,
      but that’s obviously what they are thinking about.)

      The law now says the type of relationship that can
      result in a child and/or a mother and father for a child is a necessity for a
      marriage. That way there’s no need for an intrusive (and pointless, since
      there’s adoption, unexpected pregnancies, changed minds . . .) inquiry into the
      fertility status of every couple unless there’s some significant concern that
      the procreative capacity could be problematic.

      When marriage becomes
      any two men or two women, the institution necessarily can’t have a link to
      procreation since it will include relationships that can never result in a
      child without third-party intervention and which can never provide a mother and
      father for a child. — William C. Duncan, director of Sutherland’s Center for Family and Society

      • Melospiza

        Thanks for responding. I really wasn’t expecting it. I would be interested in your specific responses to my itemized questions, if you care to take the time.
        Utah law for the first century after statehood already accommodated the genetic risks of procreation by closely related couples by prohibiting all first cousin marriages. However, that law was amended in 1996 to allow nonprocreative first cousins to marry. The public policy objective of preventing health harms to children was already met by the existing law and there was no procreation-based reason to change it. The 1996 amendment codified as 30-1-1(f) did absolutely nothing to further any public health goal, since existing law achieved that (and the change actually increases the risk of harm should a couple happen not to be truly infertile– acidents and mistakes do happen).
        The only conceivable (as it were) purpose for changing the law would be that the legislature accepted the “adult-centric” view of marriage (that Sutherland rejects) as an equally valid public policy function of marriage. Indeed, if one looks into the legislative history of the bill (SB89, January 1996 session), that is exactly what one finds. The arguments made in defense of the amendment echoed those of the current gay marriage debate: the couples are in deeply in love, that this love should be recognized by the state with the benefits and privileges of marriage, it is a hardship for the couples to travel to a state that allows first cousin marriage, etc.
        Although introduced by Democratic Sen. Millie Peterson, SB89 passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses (24/1, 55/13) with strong bipartisan support. Many notable GOP leaders (including Mel Brown, Kevin Garn, Lyle Hillyard, John Valentine, and Howard Stephenson) voted for it. It is impossible to argue that SB89 did not reflect the will of the state. It is equally hard to argue that it does not completely debunk the idea that procreation (i.e. the “conjugal view” of marriage) is the only valid public policy purpose of marriage law in the eyes of the legislature. It is clear that the legislature saw that it is within the legitimate scope of government to support relationships based on love and affection as a means to promote social stability and individual happiness. Facilitating procreation is an important (and possibly the most important) policy goal of marriage law, but it is not the only allowable goal to the exclusion of all others. In short, the answer to question #1 in my original post above is a resounding “No.”
        The last paragraph of your response is a nonstarter. Same-sex couples are in the same situation as straight couples with fertility problems who employ “third-party intervention” to procreate. The “can never provide a mother and father for a child” point is irrelevant because current family law does not require that (as long as divorce is possible).

        • Melospiza

          Not to belabor the point, but I would add that by 1996 gay marriage had already become a prominent issue in the national discourse. It had gained steam in the late 1980s and had been a subject of a major court decision (Baehr v. Miike in Hawaii) in 1993. The federal DOMA was introduced and passed in Congress just a few months after SB89 was passed in Utah. Gay marriage was fully in the national consciousness at the time and the Utah legislature must have been aware that any fiddling with Utah marriage law would have ramifications with respect to the gay marriage debate. In this historical context, amending a marriage law that already protected children’s health to specifically allow nonprocreative unions can only be seen as a conscious and intentional endorsement of the “adult-centric” model of marriage by the state.