To reach supporters of same-sex marriage, you have to understand how they approach the issue, what their valid points and concerns are, and where they may misunderstand the opposition. Finding areas of agreement, and building on those, will help you avoid the standard pitfalls that accompany these discussions.
The most important step in that process, as always, is to pray for the person with whom you are speaking. Try to see him or her as an instrument of God's mercy to you, rather than "the enemy." Pray for yourself, that you may speak the truth in love. Above all, remember that you can't convert anybody; the Holy Spirit does that. You can only remove objections, and even then only through God's grace, which flows through prayer.
Next, insulate yourself with charity. Friends of mine may be willing to hear me out, but strangers won't necessarily give me that benefit of the doubt; rather, they often begin with the tacit assumption that anyone opposed to gay marriage is a "bigot" or a "homophobe." It's vital to defuse that impression from the outset. After all, the Catholic Church completely rejects bigotry, saying, "It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs." Paragraphs 2357-58 of the Catechism call us to authentic love for our brothers and sisters with homosexual tendencies. Many gay people have suffered real and painful bigotry; it's important to hear their stories and understand their suffering before attempting to preach to them.
Speaking the truth in love can also help move the conversation away from the standard Left-Right dichotomy that prevails in the United States. To most supporters, opposing gay marriage is a hallmark of the homophobia and bigotry that they, in their caricatured view of the Right, believe all conservatives hold. They'll need help seeing that one can oppose gay marriage and not hate gay people. Additionally, think how your own words may sound to other ears: Casually dropping phrases like "gay agenda," a common term among conservatives, can cause offense, and opening your conversation by saying homosexuals are sinning will be taken as judgmentally condemning all gay people to hell.
Finally, it's good to ask questions and listen respectfully to the answers. It is not only the right thing to do, but it can shed additional light on your friends' thought processes. Sometimes, by asking the right questions ("What is a marriage? Why do governments give any special status to married people at all?"), you can make them more aware of their own biases and logical missteps. They may come to see they agree with you more than they'd realized.
1. Focus on the Words 'Right' and 'Marriage'
So much of the argument for gay marriage is based on the idea of equal rights for all. An easy response is to state that you fully support equal rights for everyone -- to free speech, to association, to any legitimate human right.
Of course, you then clarify that the freedom to marry is not a right. A few quick examples should show why:
- Marrying an already-married person is illegal. If marriage were a right, then this restriction would be unjust and should be illegal.
- All states restrict certain persons from marrying (to some degree or another): aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, children and parents, even in-laws (who aren't related by blood). These restrictions would constitute another breach of a "right" to marry whomever one chose.
- Marriage has an age of consent; there's no "age of consent" for our rights to speech and religion.
- One must pay the government a fee in order to marry. But rights are free and automatic, not available for purchase.
It's also worth asking why rights exist at all, and where they come from. Are they granted by governments? If that were the case, the government could also take them away. Are they simply innate, then? But if so, how do we know that? What does that mean?
Of course, we as Catholics know that rights come with duties; that freedom means the right to do what we ought to do; and that these things stem from our being made in the image and likeness of God. Prompting these questions gives you the opportunity to share a more coherent view of rights and their origins.
Eventually, the question comes down to what marriage is: the lifelong union of one man to one woman. The two sexes are complementary, not undifferentiated. "Nature and reason tell us that a man is not a woman," says scholar Harry Jaffa. The Minnesota Supreme Court concurs, writing, "There is a clear distinction between a marital restriction based merely upon race," a limitation it finds illegitimate, "and one based upon the fundamental difference in sex." A man and a woman are necessary for the creation of children, and for those children to be raised by people with complementary gifts.
What about auxiliary rights that have been attenuated to marriage through the years -- hospital visitation, inheritance, and so on? These can be fulfilled by other readily available means, including contracts, wills, and power-of-attorney documents. Marriage is not necessary to acquire them.
In short, by shifting the conversation from "equal rights for all" to the nature of rights and marriage, you've removed the conversation from the realm of bigotry and homophobia to a place where progress can be made.
2. Oppose the Status Quo
At this point, gay-rights supporters will often say that it is heterosexual couples who have damaged marriage. They are right, and we need to agree.
It was heterosexual couples who embraced contraception, leaving us with a birth rate below the rate of replacement (2.1 children per woman) since 1972. The Witherspoon Institute notes that "same-sex marriage has taken hold in societies or regions with low rates of marriage and/or fertility," and it is easy to see why: Once marriage and children were separated, gay marriage -- childless by nature -- would be the next natural step.
Gay activist Andrew Sullivan sees this connection clearly; he writes, "The heterosexuality of marriage is intrinsic only if it is understood to be intrinsically procreative; but that definition has long been abandoned in Western society" (as quoted by Christopher West in The Good News About Sex & Marriage). West later comments, "There's little moral difference between a genital act that a married couple renders infertile… and homosexual behavior" (emphasis his).
Heterosexual couples are also responsible for no-fault divorce, starting with the 1969 California law signed by Ronald Reagan. At present, between 41 percent and 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce, and the average first marriage lasts only eight years. Is it any wonder that legalization of gay marriage would be next, since our society has already established that marriage is "a mere convention, so malleable that individuals, couples, or groups can choose to make of it whatever suits their desires, interests, or subjective goals of the moment"? Gay-rights activists have learned that lesson because we've taught it to them.
Our society has also embraced artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization. Just as contraception promised society sex without children, these new technologies now offer children without sex. It is through these reproductive technologies (and surrogate motherhood) that gay couples can build families of their own -- again leading to the push for legally recognized gay marriage.
None of the damage done to marriage and families -- whether by contraception, divorce, porn, affairs, the hook-up culture, or artificial fertilization -- was inflicted by homosexuals. Only by acknowledging this fact -- and stating your opposition to these things -- can you show consistent support for the institution of marriage.
In short, you share your view of marriage to (a) demonstrate humility by agreeing that heterosexuals have damaged marriage, (b) prove that your opposition doesn’t stem from anti-gay sentiment, (c) show that you’re being rational and internally consistent to a complete vision of family life, and (d) share the fact that another vision of family life exists than what the culture normally displays, perhaps creating cognitive dissonance and an opening to consider a positive vision of the human family.
3. Talk about Children's Rights
There are some people who often don't come up in discussions about gay marriage, but should: children.
Ask a random assortment of people what the purpose of marriage is; you may be surprised to find that few of them will even mention children. And yet study after study has shown that children simply do better in families with a mother and a father than they do with same-sex partners. According to a 2008 article in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy,
It isn't that gay people are necessarily bad parents, but that children thrive most fully when raised by a mother and a father. The Witherspoon Institute's Report on Marriage explains why: "There are crucial sex differences in parenting. Mothers are more sensitive to the cries, words, and gestures of infants, toddlers, and adolescents, and, partly as a consequence, they are better at providing physical and emotional nurture to their children." Complementing that, "Fathers are more likely than mothers to encourage their children to tackle difficult tasks, endure hardship without yielding, and seek out novel experiences." Similar arguments appear in a policy brief by the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and a journal article from the University of St. Thomas Law Journal.
Governments' granting married couples special protections in turn protects children's rights, a fact that France recognized when it issued a report explaining why it rejected same-sex unions. Hence, as the Harvard Journal puts it: "Society's interests in those endangered social goods are compelling, implicating as they do the quality of society's practices of self-perpetuation." Or, in the words of the Arizona Court of Appeals, limiting marriage to heterosexuals "rationally furthers a legitimate state interest," that of protecting the development of the future adults of the state.
4. Show that the Slippery Slope Is Real . . . and Happening Now
More than 3,000 people in Japan signed a petition on behalf of people's rights to marry computer avatars, as one man did in November 2009. Another man in Korea recently married his anime body pillow. Back in 1999, in less enlightened times, a Missouri man wanted to marry his horse.
Once we've decided to reject the historical definition of marriage -- once we've shown that it can, in fact, be redefined -- what legitimate limits can we put on it? What rational grounds do we have for denying these men from Japan, Korea, and Missouri?
Take the example of a married couple in the Netherlands who, after the country passed legislation roughly equivalent to civil unions, chose to have the wife enter a union with her bisexual lover, and now the three live together as a triad. Why, as the Huffington Post asks, should relationships like these not be recognized as marriages? Once we start the ball rolling, it's hard to say where it must stop.
In fact, a court in Canada has now ruled that a child can have three parents, and "polygamous Muslim families are living in Toronto and claiming multiple Canadian welfare benefits in many cases. The logical and legal grounds to resist polygamy have been removed, making it difficult to prosecute." Canada's Justice Department ruled in a 2006 report that there was no reason to deny polygamy after it had legalized gay marriage, and Great Britain and Australia recognize both gay marriage/civil unions and some elements of polygamy.
But beyond the theoretical question of what may happen in the future, it's important to also point out what has already happened: the explosive growth of the polyamory movement. A few years ago, only a few experts were talking about polyamory; now, there are daily updates on poly news-gathering sites featuring neutral-to-positive coverage from sources as diverse as the New York Times, Newsweek, and Fox News.
In fact, many homosexuals live in relationships that are essentially polyamorous themselves. The Web site Meet Gay Couples notes, "[Surveys] all report that varying degrees of non-monogamy are fairly common among male couples." The gay newspaper Washington Blade reports that "three-quarters of Canadian gay men in relationships lasting longer than one year are not monogamous." The study's lead author, a gay professor at the University of Windsor, holds the opinion that "younger [gay] men tend to start with the vision of monogamy . . . because they are coming with a heterosexual script. . . . The gay community has their own order and own ways that seem to work better."
In fact, some advocates of gay marriage are advocates for the end of marriage itself. For example, gay scholar Nan Hunter argues that "legalizing lesbian and gay marriage would have enormous potential to destabilize the gendered definition of marriage for everyone." Anthropologist Stanley Kurtz describes Norwegian sociologist and gay marriage advocate Kari Moxnes's views as seeing "both marriage and at-home motherhood as inherently oppressive to women." In Moxnes's article "Empty Marriage," she describes "Norwegian gay marriage [as] a sign of marriage's growing emptiness, not its strength," as "a (welcome) death knell for marriage itself."
It's worth noting that, among those people in gay relationships who have the opportunity, very few actually choose to get married at all: The Family Research Council quotes a statistic from USA Today showing that, in Vermont's first three-and-a-half years of civil unions, only 936 gays or lesbian couples chose to take advantage of the opportunity -- about 21 percent of the estimated adult homosexual population. In Sweden, where traditional marriages are increasingly rare, gay union numbers are even lower, as reported by a 2004 Baltimore Sun article: "About 1,500 same-sex couples have registered their unions" out of an estimated 140,000 gays and lesbians, or about 2 percent.
The significance? The quest for gay marriage isn't so much about gay marriage as it is a single step toward bringing about a sea change in the culture of the United States.
5. Show that Gay Marriage is Harmful
At some point in this process, the gay marriage supporter is likely to ask, "Why shouldn't they be allowed to get married? After all, who does it really hurt?"
In fact, a surprising number of people. We've already seen how gay marriage can be harmful to children. But these legal unions also hurt those who take part in it. First of all, it opens them up to an increased risk of domestic violence: According to the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, a stunning 31 percent of lesbians in relationships had experienced physical violence from a partner within the past year. According to John Klofas of the Rochester Institute of Technology, "Trends suggest that as many as half of lesbian relationships experience some form of abuse." Meanwhile, gay males, according to the journal Violence and Victims, "are more likely to be killed by their partners than [by] a stranger. The increased potential for violence has been confirmed in numerous studies, as well as by gay advocacy groups such as the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project. Part of this higher chance may be due to gay relationships’ absence of the cultural taboo that generally prevents men and women from violence against each other. Encouraging people to enter relationships so much more dangerous for them than marriage is not responsible behavior on the part of any government.
Likewise, legalizing gay marriage hurts homosexuals in general. When the government says that gay marriage is fine, it teaches (often through public elementary education) that homosexual behavior is fine. But unfortunately, these behaviors are linked to a number of serious health problems, including drug abuse, HIV infection (gay men are infected 50 times more often than straight men), anal cancer (among men), breast cancer and gynocological cancers (among women), and suicide.
Same-sex marriage has already hurt a number of private citizens and social institutions in the United States and Canada as well:
- Catholic Charities in D.C. decided to discontinue spousal benefits for their employees rather than be forced to contradict the teachings of the Faith by offering benefits to same-sex partners, as mandated by the District
- Catholic Charities in Massachusetts had to give up its adoption services, rather than be forced to adopt to same-sex couples;
- a Knights of Columbus chapter in British Columbia was fined for refusing to host a lesbian wedding reception;
- a Canadian teacher was disciplined by the teachers' governing body for a letter to the editor about homosexuality, while another published letter-writer was convicted of and fined for hate crimes, a conviction supported by the Canadian Supreme Court;
- public schoolchildren in states with same-sex marriage are taught as early as kindergarten that both options, gay and straight, are equally valid lifestyle choices;
- several Canadian marriage commissioners and at least one Massachusetts justice of the peace who asked to recuse themselves from performing gay unions were told that they must either marry the couple or resign;
- a couple who manages a bed and breakfast were charged and convicted of discrimination for not allowing homosexual couples, and they had to shut down their business;
- several Canadian mayors were fined thousands of dollars for refusing to declare "Gay Pride Days" in their cities; and
- an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois lost his job teaching Catholic Studies for explaining why the Church teaches against homosexuality, an action being contested as of this writing.
None of these damages was anticipated by the courts or legislatures that made same-sex marriages legal, but they're here now. Gay marriage does have an impact on society at large.
Finally, legally recognizing these unions hurts the nation as a whole. Noted Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin declared in The American Sex Revolution that he found virtually no culture that both failed to restrict marriage to a man and a woman and survived very long. Cambridge anthropologist Joseph D. Unwin stated nearly the same thing in Hopousia, The Sexual and Economic Foundations of a New Society: "In human records, there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial continence."
In short, gay marriage harms everyone, regardless of whether they themselves are gay or married.
Don't Get Derailed
There are a few other things gay marriage promoters may say to try to derail your arguments:
If they say that marriage isn't about children, since we don't forbid sterile people from getting married, you can reply that, in the case of a sterile union, the sterility is not sought and is not an integral part of the act; as West puts it, "Their sexual union is still the kind of union that God has intended for the procreation of children." On the other hand, with contraception, the sterility is sought; for homosexual unions, the sterility is an integral part of the act.
If they say that animals engage in homosexual behavior, you can reply that animals engage in many behaviors we wouldn't want to copy; we have the capacity to operate on more than animal instinct.
If they say that same-sex attraction is genetic, you can reply that even if it were eventually proven to be true (which, according to the American Psychological Association, it likely isn't), so are various other conditions that predispose one to harm, including depression and alcoholism.
If they say that you're accusing all gays and lesbians of sin, you can reply that, according to the Church, "the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin." Only actions are sinful. You can also point out that you believe fornication and adultery are sinful, showing that it isn't about the orientation, but the action.
And if they say that you're accusing gays and lesbians of being disordered, you can reply that, as expressed by Jeffrey Mirus, president of Trinity Communications, being "ordered" means "whether or not it is operating according to its proper end. If it is not, we call it 'disordered.'" He continues:
The gay political movement largely follows the methods described in Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen’s gay strategy manual After the Ball. This includes making themselves seem victimized in order to gain sympathy; carrying out a "conversion of the average American’s emotions, mind, and will, through a planned psychological attack, in the form of propaganda fed to the nation via the media"; and marginalizing people and groups who oppose homosexual behavior. Those opposed to gay marriage must have their own strategy, one based upon charity and facts. Many other resources are available from various places on the Internet.
In the final analysis, many of these well-meaning people are unaware that their support for gay marriage would create social changes beyond what they have imagined or would favor. Rather than granting legitimacy to homosexual relationships by calling them marriages, we would be opening ourselves to a society where marriage itself has little value and no fixed meaning. The gay-marriage movement claims to be about respect and rights for homosexual persons, but the inevitable result is that homosexuality must not only be tolerated but actively endorsed by all.
We are told that if we truly loved gay people, we would support the gay marriage movement. But true love always draws the beloved away from harmful behaviors, "always chooses the good of the person loved," as West puts it. Only a false compassion permits another person to drink the poison he wishes.