I’m hesitant to be one of those people who declares victory in the battle over same-sex marriage before it’s, you know, actually legal and honored in all 50 states. Remember that desegregation is still being battled in much of the South, even if they do it in more oblique ways than they used to. (Though not always.) It’s never as easy as you think it’s going to be. But the tide really does seem to be turning, so much so that Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council got a hostile hearing on Fox News of all places. Raw Story’s David Edwards explains how both Ted Olson and Chris Wallace tore into his notion that same-sex marriage somehow degrades the institution and harms straight couples:
“Do you want the sky to fall because because two people that are living next door to you?” Olson asked. “Court after court has said that allowing people of the same sex to marry the person that they love and be a part of our community, and to be treated equally does no damage to heterosexual marriage. And what court after court after court has said [is] that children living in a same-sex relationship do as well or better that people in other communities.”
“Alright, you and your wife live happily in this house,” Wallace said. “There’s a same-sex couple living here. What’s the damage to you?”
“Let’s talk about the wedding vendors that have been put out of business,” Perkins said.
“I’m not talking about that,” Wallace interrupted. “That’s a different issue. I’m asking you, what’s the impact on you and your family to have these people living next to you.”
Perkins insisted that his children would be “taught values and morals against what I teach as a parent at home.”
Olson pointed out that there was no evidence that heterosexual couples were getting divorced because LGBT people had the right to marry.
Of course, the notion that your neighbors should be denied rights in order to impart your values on your own children would be a double-edged sword, if taken seriously. What if an atheist couple claimed their neighbors should be denied the right to go to church in order to prevent atheist children from getting ideas?
But watching all this go down was another reminder that anti-gay activists are, in a lot of ways, their own worst enemies. They’re so afraid of being called “bigots” that they refuse to make their arguments openly, instead just gesturing at them and hoping people get the hint. The problem with arguing by implication, however, is people have to know what you’re implying. But the real argument for why same-sex marriage supposedly hurts straight marriage is so rarely uttered that people legitimately forget what the argument was. The argument is that by allowing gay people to get married, you “degrade” the institution of marriage and straight people won’t want it anymore because gay people ruined it, merely by existing.
Obviously, that argument relies on bigotry. It’s an argument in favor of segregation, similar to the arguments made in favor of excluding black people from schools and neighborhoods. It so quickly marks the person arguing it as a bigot that it’s understandable that anti-gay activists are wary of making it directly, and instead are reduced to shrugging in its general direction. But they’ve been shrugging so long and are so afraid to make the argument that people forgot what their argument was in the first place.
Take, for instance, one gambit that Perkins used: That children need a mother and father. Let’s set aside that it’s simply not true that “social science” shows this. Even if social science did show that a mother and father are the ideal, Perkins hasn’t explained how not letting gay couples marry helps get more kids into homes with married, heterosexual parents. Does gay marriage cause single motherhood? Are gay couples stealing children from straight people? Are gay people who are raising children going to get into hetero marriages if denied gay marriage? Does gay marriage cause straight couples to divorce? Perkins refuses to say. That’s because the answer—he believes straight people won’t want marriage anymore if gay people get to have it, because he believes gay people taint marriage—is screaming, old school bigotry of the most obvious sort.
But sadly for him, it’s the only argument he has. And by refusing to make it, he instead sounds like he’s too stupid to understand how to answer a question. He is asked, directly, what he thinks will happen if gay couples are permitted to marry, and his answer is CRICKETS. He will not say. He cannot say. He comes across as someone who is against something—who has devoted much of his adult life to opposing it—and he can’t even say why. It’s like running out in the street and saying, “What do we want? An end to sunshine! Why do we want it? Purple!”
A lot of people wonder how gay rights have made such progress in recent years while reproductive rights are being curtailed. There are a lot of reasons for it, but honestly, this is a big one. At least anti-choicers are a little more willing to make their argument. I mean, you still get the bad faith and the hand-waving, but, when pressed, they will at least allow that they want to ban abortion—and restrict contraception—because they think that the “price” women should pay for sex is forced childbirth. They may blanch from stating it directly, but there are enough people stating the argument clearly at a frequent enough pace (see: Ross Douthat) that when anti-choicers shrug in the direction of the argument, people know what they’re getting at.
But maybe even that is changing. Crisis pregnancy centers are pretending to be pro-choice now and so is Scott Walker. Just like anti-gay activists who are too afraid to admit out loud that they think gay people “taint” marriage, anti-choicers are beginning to blanch at admitting out loud that they would like to make the unwilling have babies. I hope the tide is turning on that front, as well, but sadly it may be too late for abortion access in red states.