April 2, 2004

Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series provided by Stand to Reason regarding the major points of debate in the same-sex marriage issue. Part II will appear in this space on Tuesday, April 6th.

Part I: Same-Sex Marriage and Civil Rights

"We’re being denied the same rights as heterosexuals. This is unconstitutional discrimination."

There are two complaints here. First, homosexuals don't have the same legal liberties heterosexuals have. Second, homosexual couples don't have the same legal benefits as married couples.

The first charge is simply false. Any homosexual can marry in any state of the Union and receive every one of the privileges and benefits of state-sanctioned matrimony. He just cannot marry someone of the same sex. These are rights and restrictions all citizens share equally.

I realize that for homosexuals this is a profoundly unsatisfying response, but it is a legitimate one, nonetheless.

Let me illustrate. Smith and Jones both qualify to vote in America where they are citizens. Neither is allowed to vote in France. Jones, however, has no interest in U.S. politics; he’s partial to European concerns. Would Jones have a case if he complained, "Smith gets to vote [in California], but I don’t get to vote [in France]. That’s unequal protection under the law. He has a right I don’t have." No, both have the same rights and the same restrictions. There is no legal inequality, only an inequality of desire, but that is not the state’s concern.

The marriage licensing law applies to each citizen in the same way; everyone is treated exactly alike. Homosexuals want the right to do something no one, straight or gay, has the right to do: wed someone of the same sex. Denying them that right is not a violation of the equal protection clause.

The second complaint is more substantial. It’s true that homosexual couples do not have the same legal benefits as married heterosexuals regarding taxation, family leave, health care, hospital visitation, inheritance, etc. However, no other non-marital relationships between individuals—non-gay brothers, a pair of spinsters, college roommates, fraternity brothers—share those benefits, either. Why should they?

If homosexual couples face "unequal protection" in this area, so does every other pair of unmarried citizens who have deep, loving commitments to each other. Why should gays get preferential treatment just because they are sexually involved?

The government gives special benefits to marriages and not to others for good reason. It’s not because they involve long-term, loving, committed relationships. Many others qualify there. It’s because they involve children. Inheritance rights flow naturally to progeny. Tax relief for families eases the financial burden children make on paychecks. Insurance policies reflect the unique relationship between a wage earner and his or her dependents (if Mom stays home to care for kids, she—and they—are still covered).1

These circumstances, inherent to families, simply are not intrinsic to other relationships, as a rule, including homosexual ones. There is no obligation for government to give every human coupling the same entitlements simply to "stabilize" the relationship. The unique benefits of marriage fit its unique purpose. Marriage is not meant to be a shortcut to group insurance rates or tax relief. It’s meant to build families.

Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council sums the issue up nicely:

"Gay citizens" already have the same right to marry as anyone else—subject to the same restrictions. No one may marry a close blood relative, a child, a person who is already married, or a person of the same sex. However much those restrictions may disappoint the incestuous, pedophiles, polygamists, and homosexuals, the issue is not discrimination. It is the nature of marriage itself.2

"They said the same thing about interracial marriage."

This challenge has great rhetorical force, but it is a silly objection.

Consider two men, one rich and one poor, seeking to withdraw money from their bank. The rich man is denied because his account is empty. However, on closer inspection, a clerk discovers an error, corrects it, and releases the cash. Next in line, the poor man is denied for the same reason: insufficient funds. "That’s the same thing you said about the last guy," he snaps. "Yes," the clerk replies. "We made a mistake with his account, but not with yours. You’re broke."

In the same way, it simply is not relevant that the same objection has been used to deny both interracial and homosexual marriage. It’s only relevant if the circumstances are the same, regardless of the objection. They are not.

Same-sex marriage and interracial marriage have nothing in common. There is no difference between a black and a white human being because skin color is morally trivial. There is an enormous difference, however, between a man and a woman. Ethnicity has no bearing on marriage. Sex is fundamental to marriage.

This approach won’t work to justify polygamous or incestuous unions ("In the past people wouldn’t allow interracial marriages, either."). It is equally ineffectual here. The objection may be the same, but the circumstances are entirely different.3

"We shouldn’t be denied the freedom to love who we want."

Columnist Ellen Goodman writes, "The state is on shaky ground when it tries to criminalize sexual relations of the consensual living arrangements of adults."4 In San Francisco, a giddy newly "married" lesbian celebrates, "Now we’re not second-class citizens; now we can have a loving relationship like every other married couple we know."5 Another opines, "Anybody who is in love and wants to spend the rest of their life together should be able to do it."6 [emphasis added in all]

These remarks reflect a common misconception: Same–sex marriage will secure new liberties for homosexuals that have eluded them thus far. This will not happen because no personal liberty is being denied them. Gay couples can already do everything married people do—express love, set up housekeeping, share home ownership, have sex, raise children, commingle property, receive inheritance,7 and spend the rest of their lives together. It’s not criminal to do any of these things.

Homosexuals can even have a wedding. Yes, it's done all the time. Entire cottage industries have sprung up from Hollywood to the Big Apple serving the needs—from wedding cakes to honeymoons—of same-sex lovers looking to tie the knot.

Gay marriage grants no new freedom, and denying marriage licenses to homosexuals does not restrict any liberty. Nothing stops anyone—of any age, race, gender, class, or sexual preference—from making lifelong loving commitments to each other, pledging their troth until death do them part. They may lack certain entitlements, but not freedoms.

Denying marriage doesn't restrict anyone. It merely withholds social approval from a lifestyle and set of behaviors that homosexuals have complete freedom to pursue without it. A marriage license doesn’t give liberty; it gives respect.

And respect is precisely what homosexual activists long for, as one newly licensed lesbian spouse makes clear: "It was a moving experience after a truly lifelong commitment, to have a government entity say, ‘Your relationship is valid and important in the eyes of the law.’"8 Another admits, "This is about other people recognizing what we have already recognized with each other for a long time."9 And another: "I didn’t start out feeling this way, but that piece of paper, it’s just so important I can’t even put it into words. It’s so important to have society support you….It’s about society saying you’re recognized as a couple."10

Ironically, heterosexuals have been living together for years enjoying every liberty of matrimony without the "piece of paper." Suddenly that meaningless piece of paper means everything to homosexuals. Why? Not because it confers liberty, but because it confers legitimacy. Note this telling passage from Time magazine’s "Will Gay Marriage be Legal?"

Ultimately, of course, the battle for gay marriage has always been about more than winning the second-driver discount at the Avis counter. In fact, the individual who has done most to push same-sex marriage—a brilliant 43-year-old lawyer-activist named Evan Wolfson—doesn’t even have a boyfriend. He and the others who brought the marriage lawsuits of the past decade want nothing less than full social equality, total validation—not just the right to inherit a mother-in-law’s Cadillac. As Andrew Sullivan, the (also persistently single) intellectual force behind gay marriage, has written, "Including homosexuals within marriage would be a means of conferring the highest form social approval imaginable."11 [emphasis added]

Same-sex marriage is not about civil rights. It’s about validation and social respect. It is a radical attempt at civil engineering using government muscle to strong-arm the people into accommodating a lifestyle many find deeply offensive, contrary to nature, socially destructive, and morally repugnant. Columnist Jeff Jacoby summed it up this way in The Boston Globe:

The marriage radicals…have not been deprived of the right to marry—only of the right to insist that a single-sex union is a "marriage." They cloak their demands in the language of civil rights because it sounds so much better than the truth: They don't want to accept or reject marriage on the same terms that it is available to everyone else. They want it on entirely new terms. They want it to be given a meaning it has never before had, and they prefer that it be done undemocratically—by judicial fiat, for example, or by mayors flouting the law. Whatever else that may be, it isn't civil rights.12


Gregory Koukl is the founder and president of Stand to Reason, an award-winning writer, and a radio talk show host. Greg has spoken on more than 30 university campuses, has been featured on the Focus on the Family radio broadcast, and is the co-author of Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air. A central theme of his speaking and writing is that Christianity can compete in the marketplace of ideas when it's properly understood and articulated.


1 Government only privileges relationships that contribute to government interests. It has no interest in stable relationships in general, only in stabilizing particular kinds of relationships—generally, economic relations tied to commerce (e.g., corporations) and those where children may be involved.

2 Peter Sprigg, "Questions on Same-Sex Unions Answered: Responding to Andrew Sullivan," www.frc.org.

3 Some have charged that the Bible condemned interracial marriage. This allegation is misleading. Scripture only prohibited the inter-religious marriage that usually resulted from interracial unions in the ancient Near East. This rule protected Jews from idolatry. Interracial marriages as such were not forbidden. In fact, there is good evidence Moses married a black African woman.

4 As quoted in L.A. Times, 3/12/04, E1.

5 L.A. Times, 2/14/04, A1.

6 L.A. Times, 2/14/04, B20.

7 This is not automatic, as with married couples, but can be easily arranged.

8 L.A. Times, 2/13/04, A28.

9 L.A. Times, 2/14/04, B 20.

10 L.A. Times, 3/21/04, A24.

11 John Cloud, "Will Gay Marriage be Legal?" Time, 2/21/00.

12 Jeff Jacoby, "Gay Marriage Isn't Civil Rights," The Boston Globe, 3/7/04.



© 2004 Stand to Reason. All rights reserved. Used with permission.