There are a lot of arguments floating around in the continuing marriage equality debate, but there is one argument that just… won’t… die. Which I guess makes it (a) a little bit like Jesus, and (b) a little ironic given that the vast majority of its proponents are big fans (of Jesus, I mean, not marriage equality). It’s a textbook case of post-hoc reasoning, and the religious argument you use when you don’t want to look religious. And it annoys the crap out of me.
In its simplest form, it consists of a middle-aged white man wearing a brown cardigan and corduroy pants, running around in circles screaming “WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!”. The slightly more academic version, however, goes something like this:
Same-sex1 couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry because:
- Every child has a right to be raised by their mother and father; and
- Other things being equal, children raised by same-sex couples fare worse than the children of heterosexual parents.
Let’s have a look at these in turn.
This statement is obviously predicated on the assumption that the very purpose of marriage is children. And yes, traditionally almost every couple that traditionally walked down the aisle did so because traditionally that’s what you did when you traditionally wanted children. Traditionally that kind of made sense at the time, because traditionally no one really liked bastards. But tradition can take a hike, because not only are most of my good friends absolute bastards, but nowadays lots and lots and lots of couples get married with no intention of ever having children. Some couples even get married knowing that they can’t have children, even if they wanted to (say hello, Fred Nile!). Which is perfectly fine, and in some cases, probably for the best (say hello again, Fred Nile!).
The corollary to this argument is that, because marriage is all about children, any same-sex couple who is allowed to wed will make their marriage about children as well. Because that’s what marred couples do, see? That will of course involve at least three people out of biological necessity (or in the language of the bigot, “Poofs gotta get eggs from somewhere”), and there is a risk that the resultant child will never get to know the owner of the ovary (or nut) from whence they came. The consequences of allowing same-sex marriage, therefore, are very, very bad.
But let’s break that down.
There are, right now in Australia, lots of gay couples that want children. And do you know what they do? They have children. Which makes them a lot like straight couples who want children and then have children, except they can’t get married. There are also lots of gay couples who don’t want children. And do you know what they do? They don’t have children. Which makes them a lot like straight couples who don’t want children and don’t have children, except they don’t get abortions. Straight singles go out and have children, too. So do gay singles. And intersex and trans couples and singles. All of this is going on right now, with or without marriage equality. And there isn’t anything you or I or Fred Nile or the ACL or Bill Meuhlenberg can do about it.
What this argument is basically saying, then, is this: “The purpose of marriage is children, but you can have children without getting married, and you can get married if you don’t want children, and you can get married if you can’t have children, and there are thousands of gay couples out there who want children and could have children if they wanted to but aren’t having children because they can’t get married, because marriage is all about children, apart from all the married couples without children”.
Or, put another way, “I don’t like gays, and, furthermore, I don’t like gays”.
The only way this argument could possibly make sense is if people only get married to have children, and non-hetero couples aren’t having children because they can’t get married. And since neither of those things is true, the argument doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
It makes even less sense if you follow it one step further: If you truly believe that stopping same-sex marriage will prevent non-hetero couples having children, you are essentially saying that, rather than having non-traditional parents, it is better that those children don’t exist at all. Which is odd, given that almost everyone against same-sex marriage also follows that whole “right to life” thing. Think about it.
The second half of the “won’t someone think of the children” argument says that the children of gay parents fare worse than the children of hetero parents.
That should be the end of it, of course, but for some reason same-sex marriage opponents aren’t too impressed with “science”. Unless of course it’s bogus, discredited science that supports their established prejudice.
Even if we’re being incredibly generous, and concede that non-traditional families aren’t ideal, no reasonable person should be able to argue that the outcomes of such families are catastrophic enough to warrant their complete abolition. We know this because, if the outcomes were catastrophic, marriage equality opponents would be telling us about that, instead of mindlessly appealing to a specious defense of an outdated tradition.
Besides which, as we’ve already established, the marriage equality debate isn’t about children anyway. If you want to argue against same-sex parenting, go do it someplace else.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that this argument is a classic case of post-hoc reasoning, and the religious argument you use when you don’t want to look religious.
There’s no denying that there is a strong correlation between religious beliefs and opposition to marriage quality. And there’s no denying that the generally accepted position of all three Abrahamic religions is that marriage should be reserved for one man and one woman. Statistically speaking, the chance that this is due to pure coincidence is infinitesimally small. That alone should be enough to convince you that any time someone says “Won’t someone think of the children”, what they are really saying is “Won’t someone think of Baby Jebus”.
If you happen to be one of those people, however, and you genuinely believe that your opposition to marriage equality isn’t religiously motivated, ask yourself this.
If we, as a society, could somehow address all your concerns, would you still oppose it?
What if we could guarantee that all children raised by same-sex couples got to know their biological parents? Or if all those useless, horrible same-sex parents undertook a year-long course on how to be as good at parenting as heterosexuals? Or, perhaps better still, all married same-sex couples were forbidden from having any children at all?
Granted, those seem a little far-fetched. What about this, then: what if a multitude of independent scientific studies were published that proved that the children of same-sex couples actually do better than their heterosexual equivalents? If it’s all about the children, surely you wouldn’t object then, would you?
Perhaps I’m being presumptuous, but… yes, yes you would.
And if that’s the case, then you should wait for your cognitive dissonance to subside a little, grab your bible, and see yourself out. Because you’re simply not qualified for meaningful debate.
1. I use “same-sex couple” here, for the sake of brevity, to mean any non-heterosexual couple.