That’s what I want to scream whenever I read about or see news coverage of opponents of same-sex marriage speaking about “protecting” and “defending” marriage “as it’s always been”!
For over a decade I have worked for national mental health organizations, currently in an area affecting millions of people on a daily basis. The issue we deal with affects millions of adults, but typically its “age of onset” is in childhood, often as a child is getting ready to attend school for the first time. Fortunately, there are federal laws which guarantee that every child in this country — regardless of ability or disability — receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), and that such education be provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Implementation of these laws is a never-ending challenge for parents, teachers and school systems. Yet I wonder if, at the time of their introduction and passage, these laws were met with opposing arguments saying that public education should be limited only to children without any physical or mental impairment? I wonder if opponents argued that in order to receive that education paid for by taxpayer dollars, every child had to walk through the door on his own and couldn’t come in if she were in a wheelchair or otherwise physically challenged? I wonder if opponents tried to derail the legislation by taking the focus off children with disabilities (i.e. what the law is about) and putting it on the non-disabled children (i.e. what the law is not about)?
I pose that question because that’s exactly what opponents of same-sex marriage continually do. They attempt to frame this issue not in terms of what it is about, but in terms of what it’s not about. When they argue their side, they don’t talk about gay people, and in fact do everything they can to frame it in terms of of everyone except gay people. So, instead of betraying either the ignorance or ugliness (or both) of what they really believe (“being gay is a choice,” “homosexuality is evil,” “gays and lesbians are sinners,” “they should just go back into those closets and not expose ‘our’ children to their unhealthy lifestyle,” etc. etc. etc.), they frame the issue of same-sex marriage and the civil rights of LGBT people almost entirely in terms straight people and children.
If you’ve any doubt, here are the talking points the so-called National Organization for Marriage suggests its supporters put on a 3×5 card, always ready at hand:
- Marriage is between a husband and wife. The people of [this state] do not want marriage to be anything but that. We do not want government or judges changing that definition for us today or our children tomorrow.
- We need a marriage amendment to settle the gay marriage issue once and for all, so we don’t have it in our face every day for the next ten years.
- Marriage is about bringing together men and women so children can have mothers and fathers.
- Do we want to teach the next generation that one-half of humanity—either mothers or fathers—are dispensable, unimportant? Children are confused enough right now with sexual messages. Let’s not confuse them further.
- Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose; they don’t have a right to redefine marriage for the rest of us.
Notice that every point except the last one has nothing whatsoever to do with gay people. They all have to do with husbands and wives, (straight) mothers and (straight) fathers, and children (of heterosexual parents). And even the point that does mention “gays and lesbians” tries to start off positively, though it does so by perpetuating the lie that one’s sexual orientation is a choice.
Each of these points is easily be rebutted one by one; and for those actively engaged in the debate, it’s important to be able to do that. From my perspective, however, it’s equally if not more important not merely to rebut these talking points, but to reframe the issue in terms of what it’s really about. Previously, I’ve written about how those who oppose same-sex marriage get the answer wrong, because they have the question wrong. “The issue isn’t about you!” It’s about gays and lesbians. It’s about those whom God created and gifted with same-sex attraction and whether or not society will recognize the full humanity of gay people, providing the full respect our humanity demands. Is that so hard to understand?
So, instead of playing their game and simply rebutting their talking points, here are a few of my own:
- Sexual orientation, in all its diversity, is part of our God-given human nature. In every age and in every culture, God has created a certain percentage of people with same-sex attraction.
- Marriage is an important civil and religious institution by which societies publicly sanction and support the loving, committed relationship of two people.
- For gay men and women, establishing stable, loving, and committed relationships is good for themselves and good for society as a whole.
- Just like a straight couple who either choose not to have children or marry later in life yet still enjoy the rights, benefits, and privileges of marriage, so too should gay and lesbian couples enjoy these same rights, benefits and privileges.