Thursday, June 14, 2007

Conservatives present faulty argument against same-sex marriage

Conservatives present faulty argument against same-sex marriage

By Heather and David Knowlton
Wednesday, June 13, 2007 8:51 AM CDT

Part one of two.

We believe that the same-sex marriage debate has lured conservatives into taking a non-defensible position - one that is inherently contradictory and wrong-headed.

Lest liberals who are reading this article begin loudly grunting their approval at our opening statement, we probably should clarify: This is not an endorsement for same-sex marriage. To be fair, it also is not a repudiation of same-sex marriage.

Rather, the following is meant to chastise conservatives for putting forth an argument that, in fact, undermines principles of conservatism. Let's examine some of the assumptions that underlie conservative arguments that the state should not grant same-sex marriages.

First, one common argument that conservatives - particularly Evangelical Christian conservatives - regularly present is that homosexual relationships are contrary to God's law. Thus, America, as a Christian nation, should not endorse a breaking of God's law.

The reality is that America was founded on a doctrine of religious freedom. In fact, the founders of this country went to great lengths to separate our government from any specific religion. It can well be argued that some of the founders were men of God. But the founders never suggested that a specific religion should be a basis for deciding law.

We'd argue that the separation of church and state is the exact factor that has allowed Christianity to flourish in this nation. After all, can you name many ventures where the government's involvement and endorsement has created a stronger and more substantive state of affairs? We urge our Christian brothers and sisters to recognize that we jeopardize that flourishing by asking the state to support a view on the grounds that it is a Christian view.

Second, conservatives tend to argue that the government allowing same-sex marriages will ultimately weaken the institution of marriage.

To begin with, we'd suggest that the divorce rate among heterosexual couples (including divorce rates among conservatives) shows that private citizens are doing just fine in weakening the power of marriage without the state's help. In pointing to divorce rates in this country, we are not necessarily criticizing those who are divorced; indeed, we believe that legitimate reasons for divorce exist. Our point, however, is that for conservatives to suggest that same-sex marriages undermine the institution of marriage is disingenuous. Divorce rates suggest that even those who have the state's blessing on their marriage don't take marriage very seriously.

More importantly, when conservatives argue that a state decision to allow same-sex marriages will undermine the institution of marriage, they inherently give the state a powerful role in determining the value of private relationships. Is that what conservatives believe - as the state goes, so the value of private relationships comes?

By virtue of their position, conservatives seem to be suggesting that a state-issued license serves as a meaningful confirmation and blessing of marriage. As a happily married Christian couple, we feel that the state's blessing, in itself, undermines the love, commitment, and spiritual meaning that we find within our marriage. Our marriage is, in fact, sanctified because it has the blessing of our church. Our marriage was consecrated in a ceremony during which our spiritual leaders, friends, and family blessed our intentions toward each other. The fact that the great state of Tennessee also endorsed our relationship, frankly, takes away some of the spiritual significance of our marriage. The state's intrusion into our private lives secularizes us as a married couple.

We do define ourselves as both conservatives and Christians. Yet, as we have said, the arguments that most Christians and conservatives make against same-sex marriage are counterproductive and undermine conservative fundamentals. After all, if conservatives ultimately prevail and the almighty state does not grant marriage rights to same-sex partners, then conservatives have supported the state's role in whimsically supporting a popular religious perspective and validating relationships between private individuals. What an odd place for conservatives to find themselves!

So, what's the good conservative to do?

Next week we will offer practical advice to conservatives for strengthening the bonds of marriage and retaining marriage's rightful role as a spiritual bond between two private citizens. While some will see our advice as blasphemy, we argue that it is far more consistent with conservative principles than the position being held by most conservatives today.

Heather Knowlton teaches English composition at Lewis

and Clark Community College. David Knowlton is a faculty member in the School of Education at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

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