A crowd of hundreds heard two leaders in the debate over government recognition of same-sex “marriage” defend their positions Monday evening in a crowded lecture hall at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The event, sponsored by the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center, drew an audience generally supportive of the redefinition of marriage.
The debaters were Maggie Gallagher, an author, social commentator and the president of the National Organization for Marriage; and Jonathan Rauch, a senior writer for National Journal magazine and an author of several books on public policy, culture and economics.
Rauch began by discussing the difficulties homosexuals face in securing medical and legal rights, entry into the country for a relationship partner, and social respect for their relationships.
“Almost nobody challenges the idea that same-sex marriage is good for gays,” he claimed.
He cited Gallagher’s own book “The Case for Marriage,” saying that married men and women have greater “social capital.” He thought marriage, the “gold standard” of social recognition, would supply these benefits to homosexual couples and would send a “marvelous cultural signal” that marriage is still relevant.
The argument that marriage is intended only to help children is in his view “just wrong.”
“It seems to me obvious… marriage is good for children and for adults. What society needs is not fewer marriages, but more marriages,” he continued, claiming that over 25 percent of same-sex couples are also raising children.
Marriage, Rauch said, is more a “lifestyle choice” than ever before as more people decide not to marry or to stay married.
“That’s not a good thing for America,” he said.
While there may be risks to changing marriage, he contended, if marriage is not changed it will be redefined as a “civil rights violation” that excludes homosexuals. This would further discredit marriage for some people because it would make “heterosexuality itself” the defining point of marriage.
In skeptics’ eyes, marriage would be removed from its pedestal and placed “down in the gutter with other discriminatory institutions,” Rauch predicted, adding that if he thought same-sex marriage would destroy marriage he would not advocate it.
Addressing the argument that marriage is linked to procreation, he said procreation is contingent upon marriage and not the other way around.
Noting that elderly couples can marry despite being infertile, Rauch commented: “If you don’t keep them out because they’re not mommies and daddies, please don’t keep me out.”
For her part, Gallagher rested her defense of marriage on a question of truth. She said the parties to the debate were using the same words to mean different things.
“The first question for me is: Are same-sex unions ‘marriages’?”
“I’m against discrimination, I’m against hatred, I’m in favor of marriage equality, but I don’t think same-sex marriage is marriage. Therefore I think it is wrong for the government to insist, through the use of law, that we all believe that same-sex unions are marriages.”
She explained that she became interested in the topic of marriage out of “deep concern” about the high rates of divorce and unmarried childbearing. As an unmarried mother herself at the age of 22, and despite attending Yale, she had no idea that the best way for a woman to ensure having a father for her child was to be married.
“Marriage really matters because children need a mom and a dad,” Gallagher commented. “If you don’t have a strong marriage culture… opposite-sex unions go around creating children on a random basis. And children get hurt.”
In her view, human societies have universally recognized something “unique” about male-female relationships. As a sexual union that “points” men and women toward each other, marriage is “a public union, not a personal one.”
Gallagher granted that Rauch has presented a “very attractive” vision.
“I don’t see any signs it’s what gay marriage is going to be,” she remarked. Later she noted that after an initial “enthusiasm” same-sex marriages rapidly decrease in popularity and countries that recognize the practice have seen no revival in a marriage culture.
The movement’s focus on equality also tends to depict its opponents who defend the unique union of a man and a woman as similar to bigots.
“There are very few gay spokesmen who speak like Jon Rauch,” she explained.
In a society that recognizes homosexual marriages, she claimed, “the very real differences between these unions become privatized, officially disconnected from any public purpose for marriage, and stigmatized as bigotry.”
Though Rauch has pledged support for strengthening marriage, Gallagher warned, the civil institutions that strengthen marriage will be “driven from the public square” and “discredited” if the law treats support for traditional marriage as it treats racism or sexism.
Cases suppressing religion have already appeared in Massachusetts, where Catholic Charities had to withdraw from its decades of facilitating adoptions, Gallagher noted. The state now considers it discriminatory to place children with married men and women but not with homosexuals married under its laws.
If homosexual unions are recognized as marriage, she predicted, public schools will teach to children an understanding of marriage not shared by their parents.
Changing the “core understanding” of marriage will affect everyone, she added.
While expressing doubt that same-sex marriage will inevitably lead to polygamy, she reported she had just been asked to submit a brief for a British Columbia case considering the issue.
“Marriage has its own dignity and purpose,” she told the audience. Marriage should not be made the metric for respect for homosexuals because “it’s not true.”