In October, Florida4Marriage.org announced that it was just a few thousand signatures away from securing a spot on the November 2008 ballot to ask voters to enshrine a ban on gay marriage in the state constitution. This is a perplexing issue for me: I don’t get exactly what about the prospect of gay marriage gets social conservatives so atwitter.
Would letting gays marry somehow screw up their marriages? That doesn’t make much sense. Does the advent of gay marriage lead to a rise in out-of-wedlock birth and divorce rates? That idea was convincingly shot down (at least in Scandinavia, where same-sex relationships were first sanctioned) by University of Massachusetts at Amherst professor M.V. Lee Badgett in a 2004 article in the journal Sexuality Research & Social Policy.
So are we then merely to chalk up the anti-gay marriage movement to religion-fueled intolerance? Or is there a legitimate reason why society shouldn’t allow same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexuals?
In November, I heard a man-on-the-street interview that a reporter at 580 WDBO-AM conducted on this very question. The interviewee’s response: “If the law allows people to go out there and have same-sex marriage, how are you going to produce the world with other humans?”
The articles to which the Florida4Marriage.org site links weren’t much help. One, titled “Ten Persuasive Answers to the Question ‘Why Not Gay Marriage?’” by Focus on the Family “same-sex marriage expert” Glenn T. Stanton, was anything but persuasive. Stanton suggests that hetero marriage is the anchor upon which societies are built, and allowing gays to marry would destroy civilization as we know it.
Still unconvinced, I set out to ask a few Central Floridians what exactly being “against gay marriage” means. Could I find even one good reason why I, too, should sign that Florida4Marriage.org petition and so aggressively “defend marriage”?
God says so
I began the afternoon of Nov. 23 – Black Friday in the retail world – at the Altamonte Springs Wal-Mart, with a 30-something Salvation Army bell-ringer. When asked, she promptly informed me that she was against gay marriage. Why? “Because it’s not of God and I just don’t like it.”
You can’t really argue with the “of God” part. Everyone has ideas on what policies the Big Guy favors, and I’m not here for a theological argument. Besides, public policy isn’t supposed to be based on any individual’s interpretation of the Bible, right?
(I’m reminded of Exodus 35:2: “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the Lord: Whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death.” Does that mean I should head back to Wal-Mart Sunday and smite all the store’s employees?)
I posed the same question to two women in their early 60s. “Because God created man and woman,” one replied while the other continued her shopping. Humans are indeed divided into two sexes; upon that we can all agree. Still, should the reality of gender be the basis for a public policy that denies a segment of the public rights afforded to others?
In the arts and crafts department, a retired seamstress echoed that sentiment. “For man and woman only,” she told me. In the automotive department, a tall, thin mechanic in his 40s informed me, “I’m against gay everything.”
OK, but why? “’Cause it’s not right,” he said. “It’s immoral.”
Four people, all with different spins on that old cliché: God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. I needed to scratch a little deeper beneath the surface.
A few days later, on Dec. 5th, I ventured out to the Target on East Colonial Drive to see if I could find more substantive answers. My first subject, a 58-year-old in a flannel shirt and glasses, said he opposed gay marriage for religious reasons: “The Bible’s pretty clear about it. It specifically says marriage between a man and a woman. I’m not gonna debate it with you, but that’s what I believe.”
But what if I don’t believe the same things that you do?
“Well, constitutionally speaking,” he said, “some gay union is legal. I wouldn’t call it marriage. The institution of marriage I consider between men and women.”
“But gay unions?”
“Unions of any kind legally are fine with me.”
“So as long as it’s not ‘marriage’?”
“Yeah, I’m fairly tolerant.”
It’s worth noting that the proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage would also forbid “the substantial equivalent thereof,” meaning any sort of civil union that gives homosexual couples the same rights as straight couples.
Later that day, I headed back to the Altamonte Springs Wal-Mart. I stopped an elementary-school teacher in her mid-40s. She was happy to tell me all about her “radical” views on gay marriage.
“[I]t’s not natural,” she said. “Because when God created the world he didn’t create man and man or woman and woman, he created a man and a woman. He created one of each.”
Some states already allow civil unions, I respond. What would you say if that were allowed in Florida? “OK, the world was created by God,” she replied. “The world wasn’t created by any president or any governor. Nothing. So if nobody wants to follow God’s rules, what for is the world then?”
“What’s the world for?”
“Yeah. If you want to form a family and you get two women married, how are you going to create a family? Religion or no religion, I am against gay marriage.”
Is marriage only for procreation? What then are we to make of straight, childless couples? Should those be banned too?
She’s also against any homosexual public displays of affection.
“You know, everybody has the right to choose whatever they want. So as long as they don’t obligate other people, especially children, to see them or make them public – hugging each other or kissing each other – that makes a scandal.”
So it’s OK if it’s private?
Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose.
Again, we’re back to the same argument about gay marriage: Some people, mainly for religious reasons, simply aren’t comfortable with gays marrying, and they believe that discomfort should be codified into law. There may be some sense that gay marriage would have negative consequences for society at large, but in my interviews at least, that idea never seemed to develop beyond a superficial, gut-level feeling.
If there is a good reason why I should hop on the Florida4Marriage.org bandwagon, I’ve yet to hear firstname.lastname@example.org