An Imaginary Contradiction

Rob Tisinai

January 7th, 2011

The Economist, the world’s premiere news magazine, is having a debate on same-sex marriage between Maggie Gallagher (of NOM) and Evan Wolfson (of Freedom to Marry).

One of the key issues is the question “What is Marriage?” The Economist called in a “featured guest” to the debate, Susan Meld Shell, who wrote:

Jonathan Rauch, a highly regarded and eloquent supporter of gay marriage, defines marriage as, essentially, a legally enforced, long-term relationship of mutual aid and support between two sexual partners. Marriage, he says, “is putting one person ahead of all others”. “If marriage means anything at all,” according to Mr Rauch, it is knowing “that there is someone out there for whom you are always first in line.”

We can here leave aside how odd this definition will sound to any married couple with young children, partners whose first responsibility is not obviously spousal. The point to note is Mr Rauch’s telling claim that marriage, as he understands it, is primarily directed towards relieving adult anxiety about facing catastrophe alone—an “elemental fear of abandonment” (ie, that no one will be “there for me”) that may well express deeply felt human needs and longings, but has little or nothing to do with parenthood as such, the main conjugal concern of historically liberal thinkers like Locke.

This is a bit of a straw man — there’s nothing exclusively catastrophic in Jonathan Rauch’s view of marriage.  And I agree with Rauch, perhaps not in every word he uses, but in this general conception of marriage. Yet I also agree with Ms. Shell that when you have children, your life’s chief responsibility is to ensure their safety, health, and development.

I disagree with Ms. Shell in thinking this is a contradiction.  Follow me on this.  In its idealized form:

  • Marriage means that when your health fails, you have a partner who is devoted to your care.
  • Marriage means that when you are in dire emotional straits, you have a partner who will support and protect you.
  • Marriage means that when you celebrate an achievement, you have a partner who feels that joy as if it’s their own.


  • Marriage means that in your life’s chief responsibility, you have a partner who will work with you and give their all.

No. Contradiction. At. All.

There’s more.  Will (my partner) just came into the office, and he’s much more practical, much less theoretical, than I.  He pointed out that when parents neglect each other in favor of their children, the family breaks down and children lose the security of a stable home.

He was a lifeguard as a teen, and he recalled that you can’t count on being able to save lives without someone backing you up — that’s not a theoretical stretch, but a lesson learned through practice and experience.  It made me think of the instruction we get on planes: if the oxygen mask drops, put on your own before helping your kids.

So, yes, whether you examine it logically or practically, whether kids are in the picture or not, marriage at its best means you will always have that partner who will come to your aid and for whom you are not just willing but happy to save and celebrate when the occasion arises.

Lost Choi

January 7th, 2011

Why do both sides of this debate always seem to forget that a great many of gay couples today are raising kids?

I’ve seen stats over the last couple of years that put the percentage somewhere between 30% and 40% of gay couples today have children in the household. I can understand why the Maggie Gallaghers of this world don’t want to deal with these stats, but I don’t understand why Evan Wolfson wouldn’t include this in his argument?

These are kids who are forced to live in homes with parents unable to marry, unable to legally prove they are a complete family unit. These are kids that are thus forced to be second-class citizens.

Why doesn’t Wolfson push this include this powerful argument as part of his definition & purpose of marriage?

Zoe Brain

January 8th, 2011

“Between two sexual partners”

Not necessarily. It’s possible for two people to love each other without being sexually attracted in any way.

Steve Ribisi

January 8th, 2011

As a gay married man with two young children, let me say that both aspects of marriage ring true. I know that my husband is there for me no matter what, just as he knows that I am there for him. The kids’ needs come first and sometimes the rigors of parenthood curtail the time and energy that my husband and I have to devote to each other. Sometimes our needs (need I say more?) have to be met in order to maintain the intimacy that we both crave. We can’t always put each other first anymore, but we can’t always be second in line either. It is a delicate balancing act. One day in the future the kids will be off on their own and my husband and I will essentially be back to being just the two of us on a daily basis. When that day comes, what will we do if we destroyed our marriage in the process of raising our kids? It is best for us, our children, and thinking ahead, our grandchildren if we preserve our marriage AND raise our kids together, as a family. Plus, if you think about it, kids are themselves a form of “crisis” that is best managed by two (or more) adults. I think single parents must at times have their backs against the wall without a second parent to call upon for help in the middle of the night when a little one wakes from a nightmare, or is sick with a fever, or any of the million other day-to-day challenges that come with raising children. By the way – having kids was the best thing that could have happened to us (if not to our sex lives).

Emily K

January 8th, 2011

I wish more gay men and women would refer to their spouses as husband and wife, or even “spouse,” instead of “partner.” That word makes it sound like a business arrangement, or even as simple as “science project partner” a la elementary school.

If we want marriage equality, we need to start treating our marriages as equal in every form. Otherwise it looks like we’re accepting of the “separate class” we’re put in by the state.

Emily K

January 8th, 2011

Zoe Brain is right, asexual couples DO get married.


January 8th, 2011

My partner of 24 years became seriously ill three years, resulting in a liver transplant. Altho they mean well, I’m still amazed at the number of people, including his family members who should know better, who compliment me for staying with him and caring for him. I doubt that they would say that to a straight married man caring for his sick wife. And I doubt that they realize that saying this tells me they don’t think of us as a partners; it’s what you would say to a best friend that helps out.


January 8th, 2011

Funny thing, I have often heard people name the fear of facing old age alone as their primary motivation for having children. I’ve also seen some try to use that fear to intimidate and shame anyone who doesn’t want to have kids — “Who will take care of you when you’re old and sick?” Of course, there’s no guarantee your kids will actually do that, as anyone who works in a hospital could tell you.

Shell’s trying to do a subtle version of the old “gays are only interested in their selfish, individual pursuit of happiness, and don’t want to do the heavy lifting of perpetuating the species” canard. She’s more transparent than she realizes.

Timothy Kincaid

January 8th, 2011

I respect much of what Rausch has to say, but he doesn’t speak for me. He is not the Official Gay Spokesman.

So it is but a diversionary tactic on Shell’s part to say, “rather than discuss marriage, I’ll discuss what Rauch says about marriage.” It’s a variation on the strawman falacy.

Bill Ware

January 8th, 2011

It’s all but as adage in family counseling: The best way for a mother or father to care for their children is to love their husband or wife.

John P

January 8th, 2011

Even advice columnist John Rosemond, as conservative a “family values” man as you’re likely to find anywhere, consistently preaches that the primary relationship in a family with children is between the husband and wife. I wonder what he’d think of Maggie Gallagher’s “definition” and “core purpose” of the marital relationship.


January 8th, 2011

I think the person makes the mistake of equating marriage and having a family. They are two separate but not mutually exclusive things. People who marry are taking their relationship to another level. Some then choose to take their relationship to yet ANOTHER level when they choose to expand their relationship by having children and making the relationship a three, four, five, or more-way relationship. The fact that many people marry who don’t talk this NEXT step in their relationship AND that people who haven’t taken the step of marriage before having children proves that neither “step” in relationship building is DEPENDENT on the other.

I had a child with my partner long before we married, mainly because there was nowhere we COULD marry when we had our son.


January 8th, 2011

I think Shell’s message is just a classic example of a heterosexual not knowing what the hell she/he is talking about when it comes to an institution such as marriage. That’s rather ironic considering that heterosexuals dream of being married from such a young age, and yet heterosexuals illustrate their thoughtlessness about the institution they aspire to when they speak like Shell.

Jason D

January 9th, 2011

I agree with the spirit of what you’re saying but this has me puzzled:

“..expand their relationship by having children and making the relationship a three, four, five, or more-way relationship.”

I don’t agree. I’m not in a group marriage with my parents and brother. I’m not part of their relationship: I’m the PRODUCT of it. I’m nothing close to an equal partner in my parent’s marriage.

Children are the result of their parents relationship, not a partner in it.

Throbert McGee

January 9th, 2011

If we want marriage equality, we need to start treating our marriages as equal in every form. Otherwise it looks like we’re accepting of the “separate class” we’re put in by the state.

Okay, please explain to the BTB newbie: What exactly is wrong with being in a “separate class”? How exactly would it set us back, if the state were to reserve Marriage for opposite-sex couples, while establishing the institution of Quarriageâ„¢ for same same-sex couples?

Priya Lynn

January 10th, 2011

Throbert said “Okay, please explain to the BTB newbie: What exactly is wrong with being in a “separate class”? How exactly would it set us back, if the state were to reserve Marriage for opposite-sex couples, while establishing the institution of Quarriageâ„¢ for same same-sex couples?”.

In states that gave gay couples “everything but the name” companies and individuals still didn’t recognize the two as equal and denied “civil unioned” couples the benefits they offered to married couples. They couldn’t get family discounts, insurance companies wouldn’t allow them to put their partners on their insurance the same way married couples were allowed to, hospitals didn’t recognize the civil union as a marriage and denied those couples visition and spousal directives for treatment and so forth.

If you set up a seperate institution to mimic marriage its extremely doubtful that its going to do so. There are thousands of rights, benefits and obligations attached to marriage and to retroactively go back and mirror all the laws that would achieve equality is too large a task to ever be done thoroughly. For example, I severely doubt a “everthing but the name” couple
would have the right not to testify against each other in court.

Further, once the allegedly “everything but the name” unions are legally defined because they are two different institutions there is nothing insuring they will continue to be legislated equally in the future – a change to the marriage laws won’t automatically apply to the civil union laws and vice versa.

Finally the idea that a seperate but equal arrangement will be truly equal is proven false by the fact that if such arrangements were truly equal people would have no problem calling them the same thing. That bigots insist on calling them something different is proof that they ARE something different.

Ben in Oakland

January 10th, 2011


If the two are exactly the same, why do we need two names?

your suggestion actually would have merit, but as someone pointed out, there is no guarantee that they would stay the same.

One institution would seem to be adequate, as long as we are agreed that institutio­n, whatever it is called, has the same name for gay and straight, the same rights, the same responsibi­lities, the same benefits, the same respect.

The argument from me has always been that straight people get one thing, gay people get something else, and it usually isn’t as good.

The problem you will get from the rabid right is that you are trying to downgrade, define, or otherwise negatively affect everyone’s (read: every heterosexu­al’s) marriage, because they don’t want what they are occasional­ly willing to dole out to gay people.

Timothy Kincaid

January 10th, 2011


Separate institutions are different, in name if nothing else. That seems obvious, but stop and consider it for a moment.

And almost without exception, when we categorize things in our minds, we give a ranking: strawberry cheesecake tastes better than regular cheesecake, Armani suits fit better than K-Mart suits, white schools in the South are more deserving of funding that black schools. And most of the ranking that goes on in our minds goes unsaid and often subconscious.

Now in the case of suits, that has merit. Armani truly does fit better than K-Mart. But sometimes such distinctions serve no purpose other than reinforcing prejudices and doling out privilege; black children are not inherently less worthy than white children.

But those of us who believe in marriage equality do not believe that there is an inherent ranking between heterosexual marriage and homosexual marriage; we don’t believe that heterosexuals are superior (or inferior) to homosexuals.

If you carefully (or even casually) look at the arguments from those who oppose marriage equality, you will see that their sole (yes, sole) motivation in having differing names is to allow for ranking. They wish for heterosexual relationships to be considered better. They are better “for the children”. They are better “because they are complimentary”. They are better “because they are sacred”. And it goes on.

Leave A Comment

All comments reflect the opinions of commenters only. They are not necessarily those of anyone associated with Box Turtle Bulletin. Comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

(Required, never shared)

PLEASE NOTE: All comments are subject to our Comments Policy.


Latest Posts

The Things You Learn from the Internet

"The Intel On This Wasn't 100 Percent"

From Fake News To Real Bullets: This Is The New Normal

NC Gov McCrory Throws In The Towel

Colorado Store Manager Verbally Attacks "Faggot That Voted For Hillary" In Front of 4-Year-Old Son

Associated Press Updates "Alt-Right" Usage Guide

A Challenge for Blue Bubble Democrats

Baptist Churches in Dallas, Austin Expelled Over LGBT-Affirming Stance

Featured Reports

What Are Little Boys Made Of?

In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.

Slouching Towards Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate

When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.

Paul Cameron’s World

In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.

From the Inside: Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out”

On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

At last, the truth can now be told.

Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!

And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.

Testing The Premise: Are Gays A Threat To Our Children?

Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.

Straight From The Source: What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples

Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.

The FRC’s Briefs Are Showing

Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.

Daniel Fetty Doesn’t Count

Daniel FettyThe FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.