Is Marriage Equality Primarily About Equality?

Rob Tisinai

January 29th, 2013

Self-described Catholic blogger Brandon Vogt recently published Rebuttals to arguments for same-sex marriageHe tries to disprove 10 common same-sex-marriage arguments, but merely highlights the most common mistakes of his own camp. I’m addressing each of his 10 points in  separate posts as a kind of back-t0-the-basics review of our opposition.

The second item on Brandon Vogt’s list of “our” arguments is actually a misunderstanding:

2. Same-sex marriage is primarily about equality.

This argument is emotionally powerful since we all have deep, innate longings for fairness and equality. Moreover, history has given us many failures in this area, including women banned from voting and African-Americans denied equal civil rights. The question, of course, is whether same-sex couples are denied equality by not being allowed to marry each other.

Vogt is confused here. Same-sex marriage is not primarily about equality — and certainly not about equality just for the sake of equality — any more than voting rights or freedom of speech are primarily about equality. If that sounds odd, think of it this way: In the U.S., equality under the law is derived from the self-evident premise “that all [human beings] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” In other words:

  1. Human beings have rights simply because we’re human.
  2. Governments are instituted to secure these rights.
  3. We’re all equally human.
  4. Therefore, the government must secure these rights equally for all of us.

That’s why I say our equal right to freedom of speech is not primarily about equality. It’s not like we’d be happy with any degree of freedom, small or great, as long as it’s equal among us. No — each of us as a human being has the abundant right to freedom of speech. Equality enters the picture only because we’re all equally human. And that’s true for all our human rights, including the right to marriage.

But I can see why Vogt is confused.. We speak of equality quite a bit, for the very reason he identifies above: “we all have deep, innate longings for fairness and equality.” To deny us equality is to deny us our equal humanity. That makes it a powerful persuader, a great (and true) rhetorical strategy. But that doesn’t mean a desire for equality is our primary reason for demanding marriage rights. As I’ve argued before, we only ask for the rights because we’ve already accepted the responsibilities:

People don’t marry just to take care of their kids. They marry to be responsible for each other: Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour / For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. It astonishes me how many of our religious opponents are so quick to forget their own Bible when they claim marriage is all about the kids.

Marriage does come with legal rights, but the rights we care most about the ones that help us live up to our responsibilities: the right to be in that hospital room, to provide medical care, to make decisions when your partner cannot, to ensure he can support himself if you are taken, to give your employer an honest reason when you take a personal day for his sake, to live in the same room, the same home, the same country without fearing discrimination or separation.

This is my new mantra: We only ask for the rights because we’ve already accepted the responsibilities. It’s not about equality per se, but about the fact that we’re all equally human. And this effectively demolishes the rest of Vogt’s argument, which is that it’s okay to treat opposite-sex and same-sex couples differently, because society’s only interest in marriage is about biological parenting — a statement that none of our opponents (not even Maggie Gallagher!) truly believe.

Tomorrow: Does everyone has the right to marry whomever he or she loves?

Priya Lynn

January 29th, 2013

What I was thinking was that marriage equality isn’t necessarily about equality, its about having a marriage itself – the goal is to have a marriage, and equality in a sense is irrelevant to that. Or at least that would be the case for many gays and lesbians, for other gays and lesbians who have no personal desire to marry it may be primarily about gaining equality rather than a marriage itself.

Gene in L.A.

January 29th, 2013

There’s a variation of this argument that I’ve heard a number of times, which is that gay men aren’t being discriminated against by being refused the right to marry another man, because we already have the equal right to marry a woman. Under this thinking, allowing us to marry a man is really giving us a “special” right. Of course, the fact that they would also have the new right created by marriage equality doesn’t occur to them, because they don’t need or want it.

The reality is that it isn’t the right to marry a man that’s the gist of all this; it’s the right to marry WHOM WE CHOOSE, without any input or restriction from others. It’s no coincidence that choice is what it boils down to. “Anti-choice” doesn’t refer only to abortion. People think if they don’t want something no one else needs it either. The basic problem is authoritarianism.

Ben in Oakland

January 29th, 2013

I would add this:
The idea that this is “all about equality” is yet another way To dismiss the whole argument as not really being about marriage at all, but about SOMETHING ELSE.

In one sense, this is correct. Equality is not the goal, it is the by product of ending this vicious prejudice that says we must be treated differently than heterosexuals for the simple reason that we are not heterosexual…

…As if the only people that matter in the world are heterosexual, and everyone else simply doesn’t matter, which is rob’s point. As an American citizen, a tax payer, and a law abiding, productive, contributing member of my community, I beg to disagree.

It is yet another attempt to ignore the same reality that your first column dealt with: marriage is about all kinds of things in our society: rights, benefits, obligations, family, responsibilities. It is not just about what religious conservatives think marriage is about. When they claim it is only about procreation, that simply isn’t true. There isnt a jurisdiction in the united states, and probably in the world, that requires procreation, or even sexual contact, for an opposite marriage to be legal and valid. in short, It’s more of heterosexuals applying a standard to us that they wouldn’t dream of applying to themselves.

In other words, it’s not us that is trying to redefine marriage. It’s THEM! As always when it comes to antigay bigots, whatever they say is them projecting upon us.

As I always say to those who make this claim, my love, my life, my family, my children, my religious faith, and my assets are every bit as important as theirs, and deserve exactly the same legal protections as they award to themselves.

Nothing more and nothing less.


January 29th, 2013

@Gene in L.A.
They also argued that anti-miscegenation laws weren’t discrimination because people had the right to marry someone of their own race

Lindoro Almaviva

January 29th, 2013

Marriage does come with legal rights, but the rights we care most about the ones that help us live up to our responsibilities: the right to be in that hospital room, to provide medical care, to make decisions when your partner cannot, to ensure he can support himself if you are taken, to give your employer an honest reason when you take a personal day for his sake, to live in the same room, the same home, the same country without fearing discrimination or separation.

The man has no sense of irone does he? This kind of stuff just eludes them all together. Sometimes it is like a clown car.


January 29th, 2013

great post about equality and the pursuit of human happiness.



January 30th, 2013

“Human beings have rights simply because we’re human.”

This got me thinking, why do humans have rights?

Would be great if somebody elaborated on this, cause it sounded circular. Oh wai-

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