The harms of redefining civil marriage would extend beyond the couple and their children, to anyone who holds the conjugal view. Americans are not particularly patient with those we think are enemies of equality. People who have attitudes that remind us of Jim Crow, Chinese exclusion laws, Japanese internment camps, or forbidding women the vote are today’s exiles, barred from the public square and even respectable jobs. The revisionist view depends on the idea that there are no important differences between same- and opposite-sex relationships. By endorsing it, the state would imply that the conjugal view makes arbitrary distinctions, and conjugal marriage supporters would become champions of discrimination.
Photographers, caterers, innkeepers, adoption agency officials, parochial school administrators, counselors, foster-care and adoption providers, and others will be forced to comply with the revisionist view or lose their jobs. This is not fear-mongering, this is taking revisionists at their word. If support for conjugal marriage really is like racism, we need only ask how civil society treats racists. In Canada a prominent sportscaster was fired from his job for expression on Twitter of his support for conjugal marriage; a Georgia counselor contracted by the CDC was fired after an investigation into her religiously motivated decision to refer someone in a same-sex relationship to another counselor (that one in particular burns me up, as I am a counselor); a ministry in New Jersey lost its tax-exempt status for denying a lesbian couple use of its facility for a same-sex wedding; and a photographer was prosecuted by the New Mexico Human Rights Commission or declining to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony.
Conflicts with religious liberty are inevitable when marriage is extended to same-sex couples. In Massachusetts, Catholic Charities was forced to give up its adoption services rather than violate its principles by placing children with same-sex cohabitants. When public school began teaching students about same-sex marriages because it was now law, the court found that parents did not have the right to exempt their students. In fact the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty reports that “over 350 separate state anti-discrimination provisions would likely be triggered by recognition of same-sex marriage.” Because of the mutual influence of law and culture, emerging legal trends are mirrored by social ones. A Washington Post story drew cries of journalistic bias for implying that one conjugal view advocate was “sane and thoughtful,” and in fact compared the profile to a piece about a KKK member! A New York Times columnist has called conjugal marriage proponents bigots. Now organizations pushing the legal redefinition of marriage label themselves as “champions of human rights” and opponents of “hate.” And all this has occurred before any nation-wide or state majority legalization for same-sex marriage!
How about undermining friendship? The social prevalence of the revisionist view would make things harder on single people: as marriage is defined simply as the most valuable or only kind of deep communion, it becomes harder to find emotional and spiritual intimacy in nonmarital friendships. Revisionists cannot define marriage in terms of real bodily union or family life, so they tend to define it instead by its degree or intensity. Marriage is simply your closest relationship, offering the most of the one basic currency of intimacy: shared emotion and experience. The more we absorb this assumption, the less we value deep friendship in its own right. Self-disclosure, unembarrassed reliance, self-forgetfulness, extravagant expressions of affection and other features of companionship come to seem like unwelcome impositions outside romance and marriage. Here is an article explaining it more fully, it is a deeply thought-out treatise.
It’s been made clear that redefining civil marriage would affect how we conduct our sexual relationships, how we parent, how we treat conscientious dissent, and how we deal with friends. However there is a common “conservative” objection to part of this. Some say that adopting the revisionist view would actually strengthen it, by imposing traditional marital norms–conservative values–on more relationships. Note that it doesn’t show the revisionist view of marriage to be true or the conjugal view false. Untouched are our claims that fathers matter as well as mothers. Nor does it dispel concerns about moral and religious freedom, or the diminution of friendship. If marriage is understood as an essentially emotional union then marital norms, especially permanence and exclusivity, will make less sense. Rather than imposing traditional norms on same-sex relationships, abolishing the conjugal view would tend to erode the basis for those norms in any relationship.
Examples are easy to find. In their statement “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage,” more than 300 scholars and advocates call for legally recognize sexual relationship involving more than two partners. A University of Calgary professor thinks justice requires us to use legal recognition to “denormalize heterosexual monogamy as a way of life.” What about the connection to family life? Andrew Sullivan, who is a conservative proponent of same-sex marriage says that marriage has become “primarily a way in which two adults affirm their emotional commitment to one another.” EJ Graff celebrates that recognizing same-sex unions would change the ‘institution’s message’ so it would “ever after stand for sexual choice, for cutting the link between sex and diapers.”
For those who want more proof, here is a great example: In the 1980’s Professors David McWhirter and Andrew Mattison, themselves in a romantic relationship, set out to disprove popular beliefs about gay partners’ inability to stay monogamous. Of the 156 men they surveyed, whose relationships had lasted from 1 – 37 years, more than 60% had begun the relationship expecting exclusivity, but not one couple stayed sexually exclusive longer than five years. They concluded “the expectation for outside sexual activity was the rule for male couples and the exception for heterosexuals.” Far from disproving popular beliefs, they confirmed them. The NY Times reported on a more recent study that stated, “‘with straight people, it’s called affairs or cheating,’ said Colleen Hoff, the study’s principal investigator, ‘but with gay people it does not have such negative connotations.'” To contrast, 99% of of opposite-sex couples expect sexual exclusivity in their marriage according to a Journal of Sex Research article in 2009, and violations of it are so serious they are “the leading cause of divorce across 160 cultures and are one of the most frequent reasons that couples seek marital therapy.”
It’s important to avoid stereotypes, which exaggerate infidelity unfairly, however I will summarize three studies that address this issue. A 1990’s UK survey of more than 5000 men found that the average numbers of partners over the previous five years for men with exclusively heterosexual inclinations was two, with bisexual inclinations was seven, and with exclusively homosexual inclinations was 10. A US survey found the average number of sexual partners since age 18 for men who identified as homosexual or bisexual was over 2.5 times as many as the average for heterosexual men. Finally, a study of same-sex civil marriages in Norway and Sweden found that “divorce risks are higher in same-sex partnerships than opposite-sex marriage and…unions of lesbians are considerably less stable, or more dynamic, than unions of gay men.”
So this “conservative” objection does not seem to bear out in reality, even in countries where these unions are uniformly legally recognized. There is no reason to believe, and abundant reason to doubt, that redefining civil marriage would make people more likely to abide by its norms. If anything it would undermine people’s grasp of the basis for those norms.