The Institution of Marriage and the Traditional Family after Adoption of Same-Sex Marriages

by Patrick Woltner (Author)

Essay 2015 13 Pages

Sociology - Gender Studies




From a rise of incest to legal polygamy: how adoption of same-sex marriages can weaken traditional ones “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”(John Donne)

Should “Some Animals” Be “More Equal than Others”? Cases for Legalizing Gay Marriage




Like any controversial topic, introduction of same-sex marriages has engendered multiple arguments – both in favor and against it – which come from various spheres of social life, from religion to law. For instance, a debatabase website ProCons.org contains 15 arguments for and 13 ones against same-sex marriages1 ; and one can imagine that the actual number of all possible arguments is by far not limited even to this quantity.

People who have not gone deep into this debate might wonder why this topic is disputable: seemingly, legalization of same-sex marriages is for the benefit of LGBT people, while it does not anyhow harm straight people, therefore, it should leave the latter ones either positive (as satisfaction of other people’s needs somehow brings harmony and friendship to the entire society), or, at least, indifferent (as same-sex marriages are not related to heterosexuals in any way). Speaking in terms of biology, the relationship between gay and straight people on the issue of same-sex marriages can, at the first glance, be viewed as commensalism: one organism turns the relationship to its advantage while the other one is neither better off, nor worse off. Yet, taking a closer look at the debate allows us to understand that both proponents and opponents of gay marriages would strongly disagree with my “commensalism” assumption:

“Amongst the likeliest effects of gay marriage is to take us down a slippery slope to legalized polygamy and ‘polyamory’ (group marriage). Marriage will be transformed into a variety of relationship contracts, linking two, three, or more individuals (however weakly and temporarily) in every conceivable combination of male and female” (Kurtz 2003).

“The announcement I made last week about my views on marriage equality -- same principle. <…> The basic idea -- I want everybody treated fairly in this country. We have never gone wrong when we expanded rights and responsibilities to everybody. That doesn’t weaken families; that strengthens families. It’s the right thing to do”2 (President Barack Obama, “The View” TV show, 14 May 2012).

Although the two opinions oppose each other, there is one thing they have in common: they both imply that expanding the right to marry to homosexual couples would affect the institutions of family and marriage themselves, either positively or negatively. Logically, it may be true, since if you change a part of something, or add a new element to something – in our case, same-sex families and same-sex marriages to the institutions of family and marriage respectively, – the entire thing will also change. In this paper, I make an attempt to prove that traditional families would not be considerably affected by homosexual families, whereas the institution of marriage would even benefit from adoption of same-sex marriage. For this purpose, I critically analyze the arguments of both sides of the dispute and make comments defending my position: the first chapter takes a look at accounts in favor of weakening of the institutions of family and marriage, the second one investigates the cases in support of their strengthening, and the conclusion summarizes all results of the study in terms of the peculiarities of the arguments of the two sides.

From a rise of incest to legal polygamy: how adoption of same-sex marriages can weaken traditional ones “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”(John Donne)

While reading academic papers on gay marriages3, one may notice a thing which is particularly eye-catching: irrespective of their concrete views, supporters of the notion that legalization of same-sex marriages would have far-reaching implications on traditional families start their reasoning from the idea stated by John Donne. They view society as one big organism, and whatever happens in one of its parts, inevitably affects all or, at least, some others. “If a certain family decides to live by particular principles different from those commonly accepted in society, it will not and must not leave other families indifferent”, they would say, and this core assumption runs like a golden thread through all arguments that they put forward. Let it suffice to say that those traditionalist, conservative, often religious people consciously share the collectivist notion of society: in their opinion, it is like a big collective farm or a communal apartment, where no one is to decide for herself how to live, no one may dare question the common principles of life that are ubiquitous and given from above. In this chapter I refute the soundest arguments flowing from this core assumption considering them in ascending order of their strength (according to my subjective viewpoint, of course).

1. “Even where legal recognition and marital rights and benefits are available to same-sex couples (whether through same-sex civil ‘marriages’, ‘civil unions,’ or ‘domestic partnerships’), relatively few same-sex couples even bother to seek recognition or claim such benefits. <…> Couples who could marry, but choose instead to cohabit without the benefit of marriage, harm the institution of marriage by setting an example for other couples, making non-marital cohabitation seem more acceptable as well” (Sprigg 2011, p. 3).

This argument perfectly illustrates what I said before about communal apartments and collective farms: the author, I would say, naively believes that, if one family decides to divorce, other families will be affected and thus do the same. To my mind, everyone has his own brain and is fully capable to think for herself, so the real reasons why people get divorced are not determined by (or, at least, are not limited to) other people’s influence: there are many people who are still married, although they have divorced friends; there are many people who do not smoke, although they have friends who do etc. Reasoning this way, I can conclude that gay marriage would not affect the institution of marriage in a considerable way.

Moreover, Sprigg’s argument appears to be faulty even if we agree with his line of reasoning: gays do not want to marry anyway, so, if they are allowed to marry, it will affect straight people who will also decide not to marry. First, homosexuals, according to different estimations, constitute merely 10-20% of the population4 - can they really considerably change people’s habits of marriage? Second, although there are proportionally fewer straight than gay people who do not want to marry, such people not only still exist but, moreover, quantitatively they even outnumber bachelor-minded homosexuals – what should we do with them? Should we prohibit them to get married as well? I think not.

Also, if people do not use one of their rights, it does not imply at all that they should be deprived of it: some people do not go to elections, but it does not mean that they should not be allowed to vote; some people do not go abroad, but it does not mean that we should prohibit them from going overseas etc. Otherwise, I would be contradictory to the very meaning of word “right”: unlike responsibilities, people can exercise their rights voluntarily. Finally, it is quite unclear what same-sex couples’ reluctance to marry has to do with the author’s point “gay marriage should not be allowed”: if homosexuals oppose getting married and affect the whole society this way, they can express their anti-marriage views no matter if they are allowed to marry or not. Many gays live the whole life as bachelors without making coming out, and all people around just consider them as bachelor-minded straight men rather than homosexuals: does not it have the same effect on other people as a gay couple who can marry, but does not want to?

2. “Redefining marriage would abandon the norm of male-female sexual complementarily as an essential characteristic of marriage. Making that optional would also make other essential characteristics of marriage – such as monogamy, exclusivity, and permanency – optional” (Anderson 2013, p. 8-9).

This Anderson’s argument is identical to the one of Kurtz that I cited in the Introduction. Some authors go further and suggest a triad which can be abbreviated as PIB – polygamy, incest, bestiality (Corvino 2005, p. 501) – in a sense that, once we legalize same-sex marriages, we will also have to recognize marriages derived from polygamy, incest and bestiality – between more than two people, between close relatives, and between humans and animals, – which will inevitably destroy traditional families. However convincing this argument may be for people who do not oppose gay marriages, but disfavor PIB, it seems to be psychological rather than logical (Cathcart 2008; Volokh 2005, p. 1156), since the “slippery slope” argument certainly contains a logical mistake: homosexuality considerably differs from PIB, and for that reason it cannot cause the same effect on the institution of marriage. For example, homosexuality is a sexual orientation, a state, while PIB is an activity; homosexuality is legal, whereas incest, bestiality and spouse infidelity are not5 etc. Therefore, homosexuality and PIB belong to different categories, so even if at some point appeals to legalize PIB-based marriages emerge, they will be perhaps caused by a rise of liberalism, crisis of religion, or some other reason, but they will scarcely be a direct logical consequence of adoption of same-sex marriages. We can conclude that their adoption can hardly cause a logical “slippery slope”; so the institution of family is not likely to be negatively affected.

3. “One value that remains remarkably strong, even among people who have multiple sexual partners before marriage, is the belief that marriage itself is a sexually exclusive relationship. Among married heterosexuals, having sexual relations with anyone other than one’s spouse is still considered a grave breach of trust and a violation of the marriage covenant by the vast majority of people. <…> If homosexual relationships, promiscuity and all, are held up to society as being a fully equal part of the social ideal that is called ‘marriage’, then the value of sexual fidelity as an expected standard of behavior for married people will further erode – even among heterosexuals” (Sprigg 2011, p. 4).

“’It is safe to conclude that gay and lesbian couples dissolve their relationships more frequently than heterosexual couples, especially heterosexual couples with children.’ <…> If homosexual ‘marriage’ is legalized, the percentage of homosexual couples that remain together for a lifetime will always be lower than the percentage of heterosexual couples that do so; but the percentage of heterosexual couples demonstrating lifelong commitment will also decline, to the harm of society as a whole” (Sprigg 2011, p. 4-5).

A hard point about trying to refute the two above cited arguments (as well as Spigg’s argument about gay people not wanting to marry) is that they are initially based not solely on hypotheses, but empirical studies which truly revealed that same-sex couples split up faster and cheat more than heterosexual ones. Nonetheless, the assumption that, be gay marriage legalized, heterosexual couples will start behaving in the same way, sounds hardly plausible. First of all, even without being allowed to marry same-sex couples behave this way – what will change then if they get an opportunity to marry? One, of course, might argue that now they cheat their partners whereas after marriage they will start cheating their spouses, but this point is barely convincing: both cheating your permanent boyfriend (girlfriend) and husband (wife) is generally reproached.

Secondly, the very idea that people do not cheat only because it is generally condemned by social rules and, should homosexual people be allowed to marry, they will change those rules, scarcely explains the real state of affairs. It resembles arguing that people do not commit crimes only because laws prohibit them to do so, otherwise everyone would have become a criminal long ago. However idealistic it might seem, I believe that people do not cheat and break up not because cheating is not welcomed in society, but because they like each other and think that their partner or spouse is the best. It follows that adultery has its roots which differ from people’s orientation, so adoption of same-sex marriages can hardly affect it.

As for frequent dissolution of marriages, this problem has existed since no-fault divorce became possible in late 19th – the first half of 20th centuries. Before that, people used to think twice before getting married, because divorce was not a simple thing to get; nowadays, in contrast, while getting married, people bear in mind that they can always get divorced in case they are not satisfied with the marriage: it is like starting a new job knowing that you can always denounce the job contract. So, although empirical studies let us assume that, if gay marriages are legalized, the percentage of divorced families may go up a little, but the assumption that it will provoke other families to get divorced does not stand up to criticism. Therefore, from the perspective of, to cite Anderson, “exclusivity and normality”, introduction of same-sex marriages seems to bring hardly anything new to traditional families and the institution of marriage, since infidelity and divorces have other roots which have nothing in common with same-sex couples.

4. “[I] f men no longer view marriage as central to defining their adult identities / if they see themselves as unnecessary to the intrinsic meaning and purpose of marriage and thus view marriage as optional to their sense of maleness / they will be less likely to marry, even when they become fathers. <…> The children of such men will be less likely to be raised by their fathers and will suffer as a result” (Hawkins and Carroll 2014, p. 17).

“[L] egally enshrining conjugal marriage socially reinforces the idea that the union of husband and wife is (as a rule and ideal) the most appropriate environment for the bearing and rearing of children – an ideal whose value is strongly corroborated by the best available social science. <…> If same-sex partnerships were recognized as marriages, however, that ideal would be abolished from our law: no civil institution would any longer reinforce the notion that children need both a mother and a father; that men and women on average bring different gifts to the parenting enterprise; and that boys and girls need and tend to benefit from fathers and mothers in different ways” (Girgis, George, and Anderson 2010, p. 262-263).

Children-based arguments against gay marriage are difficult to comment on, since, as we will see below, they show an enormous gap between conservatives’ and liberals’ understandings of why people marry: while the former believe that children is the reason for marriage, the latter, on the contrary, argue that children are its consequence. In any case, the cited argument can be commented in the following ways. First, the idea that children need both a mother and a father sounds quite realistic, but focusing only on benefits that mothers and fathers can give their children is an extremely one-sided approach: we also should consider that parents harm their children in a way peculiar to each gender. Mothers, for instance, tend to express excessive worries about their children and try to keep them too close to themselves, which hinders children from becoming independent and learning how to take decisions on their own. Fathers, on the other hand, can sometimes be too strict to their children and do not show enough care and love. So, if children are brought up in a same-sex family, it can help them avoid suffering from the drawbacks that each gender has when rearing children.

Secondly, when it comes to adoption of parentless children, is an orphanage really a better option than a caring homosexual family? Or is a wealthy same-sex family with decent material capabilities, living conditions as well as desire to have children really worse than a poor and indifferent heterosexual family? For some reason opponents of same-sex marriages prefer not to touch upon these issues, however, the rational answer can be only one: sufficient care in a family is needed for children’s upbringing, no matter what kind of family they have.

Thirdly, analogously for Sprigg’s argument cited above, this one should also have been put forward many years ago, when the problem of no-fault divorce was at issue. Nowadays, the reality is that, as a result of numerous divorces, lots of children are brought up by only one parent without benefiting from the other one in any way; and introduction of same-sex marriages would neither improve, nor worsen that deplorable point of modern life. Maybe does Argument 5 also means that we also should prohibit single parents from bringing up children, since they cannot give them the benefits children take from the other parent? If so, we can come it strong one day. Therefore, the conclusion I can draw is that same-sex marriage will strengthen the institution of marriage by allowing gays and lesbians to adopt children, as it would save them from orphanages and let them enjoy family life. Considering the point that children have different sex parents, I conclude that same-sex marriages will not significantly affect this problem, since it is divorces and not same-sex couples that children suffer from most.


1 Pro & Con Arguments: Should Gay Marriage Be Legal? ProCon.org. Available at: http://gaymarriage.procon.org/#pro_con (accessed: 30.03.2015)

2 “Obama: Same-Sex Marriage ‘Strengthens Families’”. CNS News, 15 May 2012. Available at: http://cnsnews.com/news/article/obama-same-sex-marriage-strengthens-families (accessed: 30.03.2015)

3 Conceptually, in this paper the terms “gay marriage”, “same-sex marriage” and “homosexual marriage” are absolutely identical: they imply “marriage between two people of the same sex”. The only reason I use such different terms is to avoid tautology.

4 Although it is usually estimated that LGBT people do not exceed 10% of population, some recent studies suggest a much higher number – 20% (Coffman, Coffman, and Marzilli Ericson, 2013)

5 As for infidelity, of course people can cheat while they are married, but since courts consider adultery as a valid reason to divorce a family, we can state it is illegal.


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    Patrick Woltner (Author)


Title: The Institution of Marriage and the Traditional Family after Adoption of Same-Sex Marriages