The Conservative Logic of Gay Marriage

If you feel queezy about homosexuality, my sympathy. We have all been raised in a culture that identifies homosexuality as a defect if not a sin. It would be dishonest if we were to pretend that we can escape our socialization but we can rely on reason for reflection.

On occasion of New Hampshire domestic partnership law, let me share a short syllogism about the conservative point of view.

People who have sex ought to be married.
Gay people will have sex.
Therefore gay people ought to be married.

Of course, most “conservatives” believe nothing of the sort. Relying on the assertion that marriage ought to be limited to one man and one woman, conservatives typically reject gay marriage and its functional equivalent civil union. If put on the spot with respect to gay marriage, many conservatives will argue that marriage is a shelter for raising children.

On the other hand, I have yet to encounter a conservative who would argue that government should annul the marriages of infertile couples. More to the point, conservatives do not even advocate annulment for couples that refuse to have children. And the most conservative individuals will actually insist that you ought to be married before having sex even if people are relying on birth control.

Hence the conservative concept of marriage is actually not about children but about sex. Of course, children and sex connected but they are not the same thing.

Personally, I sympathize with the conservative point of view. Precisely because sex is at the root of human nature, it challenges us beyond the confines of procreation. The promises and problems of passion present themselves even in the absence of pregnancy.

Like every human being, gay people are born with the sex drive. The sex drive is a constitutive aspect of human nature. If one subscribes to conservative morality then one can exclude gay people from marriage only if one denies their humanity.

That is a price too high to pay. No one is safe in a society that can deny someone else’s humanity. If the powerful can deny humanity to others today, our humanity might be at stake tomorrow. More importantly, denying someone else’s humanity, however banal or well-meaning, is a monstrous thing to do and squanders our own humanity.

It’s better to acknowledge each other’s humanity. When we do, logic compels us to accept gay marriage.

Virtue does not come easy. It requires an effort. As conservatives, we have to make an effort to apply our principles evenly to all human beings. While reason cannot undo our socialization, it can bridle the prejudice that we have had to inherit. In the process, logic recovers our humanity.

That’s wonderful.

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11 Responses

  1. The Sacred Sister says:

    Hey Hellmut,
    Just gotta comment on this. Personally, I am all for gay marriage. I think if two people love one another than they have the right to be married, committed and share their lives– pure and simple.
    My TBM mother and I got into this debate a couple of years ago and her rational was that if the US allows gay marriage, then what’s next? Marriage to multiple partners? I quote, “So what if a person is married and wants to marry another person? Man or woman? Where will this nonsense stop?” To which I replied, “So if it was fine for Joseph Smith to be sealed to men, married women and children, then tell me again why this is wrong…?” She didn’t like that too much.
    I must have forgotten that Joseph didn’t do this by choice. It was ordered by that angel with a flaming sword, after all.
    Hmmmm… flaming sword…? Do you suppose that angel was gay? 😉

  2. Hellmut says:

    Yes, Sacred Sister, isn’t it ironic that The Family: A Proclamation to the World and the D&C 132 are contradicting each other?

  3. Robert says:

    “Conservative” can mean many things, some of which are deeply at odds with one another, and I think this is a perfect example. While social conservatives lead the charge against gay marriage, the libertarian wing of the conservative movement generally supports the idea that government has no business regulating that aspect of people’s lives.

  4. Sideon says:


    I get all fabulous and bent, myself. Not limp-wristed, though. Sorry, back to topic.

    My partner and I are legal domestic partners through California. We have the same rights as married couples: hospital visitation, real property, and starting next year… we get taxed up the wazoo together.

    For those who are ‘uncomfortable’ with gay marriage, all I can say is: don’t do it, then. I stay out of your life and your bedrooms, and you stay out of mine.

  5. Hellmut says:

    Sideon, that’s interesting. I did not know that California allowed for domestic partnerships. How did the anti-gay propositions affect your family?

    I agree, Robert. There is a lot of confusion and diffusion about the meaning of conservative.

    It would seem to me that conservative is about justifying public policy in terms of reason rather than utopia. According to Edmund Burke, conservatives choose reform rather than revolution as the road of modernization. Hence conservatives are fundamentally committed to modernity.

    That means that conservatives have to accomodate biology even if it makes us uncomfortable.

    It seems to me that the objections to homosexuality are ultimately aesthetic. The notion that aesthetics ought to trump biology may appeal to romantics (and fascists, of course) but is rather absurd from a conservative point of view.

    The so called “social conservatives” are usually about imposing their particular value system on everyone else. Their only justification is that their community ought to be privileged, usually because of matters of religion. That seems to be a rather radical notion, which is not compatible with the rationalist and moderate mindset that is inherent in Edmund Burke’s conservatism.

  6. Pompous One says:

    Sideon: Amen!

    Hellmut you make a reasoned argument for why conservatives ought to get off their high horse on this issue.

    What is being missed in so many of these conversations, though, is why marriage was instituted and where its proper place is in social structures.

    Marriage was and remains about property and ownership–one person owning another, or in our more “enlightened” age about sharing and protecting joint property. Property is the purview of the state.

    Marriage is an institution of the state and as such the separation of church and state is violated in this country every single time a couple gets married in a church setting.

    The U.S. needs to do what our European counterparts do. If you wish to get married and have your property rights recognized, you must go to city hall, register, and be married by a justice of the peace. If you wish to have the church sanction your union after the state has, then you schedule a ceremony in your parish, church, synagogue, or temple. It ought to be that way here, too.

    What conservatives in this country are really het up about is the idea that by allowing gays to marry, we’re saying that God sanctions those marriages and for God-fearing conservatives, that’s not possible.

    So, fine. Let the neo-cons and moderates have their church unions and their sanctioning of holy matrimony by God and let us ALL–gay, straight, purple with green dots, whatever–enter into marriage for the purpose of securing our property.

    Cause when it all comes down to the nitty-gritty, it ain’t about the sex. It’s about knowing that what my partner and I have worked for remains ours and doesn’t fall into the hands of our TBM families who will do all they can to ensure that our rights (as few as they are) are violated in every way conceivable.

  7. Hellmut says:

    I agree, Pompous One, obligatory civil marriage is a great way to get religion out of politics.

  8. Sideon says:

    Hellmut – my partner and I are family, regardless of what any State, any religion, or any legislation decrees.

    It’s (the domestic partnership) a pretty piece of paper, but symbolically and practically, it means that if either one of us (gods forbid!) end up in the hospital, then neither of us have to jump through legal hoops to see the other.

    It means that if either of us dies tomorrow, that neither of our families could swoop in like vultures and kick the other out (not that his wouldn’t, but my extended family… would).

    It means that neither one of us wore pure white OR wore dresses for our committment ceremony, but the fresh orchid leis were a nice touch.

  9. Sideon says:

    Oh – someone (Hellmut?) mentioned aesthetics.

    I’d like to point out that ugly penii do exist. I’ve seen them. And I ran.

  10. chanson says:

    Pompous one — I agree, I like the system here in France. If you want legal recognition for your marriage, you have a ceremony at City Hall. Period. You can have a religious ceremony also if your beliefs require it, but that has nothing to do with being legally married.

    One cool thing is that the ceremony at City Hall is a big deal here. They have a big room for it where all the guests sit, the Mayor or an aide gives a short discourse, and then couple and witnesses all sign the papers. One amusing custom — a classic French beaurocracy item 😉 — is that it’s popular to take photos of the couple and all of the witnesses signing the papers, and put these photos in the wedding album. This surprised me a little when I got married at city hall in the US, and the French guests wanted to get pictures of everybody signing the papers at the end, but once I attended a few weddings in France, I found that that’s standard operating procedure. 😀

    I’ve written a couple of posts on the logic of opposing gay marriage, both on my theory of why some people are repulsed by gay sex, and a discussion of how gay marriage fits into traditional (owner/property) marriage, vs. modern marriage.

  11. Zim says:

    I think there is also a difference between a “conservative” and a “religious conservative.” I know a lot of conservatives who have no problem with the idea of gay marriage or some sort of legal recognition for those domestic partnerships. Religious conservatives are the ones who make it into a moral issue.

    Even a lot of (younger) mormons I know support that. Some do get hung up on the word “marriage” but I was surprised at how many mormons I know are in favor of rights for gay couples. I will add the caveat that my discussion with them happened before the church issued its letter.

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