Commenter Hayleyanne has asked me to consider certain ramifications of allowing same-sex marriage which I am happy to discuss starting with some of her moral concerns. She wrote:
Some people are against SSM on moral grounds. If society recognizes gay marriage it essentially puts the State’s seal of approval on such relationships. And although we can say that the government ought not to be making moral judgments, the fact is it does. It makes moral judgments all the time. If SSM is legalized it will result in the state presenting gay marriage as a perfectly acceptable counterpart to traditional marriage and family. It also removes any moral component to SSM. The law is at odds with the beliefs of many Americans. Is this appropriate, given the strong religious beliefs of many Americans?
I would also note that the strong religious beliefs of many Americans lead them to firmly support same-sex marriage. I question, though, whether the government is really taking sides on this matter should it recognize same-sex marriage. Certainly if the question was "Should the government recognize same-sex marriage?" any decision by the government one way or the other would be taking a position on the issue, but I disagree that recognition means the state is putting a seal of approval on homosexual relationships. Marriage is not some sort of seal of approval by the state. It is certainly not a seal of approval on whom one has taken for a spouse. When someone in Vegas gets drunk and marries someone they just met, the state is not saying it approves of such a relationship. When someone marries someone fifty years older merely for his or her money, the state is not approving of that relationship. I do not believe one should marry a person of another faith, but that is their decision to make, not mine and not the state's.
It is possible, though, that for some the moral concern is not that homosexual relationships are wrong per se, but rather that the ideal situation in which to raise a child is with parents of the opposite sex. As Hayleyanne notes:
The State is saying that the traditional family will always be the ideal. What is wrong with this? Why can’t society say that marriage is about family and children and the ideal setting for this is a home with a mom and a dad?
Again I am reminded of the situation of interfaith couples. I do not believe that is the ideal situation for raising children, but for many reasons I would not support governmental denial of such marriages. In fact, there are many couples that marry when they are clearly not in the ideal situation to raise children. This is okay, though, because marriage does not signal that the couple is in an ideal situation to raise children. What would be the purpose of such a seal anyway? There is a good chance the couple will raise children regardless of the state's opinion about their situation. Rather, I believe marriage itself is something that will generally make the environment itself better for raising children. A cohabiting couple is capable of providing a mom and a dad, but the marriage of said couple would make the environment for raising children significantly better for a number of reasons. Likewise regardless of one's view on the propriety of same-sex couples raising children, I would think most would agree that the situation would be significantly better if the couple had taken on the obligations and protections of marriage.
We can really look at two different notions of the ideal here. Permitting same-sex marriage allows gays and lesbians to select a spouse that some may view as less than ideal, at least for raising children. Depending on one's views of sexual orientation, this could have some influence on whom one selects for a spouse. But even many who believe that it would lead one to take a "wrong" spouse would want to leave that decision to the individuals involved. On the other hand, marriage can be thought of setting an ideal for the structure the relationship should have once the spouse is selected. It sets the obligations and expectations one spouse has to another and we can rightly value these commitments and believe they are important, especially if the couple is going to raise children. Permitting same-sex marriage would reinforce this ideal. To deny same-sex marriage, however, runs the risk of deemphasizing the importance of these commitments and this structure.
Hayleyanne also points to some indirect moral concerns that should be considered when discussing same-sex marriage:
And what about the effect that SSM will have with respect to producing children? SS couples will want to raise a family. How do they do this? Since they cannot produce their own children, they must look to alternatives that may be problematic. Will it put society in a position where it will accept and possibly promote artificial insemination? Or surrogate parenting? What about all the ethical issues these methods raise? Should society jump into this head first without first considering these issues?
Same-sex couples are already raising families, and I believe foremost it is important to emphasize the importance of marriage in protecting those families. As individual and as a society we also need to consider the implications of many new and old reproductive technologies. Same-sex couples are not the only ones who face these questions, nor do they even form the majority of those that are faced with such issues directly. As noted above, supporting government recognition of same-sex marriage does not imply support of same-sex relationships, nor support of them raising children. All the more so it does not imply support for any particular way in which they might come to have children.
I hope to respond to some of Hayleyanne's other concerns in a future post. In the meantime I would note that the values promoted when a same-sex couples weds, commitment, sacrifice, and responsibility, are values we can all support regardless of our views on whom one should marry.