How to Talk About Marriage Equality
The marriage equality issue may be one of the most important of our life-time. Especially if and when the constitution is amended to permanently make us second-class American citizens!
It is vitally important that we win the hearts and minds of ordinary Americans who are misinformed about our 'agenda' and our need for equal legal rights and protections. We must vocalize our side of the story to overcome negative messages repeated and replayed in places of worship, schools, in the media and at the dinner table, where people are bombarded over and over with negative stereotypes and lies about gay and lesbian families.
In Part I we discuss methods of broaching the subject of same-sex marriage with someone you wish to persuade, and in Part II, we list common arguments used by opponents with examples of counter arguments and thought provoking questions.
The First Thing to Remember: Your tone and attitude speak volumes!!
In order to successfully counter arguments based upon fear and lies, we must understand those arguments well enough to respond to them calmly. Your input may be someone's first encounter with the 'other side of the story.'
First, we must remember that most people think what they do because they have no other reality with which to compare.
Second, there is no sense wasting your breath on the hopeless, adamant person who is too frightened to have an open mind. If you spend your time trying to change the hearts of these folks you will soon be overwhelmed by despair! Save yourself for those who have the ability to open their minds to new possibilities. You will get an instinctive feeling about who these people are if you follow the guidelines suggested here.
For example, we find that the most effective way to break down stubborn barriers to new ideas is to ask questions rather than lecture someone who is convinced that we have an evil intent. People often make an effort to respond thoughtfully to a non-threatening question. The added benefit to this tactic is that when asked a question in this manner, a person may conclude for themselves that unequal treatment under the law is well -- not fair and possibly unconstitutional.
When asking your questions, try to use a 'therapeutic dialogue' technique of active listening (leaning forward, nodding in understanding, etc.), reflecting (repeating back in a question format a paraphrase of what the person has just said in order to ascertain that you understood them -- if they disagree with your interpretation, ask them to repeat their comment and reflect it back again until they agree that you understand their point of view), validating (a statement of understanding and/or empathy as in "I understand how that may make you angry or afraid..."), and finally, sharing your own perspective in a calm and non-threatening manner. Do not expect to have the same level of understanding reflected back after you have your say... after all that person did not have the benefit of reading this website!
I. Examples of Ice-Breaker Questions:
Ask about the person's own family -- questions like, 'Are you married?' and 'Tell me about your parents, grandparents, etc.' The opposition likes to link the marriage equality issue with deviant sexuality. Questions about a person's married family members will help them to identify that marriage and sex are not the same thing.
Once you feel comfortable about opening up the door to the main issue you want to discuss, ask them something like "What do you think about the same-sex marriage controversy?" or some other similar question.
Continue the line of questioning by asking where they got their ideas and information about same-sex marriage and/or gay and lesbian families, agenda, etc.
Ask if the information they received from these groups or other sources is also informed or augmented by their own experiences and/or acquaintances?
Ask if the person believes that it is possible that some of what they have heard is misinformation or not entirely accurate.
See if they can remember a time in their own life when they too were treated unfairly because of inaccurate or wrong information. Most people have experienced unjust treatment in their lives if only as a child -- thus you may want to phrase the question to ask about a childhood experience.
If the person is able to identify a time in their life when they were treated badly because of misinformation, ask further how that misinformation helped to exacerbate the injustice they suffered.
If you were able to do the therapeutic dialogue technique as described above, the person you are speaking to should not be feeling threatened. Hopefully you will be able to move toward a discussion of the issues that need to be addressed -- namely, that your family is harmed by a lack of legal rights and benefits and why this is a problem.
II. Common Objections to Equal Marriage Rights:
1. HOMOSEXUALITY IS A SIN:
Questions to ask about objection #1:
1. What is your definition of a "sin?" Is this definition shared by all religions?
2. Can you think of an act that is considered a sin by some religions but not others?
3. If one religion is authorized by the government to determine what behavior is or is not sinful, which religion should it be?
a. The religion practiced by the majority?
b. The religion practiced by those in power?
c. No specific religious belief should guide legislators and other law makers
4. What are the dangers of using a specific religious belief to write laws for all Americans?
Suggested Responses to Objection #1
A. Marriage is a civil right and not a religious institution:
Ministers, priests and rabbis must obtain governmental authority (a license) to officiate over marriage. In fact, many government employees (justice of the peace, magistrates, mayors, ship captains, etc.) who are not affiliated with a religion are also given this authority. The following words are uttered in virtually every marriage ceremony: "By the power invested in me by the State of __________, I now pronounce you husband and wife." This sentence alone proves that the power and authority to marry derives from the state and not from God.
Marriages performed by authorized officials are considered legitimate and couples who participate in a state sanctioned marriage ceremony are eligible for (according to the Government Accounting Office) over 1,000 state and federal rights, benefits and responsibilities.
B. The Constitution Creates a Separation of Church and State:
The Constitution establishes (and the United States Supreme Court concurs) a separation of church and state. Simply put, it is unconstitutional for our government to makes laws that re-enforce a particular religious belief. To do so is a threat to all religions because it creates a government sanctioned (preferred) religion, thereby making all other religions less valid. America was founded in part by people who were fleeing religious oppression. They longed for religious freedom and thus, the doctrine of separation of church and state has become a vital part of our freedom-based democracy.
According to state and federal constitutions, the state is NOT permitted to exclude a group of people from receiving marriage rights and benefits on religious grounds.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening today. Equal Civil Marriage opponents try to frame the issue differently by using popular buzzwords like “traditional marriage.” But "traditional marriage" really means marriage that comports with a particular religious tradition.
When Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist bluntly stated in June of 2003 that he would support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage because “marriage is a sacrament,” he was referring to a definition of marriage that is based on his own religious belief.
2. THE BIBLE CONDEMNS HOMOSEXUALITY:
Questions to ask about objection #2:
1. Do you believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible?
2. Are there any Biblical passages that you do not agree with?
3. If the Old Testament is correct in its condemnation of homosexuality, would you also be willing to accept other Biblical dictates such as the death of adulterers and hacking off the hands of thieves?
4. Should lawmakers adopt the Christian Bible as a guide for writing laws to punish "sinners?"
a. If you answered "yes," which sins do you believe should be punished and which should not?
b. Who do you feel should ultimately be responsible for deciding which sins are punishable and which are not?
c. If the Muslim religion becomes the religion practiced by a majority of Americans (it is now America's second largest religion), should the Koran then replace the Bible as a guide for lawmakers?
Suggested Responses to Objection #2
When a person points to anti-homosexuality doctrines on the Old Testament, then they need to make a reasonable argument that justifies their willingness to accept some but not all Old Testament teachings on marriage and relationships.
A. Debate the reliance on some but not all Biblical doctrines:
In the New Testament, Jesus never actually addressed the issue of homosexuality. And although Paul did speak out against homosexuality, he also preached that slaves should obey their masters at all times and that women should completely submit to their husbands.
3. THE PURPOSE OF MARRIAGE IS TO PROCREATE
Questions to ask about objection #3:
1. Should marriages be limited only to couples who are able to conceive children?
2. If so, should the elderly and sterile couples, or couples who wish to remain childless, be prevented from marrying?
Suggested Responses to Objection #3
A. People no longer get married in order to have children:
Although they may have done so in the past, it can reasonably be argued that today's marriages are about love and commitment and not about procreation.
Many heterosexual couples have opted not to have children while some same-sex couples have created families that include children. Gay and lesbian parents adopt children and become parents by one of several methods, including but not limited to donor insemination and surrogacy.
4. GAY & LESBIAN PARENTS ARE HARMFUL TO CHILDREN
Questions to ask about objection #4:
1. Do you know any gay or lesbian families with children?
2. Can you give any examples of children who have been harmed by their gay parents actions?
3. Do you think that a society's condemnation of gays and lesbians has a negative effect on children of gay parents?
4. Do you believe that children of gay and lesbian parents should go without benefits such as a child tax credit and/or medical insurance because their parents are gay?
Suggested Responses to Objection #4
A. The available evidence flatly contradicts the idea that same-sex parents are in any way inadequate.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics says there is no appreciable difference in the developmental expectations for a child who was reared by gay or lesbian parents.
The Academy also supports the right of same-sex couples to adopt children. They advise pediatricians to support “the right of every child and family to the financial, psychological, and legal security that results from having legally recognized parents who are committed to each other and to the welfare of their children.”
Opponents of equality have rejected the notion that same-sex couples can lovingly raise well-adjusted and conscientious children. Unfortunately, this bias and stigma has discouraged -- and in some instances prevented -- gay men and lesbians from adopting children who desperately need homes.
With thousands of orphans waiting to be adopted, it is senseless to require children to remain in foster care and in children's homes rather than allowing them to be adopted into families who have the desire and ability to love and raise them.
5. IF YOU LET GAY PEOPLE WED THEN PRETTY SOON PEOPLE WILL WANT TO MARRY CHILDREN AND ANIMALS (a.k.a. the 'slippery slope' argument)
Questions to ask about objection #5:
1. Did you know that opponents of interracial marriages predicted that marriage between people of color and whites would lead to bestiality, incestuous marriages and bigamy?
2. Do you believe interracial marriage has resulted in an increase in bestiality and incest?
Suggested Responses to Objection #5
A. Legal relationships should be based upon the ability for all parties to consent.
Incest and bestiality are not relationships based upon mutual consent because animals and children are not capable of granting such consent.
B. More acceptance has not resulted in more deviant behavior.
Over the last decade, as acceptance of gay and lesbian people has grown, there has not been a spike in people seeking equal or even greater rights for bestiality and/or incestuous relationships.
Nor has a greater acceptance by society of gay rights translated into a greater tolerance of bestial and incestuous relations. It is just as preposterous to suggest that granting gay men and lesbians the right to marry would have such an effect as it was to say that legalizing interracial marriages would do so.
6. HOMOSEXUALITY IS 'UNNATURAL'
Questions to ask about objection #6:
1. Even if you believe that it is not natural for members of the same sex to have sex with one another, in what way is a person's sexual behavior tied to the institution of marriage?
2. When we celebrate a marriage between two people, are we celebrating their sexuality or their love and commitment to one another?
3. Do you believe only married people do or should have sex?
4. When people get married (or later celebrate a wedding anniversary) are they celebrating a license to have sex or are they celebrating their public vow of love and commitment?
5. Did you know that homosexual behavior appears in animal populations at about the same rate it does in humans?
Suggested Responses to Objection #6
A. Marriage is a legal status that results in certain governmental rights and benefits that allow us to care for and protect the family that results from our public vow to love and honor one another.
Society benefits when people enter into stable and secure relationships. Tax dollars are collected from all citizens to help pay for certain benefits that are paid to married people in an effort to encourage and promote a stable society.
B. Scientific discovery has proven that what is or is not 'natural' behavior or traits is something that cannot be absolutely determined.
It’s difficult to tell what is meant when homosexuality is said to be “unnatural” since there are many documented incidents of homosexuality in the animal world. Biologists have observed numerous examples of homosexual animals among a variety of species -- chimpanzees, swans, deer, hyena, and many more, even extending into the insect world. Long ago, biologists avoided talking homosexuality in the animal kingdom but more recently the results of these studies have become commonplace.
7. MARRIAGE IS A UNION BETWEEN ONE MAN AND ONE WOMAN
Questions to ask about objection #7:
1. Has the institution of 'marriage' always been the same or has it changed over time?
2. If marriage has always been a static and unchanging institution, why does society tolerate divorce and remarriage now when it did not always do so?
Suggested Responses to Objection #7
A. This is an example of the "tradition" argument. If it is true that traditions are sacred and should therefore be preserved, then women would have never won the right to vote and slavery would still persist.
The idea of love in marriage has made its appearance relatively recently, replacing arranged marriage.
Several states defined marriage as between one man and one woman of the same race, but within the last 30 years these laws have been repealed or overturned.
Affording gays and lesbians the right to marry would simply be another transformation to an institution that evolves over time as societal needs change.
8. NO RELIGION WILL TOLERATE SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
Questions to ask about objection #8:
1. Are there any denominations of Christianity, Judaism or other religion where lesbian and gay marriage is welcome and celebrated?
Suggested Responses to Objection #8
A. Ministers, priests, rabbis, and other clergy have been performing same-sex “marriages” or commitment ceremonies for many decades
These ceremonies are similar to a heterosexual marriage ceremony with only one exception: heterosexual marriages result in a government sanctioned, legally recognized union and same-sex marriages do not!.
The religious organizations that regularly perform same-sex marriages are the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Episcopal Church, Metropolitan Community Churches, Reform Judaism, the United Church of Christ, Quaker Churches and others.
Presbyterian and United Methodist churches may not be far behind, and there appears to be a disconnection between the Vatican's condemnation of lesbian and gay marriages and the position of many local Catholic parishes.
9. I SUPPORT CIVIL UNIONS BUT NOT MARRIAGE
Questions to ask about objection #9:
1. Do you think gay and lesbian couples should settle for civil unions?
2. Why does the word “marriage” evoke such strong emotions?
3. Are "civil unions" the equivalent of “marriage”?
4. What is the potential harm of creating a different category for gay and lesbian families?
Suggested Responses to Objection #9
A. Civil Unions create a Separate but Equal status which has been held unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court
Civil unions do not provide the same legal protections as civil marriages. According to the Government Accounting Office (GAO), marriage provides over one thousand federal and state rights, benefits and protections that are not covered by civil unions. And, only marriage confers such benefits as social security, inheritance in the absence of a will, filing joint federal tax returns, and automatic citizenship upon marrying a U.S. citizen.
Marriages, as opposed to civil unions, are recognized by every state. In addition, marriage oftentimes provides the romantic and emotional dimension civil unions might lack. Overall, granting gay and lesbian relationships legal recognition through civil unions instead of marriages implies—and may help confirm or even perpetuate—second-class status.