The shifting boundaries of prejudice

When arguing against gay marriage, opponents of equality must base their position on something more than simple prejudice. Both legally and morally, the exclusion of gay couples from marriage cannot be rooted solely in the desire to see them treated unequally. Recognizing this fact, they attempt to offer reasons why rejecting gay couples is merely an incidental result of what marriage is, in the same way that single individuals, children and goldfish cannot be considered married.

Their justifications typically involve stated purposes of marriage which gay couples cannot fulfill, or the need to protect the concept of marriage from some sort of abstract contaminants carried by gay people. Yet under almost all of these principles, plenty of gay couples happen to qualify as well, while many straight couples do not. It’s patently obvious that these standards are not actually adhered to in practice. They are not applied to straight people in any capacity whatsoever, and serve only as an excuse for excluding gay people.

For example, arguments against gay marriage often feature the claim that gay people have a higher rate of sexually transmitted diseases. But straight people with STDs are never precluded from marrying on this basis, nor has this criterion been cited to justify excluding any other demographic. As a group, straight people were never required to stay below some unspecified maximum prevalence of disease before they were allowed to marry. Meanwhile, gay people who are perfectly healthy are still prevented from marrying anyway.

Others argue that gay people often have an excessive number of sexual partners, or that their relationships are typically of an insufficient duration. But sexual habits and relationship success are never a factor in whether straight people are allowed to marry, no matter how many prior partners they’ve had. Yet gay people are held to a standard that straight people are not even required to meet, and even then, it doesn’t matter how chaste they are. They still can’t get married.

Many arguments revolve around childrearing, and claim that marriage is an institution meant for raising children. But this is not a requirement that straight people are subject to – they can get married whether they have children or not, and no one tries to stop them. At the same time, even gay couples who are raising children are left out of this vital institution.

Continuing, the argument may then be narrowed down to claim that marriage is intended for having children together, which only straight couples can do. But many straight people do not reproduce together. They may be step-parents, or adoptive parents, or they might use reproductive assistance. Does any of this stop them from getting married? Of course not. But gay couples who do the same are still banned from marrying.

Even more specifically, some argue that marriage must include the mere possibility of reproduction between the couple whether it actually happens or not, thus ruling out gay couples entirely. But for some straight couples, reproduction is not possible at all, due to infertility, birth control, or just the conscious choice not to have children. Even those couples for whom procreation cannot or will not happen are still allowed to marry – but only if they’re straight.

Narrowing this argument to the point of absurdity, some will claim that procreation must be possible for married couples, even if only in theory: if an infertile couple were not infertile, they could have children, and this is sufficient to qualify them for marriage. Even if they can’t actually have children together, we’re supposed to pretend as though they can. Yet this privilege of ignoring reality in favor of fantasy is extended only to straight couples. After all, if a gay couple were actually a straight couple, they could have children – in theory. Compared to infertile straight couples, the reality of their fertility hasn’t changed. The only difference is the willingness to look the other way.

And so it is for all such arguments. So what do these professed standards really tell us? Though they may appear to be about health, chastity and fertility, this is not an impartial judgment. Straight couples who fail to meet any of these requirements are always granted leniency. But gay couples who fulfill many of them are excluded nonetheless. These rules are not followed at all, and this is deliberately selective. The only real standard here is that straight couples can get married, and gay couples can’t. That is the undeniable stance that marriage opponents refuse to deviate from – no matter what, gay couples can never be good enough for them. And they won’t even follow the very arguments that they expect us to accept. There’s no way around it: Beneath the veneer of reason, it’s still the same old prejudice.