• Until recently homosexuality was almost universally
condemned and forbidden by law, but nowadays in
developing countries the laws against it either no longer
exist or are not enforced.
• The reason for this change in attitude is the belief about
human liberty: adult people should be free to live their lives
according to their wishes, as long as they don’t harm others.
• But this does not mean that all people now think that sexual
orientation is just a matter of taste, and that any choice here
is as good as any other.
• Many people still condemn homosexuality or regard it as
“unnatural” and “wrong” but they nevertheless believe that
the practice should be tolerated.
Homosexuals and equality
• Homosexual marriage is often regarded as a further step in
the fight for equality between gay and straight people.
• Moreover it is represented as an extension of the fight for
human rights: gay marriage advocates picture the
opposition as being as irrational as the prohibition of
marriage between whites and blacks.
• It is claimed that both are cases of invidious discrimination.
• The argument: if homosexual activity is permitted, why
should homosexuals be denied a right to marry (one
another)? Two big questions here:
1. Is marriage a social institution to which any pair of “loving
and consenting adults” should be automatically entitled?
2. Will there really be no damage if gays are allowed to marry?
Laws on homosexuality and gay marriage
Is there a bias in the debate about gay marriage?
• Public opinion is divided on the issue of gay marriage. In
the U.S. the majority is consistently against it.
• 44 states in the U.S. have introduced laws protecting
marriage as being between man and woman.
• 30 states amended their constitutions to the same effect.
• American Psychological Association, American Sociological
Association, and American Anthropological Association
issued public declarations in support of gay marriage.
• Canadian philosophers massively endorsed gay marriage.
• The opposition to gay marriage is often treated as just being
the result of ignorance, prejudice and religious fanaticism.
• The case of Margaret Somerville.
Five arguments against homosexual marriage
• Argument from meaning
“Marriage” entails that partners are man and woman.
• Argument from tradition
Marriage was always between man and woman.
• Argument from procreation
The purpose of marriage is to foster procreation.
• Argument from a possible harm to children
The purpose of marriage is to create the best environment
for raising children.
• Argument from a threat to the institution of marriage
The introduction of gay marriage will have bad effects on
the institution of marriage.
Argument from meaning
• The word “marriage” logically implies that partners are of
the opposite sex. “Gay marriage” is a contradiction in terms!
• Objection: “marriage” is a legal term, and these terms often
change their meaning. There is no reason why “marriage”
should not also be understood in a different way, especially
if one group complains about being excluded from it.
• Response: The current meaning of “marriage” can indeed be
modified, but it should not be done too easily.
• If what gays basically want are the rights and privileges that
go with marriage, why not give them these rights and
privileges but call their relationships differently (“civil
unions”) in order to preserve the ordinary meaning of the
Argument from tradition
• Marriage has historically been a heterosexual institution and
this is in itself a good reason to keep it this way.
• Objection 1: The fact that something has always been one
way or another isn’t a conclusive argument for keeping it
that way. If it were, no social change would ever be justified.
• Response: The historical fact is not a conclusive reason for
keeping marriage heterosexual, just a prima facie reason.
Traditional social institutions are the product of distilled
human wisdom accumulated through history and it is
unwise to make radical changes without much knowledge
of possible bad side effects.
• Unless we have very strong reasons to introduce the change,
we should not do it.
Argument from tradition (2)
• Objection 2: Marriage hasn’t always been the preserve of
heterosexuals. The history of both Western and non-Western
societies provides examples of same-sex marriages.
• Response: Even if marriage was not always heterosexual, the
fact that it was so predominant through history could be
reasonably taken as a sign of its social importance.
• Second, there is no single example in history of a society in
which heterosexual and homosexual marriage had the same
social status, and this is actually the goal of the gay marriage
• Again, this is not a compelling or conclusive reason that gay
marriage is a bad idea, just an additional reason to take the
proposal with a dose of healthy skepticism.
Argument from procreation
• The state has a legitimate interest in procreation and
therefore ought to withhold recognition from unions that
will not produce children.
• Objection: Procreation cannot be the purpose of marriage
because the state would then also prohibit marriage in cases
where heterosexual couples cannot have children.
• Response: The reason why marriage is introduced as an
institution does not have to exist in every particular case of
• It may be that the goal of marriage as a social institution is
to support procreation but that, nevertheless, this goal is
achieved effectively by the state allowing marriages to some
heterosexual couples that clearly cannot procreate.
Argument from procreation (2)
• The law is a blunt instrument, and it is therefore often more
convenient to achieve the goal by formulating the law not in
terms of targeted category A but in terms of category B that
largely coincide with A but is easier to apply in practice.
• A = couples that can have kids; B = couples of opposite sex
• If the basic goal of the law is to give marriage to A-couples,
it is very difficult and intrusive to verify the A-status. But it
is very easy to verify the B-status. Now if most B-couples
actually end up by having children (i.e., turn out to be A-
couples), there are evident advantages if the legal
prerequisite of allowing marriage is connected with B-
status, rather than A-status.
• So, the fact that infertile heterosexual couples are allowed to
marry does not show that procreation is not the reason
behind the institution of marriage.
Argument from a possible harm to children
• The purpose of marriage is to create the best environment
for raising children.
• Objection: If having parents of opposite sex is best for kids,
it would mean that the state shouldn’t allow the creation of
single-parent families. It should also forbid artificial
insemination of, or adoption of children by, single parents.
Couples with underage children should be denied divorce.
• Response: These implications do not actually follow.
• If the state regards the opposite-sex-parents as the best for
children and so limits marriage to these couples, this does
not imply that the state should prohibit other (suboptimal)
arrangements for raising children.
• “Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good!”
Argument from a possible harm to children (2)
• Many people believe that it is best for children that they are
raised by their biological parents.
• If this is accepted, consider the difference between (a)
heterosexual and (b) homosexual married couples.
• In (a), most couples will raise their biological children.
• In (b), however, the laws of biology guarantee that the
child’s link to one of the biological parents will be broken.
• In other words, in (a) the ideal will be a statistically expected
result, whereas in (b) the ideal will be a natural impossibility.
• So, there is some basis for preferring heterosexual marriage.
• Also, according to the UN document, children have a right
to know who their biological parents are, the information
that gay parents are not always happy to provide.
Argument from a threat to the institution of marriage
• Legalizing same-sex marriage would pose a threat to
• Objection: This is a very general and indeed puzzling claim:
we are never told just how this is supposed to work.
• Response: Actually we are told how this would work.
• The main fear of opponents of gay marriage is that gay
marriage is just a first step in the process that would bring
many changes and that would eventually transform family
relationship in a very radical and unacceptable way.
• What is the slippery slope here?
• Two main concerns:
A. The elimination of sex differences in family law
B. Opening the door to new forms of family
The elimination of sex differences
• In Massachusetts, the marriage ceremony is ended with
words: “I pronounce you spouse and spouse.”
• Also, gay activists are requesting (in the name equality) that
birth certificates do not name “father” and “mother”, but
instead “parent A” and “parent B”.
• This change has already been introduced in Spain.
• What is the next step: prohibiting the use of these words in
schools, newspapers…? How about “husband” and “wife”?
• If gay couples cannot be a father and mother, why are they
offended by others using these terms?
• If gays cannot marry, why are they offended if others can?
• Especially if they get all privileges of marriage, except the
New forms of family
• Why should anyone be concerned if gays and lesbians were
given a right to marry? If they love each other and want to
have a wedding why should we (heterosexuals) care?
• “The case for allowing gays to marry begins with equality,
pure and simple. Why should one set of loving, consenting
adults be denied a right that other such adults have and
which, if exercised, will do no damage to anyone else?” (The
Economist, February 2004)
• Let’s call this “the argument from love”: those who love
each other should not be stopped from being married for
entirely irrelevant reasons.
• The problem is that if love plays such a central role in the
argument, most other factors fade into irrelevance.
New forms of family (2)
• “Marriage” = “a social institution in which two persons of
opposite sex, who are not very close relatives and who
declare to love each other vow to live together forever”.
• Let us break this definition into four key elements:
i. Two persons
ii. Opposite sex
iii. Not very close relatives
iv. Love each other
• The decision to live together and to enter marriage is
essentially connected only with love (iv), and all other
elements are just accidentally connected with it.
• Gay marriage advocates want to break the link between
marriage and (ii). But can they stop there?
New forms of family (3)
• Take factor (i). If it is irrelevant for the purposes of marriage
that the partners are of opposite sex (they love each other!),
it is unclear why would it be relevant if there are more than
two partners (say, if there are three or four persons in a
“relationship”). After all, it may be true that they are in love!
• The logic of the argument seems to force us to accept
polygamy after we say that gay marriage is OK.
• The same reasoning applies to factor (iii): if mother and son
fall in love (and they make sure that they will not have
children) would it not be discriminatory to prohibit this
couple to marry. On what grounds could we do that, if they
genuinely love each other?
• Some argue, even marriage with pets would be a possibility!
New forms of family (4)
• Some gay marriage advocates complain that the idea that
legalization of polygamy and incestuous relations would
follow is completely ridiculous, and that this kind of
objections should not be taken seriously.
• Others, however, explicitly support these implications:
• “The struggle for same-sex marriage rights is only one part
of a larger effort to strengthen the security and stability of
diverse households and families. LGBT communities have
ample reason to recognize that families and relationships
know no borders and will never slot narrowly into a single
existing template.” (NYT, July 26, 2006)
• “Queer couples who decide to jointly create and raise a child
with another queer person or couple, in two households.”