The topic of same-sex marriage seems to be unfailingly accompanied by talk of “ marriage equality” and “discrimination.”
Indeed, the most popular reasons for support of same-sex marriage all seem to exclusively revolve around the concept of “equality.” The usual argument for same-sex marriage goes something like this: “Not letting homosexuals marry as heterosexuals can is clearly treating homosexuals unjustly. In order to make marriage equal, we must allow homosexuals to marry whom they love, just like heterosexual couples.” In this article, however, I will seek to explain why such an argument is either patently question-begging or false.
Let’s consider the first claim. Why is this argument question-begging? Well, quite obviously, it assumes a number of things. It assumes, for example, that it is, in fact, unjust or unequal to disallow, say, two men or two women from marrying. But this is just to assume that two men or two women "marrying" is not in conceptual contention when it is, in fact, in contention. Perhaps less obviously, this argument assumes that marriage simply exists to recognize loving commitments between individuals. To assume as much, however, is simply to brush past and completely ignore the most fundamental issue of contention between the supporter of same-sex marriage and his opponent, namely, "what is marriage?" or “what is the public purpose of marriage?”
Often times, I find this is simply insufficient in demonstrating to the supporter of same-sex marriage why this sort of equality argument is question-begging. For example, they will often dig in their heels and claim: “It’s still unjust to disallow same-sex couples from marrying!” Because of this, I have found it very useful to momentarily take the focus away from marriage and consider various analogies that help to explain this point. Consider, for example, a debate club for women. Would it be unjust or unequal to disallow a man from joining the women's debate club? Well, of course not as this club exists for the purpose of being a debate club for women. Indeed, it would be utterly absurd if a bunch of men gathered outside of where the club meets with signs and demanded "debate club equality," saying that they were being treated as "less than human" by being denied their "constitutional right" to become members of women's debate clubs. The women of the club might in turn go out to meet the protestors and point out that they have never committed themselves to the supposition that men are "less than human" and they might also point out that they are not "being mean" by not allowing them to join a women's debate club. Indeed, the women might simply point out that the debate club exists for women and that the men’s immature inability to grasp that fact may not thereby make them "sub-human."
Consider now drivers' licenses. Would it be unjust or unequal to disallow a blind man from getting a license? Of course not, for drivers' licenses exist for the purpose of providing individuals the legal permission to operate a vehicle provided they are deemed sufficiently capable of doing so. Indeed, it would likewise be comically absurd if tomorrow a group of blind people congregated outside of a DMV and demanded "driver's license equality," alleging that they are being "discriminated against" and are being "treated as second-class citizens" by not being given the chance to receive drivers’ licenses.
In fact, in echoing supporters of same-sex marriage, they might add that "this is just so mean—the people who do not want to let us get licenses are just backwards, myth-believing bigots who believe the outdated and debunked supposition that sight is necessary for driving!" And again, though it might take them 4 hours to do so, DMV employees might go outside and meet with the blind people and assure them that they don't think that they are "second-class citizens" and that they are not "being mean" by not allowing them to get drivers' licenses. Indeed, they might add that, while they do not think that they are "second-class citizens," they nevertheless think of their manifestation as silly.
Finally, consider a couple public restrooms.
Consider first a unisex restroom that exists to accommodate anyone (i.e., either men or women may use it, provided it is vacant, etc.). Would it be "unjust" or "unequal" to disallow, say, a woman to use this restroom because she is a woman? Clearly it would because this restroom exists for the purpose of accommodating to any individual, be she or he male or female. Now, she may be legitimately disallowed from using this restroom for other legitimate reasons—say, because it is not vacant, or because it is being repaired and is out of service, or because the last time she was in there she tried to set it on fire. But to disallow her to use the restroom because she is a woman is not at all a good enough reason to disallow her from using the restroom in light of the fact that the restroom exists for the purpose of accommodating to either men or women.
This is very crudely analogous to the position of the supporter of same-sex marriage who typically holds that marriage is just something to the effect of: recognizing loving relationships between committed individuals.
Now, if the (public) purpose of marriage, as the supporter of same-sex marriage alleges, is just to recognize "loving commitments" or something akin to this, then it very well would be unfair and/or unjust to disallow, say, two men or two women from marrying: for they could be just as much in a "loving commitment" with one another as Susan and Bob, the opposite-sex couple (for that matter, however, it would also be "unfair" to disallow 5 individuals who are "lovingly committed" to “marry”).
Consider now a restroom that exists to accommodate to women only (i.e., only women may use it, provided it is vacant, and provided the woman wanting to use it doesn't want to set it on fire, etc.). Would it be unjust or unequal to disallow a man to use this restroom? Of course not, as this restroom exists for the purpose of accommodating females only.
This is very crudely analogous to the position of the opponent of same-sex marriage who holds that the public purpose of marriage is something to the effect of: to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another, upon whose stability the children depend for their well-being.
Accordingly, if the purpose of marriage just is to "attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another," as the opponent of same-sex "marriage" contends, then it would not be "unjust" or "unequal" to disallow, say, two men or two women from "marrying." Indeed, it would not be any more "unjust" or "unequal" to do so than it would be "unjust" or "unequal" to disallow a man to enter a women's debate club, or to disallow a blind woman to get a driver's license, or to disallow a man to use a women's restroom, etc. Any allegations that disallowing two men or two women to "marry" is "unfair" or "unjust" or "mean" or "bigoted" are, on this view, simply false—a sign of a grave misunderstanding and nothing more.
If we understand this, then we could very well see how these “equality” arguments are question-begging. But what about the second contention in the disjunction, that such arguments are, if not question-begging, false?
Well, if the public purpose is, in fact, to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another (or something akin to this), then both homosexuals and heterosexuals share the exact kind and amount of restrictions as to whom they can marry. Consider: Any individual x, be he homosexual or otherwise, can marry any individual y iff (if and only if) individual y is of the opposite sex of individual x (and is not directly related to individual x, and is not already married, etc.). So, besides whatever superficial and question-begging appearances to the contrary, homosexuals can indeed marry. What that means, though, is that they can only marry someone of the opposite sex like everyone else. A homosexual man, for example, could no more marry someone of the same sex than a heterosexual man. But a homosexual man may marry a woman; a homosexual woman may marry a man. But then it just becomes clear that the claim that “homosexuals cannot marry” or that “homosexuals are being treated unfairly” is false, for they can, after all, marry someone of the opposite sex like everyone else.
On this view, then, no one is being treated differently as to whom they can marry. So if the public purpose of marriage just is to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another, absolutely no one is being "wronged" or being "treated unfairly" or "unjustly" by not being allowed to "marry" someone of the same-sex.