There are a lot of terrible arguments against same-sex marriage, but this may be the worst: The Supreme Court must not protect gay couples’ marriages, because doing so would demean marriages between gay men and their wives.
That, in a nutshell, is the argument put forth in an amicus brief recently filed by a group who call themselves “same-sex attracted men and their wives.” These men don’t claim to have become straight through conversion therapy—though a group of self-proclaimed ex-gays did file their own deeply sad and strange brief. Nor do they claim to be bisexual. Rather, these men admit that they’re “same-sex attracted,” but insist that “a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage can only come at the cost of marginalizing and demeaning the marriages and families” of gay men married to straight women. And that risk, they say, is reason enough for the court to rule against marriage equality.
Confused? Let the same-sex attracted men walk you through their reasoning. The gay couples suing their states for recognition argue that gay marriage bans “disfavor and demean their very identities and existence” by excluding them from marriage. But “that could only be true if the marriages of [gay men and straight women] are fakes and shams”—which, these men assert, is simply not the case. To prove it, the brief provides the personal testimonies of 10 gay men who are now happily married to straight women. Each of these men found women eager to marry them. In one testimony, a straight woman realizes she loves her gay husband “not in spite of his attractions, but because of them.” In another, a gay man explains that admitting his continued “same-sex attractions” to his wife of 10 years actually brought “renewed closeness” to their relationship. He and his wife now have four children.
These testimonies are designed to disprove the notion that gay people can only have fulfilled marriages by wedding someone of the same sex. In United States v. Windsor, the court held that a federal gay marriage ban “degrade[s] and demean[s]” gay people by sending them a message that their relationship is not “worthy of dignity.” The brief confronts that powerful idea head-on by arguing that, in fact, same-sex relationships are less worthy of dignity, since gay people always have the option of marrying straight people. Or, as the brief puts it in (slightly) more legalistic terms:
Inescapably, striking down man-woman marriage laws on the basis of a constitutional deprivation would send a message to the same-sex attracted that there is only one choice for them, that man-woman marriage is unattainable, that they are acting against their nature for desiring it. … But, in reality, the opposite is true. The institution of man-woman marriage is … an ensign, beckoning to anyone—regardless of sexual orientation—that the union of a man and a woman is uniquely significant because it is endowed with procreative power and complementary capacity.
This argument may rest on the depressing delusion that a marriage between a gay man and a straight woman can be “deeply fulfilling,” but as bleakly mistaken as that rationalization may be, at least it’s internally consistent. Every other anti-gay-marriage brief scrambles to find some pretext to explain why gay marriage bans aren’t meant to degrade gay people—like the “responsible procreation” defense to which Judge Richard Posner so memorably laid waste. The “same-sex attracted men and their wives” brief proudly shouts what all these other briefs can only whisper: Same-sex marriages don’t deserve “equal dignity.” You can decide for yourself why these men are so desperately eager to prove to the court that their marriages aren’t “fakes and shams.” But give them credit for saying what their allies cannot—and, ironically, filing what may be the most honest anti-gay-marriage brief yet.