One of my friends recently posted an article on Facebook with the intriguing title of “I’m Gay and I Oppose Same-Sex Marriage.” Always eager to hear a new perspective, I was excited to see what Doug Mainwaring had to say on the subject. That interest only intensified when I saw his professed methods:
“Neither religion nor tradition has played a significant role in forming my stance. But reason and experience certainly have.”
Certainly a recipe for effective, empathetic, wide-reaching conclusions, right? Perhaps that set my expectations too high, because I was sorely disappointed by his actual execution. In order to sort through my own reaction, I wanted to take a moment to examine his logical process.
Let me start by saying that I in no way intend to delegitimize anyone’s experiences or perspectives, and I certainly believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion and to live their life as they choose. That’s sort of my point. My problem is not with Mr. Mainwaring’s experiences or even the conclusions he drew from them. My problem is instead with the way he inductively expands those conclusions as a rationale for withholding the ability for consenting adults to get married, which is where I focus my analysis.
Mr. Mainwaring framed his thesis in an unusual way, saying, “Genderless marriage is not marriage at all. It is something else entirely.” Using the term “genderless marriage” is an interesting departure from the more typical descriptors like “same-sex marriage,” “gay marriage,” or even “single-sex marriage.” Certainly there are some who feel overly constrained by traditional gender descriptors and thus do not hew to them, preferring to remain gender unidentified or maintain a more fluid or nuanced gender identity, but from the context of his piece, this is clearly not what Mr. Mainwaring was referring to. Rather, it seems that he held the diametric gender constructs as given, and likewise asserted that marriage must be a joining of those two opposites. Citing the influence of “intellectual honesty,” the main rationale he gave for this was two-fold:
“(1) Creating a family with another man is not completely equal to creating a family with a woman, and (2) denying children parents of both genders at home is an objective evil. Kids need and yearn for both.”
These explicit claims also suggested an implicit assumption that rearing children is a central and even mandatory component of marriage.
The entire argument really hangs on that last point, which makes it that much stranger that Mr. Mainwaring does not support, explain, or even acknowledge it. Perhaps that’s because it’s self-evidently false. Whether or not to have children is up to the discretion of each married couple, whether they’re straight, gay, or anywhere in between, and fitness to raise children is not considered before issuing straight couple’s marriage license. Why should others be subjected to greater scrutiny?
These are priorities that are deeply personal, best determined by the individual couple for themselves, not arbitrarily and categorically dictated to an entire nation. This same sort of prescriptive attitude is evident in other areas of Mr. Mainwaring’s attitude, such as the value judgments he applies to different kinds of love.
“I longed to have an intimate relationship… However, I enjoyed something far greater, something which surpassed carnality in every way: philia (the love between true friends)—a love unappreciated by so many because eros is promoted in its stead.”
“Philia love between men is far better, far stronger, and far more fulfilling than erotic love can ever be. But society now promotes the lowest form of love between men while sabotaging the higher forms.”
This is a false dichotomy. Philic love and erotic love are not mutually exclusive, nor can one justifiably state that one is inherently superior to the other as a matter of fact. These assumptions demonstrate a remarkably narrow and perhaps presumptuous view of the world.
Similarly, there is no reason to assume that same-sex couples make intrinsically inferior parenting teams than couples of mixed gender. What differentiated this from the rest of the claims Mr. Mainwaring makes was that instead of relying exclusively on vague anecdotes for support, he turned to University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus. In a study last published last year, Dr. Regnerus claimed not only that “intact, biological” parental couples raised children significantly better than other configurations, particularly outperforming gay and lesbian parents. Mr. Mainwaring, however, failed to mention that the very journal that published that study later released a scathing critique of the paper. Not only was the peer review process marred by conflicts of interest, but the methodology itself was deeply flawed. That this is the only appeal to authority that Mr. Mainwaring even attempts is perhaps an even more damning sign of the lack of data supporting his position than if he had simply not presented any at all.
Dr. Regnerus’s questionable research aside, Mr. Mainwaring had more anecdotal reasons for his opposition to same-sex parents, and they were centered around his static and prescriptive ideas about gender roles as they relate to parenting.
“Moms and dads interact differently with their children. To give kids two moms or two dads is to withhold from them someone whom they desperately need and deserve in order to be whole and happy. It is to permanently etch ‘deprivation’ on their hearts.”
To prove this point in a different essay also opposing same-sex parents, Mr. Mainwaring pointed to the fictional example of the film The Parent Trap, pointing out that these two girls of privilege disrupt their whole lives in order to experience the gendered parenting that they had been missing. I hope I needn’t point out what a ridiculous argument that is. Fortunately, he kept to more personal stories in this article, relating an anecdote from his family.
“One day as I turned to climb the stairs I saw my sixteen-year-old son walk past his mom as she sat reading in the living room. As he did, he paused and stooped down to kiss her and give her a hug, and then continued on. With two dads in the house, this little moment of warmth and tenderness would never have occurred. My varsity-track-and-football-playing son and I can give each other a bear hug or a pat on the back, but the kiss thing is never going to happen. To be fully formed, children need to be free to generously receive from and express affection to parents of both genders. Genderless marriages deny this fullness.”
This was perhaps Mr. Mainwaring’s fullest explanation of what he meanings he associates with the term “genderless marriage.” He clearly has very static, uniform ideas of what a mother and a father are and what they do. I’m certain he and his children’s mother have distinct parenting roles, but I’m much less certain that those same parenting roles apply to every parent based solely on gender. As different as two parents in the same family can be, two families can undoubtedly be even more different. Mr. Mainwaring even seems to understand this broad potential for human expression.
“Sexuality is fluid for many, and much more complex than many want to acknowledge.”
If sex is so dynamic, why is gender so static?
Please remind me what we’re even talking about, Mr. Mainwaring.
“We are in the middle of a fierce battle that is no longer about rights. It is about a single word, ‘marriage.’”
That single word actually does have a great deal to do with rights, but yes, let’s stop talking about parenting and start talking about marriage.
“Gay and lesbian activists, and more importantly, the progressives urging them on, seek to redefine marriage in order to achieve an ideological agenda that ultimately seeks to undefine families as nothing more than one of an array of equally desirable ‘social units,’ and thus open the door to the increase of government’s role in our lives.”
This seems fundamentally contradictory. In order to prevent government intrusion, the government will prescribe only one possible family composition, precluding families from defining themselves. That’s some seriously tortured logic.
“Statists see great value in slowly chipping away at the bedrock of American culture: faith and family life. The more that traditional families are weakened in our daily experience by our laws, the more that government is able to freely insert itself into our lives in an authoritarian way. And it will.”
“Neither religion nor tradition has played a significant role” in this argument, but they sure seemed to make a ninth inning rally in the bottom of this essay. I thought that the way it spiraled into a black helicopter non sequitur was an unexpected treat as well.
“Same-sex relationships are certainly very legitimate, rewarding pursuits, leading to happiness for many, but they are wholly different in experience and nature.”
It’s a shame you never got around to explaining that difference, Doug.