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Divided over gay marriage

Times Staff Writer

Not everyone who opposes gay marriage is a Bible-thumper, a conservative -- or even a heterosexual. As the California Supreme Court stepped into the feud Thursday by halting same-sex nuptials in San Francisco, other voices were already weighing in against the idea.

They include: a member of alternative rock station KROQ-FM’s comedy duo Kevin and Bean; a Florida newspaper columnist who “loves gays”; and a professional thinker from Palo Alto.

Some profess enthusiastic support for gay rights, including civil unions, but they draw the line at marriage. One reason is a belief that gay matrimony could open the door to legalizing polygamy and group marriage.

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“This gay wedding craze is starting to spread around the country. Today a guy in Utah married five other guys.”

-- Jay Leno

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Leno’s joke isn’t too far off the mark, says Stanley Kurtz, a scholar at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank at Stanford University. In Utah, lawsuits to overturn the state’s ban on polygamy are already winding through the courts. Although legal experts question the merits of those cases, polygamy may be losing some of its taboo status.

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Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman recently wrote: “What’s the difference between a polygamist and ... a casual philanderer? Twenty-five years in prison? ... The state is on shaky ground when it tries to criminalize sexual relations or the consensual living arrangements of adults.”

Many gay leaders are quick to dismiss analogies between polygamy and homosexuality. “Polygamy is a choice; sexual orientation isn’t,” says writer Andrew Sullivan, an eloquent supporter of same-sex marriage. “Polygamy is also terrible for society. It abuses women, creates a class of unmarried males [by leaving a shortage of single females] and leaves children unclear about their parents.”

Nevertheless, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who backs gay marriage, says court decisions upholding same-sex matrimony could be interpreted to permit multiple spouses. He suggests even incest between consenting adults could end up decriminalized, despite the possibility of inbred children: “After all, we don’t generally ban marriages between people who have serious genetic diseases, even if the odds of a defect in their children are much higher than for brother-sister marriages.”

Some gay activists are already campaigning for such changes.

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Paula Ettelbrick, a law professor who runs the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, recommends legalizing a wide variety of marriage alternatives, including polyamory, or group wedlock. An example could include a lesbian couple living with a sperm-donor father, or a network of men and women who share sexual relations.

One aim, she says, is to break the stranglehold that married heterosexual couples have on health benefits and legal rights. The other goal is to “push the parameters of sex, sexuality and family, and in the process transform the very fabric of society.”

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“Leaving God out of the equation, it is irrefutable that Nature had a well-ordered design. Male + female = offspring.”

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-- Kathleen Parker,

Orlando Sentinel columnist

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Another common objection to gay marriage involves children.

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“If it were not for kids, I would have no problem whatsoever with gay marriage,” says Kevin Ryder, a morning DJ on KROQ-FM. Children need both a father and a mother to thrive, he explains. “That’s the ideal, and that’s what should be upheld.... To purposely start without one of the sexes makes it worse on a kid.”

Although KROQ listeners skewered Ryder when he stated his views on the air recently, countless scientific studies back him up, according to David Blankenhorn, author of “Fatherless America” and president of the Institute for American Values. Children are psychologically better off when raised by the mom and dad who brought them into the world, Blankenhorn says.

The audience for such reasoning is limited, partly because many heterosexual families also don’t live up to optimum standards. As the National Review magazine noted, if research on ideal households is used to attack gay marriage, “a large part of the public will flinch.”

Meanwhile, because homosexuals are already becoming parents, conservative gay commentator Sullivan suggests it would be “far better for those kids to be protected in their families by legal marriage than to live with instability and possible custodial problems.”

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Blankenhorn disagrees, arguing that such a move would fundamentally alter the definition of parenthood by erasing the words “mother” and “father” from the law and replacing them with androgynous terminology. “Parental unit,” perhaps?

Saying that children need mothers and fathers might come to be regarded as a form of hate speech, he adds.

Media pundits aren’t the only ones who object to gay marriage on reproductive grounds. “I’m against it for Darwinian reasons,” says Shane Huber, a chemist who lives in Orange. Marriage was founded to propagate the species, he says, and that meant certain practices, such as marrying a parent, sibling or person of the same sex, became taboo.

“People who argue that marriage is no longer just about reproduction are missing the point, because marriage as an institution is exactly about reproduction,” he says. “Gay people should have all the legal rights that married people have, but you can do that without bestowing marriage on them.”

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“Republicans oppose gay marriage because it threatens or mocks ... the ‘sanctity of marriage,’ as if anything you can do drunk out of your mind in front of an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas could be considered sacred.”

-- Bill Maher

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Defending traditional matrimony can be a challenge. “This topic has not been treated in a fair and balanced way by the media,” says Peter Bronson, a conservative Cincinnati Enquirer columnist who opposes gay marriage. Part of the problem, he says, is the emotional effect of television, in which “one person with a tear rolling down their cheek” can trump weeks of congressional testimony and logic.

Bronson says he cringes when he sees coverage of gay marriage. “It’s always the same story. There’s a photo of a loving, caring, monogamous lesbian couple, raising adopted orphans. ‘We only want the rights given to everyone else,’ they plead,” he recently wrote. “In our Oprah-fied culture, blubbery emotion must be fed. So the definition of marriage that has outlasted the Great Pyramids and crosses more cultural, geographic, religious and ethnic boundaries than the Great Wall of China is crumbling under the slow drip of ‘I want.’ ”

It doesn’t help that heterosexuals have made a mess of the institution. As gay-rights supporters are happy to point out, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act was sponsored by Rep. Bob Barr (who’s had three marriages) and Sen. Bob Dole (two marriages), then signed into law by President Clinton, another poster boy for wedded bliss.

“The irony is that gays want so badly what they seem to find so flawed,” writes Orlando Sentinel columnist Parker.

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In truth, many gays are ambivalent about the idea of same-sex nuptials, and, until recently, a number of activists adamantly opposed the concept.

Marriage would “rewrite gay life” to conform to outmoded heterosexual notions of love and monogamy, attorney Steven K. Homer warned in 1993. It might also split the gay world into “acceptable” married couples and second-class “outlaws” who face increased discrimination. One thing same-sex marriage won’t do, he predicted, is win societal approval of homosexuality. Ettelbrick concurred: “We must not fool ourselves into believing that marriage will make it acceptable to be gay or lesbian.”

Yet, that seems to be what the clash over same-sex wedlock has become: a litmus test for whether someone is intolerant toward gays.

“It’s like no sane person could possibly have a reason other than bigotry to oppose gay marriage,” Blankenhorn says. “It’s infuriating.”

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KROQ’s Ryder, who is hardly a stranger to on-air controversy, agrees, saying he’s never seen anything like this. “This is not a debate. There’s no real consideration of whether I have a valid point. It’s just name-calling.” He describes the e-mails he gets as “vicious, angry and hateful.”

Ryder, like almost everyone interviewed for this article, says he supports gay rights in other arenas but doesn’t put matrimony on the list because “the number of people gay marriage would help is much smaller than the gigantic number of kids it would negatively affect.”

Blankenhorn says the gay and lesbian community’s demand for equal treatment and dignity is legitimate, but wedlock is the wrong tool. The purpose of marriage “isn’t to accomplish the goal of equality of people.”

It’s a tough issue, Parker writes, because “most of us know and/or love someone who is gay” and don’t want to deny them “respect and happiness.” So “we sit back quietly and watch the reordering of society for fear of hurting a loved one’s feelings or offending a co-worker.”

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But the stakes are too high to remain silent, she insists. Although Parker concedes “it is unlikely that a few thousand married homosexuals will topple civilization,” she deems it unwise to rush the idea into law. “Making homosexual unions equal to heterosexual unions ... is not just a small step for equality. It is a gargantuan leap from a natural order that has served mankind throughout civilized human society. We should look long and hard before we leap.”


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