First published in Between the Lines on February 9, 2006
As I embark upon a week’s worth of same-sex marriage debates with Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family, I am bracing myself for his arguments. (There’s a useful summary of his position here.)
In every debate we’ve had, Stanton has brought up Jonathan Yarbrough and Cody Rogahn, the first same-sex couple in Provincetown, Massachusetts to receive a marriageapplication. Yarbrough and Rogahn have an open relationship. “I think it’s possible to love more than one person and have more than one partner,” Yarbrough told a reporter on the eve of their wedding. “In our case…we have an open marriage.”
This admission is bound to generate an “Aha!” from any same-sex marriage opponent within earshot. “See—we told you so!” they sneer.
Told us what?, I wonder. That some gay people have open relationships? Well, duh.
Glenn’s argument seems to be that:
1. Yarbrough and Rogahn are representative of same-sex couples in general, and
2. Allowing such couples to marry will erode respect for monogamy, thereby wreaking havoc on society. Therefore
3. Society should reject same-sex marriage.
Whenever I hear this argument, I think of the first “open” couple I knew—or, to be more precise, the first one of which I was aware. One member was a fellow graduate student; the other, a professor at a different school. At the time I knew them (we’ve since fallen out of touch) they had been together over 15 years.
Their names? Katie and George.
Yes, the first “open” couple I knew was heterosexual—and married. Aha, yourself.
Katie and George were fully legally married, despite always intending to have an open relationship. They were just as legally married as Mr. and Mrs. Stanton, with all the rights, duties, and privileges appertaining.
Interestingly, conservatives never point to people like Katie and George as evidence that heterosexuals should no longer be allowed to marry. Doing so would commit the fallacy of hasty generalization (among others).
By similar logic, we could point to Britney Spears’s 55-hour (pre-Federline) marriage to Jason Allen Alexander and then conclude that celebrities should no longer be allowed to marry (not a bad idea, actually).
Stanton’s elaboration of his argument is revealing. “If we allow Jonathan Yarbrough and Cody Rogahn to marry,” he asks audiences, “what will that say to other married couples? What will it say to the heterosexual couple living next door? The husband might think, ‘Hey, that’s not a bad idea. I should keep my options open.’ How will that affect their marriage?”
Memo to Glenn Stanton: there are already heterosexual couples living next door to Jonathan Yarbrough and Cody Rogahn. (Or so I assume: the couple lives in Glenwood, Minnesota; population 3000—not exactly a gay mecca.) Yet their neighbors are not clamoring to have open relationships any more than they are clamoring to have gay sex.
Nor are Katie and George’s neighbors. Nor, for that matter, are Britney Spears’s neighbors (which is not to equate her stunt with Katie and George’s unconventional but enduring union). The moral of the story? Grownups can think for themselves.
What are conservatives so afraid of? Some homosexual couples, like some heterosexual couples, are what our parents used to call “swingers.” Marriage might or might not change that, but it certainly won’t entail that every other married couple will follow in their footsteps.
Nobody knows exactly how monogamous gays are compared to straights. More to the point, nobody knows how monogamous gays would be in a society that granted them marriage rights. (If you exclude people from major social institutions like marriage, you shouldn’t be surprised if they are less likely to conform to social norms.)
What we do know is that there’s a serious double standard involved in allowing people like Katie and George to marry but forbidding people like Jonathan and Cody to do so (except in Massachusetts). You don’t have to approve of everything a couple does in order to respect their right to marry.
But the most striking thing about Stanton’s position is not its logical gaps, or even its warped view of gay life. The most striking thing is its dim view of heterosexuals, as gullible copycats who can’t make simple moral distinctions. The good people of Glenwood deserve better.