Against Gay Marriage

by Harry on August 25, 2006

Can anyone point me to a really good article, by someone philosophically sophisticated, which argues against gay marriage? I’d like to teach the topic in a class, and have some good pro-gay marriage resources, but am a bit stumped for anti-gay marriage stuff. I want something that does not rest on religious foundations, or at least doesn’t explicitly do so. If you have a sense of my sensibilities try to recommend something you think I’ll actually like. Oh, and I do have a good paper by my colleague Claudia Card which opposes gay marriage from an anti-marriage perspective, so that side of things is covered.

{ 1 trackback }

Web of Contradictions » Blog Archive » Civil partnerships would have minimal effect on the spread of radical reproductive technologies
08.26.06 at 5:28 pm



jeff barbeau 08.25.06 at 11:08 am

Margaret Somerville from McGill caused a stir in Canada this year based on her disinclination toward gay marriage. I don’t know if she is philosophically based enough, but she’s a pretty prominent ethicist in the home country.


v 08.25.06 at 11:10 am

belle waring had a very good (though ironic) defense of the anti gay marriage argument in response to some unpersuasive crap posted on (they had invited a guest blogger to argue that position several months ago)…i advise at least exposing people to that…


mijnheer 08.25.06 at 11:22 am


GW 08.25.06 at 11:30 am

on same-sex marriage:

Jeff Jordan, “Is It Wrong to Discriminate on the Basis of Homosexuality?”
George, “Same-Sex Marriage and Moral Neutrality”
Card, “Against Marriage and Motherhood”

on homosexuality more generally:

Michael Levin, “Why Homosexuality Is Abnormal”

With an interesting reply:

Timothy F. Murphy, “Homosexuality and Nature: Happiness and the Law at Stake”


David Velleman 08.25.06 at 11:31 am

The piece of Somerville’s to look at is “The case against gay marriage“. It’s not quite right to say that she caused a stir. The stir was caused when Ryerson University voted to award her an honorary degree and then, when faced with protests, issued a statement saying that they would proceed with the award but would not have offered it if they had known her views on same-sex marriage — a stunning bit of hypocrisy. Somerville’s work is well argued and not in any sense “homophobic”.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 08.25.06 at 11:36 am


See the article by Lee Harris, ‘The Future of Tradition,’ available at the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review page, specifically, its author index:

Best wishes,


GW 08.25.06 at 11:51 am

hmm…seems I should have read the whole post before jumping in. So scratch the Card paper. The George on is quite good though, and it fits the bill of at least not explicitly resting on religious foundations.


Matt 08.25.06 at 12:12 pm

I taught this issue last year and used the following paper by Amy Wax: The Conservative’s Dilemma: Social Science, Social Change, and Traditional Institutions, 42 SAN DIEGO L. REV. 1059 (2005). I thought it was clearly the best of the choices I’d seen. I don’t think it’s successful, but it’s pretty sophisticated, sets out a possition that you don’t have to be a sectarian to accept, isn’t offensive, and can be reasonably well understood by smart undergrads. I strongly recommend it.


Brian Cook 08.25.06 at 12:17 pm

Not sure if this is as philosophically sophisticated as you’re looking for, but here’s one that argues against gay marriage, at least initially, from the “gay liberation” perspective.

The money graph:

“The push for gay marriage is clothed in the uniform of a fight for equality. And, of course, it is that. But gay marriage strikes me as, first and foremost, just another way to show the straights that we’re the same as them, that we’re as “normal” as the heterosexuals with whom we share the planet and thereby are worthy of acceptance into their clubs. Well, without getting into a discourse on the social function of homosexuality in cultures ancient and modern, let me just assert that, guess what—we’re not the same. We’re different. Rather than try to paint heterosexual stripes on our pelts, let’s examine, explore and celebrate our different coloration.

The goal of the gay rights movement should not be to erase the perception of difference in the minds and hearts of our fellow citizens but to eliminate the use of that difference to deny us rights enjoyed by others. “


knsheppard 08.25.06 at 12:31 pm

Just wanted to chime in and agree with another commenter by saying Margaret Sommerville’s work is at the very least interesting on this point. An article in Maclean’s magazine summarizes her position fairly clearly.


Functional 08.25.06 at 12:32 pm

This is the best thing I’ve seen: Non-religious, and it comes from a person who’s otherwise sympathetic to gay rights.


Brian Horrigan 08.25.06 at 12:34 pm

I recommend you check out the articles available online here. Plenty of references to push you further.

Also, the Weekly Standard has run some articles on this issue, by Stanley Kurtz, over the past three years.


tony 08.25.06 at 12:35 pm

Stephen Fry in the 2005 Hay-on-Wye ‘blasphemy debate’ (still available on line, I think) suggests that same-sex marriage ‘quite misses the point of being gay’. Which is nice.


Marcus 08.25.06 at 12:42 pm

Maggie Gallagher is a big name.


Jimmy Doyle 08.25.06 at 12:44 pm

Anthony Kenny argues against gay marriage (but in favour of civil unions) in his most recent book, What I Believe, a compendium of his views on various weighty topics, with a rather schematic account of his reasons for them.


Russell Arben Fox 08.25.06 at 1:08 pm

Functional (#13) highlights the post by Noah Millman that I was going to recommend; it’s a thoughtful and serious piece, one that I have gone back to again and again in the years since I first read it. In fact, I think my persistent linking to it was what led him to eventually do a follow-up post, which can be found here; he modifies some of what he said in that first, longer post, but basically comes to same conclusion. Also, to get a full grip on his argument, be sure to check out his equally thoughtful and serious attack on his own political party regarding the Federal Marriage Amendment, here.


Chalmers 08.25.06 at 1:40 pm

The Liberal Case Against Gay Marriage.
Susan M. Shell
The Public Interest Summer 2004.


DaveC 08.25.06 at 1:41 pm

Google “Stanley Kurtz” “National Review’ “marriage”, and you will find many columns like this or this or this.

Comments from Brian Tiemann here.


SamChevre 08.25.06 at 2:42 pm


Are you trying to help? Because so far as I can see, you aren’t.


It isn’t my area of expertise, but “natural law” arguments are generally considered non-religious For that purpose, some selections from Humanae Vitae rely on natural law arguments as opposed to revelation/magisterial arguments and would seem to fit your purpose well.


Richard 08.25.06 at 2:53 pm

It’s way outside the text of the debates, but I think Mary Douglas’ Purity and Danger is highly relevant to the way anti-gay marriage arguments are formed and the motivations behind them, as well as to discussions of tolerance or acceptance in general.


Keven Lofty 08.25.06 at 3:01 pm

You mean you’re not joking?


Martin James 08.25.06 at 3:07 pm

Can’t happen. Everyone who is philosophically sophisticated is a skeptic.


Matt 08.25.06 at 3:41 pm


Stuart 08.25.06 at 3:46 pm

I seem to remember Gail Heriot at The Right Coast putting up a whole series of posts talking about why none of the arguments on gay marriage (for or against) make much sense. I can’t get my hands on it that easily. Megan McArdle (Jane Galt) wrote a really long post arguing not so much for rejecting gay marriage, but for being skeptical about it for now, based on experience with previous modifications of longstanding social arrangements. Here is the link: A really, really, really long post about gay marriage that does not, in the end, support one side or the other.


Stuart 08.25.06 at 3:47 pm

Ishmael, your posts are way, way off point. People don’t come to CT to be proselytized. If I was a blogger here I’d moderate your posts into oblivion.


Henry 08.25.06 at 3:57 pm

Ishmael, who appears to be an Aryan Brotherhood type, has been deleted with extreme prejudice.


Uncle Kvetch 08.25.06 at 4:02 pm

Oh good. Now we can have a nice, civilized discussion. No more nasty crazies like Ishmael, just sophisticated, reasonable types like Maggie Gallagher and Stanley Kurtz.


harry b 08.25.06 at 4:39 pm

Thanks henry. And thanks everyone — I’ve adopted the Somerville and the Lee Harris piece (I’m using Velleman’s Family History in my section on cloning, and will do SSM straight after that and get the students to figure out whether the Family History piece has anythign to say about SSM). But keep going — this is very useful to me.


Jaybird 08.25.06 at 4:40 pm

Megan McArdle wrote what I thought was a brilliant skeptical essay on gay marriage last year.

The general gist is that if one trifles with centuries-old institutions, there are going to be unintended consequences.

Now, it’s not anti-gay marriage… but it frames the debate in a way I’d not seen before.


Kieran Healy 08.25.06 at 4:47 pm

if one trifles with centuries-old institutions, there are going to be unintended consequences

I mean, look what happened to feudalism.


Jaybird 08.25.06 at 4:51 pm

Kieran, I wasn’t aware that we were actually debating gay marriage. I thought we were just finding resources that weren’t religious that argued against it in good faith.


Toadmonster 08.25.06 at 5:32 pm

J. David Velleman has written a bunch of Left2Right posts and I think maybe some real-world articles against gay marriage. Personally I wouldn’t call the articles ‘good’ because I think he sucks and it’s kind of more of the same, but he is officially a philosopher.


Ben Alpers 08.25.06 at 5:41 pm

The general gist is that if one trifles with centuries-old institutions, there are going to be unintended consequences.

Indeed! You get rid of coverture and establish married women’s property rights, and the next thing you know, women get admitted to the bar and earn the right to vote!

I suppose it’s true that tampering with basic social institutions produces unintended consequences, but the notion that marriage is an instution that has gone unchanged for centuries is ludicrous.


Jim Aune 08.25.06 at 6:32 pm

Here are two articles I used last year while teaching the topic, both from Christianity Today–less hateful and more reasonable than the norm in this debate:


Jaybird 08.25.06 at 7:08 pm

Are we devolving into a discussion of Gay Marriage? I suppose it’s inevitable…


Kieran Healy 08.25.06 at 7:19 pm

Kieran, I wasn’t aware that we were actually debating gay marriage. I thought we were just finding resources that weren’t religious that argued against it in good faith.

I was only joking.


H. E. 08.25.06 at 7:37 pm

i’ve got one that appeared in Theolgy I think last year arguing that gay marriage was pointless on utilitarian grounds up at

Probably this isn’t what you’re looking for because the argument is that on utilitarian grounds the whole point of marriage is to institutionalize a contractual arrangement between unequal partners–men and women–and that there’s no point in institutionalizing these contractual relationships for same-sex partners who are on equal footing. Not exactly against gay marriage–which I personally favor. The idea is that the whole purpose of marriage is to lock men into contractual obligations to provide financial support in exchange for child-bearing and domestic service.


Pablo Stafforini 08.25.06 at 8:00 pm

J. David Velleman has written a bunch of Left2Right posts and I think maybe some real-world articles against gay marriage. Personally I wouldn’t call the articles ‘good’ because I think he sucks and it’s kind of more of the same, but he is officially a philosopher.

Prof. Velleman’s lucid, thoughtful and well-argued writings on same-sex marriage include his blog post ‘Why I can’t support same-sex marriage,’ (Left2Right, August 15, 2005) and (implicitly) his paper ‘Family history‘ (Philosophical papers, Vol. 34, No. 3, November 2005).


anon 08.25.06 at 8:17 pm

No one has mentioned Michael Warner’s “The Trouble with Normal”:

“AIDS activists,” Warner observes, “learned quickly that effective prevention cannot be based on shame and a refusal to comprehend; it requires collective efforts at honest discussion, a realism about desire and a respect for pleasure.” But “normal” morality honors none of these things. When the right to marriage is finally secured, a thin, white shadow of gay liberation will drift into condos and the PTA, taking most of the money, few of the troubles and all of the credit from the untouchables left behind.


oran 08.25.06 at 9:08 pm

What about John Finnis’ “Law, Morality, and Sexual Orientation” (Notre Dame Law Review)? The arguments are ridiculous in my view — but I suppose they do rise above some minimal threshold of ‘philosophical respectability’.


Functional 08.25.06 at 9:36 pm


vivian 08.25.06 at 10:17 pm

A word of caution: when some students suggested gay marriage as a paper topic, I said that they first needed a good (not necessarily persuasive) argument against it, and that I didn’t know of any, but was certainly open to their suggestions. After class, the most vocal Republican in the class said that he found my comments disturbing since he was gay, though not out everywhere. (I apologised, in private and in class, and all blew over.) So anyway, prepare to trigger anxieties where you might least expect them, and have a plan for afters. Actually, I’d bet you already do.


bad Jim 08.25.06 at 11:51 pm

The best explanation I’ve read of why gay marriage is perceived as a threat is certainly not what Harry’s asking for, but I commend it to everyone’s attention. Sara Robinson, guest-blogging at Orcinus, linked to Doug Muder’s essay, Red Family, Blue Family. Here’s the relevant bit:

Same-sex marriage. The husband/father and wife/mother roles in the Inherited Obligation model are timeless, unchangeable, and necessary. Someone has to be the husband/father and someone has to be the wife/mother. Same-sex couples just can’t cover both roles, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.

But no comparable difficulty exists in the Negotiated Commitment model. A child has needs, and the parents have to negotiate a plan to meet those needs. Whether the parents are a mixed-sex couple or a same-sex couple – or even a single parent with a lot of committed friends – the problem is the same.

If the government recognizes same-sex marriages and same-sex couples as parents, then it is tacitly siding with the Negotiated Commitment model of marriage and parenthood, and undermining the Inherited Obligation model. This is why conservatives believe that marriage needs to be “defended” from same-sex relationships. But from the Negotiated Commitment point of view, “defense of marriage” is nonsense. How a same-sex couple negotiates its relationship has no effect on the negotiated relationships of mixed-sex couples.

The beliefs of the traditional family values contingent are rather fragile, and they consider a threat to one a threat to all. Just go read the whole thing. It’s not that long.


aaron 08.26.06 at 1:51 am

Sorry, I don’t know of any. The closest I’ve seen to a good argument against it is the potential for abuse: using marriage to fraudulently share medical benefit and for imigration fraud. However, there is no reason that I know of to believe that gay marriage would significantly increase the ability of people willing to commit these frauds to carry them out. There are also disinsentives, including and beyond those that exist for hetrosexual marriage, that include the risk of leaving your assets and credit legally vunlneralbe. I doubt a judge would be very sympathetic to someone who was sexually assaulted by their spouse.


Backword Dave 08.26.06 at 5:43 am

44. ” I doubt a judge would be very sympathetic to someone who was sexually assaulted by their spouse.” But judges are — sometimes — in marriage as it exists now, and not only in cases of arranged marriages or one which were the result of arm-twisting of some form. People change; an unxorious husband on the honeymoon can be a unreasonable monster a few years later. People marry unsuitable partners for all sorts of reasons. And courts understand this. Sexual assault is certainly recognised in marriage, but, as outside marriage, the problem is with burden of proof.

43. The Orincus link goes to the wrong post, as far as I can see. Also the ‘Inherited Obligation’ model looks utterly worthless to me; it doesn’t cover single parents, or children largely brought up institutions (including the boarding schools the well-heeled insist on dumping their greatly beloved sprogs in, so they don’t have to see them ten months of the year), nor even to families with largely absent fathers (such as those in the military), where, assuming the two roles to be at all real, the mother has to play both much of the time.


Jacob T. Levy 08.26.06 at 8:08 am

While this skirts closer to the religious boundary, I think

Robert George and Gerard V. Bradley, “Marriage and the Liberal Imagination,” Georgetown Law Journal 84 (1995) 301-320

especially if taught in conjunction with the Macedo piece it’s responding to, works well. (And it’s no more religious than anything else in the Finnis new natural law tradition– but if you find that whole tradition to be sectarian, you’ll find this so too.)


SusanC 08.26.06 at 9:18 am

The Margaret Somerville essay linked above might be good as a text to use in class. It’s a well-written version of an argument often heard in this debate. It’s weak in the same places that many other instances of this argument are:

It’s partly dependent of the current state of medical technology: at present, two women cannot both be the biological parents of a child, but reproductive technology is quite likely to make this possible within our lifetimes. (More pertinently: it could become possible within the timescale that it takes governments to draft legislation)

Assuming the technology advances, we’re left with the argument that two people of the same sex should not have children, even if they physically can. She doesn’t justfy this at all.

It’s also unconvincing where it argues that infertile opposite sex couples should be allowed to marry (e.g. post menopausal women). Sure there’s a privacy angle: it would be overly intrusive of the state to actually try and check that a couple can have children. But wouldn’t the presumed right of privacy also apply to the case of two women who wish to marry? (Is the state entitled to check that one and only one of the partners has a penis?)

(NB: I realise that there are gay male marriages as well as lesbian ones; I wrote the examples as female-female because Somerville’s argument is dependent on the technology, and the technology looks likely to change matters soonest in the female-female case.)


brn 08.26.06 at 11:18 am

I taught the Somerville piece recently, along with a piece by Ralph Wedgwood (don’t have the reference available at the moment) with great success. Somerville argues, roughly, that permitting same-sex marriage will require permitting same-sex couples access to reproductive technologies that are ethically troubling (cloning and such); therefore, to avoid this, we shouldn’t permit same-sex marriage. But if there are independent grounds for ethical qualms about cloning, etc., I don’t see why we should think permitting same-sex marriage will require we provide access to cloning, etc. A right to X does not imply a right to Y when Y is wrong. To make the case, she relies *very* heavily on the claim, that the essence of marriage is procreation. But she offers little to defend this claim.


John Emerson 08.26.06 at 11:36 am

The more sophisticated arguments against gay marriage (e.g. Velleman’s) that I’ve seen strike me as missing the point of the actual debate. Velleman is apparently opposed to gay parenting (and marriage) for reasons which would also require him to be opposed to blind adoption. Presuming that he actually holds this consistent position, even though it’s a perfectly fine oposiiton it makes him pretty much irrelevant to what’s actually being argued about nowadays, since the biggest opponents of gay marriage (conservative Christians, especially Catholics) are anti-abortionists who are generally strongly supportive af blind adoption. The actual argument is about whether gay sexuality should be fully accepted as unproblematic.

It would seem that the medical issues of parenting by donation (family medical history) can be handled the same as the medical issues of adoption. This strikes me as a place where the technical fix works.

To me the solution would have been to separate civil and religious marriage entirely and call them by different names. Marriage is a religious state recognized by law, and as such is imperfectly secular.

Certainly religious groups should be allowed to refuse to recognize gay marriages for their religious purposes. For example, it seems to me that a religious group could legitimatley refuse to accept couples married outside the church, including gay couples, and also refuse to marry gay couples. I don’t know how the law would handle this, though, for example regarding hiring.

I think that blue laws are an analogy. Blue laws (against alcohol, for example) are often originally religious in motivation and have mostly been repealed, but a church certainly should be allowed to reject drinkers from their congregation.


SusanC 08.26.06 at 12:53 pm


Thanks for highlighting that aspect of the Somerville piece. Yes, indeed, she includes a reverse form of the argument. If same-sex reproduction becomes technically possible, and there are practical reasons for banning it (e.g. it isn’t sufficiently safe), then the rights of married couples to have children might trump any attempt to outlaw the technology. Marriage “does” many things, some of them to do with having children. If the state permits same-sex couples to marry (for reasons not to do with child-bearing, e.g. inheritance law), then these married couples might get the reproductive rights associated with marriage as well when the technology enables it.

Strangely enough, similar concerns make me opposed to reproductive definitons of marriage. Suppose some really extreme government limits marriage to couples who have biological children (so post-menopausal women or men with too low a sperm count can’t marry). This would create a strong incentive to use reproductive technologies (that might not be entirely safe) just to have children, in order to get married. When, absent the biological definition of marriage, couples might have been happy getting married and adopting, or not having children, or having children via a sperm donor etc…)


brn 08.26.06 at 1:21 pm


I didn’t get the impression that Somerville opposes reproductive technologies on paternalistic grounds. RTs seem rather to be wrong for one or both of the following reasons: (1) They violate the right of a child to have/be raised by a biological mother and father; (2) They are intrinsically wrong, because they are “unnatural”, or possess some “ick” factor. ((1) seems to me a far more serious concern than (2), but I have my doubts even about it.) It’s plausible that marital reproductive rights could trump the paternalistic case against RTs, but not so much these other considerations.


Yan 08.27.06 at 7:01 pm

I’d second the Jeff Jordan “Is it wrong to discriminate” article. It’s rather unique because he attempts to make an argument against gay marriage that does not require the assumption that homosexuality is immoral. This is a great article for discussion, because he wants to provide an argument that anyone, regardless of their views about sexual morality, can support. He fails, of course, but it’s the most sophisticated attempt I’ve seen, and it’s more plausible than the usual arguments.

It can be hard to get students to seriously consider the other side of this issue, and to admit that not everyone on that side is a fanatic, moron or psychopath (in part because so many are). So this is an article where they might have a better chance of seeing the other side as human, if misguided.


Phoenician in a time of Romans 08.29.06 at 3:07 am

The general gist is that if one trifles with centuries-old institutions, there are going to be unintended consequences.

The death of spirituals and the rise of hip-hop, for example.

Comments on this entry are closed.