Bryan Fischer is one of the big wigs at the American Family Association (AFA). He has a popular nationally syndicated Christian radio program. Along with many other Right Wing Christian groups, his organization is a hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. On a recent show, he spent most of one segment ranting about all the awful things that will happen to America if the Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act. In particular, he asserted that it would lead to incest, pedophilia, and bestiality. Said he, “It will be, at that point, too late for America. We will have become Rome; we will not be slouching toward Gomorrah, we will be bull-rushing Gomorrah at warp speed.” (If you don’t know, Gomorrah was one of two cities Jesus nuked from orbit because he was unhappy with their sexual practices.)
Let’s not worry too much about Sodom and Gomorrah. We have no reason to believe the story. Let’s also not nitpick over the pesky truth that “Rome” was one of the largest empires in history and that between the Republic and Byzantine Rome, it dominated the Western World for the better part of two thousand years. Finally, let’s dismiss the fact that the Roman Catholic legacy is still just fine, at least if the Holy See is any indication. And let’s not bother with the fact that homosexuality had nothing to do with any of the transitions between incarnations of the Roman Empire. Fischer is clearly not a very good historian, and all of this is mostly irrelevant to his point. He’s trying to convince us that homosexuality is really bad and destroys empires. This is a testable claim.
The thing is, like so many of the Far Right claims, this one completely contradicts the evidence. And there’s lots of evidence. Let’s start close to home:
Gay marriage has been legal in Canada for eight years. And you know what? The divorce rate has gone down.
Of course, bigots will be bigots, and will not accept this data. Divorce has been on the decline in Canada since before gay marriage was allowed. Nevertheless, allowing gay marriage hasn’t dented the increase in happy, long lasting marriages. And that says an awful lot.
They will go on to say that an isolated bit of data does not a case make. And in principle, they’re correct. With regard to the facts, they’re ignoring Argentina, Belgium, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden.
Even so, the haters will retort that these are all recent examples. We haven’t had enough time to really examine them. They are isolated anomalies. Glitches in the Matrix. Gay marriage has always been shunned by long term successful society.
Only… it hasn’t.
There are numerous West African societies (some quite old) in which a woman may legally take a “woman husband.” Numerous African societies recognize male-male marriage.
In many Native American tribes, marriage is/was defined by the role, not the genitalia. A woman doing “man’s work” could marry a woman doing “woman’s work,” and likewise for men marrying men.
In ancient Greek society, a similar relationship ethic prevailed. Though marriage was usually reserved for political alliance and procreation, relationships between same-sex couples were accepted — as long as one assumed the “masculine” role and one assumed the “feminine.”
It turns out, the Christian bigots are even wrong about marrying dogs.
Both the Bella Coola and Kwakiutl societies of the Pacific Northwest allowed bizarre marriages — including marrying a dog — to solidify trade agreements between tribes. And until the Europeans arrived with their silly ideas about marriage and their smallpox, things were just fine. What’s more, there’s no evidence whatsoever that anyone ever tried to conjugate these marriages. They were simply legal contracts, nothing more.
Could it get any worse for Fischer? YES!
Both Chinese and Sudanese cultures allow for marrying dead people. That’s right. Two societies, one of which was ancient when Jesus was called Tammuz, have allowed people to marry ghosts.
As a final insult to injury, there are the Na. Dating back to at least the Ming Dinasty (1368-1644), this society of thirty thousand or so has not had a concept of marriage at all! Brothers and sisters live together in a matrilinial society, raising, educating, and supporting all the children of all the women in the family — with no regard or concern for who is the father.
The sad thing is that this information isn’t hard to find, nor is it controversial. The only thing we should be regarding as scandalous is our myopic and egotistical assumption that marriage is confined to one man and one woman, that it is inspired by love first, and that it is an exclusive sexual contract, inviolate and unbreakable. A cursory examination of the anthropological record shows that quite the opposite is true. Marriage is as diverse as culture is diverse, and all the different variations, quirks, and permissive tendencies have exactly one thing in common. Not one of them has ever destroyed society.
Of course, we still have to address the claims that homosexual marriage is bad, even if the whole “destroying society” thing is a bit of an exaggeration. Fischer’s ilk will claim that it is bad for the children. They will say that it is inherently unstable, or that gay and lesbian relationships are inherently dysfunctional. Again, the facts are against them.
Children of Gays.
In 1996, Mike Allen and Nancy Burrell published a peer reviewed study on the subject. They found the following: “The results demonstrate no differences on any measuresbetween the heterosexual and homosexual parents regarding parenting styles, emotional adjustment, and sexual orientation of the child(ren). In other words, the data fail to support the continuation of a bias against homosexual parents by any court.” (The full text is available through PsychNet if you’d like to read it. There is a modest fee for membership.)
In 2006, Gregory Herek replicated the conclusions: “The data indicate that same-sex and heterosexual relationships do not differ in their essential psychosocial dimensions; that a parent’s sexual orientation is unrelated to her or his ability to provide a healthy and nurturing family environment.” (Also available through PsychNet.)
In 2001, Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz discovered something rather startling. While children of gay and lesbian parents don’t “become gay” any more than children of heterosexuals, daughters of lesbian couples do display one very different behavior: They play better with male children and have more gender-neutral views of society. (Isn’t that what we want? For women to choose their own destinies sans gender impositions?) “53 percent (16 out of 30) of the daughters of lesbians aspired to careers such as doctor, lawyer, engineer, and astronaut, compared with only 21 percent (6 of 28) of the daughters of heterosexual mothers.”
Overall, Stacey and Biblarz found that “Lesbigay parents and their children in these studies display no differences from heterosexual counterparts in psychological well-being or cognitive functioning.”
Adult Gay Relationships
Failing to prove that children are harmed by having gay parents, many Christian bigots will go on to claim that homosexual relationships are “inherently” less stable, less emotionally fulfilling, and psychologically damaging. This claim is also contradicted by the evidence.
A 2003 empirical study by Gottman, et al, of the interaction between heterosexual and homosexual couples found that “same-sex couples actually demonstrated more positive (and fewer negative) behaviors during their interactions than did married couples.”
The 2003 study had a small sample, so Roissman, et al, conducted a more thorough and broader series of studies in 2008. They found “individuals in committed same-sex relationships were generally not distinguishable from their committed heterosexual counterparts, with one exception–lesbians were especially effective at working together harmoniously in laboratory observations.”
Empirical evidence for actual levels of infidelity in either heterosexuals or homosexuals is very difficult to come by. Varying cultural and ethnic definitions, self-reporting bias, and social concerns have rendered the body of evidence difficult to interpret. At best. There is no data available for divorce rates among gays — since gay marriage has never been allowed in the U.S. However, it’s important to note that there are no reliable studies linking homosexuality with higher levels of relationship infidelity.
Recent publications have questioned the reality of monogamy as a historical tradition. In The Myth of Monogamy, Barash and Lipton present a compelling (and cross-disciplinary) argument that heterosexual couples have never been paragons of fidelity to begin with. In other words, it appears that lots of people — both gay and straight — cheat. The Roissman study backed up this conclusion with the observation that both gay and straight couples’ relationship satisfaction was based more on non-sexual factors like parental support and modeling. Not sexual orientation.
In short, the arguments from the Christian bigots fail. They do not reflect reality, but rather a religious ideological agenda. There is no evidence that homosexual marriage destroys society. There is no evidence whatsoever that gays are inherently less healthy, happy, or faithful than straights. There is no evidence that children of gays suffer any harm. In fact, there’s reasonable evidence that children of lesbians are more socially accepting and well adjusted — especially girls. Fischer and all the other anti-gay bigots are wrong. They are factually, objectively wrong, and there is no excuse whatsoever for giving their hate any place in even one point of law.
Allen, M., & Burrell, N. (1996). Comparing the impact of homosexual and heterosexual parents on children: Meta-analysis of existing research. Journal of Homosexuality, 32, 19–35.
Barash, David P and Lipton, Judith Eve. The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People. W. H. Freeman. (2001)
Blackwood, Evelyn, ed. “The Many Faces of Homosexuality: Anthropological Approaches to Homosexual Behavior.” New York: Harrington Park Press, 1986. Jacobs, Sue-Ellen. Thomas, Wesley, and Lang, Sabine, eds. “The Two Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality.” Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997.
Coontz, Stephanie. Marriage, A History. New York: Viking Press. 2005.
Gouh, Kathleen. “The Nayar: Central Kerela,” Matrilinial Kinship. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1961. Krige, Eileen. “Woman-Marriage, with Special Reference to the Lovedu — Its Significance for the Definition of Marriage.” Africa 44. 1974. Amadiume, Ifi. “Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society.” London: Zed Books, 1987.
Gottman, J. M., Levenson, R. W., Swanson, C., Swanson, K., Tyson, R., & Yoshimoto, D. (2003). Observing gay, lesbian and heterosexual couples’ relationships: Mathematical modeling of conflict interaction. Journal of Homosexuality, 45, 65–91.
Herek, Gregory M. (2006). Legal recognition of same-sex relationships in the United States: A social science perspective. American Psychologist, Vol 61(6), 607-621.
Roisman G, Clausell E, Holland A, Fortuna K, Elieff C. Adult romantic relationships as contexts of human development: A multimethod comparison of same-sex couples with opposite-sex dating, engaged, and married dyads. Developmental Psychology [serial online]. January 2008;44(1):91-101.
Ryan, Christopher and Cacilda, Jetha. Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships. Harper Perennial; Reprint edition, 2011.
Stacey, J., & Biblarz, T. J. (2001). (How) does the sexual orientation of parents matter?American Sociological Review, 66, 159–183.